Monday, November 5, 2012

Going with Jesus: Spreading Jesus

Preached on Sunday, November 4, 2012

Scripture readings: Matthew 28:16-20; 1 Peter 4:1-11

My Aunt Joyce belongs to the Schmitz Family of Mason City, Iowa. Somehow (and apparently completely against her nature), when she was a young woman, she came, on an adventure, to southern California, where she met and fell in love with my dad’s brother, Don.

September Going to Seed in Washtucna
But, somehow, her true love has always remained the Schmitz Family of Mason City, Iowa. When my Uncle Don retired, that is where they moved for their golden years; from sunny southern California to northern Iowa.

It is because of my Aunt Joyce that everyone in my family has learned the story of “The Music Man” by heart. “The Music Man” is a Broadway musical written by Meredith Wilson, who also grew up in Mason City. The story of the musical takes place in River City, Iowa, which is really Mason City in disguise.

The character of “The Music Man” is a traveling salesman named Harold Hill, who sells boys’ bands. He comes to a town and pretends to be a band director, even though he can’t read a note of music. He organizes the boys of the town. He orders instruments, uniforms, and music. In River City, he orders the music for Beethoven’s Minuet in G.

Harold pretends to get them started learning how to play their instruments by using a special method of his own invention that he calls “the ‘think’ system”. He explains to the boys, and their parents, that they will be able to learn to play by “thinking” the Minuet in G: and, in the process of all this (of course), he falls in love with Marian the town’s librarian.

Harold Hill is a fraud. He’s a fake, and he doesn’t know the territory, and (in the end) he gets caught. He is put on trial by the mayor, in front of the whole town.

More September Going to Seed
He appears to be doomed, until his love, Marian the librarian, cross-examines him and the townspeople. It turns out that Harold Hill really loves bands and, wherever he peddles his scheme, he always convinces himself that there really is going to be a band. He believes there is a band, until he has to make his inevitable escape.

Marian the librarian gathers the boys from the crowd. They all have their instruments in hand. Marian forces Harold to lead the band, and (sure enough) they manage to play Beethoven’s Minuet in G. They sound horrible; but the parents fall love with it.

And so Harold is saved. And Harold and Marian are sure to live happily ever after.

Harold Hill truly loved Beethoven’s Minuet in G, and the band that would play it. We are Christians, and we are disciples of Jesus, and we are the people who love Jesus, and the music of Jesus, and we love the band that will play it.

This is why we do what Jesus said. We go around everywhere in hopes of making disciples of everyone, baptizing them, and (in the words of Jesus) “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:20)

Even More September Going to Seed
For now, we are the band that plays the music of Jesus. The aim of Jesus is to get all the people of the earth in the band.

The music of Jesus is everything that Jesus taught, and everything that Jesus did. Everything that Jesus taught and did is a command for us.

Even the cross is a command. For instance, Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25) And very close to this are Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)

Suddenly, I realize that, if I am thinking about what Jesus commanded me, and if I am responsible for teaching others “everything”, including this cross and our poverty of spirit, then, maybe, I am starting in exactly the wrong place. Maybe I ought to start in a happier place.
Late September Wild Asters

When Peter lays the foundation for how we are to meet the evils of this world, he also starts in exactly the same wrong place, as I just did. “Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin.”

If Jesus’ commandments begin with suffering, it is hard to see how they begin in a happy place. When we are seeking to win others to Jesus and attract them to his music, we may be tempted not to go there. We may be tempted to avoid teaching everything he commanded; at least at first.

But such commandments are not really about suffering at all. They are about love: and, surely, we are deeply interested in love; although not in the thought that love includes a surprising amount of pain and suffering.

I mean that Jesus’ whole plan was to face the worst for the sake of our very best. When our love is most like his, we are willing to do the same. We are willing to fret, and worry, and fear, and become indignant. We are willing to resort (in desperation) to the humblest, quietest, gentlest, most persistent, and possible most annoying ways of getting through to people; or of righting wrongs, or persuading minds, or transforming hearts: when it truly matters to us. We are willing to plead, and cry, and shout, and bear with huge agonies, for the sake of love.

