320) Jay Leno and Me (part two)

     (…continued)  Let’s apply this (from part one) to another setting.  Imagine yourself at the doctor’s office.  Your doctor is a good doctor, but a rather bland and boring person.  He never smiles, doesn’t have time for a joke, and he always has the same dull look on his face.  One day he says to you in his most boring and uninspiring voice, “The tests came back and the cancer is gone.  You are going to be okay.”  At that moment will you be thinking about what a dull personality that man has and how you need to find a doctor with a little more zip?  Or, will you walk out of there thanking that doctor, and praising the Lord that you are all right?  What matters there is the content of the message.  You were listening close for that message you needed to hear, the message that you would be okay.  What you hear in church is more like that kind of message than like an entertaining routine by a stand up comedian.

     As I said, what we hear in church is out of an old script, and someone might reply, “Yes, I hear you, and God’s Word is good news, but I already know it.  Does one really need to go to church every week to hear the same old thing over and over?”  There are a couple responses to that.  First of all, weekly worship is what the Bible commands.  The third commandment says “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy;” Jesus himself worshiped at the synagogue every week ‘as was his custom’ Luke tells us; and, there are many other places in the Bible where that ongoing, regular contact with God’s word is commanded.

     The second response is the practical reason that makes the Biblical command necessary.  As in all of God’s commandments and laws, God commands it because it is good and necessary for us.  “Faith comes by hearing,” says Romans chapter ten, and if we keep ourselves within hearing distance of where God’s Word is read and proclaimed, the Holy Spirit will take care of the rest and we will be all right.  In I Corinthians 2 Paul described how the Holy Spirit works through his words, unpolished and imperfect as they are, to reveal to us the power of God, in order to work faith in our hearts.  The third commandment says ‘remember,’ because if we don’t make it a point to take the time to remember, we are surely going to forget God.  It happens to folks all the time.  Without that ongoing contact with God’s Word, people tend to forget all about God, and faith will, in time, whither and die.

    Robert Coles spent his life teaching at Harvard, and wrote more than twenty books; good books, down to earth books, books about the connections between his area of expertise, psychology, and, my main interest, religion.  Robert Coles is an intellectual, but one time Coles wrote an article about how much he has learned from an old, uneducated, black tenant farmer in Alabama, a man named Joshua Travis.  The professor Coles interviewed the farmer Joshua one time for a book he was doing, and then kept in touch with him over the years.  Joshua Travis always had time to sit and visit, but Coles was always in a hurry.  One time Joshua said to him:  “You know, Mr. Coles, you can get yourself going so fast that you lose your way.  Jesus told us he’s ‘the way,’ but if we forget that, we can starting thinking we’re the way, and that is what you call being lost.  Don’t you get lost, Mr. Coles, with all your being so busy.”

     So for once, Professor Coles forgot about his busy schedule and sat down for an unhurried visit with Joshua Travis.  Joshua said, “You know, it is only a short time that God put us here on this earth, and we can’t be expected to remember every day why we are here and be thinking about Jesus all the time– only once in while.  I get busy around here too, and mostly my mind is on the weather, and my land, and the crops.  I’ve got a lot to think about.  But come Sunday, I do go to church to pay my respects to Jesus, because I’ll bet you one thing– no one’s fooling him, including Joshua Travis.  Do you think He’s going to be fooled if I just show up in church every once in a while when I need a good soaking rain, or to ask for the price of cotton to go up, or the price of fertilizer to go down?  No, sir, God is not mocked, and he is not fooled by any of us down here just showing up, saying we are ready to pray and be good, when all we want is a few favors.”

     Both men were quiet for a minute, and then Joshua said, “So every Sunday I go to church, and I thank God for another week of strength to be working my burden, and I thank Jesus Christ Almighty for the chance to do it.  And I will work my burden until Jesus says enough is enough and its time to come home…”  (Harvard Diary, page 44f)

     I don’t think Joshua Travis got paid anything for that conversation, but there is more wisdom in those few words to Robert Coles, than in anything you will get from Jay Leno on March 12th for $75.  Every once in a while it is good to ask what it is we are doing in church every week, and why we need to do it, and there it is from Joshua Travis; we go to worship to remember God, as we remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.
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It is sometimes said in baseball that a pitcher is only as good as his last game.  I have often felt that as a preacher; that I am only as good as my last sermon.   But the effectiveness of God’s Word is not dependent on me or on my feelings about my self-worth or ‘performance,’  but on God; and God is faithful, using that spoken word to accomplish his purpose, as the preacher Isaiah has proclaimed…
Isaiah 55:3…10-11   —   (The Lord says), Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.  I will make an everlasting covenant with you…  As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.  
1 Corinthians 2:4-5  —    My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power. 
Exodus 20:8  —  Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 
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A PRAYER FOR THE CHURCH by Martin Luther:
Almighty and everlasting God, we pray first for the spiritual kingdom and the blessed Gospel ministry.  Give us devout and faithful preachers who will bring forth the treasure of your divine Word in its truth and purity.  Graciously guard us against heresies and divisions.  Look not upon our great ingratitude, for which we have long ago deserved that you should withdraw your Word from us.  Do not chastise us as severely as we deserve.  Let other calamities befall us, rather than deprive us of your precious Word.  Give to us thankful hearts that we may love your Word, prize it highly, hear it with reverence, and improve our lives accordingly.  May we not only understand your Word, but also meet its requirements by our deeds, live in accordance with it, and daily increase in faith and good works.  Amen.