Friday, January 29, 2010

Final Installment: The Sermon

And now, the final part of the sermon. I should be getting up in the second chapel as this posts.

The Head: God's Third Order of Business
The Heart: God's First Order of Business

The Feet: The Second Order of Business

And so I end this morning with God’s second order of business. The first order of business is your heart. More than anything else, God wants to transform your heart. He wants to make you a person after his own heart. God’s third order of business, I’ve suggested, is your head. Ideas are important. No one could ever rightly accuse me of not being interested in the truth. Why do you think I’m here at a university and now at a seminary?

But before our heads, God is not only interested in our hearts, but He is also interested in our feet. Our feet are God’s second order of business. What I’m talking about is our actions, how we live in the world.

A verse came to mind as I thought about our actions as God’s second priority. It is Isaiah 52:7: How beautiful are the feet, Of those who bring the good news: “Our God reigns!” Isaiah 52:7.

I have taken the verse a little out of context, another great inheritance of the Wesleyan holiness tradition. Dr. Lennox, here at the university, did his doctoral dissertation on the interpretive techniques of the Wesleyan writers of the late 1800s. And let me say that they were not known for how strictly they read the words of the Bible in context.

Again, there are those who look down on us for our past use of “spiritual methods” of interpretation, just as there are those who look down on Pentecostals and Baptists for lifting verses out of context, what we sometimes call “proof-texting.” But as it turns out, that’s pretty much how the New Testament interprets the Old Testament, so I guess we’re all in good company.

Isaiah 52:7 was originally about the return of Israel from captivity in Babylon. The image of the feet of the messenger is the picture of someone coming from a battle to announce victory. Most of you here will know what a Marathon is. The race takes its name from the Battle of Marathon, where the Greeks decisively beat the Persians. The Greek messenger ran a little over 26 miles from Marathon to Athens to announce victory in the battle (and then of course died).

So the original image in Isaiah 52:7 is of a messenger coming from Babylon to Jerusalem to announce that God has won, that many of those who were taken away for some seventy years would soon be returning.

But what jumped out at me from this verse were the feet of God’s messengers. God’s messengers—which is all of us—should surely have beautiful feet! How do our feet look to those around us? Are those around us happy to see us coming? God’s second priority is our lives.

Christians should not have ugly feet. Our lives should be good news to those around us! That certainly applies to those in need, such as those in great need right now in Haiti. We should bring good news in the form of food for the hungry and water for the thirsty and clothing for the naked. That’s what I believe. And, yes, I am a Wesleyan.

But our actions should also be beautiful to God as well. One of the verses that I learned growing up was 1 Corinthians 10:13: "No temptation has taken hold of you, That you don’t have in common with everyone else. God is faithful! He will not allow you to be tempted above what you are able, But He will also make with the temptation a way out, to be able to bear it."

I’ll be frank with you. I cannot find a single place in Scripture that, when read in context, tells us that we cannot help but sin intentionally. By intentionally I mean you know the right thing to do—or the thing you should not do—and you do the wrong thing. I firmly believe that popular interpretations of passages like Romans 7 (I do the thing I do not want to do) or 1 John 1:8 (if we say we do not have sin, we deceive ourselves) are misinterpretations. And yes, I am a Wesleyan.

But what I do find in Scripture are statements about how Paul wants his churches to be blameless at Christ’s coming or that those who persist in certain sins will not inherit the kingdom of God or that those who continue to sin willfully use up Christ’s sacrifice or that there is a sin that leads to death or that some who were part of the Christian community will have to depart from Christ on the Day of Judgment.

When it comes to summing up how we are to live in this world, what I find is 1 Corinthians 10:31, which I mentioned at the very beginning of the sermon about Doing all to the glory of God. "Whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God” 1 Corinthians 10:31. This verse sums it up for me, how God expects us to live.

I grew up with a misinterpretation of 1 Thessalonians 5 based on the King James Version—but I still think it was a true spiritual interpretation of the verse. “Avoid the very appearance of evil.”
Of course the old time Wesleyans probably took the verse too far. One of my grandfathers would never have eaten in Applebee’s because of the bar in the middle—it has the “appearance of evil.”

The point is rather that our orientation in life in how we live should be around what gives God the most glory. A teenager once asked me how far he could go with a girl before he would go to hell. It was completely the wrong question. In a very real sense, he had already gone too far in his heart.

The right question is not what can’t I do or what can I do to get out of being punished. The question is what can I do that will be most pleasing to God. How would every detail of my life look if I were completely surrendered to God?

These are things that excite me. It excites me that God is most interested in my heart, and that He empowers it to be like His heart. It excites me to orient my entire life around God, and that He will empower me to live a life fully devoted to Him. And, yes, I am excited about the truth and all that God wants to teach me through Scripture and through God’s people.

These are things that excite me. And, yes, I am a Wesleyan.

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