We are not only done with sin (as Peter says), but we are done with all other selfishness. We are done with everything that stands in the way of loving with a sufficiently strong, and transforming, and redemptive love.

Horses Enjoying Whatever Is Going to Seed
There have been times when I wanted to do something other than what I knew Jesus wanted me to do. There have been times when I wanted to have a different kind of spiritual life than the life that comes from the gospel. But the sight of the suffering of Jesus, crucified for me, has essentially stopped me and peeled away the layers of my resistance.

The cross is the saving, redeeming, and rescuing, forgiving, transforming, healing, and empowering love of God. That we should be commanded to love with that kind of love is the most attractive of all the commandments of Jesus. It is pure music. It is surely at the heart of everything we want to teach others.

Teaching others to obey everything that Jesus has commanded us is really nothing else than giving them the total Jesus: Jesus with nothing left out. But we can give the total Jesus to others only if we have received everything from Jesus for ourselves. We can only give all that Jesus commanded to others when we know that he has also commanded it all to us; and when we love all of it, every bit of it: when we love all of Jesus.

So we are all, to some degree, like Harold Hill the Music Man. We are all, to some degree, frauds and fakes. Chances are we will all get caught, sooner or later; or more often than not.

The Process of Attracting Attention
In fact, when Jesus gave his disciples and us this mission to “Go” it comes right on the heels of incredible failure. His own disciples were prone to be fakes. We see that: “When they saw him they worshipped, but some doubted.” (Matthew 28:17)

The result of this was that Jesus didn’t split them up and give his orders only to the faithful. He gave his orders to us all.

His orders are not for the special Christians. They are for us all. They have nothing to do with our qualifications. They have everything to do with his qualifications; his authority.

Jesus has “all authority in heaven and on earth.” We claim to have the authority to exempt ourselves, but heaven and earth belong to Jesus, and none of us are off the hook.

If you love Jesus, if you have truly met him, you are an extension of him, for better or for worse. You will have worshiped all of Jesus (in which case you will be able to give all of him, just as he is, to others).

Or you will have held yourself back. You will have doubted; and you will only be able to give a portion of Jesus. You will only be able to teach others about a Jesus who is less than full; a Jesus who is not all that he can be. Doubting just makes being an extension of Jesus into a struggle, for yourself and for others.

Attention Attracted!
Peter tells us about this extension. He tells us that our existence, as an extension of Jesus, is a gift of grace. “Each one should use what ever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 4:10-11)

We do not speak “as if” we were speaking the words of God. We do not serve “as if” God were providing us with his strength. The idea of doing something “as if” God were doing it is only a form of pretending. It is only another form of making the Lord to be less than he truly is.

If you have met Jesus, you are extensions of his grace in this world, and you have gifts, through Jesus, to spread that grace everywhere you go. You may not use those gifts. But (as Peter said) each one of us “should”.

This is how we live out the promise that we will look at next week. Jesus said: “And surely I am with you always.” This is the promise to make us his extensions in this world.

Got One, Lost the Other
If you have met Jesus (as he truly is, and as he fully is) then you are a carrier of Jesus everywhere. You have him, and he has sent you to share him, and to be, with your brothers and sisters in Christ, the extension of Jesus in this world.

Remember that Jesus did not give his mission to you in order for you to do this alone. Jesus gave his orders to all the disciples together; the worshiping and the doubting together, the faithful and the not so faithful.

Jesus did not split up his disciples for the work of following his orders. He has sent us out as a church, as his own body, and we need to stick together, and we need to find every way possible to stick together, in order to be able to teach everything he has commanded.

Jesus has sent us out, and he goes with us to see it through. Jesus has sent us out to fill the earth with himself, with his presence, with everything that he has commanded us. Then we will give the total Jesus to the world, just as he has given his total presence to us.

1 comment:

  1. I love The Music Man. The way that you have compared this to being a Christian is very interesting.
    Have you read the poem, "God Can Use You"? I did a post about it!