Sunday, May 20, 2012
Your Life Speaks (1 John 5:9-13)
If we receive human testimony, the testimony of God is greater; for this is the testimony of God that he testified to his Son.
Those who believe in the Son of God have the testimony in their hearts. Those who do not believe in God have made him a liar by not believing in the testimony that God has given concerning his Son. And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.
The joke is an oldie but goodie, and it goes something like this: two men were on trial for the armed robbery of a liquor store. The store clerk was on the witness stand, offering his testimony about the events that had taken place the evening of the robbery. Following the prepared script she had rehearsed with the clerk, the prosecuting attorney went through her questions and finally asked, “And the two men who robbed you on that fateful evening, are they present in this courtroom?” Before the witness could answer, both defendants raised their hands.
Most of what we know about the legal proceedings in a court are from literature, television, and movies, and who doesn’t love a good courtroom drama?
I’m told by friends of mine who know more about these types of things than I do that most of these shows and movies are just a teensy little bit overdramatized, making the courtroom seem like a much more exciting and theatrical place than it actually is. But c’mon, how can you not love the iconic scene from A Few Good Men in which Lieutenant Kaffee is examining Colonel Jessup on the witness stand. Colonel Jessup is taunting Lieutenant Kaffee and inquires, “You want answers?” and Lieutenant Kaffee says, “I want the truth,” and Colonel Jessup replies, “You can’t handle the truth!!”
Interesting, isn’t it, considering that a witness has one primary job: to tell the truth. And your life and my life are witnesses to what is at work within us. Whatever is written on our heart will find a way to express itself in thought, word, and deed. What is your life saying? May we pray.
A witness has one primary job: to tell the truth. And in today’s Scripture reading from the 5th Chapter of 1st John, there seems to be some question that centers around truth. At stake is the community’s understanding of a question that is pretty central to the Christian faith, that is, “Who is Jesus?” Different theories and explanations have been advanced as an attempt to answer this question; different witnesses, if you will, have been called upon to share their view of things, and the result was quarreling and divisions within the young church, as different folks with varying understanding of just who Jesus is compete with each other for influence and control.
Can you imagine that - people in a church quarrelling for influence and control? I can’t help but keep in mind John Wesley’s admonition to the people called Methodists back in the 1700s. These are not new concepts. Pick the quote here that resonates with you best: “In matters that do not strike at the heart of Scriptural Christianity, we are free to think and let think.” “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things; charity.” “Though we may not all think alike, let us all love alike.”
These words from John Wesley should remind us, dear church, of a few things. First, the unity that we share in Christ’s love trumps everything else. We may disagree on things from time-to-time and we will - be assured that where two or three are gathered in his name, there’s at least as many opinions in the room - but if those differences are allowed to upstage the love and unity we share in Christ, then we’ve missed the whole point. Second, most of the things that we church folk can bicker over and quarrel about just really aren’t worth it.
Today’s text seems well-aware that differences of opinion will exist. We live in a democratic society where we are taught that all opinions matter, that all perspectives are equally valid, and yet our text gives us the sobering news that this is simply not the case. Verse 9 says, “If we receive human testimony, the testimony of God is greater.” My opinion is just that: my opinion. And really, in light of what God thinks, what I think or what you think doesn’t really matter! Not all opinions are created equal in terms of their authority or credibility. Just watch cable news or read some internet blogs - there are lots of opinions out there, but that doesn’t mean that any of these people actually know what they’re talking about!
In the church, it matters less what any of us think about something than it matters what God thinks. Our testimony, our perspective, our opinion, our view pales in importance when it is considered alongside God’s perspective. We all may have our own particular views, but the real crux of the matter is whether or not we are viewing the world not through our own eyes, but through God’s eyes.
For those who have opened themselves up to the life-giving, life-transforming, sacrificial love of Christ, verse 10 says that God will write the testimony on their hearts allowing us to see the world as God sees it.
When Biblical writers speak of “the heart,” they are less often referring to the blood-pumping organ in our chest than they are referring to the center of our desires, affections, and passions. “The heart” refers to that deep place at the center of your being that truly defines who you are - where your values and convictions live.
In our day, whereas the Biblical writers described this place as “the heart,” we might be inclined to refer to it as “our gut.” We tell people to trust their gut, we all have gut feelings about this or that, if someone does something bold out of conviction, we say it took a lot of guts to do or say what they did. We use the term “gut” pretty much interchangeably with how the Biblical writers would have used “heart,” so much so, in fact, that if the author of 1 John had written to us, he might have said that God writes the testimony not on our heart, but in our gut, so that whatever is in our gut will show itself in the way we live each and every day.
It’s like part two of what we talked about last week, when we were talking about Jesus’ teaching on bearing fruit in our lives. Remember the connection we talked about? Root determines fruit. Say that with me: root determines fruit. And if the root is love, then the fruit is love.
My wife has a friend who teaches kindergarten Sunday School in her church. By the way, we need Sunday School teachers and nursery volunteers and children’s church volunteers. There is a new generation among us who needs to hear the story of faith, and we have a responsibility to teach it to them, and it’s one of the most rewarding things you can do in this church - and the story I’m about to tell should tell you why.
