The Book of (insert my opinion here)

April 29, 2018

[VIDEO: “I Believe” from the Book of Mormon]

If you ask me, I’m usually always right. I have strong opinions that are based on well researched and indisputable facts, and those facts are always right.

I may argue with myself about them, but you are not to challenge me or my opinions… because as I say, I’m always right.

Poor Mason. He has to live to with me. When I get on these high-opinion rants he just listens and graciously nods his head, and in his mind, I imagine, he’s rolling his eyes.

But I know what I believe, by golly. And when I know it, there’s nothing you can do about it.

Just like my Mormon brothers and sisters know what they believe…

And just like my Baptist brothers and sisters, whether they’re Southern Baptist or Northern Baptist or Missionary Baptist or Primitive Baptist or Pilgrim Baptist or the General Baptist or Conservative Baptist or Cooperative Baptist or National Baptist or American Baptist or African-American Baptist or Independent Baptist all know what they believe…

And like my Pentecostal friends who are Church of God or Church of God in Christ or Church of God of Prophecy or Assemblies of God or Full Gospel or Foursquare or Vineyard or Elim or Hillsong or United Pentecostal or Pentecostal Assemblies or Trinitarian or Oneness all know what they believe…

And just like the United Methodists and the Independent Methodists and the Wesleyans and the Presbyterians and the Seventh Day Adventists and the Catholics and the Episcopalians and the Quakers and the Greek Orthodox and the Charismatics and Covenant and the Nazarenes and the Lutherans and the AMEs and the CMEs and the Anglicans and the Open Doorers and the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Interdenominational and the Non-Denominational and the Disciples of Christ and the Church of Christ and yes, the United Church of Christ all know what they believe.

And just like the Orthodox Jews and the Reformed Jews and the Conservative Jews and the Muslims and the Buddhists and the Hindus and the Sikhs and the Rastafarians and the Unitarian Universalists and the Humanists and the Atheists and the Deists all know what they believe…

Just like they all believe that they’ve got it right, that their understanding of God is the best understanding, so do I.

Except I’m right.

I hope you know that I’m not serious when I say that. I’m not sure that I want to be the one who has God and heaven and hell and eternity and free-will and predestination and all that sorta stuff figured out.

But I know some people who really think they’ve got it down. And you do too.

We all know those people who not only have God figured out, they know which version or translation of the bible God accepts, which formula for baptism is appropriate, and even what kind of music God prefers.

I heard a story this week about two old farmers who try to get together for breakfast about once a week. They spend the time talking about farm stuff, their families, world events and just a variety of things.

One particular morning as they were chatting, one of the farmers asked the other how things were going at his church.

“Well,” he said, “they slipped one in on us this past Sunday.”

“What do you mean?” the first farmer asked.

“They slipped in one of those praise songs on us,” he said. “I just don’t get it. What’s wrong with the old hymns? What is a praise song anyway?”

“Well,” the other farmer said, “it’s like this. The other day I came in and told the wife the cows are in the corn. Now that’s a hymn.”

“I could’ve said, ‘the cows, the cows, the cows, the cows are in the corn, the corn, the corn. That’s a praise song.”

I think we’re fortunate here at BUCC to enjoy some variety in our music and our worship. And I think however we do it, God is pleased when it’s authentic.

And when it comes to our understanding of the scriptures and God and all of those mysterious things of the Spirit, we are all fortunate that BUCC is a church that doesn’t mind being challenged on what we believe and why.

Many of us grew up in a church tradition that is the reverse, the opposite of that. We were not allowed to challenge or question something our leaders said or believed.

But here at BUCC, even when we feel confident in our theology and our understanding of the scriptures, we are always open to new ways of understanding and seeing… as long as they bear out that God is love. 

To us, that part is indisputable.

I love the way the story Jeremy read to us today shows itself.

Jesus and his followers… understand that a lot of scholars believe this group was made up of more than just Jesus’ twelve disciples.

Jesus had some hanger-on-ers… people who were either fascinated by his words and mannerisms or works. 

And there were people who were just fascinated with his celebrity. And there were people who were fed up with the system. They were ready for someone, anyone to come in and upset the powers-that-be. And Jesus looked like just the right kind of person to do it.

So when Jesus and his followers came into town, it was a real mixture, a parade of personalities and characters.

And at this point in the story that Jeremy read to us, they’d made a name for themselves. When folks saw Jesus and his gang, or heard rumors they were in town, it sorta made the news.

As a matter of fact, just a few sentences before this piece of scripture, we are told that Jesus’ plan was to try and slip through the area quietly. Jesus was popular for several reasons, and not everyone thought of him in a good way.

In today’s reading we learn that at some point along their journey, Jesus’ very diverse group of followers had a little contentious conversation going on amongst themselves about which of them was the best.

Some scholars think this passage of scripture is talking about Jesus’ closest followers, his disciples. Other feel it is a larger group of followers, the disciples and others… maybe some of those hangers-on-ers.