Nicole has just started the Sunday School lesson and is reading the Bible story. And you know, there’s always that kid that like 30 seconds into the story raises his hand. You know, it’s the kid who already knows everything. You sorta shush him, like, “C’mon, I’ve got more of the story to tell.” Another minute in, and his hand shoots up again, and you shush him again, and say, “Not yet.” About the third time he puts his hand up, he’s just beside himself and he’s gonna explode if you don’t call on him. And so you finally go, “What, Tyler?” “Uh, Miss Nicole - you’ve already told us this story.” “Well Tyler, come up here. Do you know why Miss Nicole tells you this story again and again?” to which Tyler at this point is going, “Mmmm-mmmm.” “Because, I want it to get from your ears to your head. And do you know what happens after that, Tyler?” “Mmmm-mmmm.” “Cause if it gets to your head, then it can travel to your heart. And do you know what happens after that, after it gets to your heart?” “Mmmm-mmmm.” “Once it gets to your heart, it can move into your gut, and you know what your gut is, Tyler?” “Mmmm-mmmm.” “Your gut is your soul, and you know what happens after it travels from your ears to your head to your heart to your soul? It’ll start shootin’ out your fingers! And you’ll live the story, not just hear it! You got that?” “Mmmm-hmmm.” “And THAT’s why Miss Nicole tells you the same stories over and over and over again - so it’ll move from your ears to your head to your heart to your gut and start shooting out your fingers, and you’ll live the story and not just hear it.”
Maybe I’m sort of like Miss Nicole - I hope that by telling you again and again about God’s love that it will get in your ears, and into your head, and into your heart, and into your gut, and start shooting out your fingers. Or, maybe I’m sort of like Tyler - I hope that by hearing it again and again myself, it will get in my ears, and into my head, and into my heart, and into my gut, and start shooting out my fingers.
I heard a complaint from someone who hates my preaching who said, “Every time I come to church, you’re up there just going on and on about God’s love. It’s always about love! When are you going to talk about right-and-wrong, about doing good and avoiding evil, about following what the Bible says? Why is it always about love?”
Because - and here’s the madness to my Methodism - it IS always about love. Jesus said the greatest command was to love God and love neighbor in everything we do. I don’t know about you but I’m still trying to get that one down. And once we’ve got that one down, we’ll move onto something else. Let’s be honest, we’ll spend a lifetime just working on that one. And if the law of our lives is to love - in thought, word, and deed, at all times, in all places, to all people - don’t you think that law of love will guide us far better than any list of do’s and don’ts I could give you? Don’t you think the law of love, followed and applied seriously and completely, is going to be far more comprehensive than simply telling you, “Do this; don’t do that?” I don’t want you to be list-followers. I want you to be people who have the law of God’s love written on your hearts, and I want your life to speak truthfully about God’s life-giving, life-transforming love that lives deep inside you, and has no choice but to come out at every available opportunity.
There was a time, not that long ago, when testimony was a central part of worship for the people called Methodists. In some traditions today it still continues with great vibrancy. Testimony is powerful - a chance for those in the gathered congregation to openly, honestly, publicly share where God is working in our lives, how Jesus is changing our hearts, how the Holy Spirit is empowering us for Christlike living and transforming us from the inside out. It was a chance for individuals within the community to share this good news, for the community to celebrate it, and for everyone to be encouraged in the real-life examples of what God was doing to, and in, and through the lives of regular ordinary people.
Somewhere along the way, we lost that. I know of very few Methodists anymore where testimony is a vitally important part of worship. Perhaps it happened when we became more formal and respectable, perhaps it happened when we moved toward dignity and reverence, perhaps we thought testimony was too exuberant or unruly or embarrassing. Whatever the reason, we stopped telling each other and encouraging each other with stories of how God was at work in our lives, and I can’t help but think that we’ve lost something, least of all the expectation that God changes human hearts, and that those changes have no choice but to make themselves known.
Whatever is written on your heart, in your gut, in your soul - that’s gonna come shooting out your fingers in the things you do. It’s gonna come shooting out your mouth in the things you say. It’s gonna come shooting out your mind in the things you think and the attitudes you have. Whatever comes shooting out is going to be a reflection of whatever is written on your heart, in your gut, in your soul. Our lives are a living testimony; whatever is written deep inside of us will find a way to express itself in thought, word, and deed. What is your life saying? Are you happy with the message your life is speaking about what’s in your gut? More importantly, is God pleased with it? When you think about what’s shooting out your fingers, does it bear witness to the love of God in this world?
Friends, we don’t have any new stories. Just the old, old story of a God who loved us enough to give us eternal life. We don’t need a new story, because that’s still a good one. I don’t know about you, but I love to tell that story over and over, again and again, because I hope that in telling that story, the story of Jesus and his love, the story will write itself on my heart and in my gut.
Right now, your life is speaking. It’s telling the story about what’s written on your heart.