Regardless, I think it’s a little humorous that once they got to a private place and Jesus could do it more discreetly, he asked them about it, what they were arguing about, none of them wanted to admit that they were all angling for the alpha-male role in the group.

Of course, something like that is an ego thing. If you’re trying to prove to everyone else that you are the greatest at something, you are declaring that you think you’re better at it than everyone else, that you are superior.

Let me go ahead and state something very clearly right now.

I know that I will never be the smartest, best looking, best dressed, most interesting person in the room. (Heck, right now I’m not even the best person in the room wearing a robe.)

It is very likely that someone else will always be wealthier, drive a nicer car, is more fit, and is able to do most everything better than me. And I’m just fine with that.

A lot of pressure comes with being number one. When you’re number one, you have to be completely on top of your game. You have to right all the time.

You don’t often see a team or an athlete celebrating a second place finish, but in my opinion, being somewhere other than at the very top or at the very bottom isn’t that bad a place to be.

And being number one comes with responsibility. When you are number one, other people want to be you… or at least their perception of you. You end up being an example and a role model. 

But people only see the parts of you that supports that ideal notion.

What they don’t often see is the incredible work it takes to feed that notion and support that perception of never struggling, never losing, and always being a winner.

So Jesus pulled his twelve in close and helped put it all into perspective…

Jesus: So, I heard a lot of loud conversation going on back there while we were coming into town. What were you guys arguing about?

Disciples: look at each other, wonder if anyone is going to ‘fess up and admit they were fighting about who was the better prayer, preacher, teacher, healer, demon-caster-outer of the bunch.

(That sounds like some denominational and preacher meetings I’ve been in.)

Jesus: There’s something very important that you should know. In God’s view, the way you get to be first is to consider yourself last. 

In other words, if you want to be great, you have to turn upside down that desire to be powerful and be willing to give it up completely, to become powerless to the needs and desires of others.

You have to trade that desire to be served into a desire to serve. 

Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be first must be least of ALL and the servant of ALL.

All includes that person treated you wrong. All includes that guy who smells. All includes that girl who gets on your very last nerve. All includes that person who will always take from you and never say thanks. All includes the one who cheated on you. All includes the person who has nothing good to say about you and says it really loud to anyone who will listen. All includes the person who tells you you’re going to hell.

What he actually said was, if you want to be ahead of everyone else, you have to be their servant… every single one of them… including THAT person.

May I state something very clearly right now?

We, BUCC and all of the beautiful people who make it up, are not here to be served. We are here to serve.

There is not a single person in this place who does what they do for selfish, self-centered, self-aggrandizing purposes.

Our purpose, our only purpose is to be a place where people who are hurting can find balm for their pain.

People who are searching can sharpen their vision.

People who are lost can find direction and perspective.

People who have been thrown away can find value and acceptance.

People who are confused can find answers.

People who are afraid can find courage.

People who are weary can find rest.

People who are hungry can find nourishment.

People who have been abused and neglected can find compassion and attention.

People who are angry can let it all out and scream it to the top of their lungs without judgement and criticism.

A place where people who have been told that God does not love them can find the truth that God is madly, deeply, passionately, ferociously in love with them.

Friends, we do not exist to be served, we exist to serve and to shout the good news of a loving God to everyone who’ll listen.

It’s what draws those who’ve been tricked and deceived into believing that God is more vindictive and petty than loving and long-suffering.

For anyone who is interested in such things, our genuine service to others, our genuine message of hope for ALL and not just a few, will be the thing that makes BUCC the best church in town.

We don’t keep score. We never intend to. We don’t compare ourselves to any other church or any other congregation.

Another church will always have something we don’t. But something we have that I wouldn’t trade my right arm for is a church full of people who aren’t looking to be the greatest, but has a deep, deep desire to serve whoever God allows us to reach.

The video at the beginning of this message is from the Broadway play, “The Book of Mormon.” If you’ve seen it, you know that it’s a play that follows two young Mormon missionaries who are sent to Uganda to try to convert citizens to the Mormon religion. One of them has a strong dedication to his faith and tries very hard to make new converts. The other is willing to embellish the truth if it will convince the locals that their “truth” will save them.

The young missionaries go into their calling knowing what they believe. Then they learn through the people they meet and the real world they are living in that one man’s, or one religion’s truth is not a one-size-fits-all solution.

You could call it the Book of Mormon or the Book of Baptist or Pentecostal or Methodist or Catholic or even the Book of United Church of Christ. But what good is it if what you or I believe makes no difference in the world, makes no difference in anyone’s life?

I believe that more than God is anything else, God is love. That can make a difference in everyone’s life.

Mark 9:34-35 (CEB)

(Jesus and his followers) entered Capernaum. When they had come into a house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about during the journey?” They didn’t respond, since on the way they had been debating with each other about who was the greatest.He sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be least of all and the servant of all.”