The Flaw In Our Gospel

Jyn Erso died so that the Rebellion might live.

Jyn’s tale of sacrifice and redemption is powerful. The plans she sacrifices her life to get were transferred to the Tantive IV where the diplomatic envoy on board could use their ties to Alderaan to get the plans into the hands of the people who could do the most good with it – the strikeforce gathering on Yavin IV.  The leader of that diplomatic envoy? Princess Leia Organa.  And as Paul Harvey used to say on his famous radio show, “Now you know…the rest of the story.”[1]  Eventually, Luke, Leia and Han Solo would see the plans to the Death Star delivered in time so that the Empire’s massive battlestation could be destroyed.  But Jyn’s story ends on Scarif along with the lives of her fellow Rebels. The film, Rogue One, tells Jyn’s tale and by itself is one of the best Star Wars film ever made.  But it is not the end of the story.  It is one tale in a much larger tapestry that unfolds, and even though it is a good film all by itself, it’s so much more meaningful because of that larger story it is a part of.  From tiny connections to future films like the appearance of Walrus Man to much larger and more significant connections like the creation of the Death Star, it’s story is tied to a bigger story.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story..Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) in foreground, Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) in background..Ph: Film Frame..Copyright 2016 Industrial Light & Magic, a division of Lucasfilm Entertainment Company Ltd., All Rights Reserved

Faith in Christ is essential to Christianity, but it is not the end of the story.

I was reading an article from Outreach magazine, and Ken Wytsma wrote something that stuck with me. He said, “If all we have is Good Friday, then we are missing Easter.”[1]  He argues the flaw in our Gospel story today is focused so much on getting people to believe that we fail to see the larger picture.  That we are only telling half the story.  He wrote in part, “Personal salvation for the individual took the spotlight (in how we convey the Gospel) rather than Christ’s redeeming work for the many.  There was an overemphasis on salvation for me…”  Jesus didn’t turn to his followers and say, “Oh, good.  Now that you believe in me, my work is done.”  He told them “…you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the Earth (Acts 1:8).”  Too often we become complacent in our faith.  We say we believe, maybe we even attend church, but do we truly seek to become disciples of Christ?  Are we helping others to know his love that was so great he gave his life for us?

The cross is the beginning of our journey.  Not the end.

One of the things I love about Methodism is our emphasis on striving toward “Christians perfection.”  John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, believed this was something each of us could actually achieve. But whether we attained this lofty goal or not, it was an ideal we should constantly strive for.  And it wasn’t an ideal for the super-pious or for the winner of Bible Trivial Pursuit.  It was an ideal Wesley honestly believed was within reach of anyone.  And again, you didn’t need to go to seminary or become a priest to be equipped to do this work.  He felt ordinary people doing ordinary things could do it.  Things like prayer, worship, communion, reading your Bible, attending a small group were ways you could achieve this goal.  Will most of us get there?  Probably not.  But it’s the journey that makes it worthwhile.  It’s the journey that honors God.  Getting to the cross IS important, but where you go from there is at least as important.  There is a reason Jesus emphasizes discipleship and not conversion.  Conversion is a moment in time, but discipleship is a lifelong process.  It becomes part of our character.  It defines who we are.

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True discipleship takes place in community. Here, our Bishop is having a meal with our church members and sharing about life

And true discipleship takes place in community.

Faith is not a solo journey. We are meant to travel this road together.  Jesus sent his disciples out into the world two-by-two.  He told us that where two or more are gathered, there he would be.  Even in the Old Testament, we read in the book of Ecclesiastes, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: 10 If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.  But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” Our faith is meant to be developed in relationship with one another.  Not only do we gather strength in numbers, we also are able to test our belief, help each other, and be a stronger witness for Jesus in the world.  And at the same time we are growing in our faith, we are supposed to share it with the world.

14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. – Matthew 5:14-16

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We are meant to be a light unto the world, not hidden under a bowl

Our love of Christ was meant to be shared with the world!

It isn’t supposed to be hidden away, yet so many of us have a hard time sharing our faith or inviting people to church.  We’re worried about what people will think of us.  We’re worried we don’t know enough.  But are we genuinely worried about those things or are they excuses for not wanting to put ourselves out there?  Because we are more than willing to talk about our favorite places to eat or our favorite movies or our favorite sports teams.  Even when you are a UCLA grad who grew up a huge Dodgers fan and happens to now live in the Bay Area.  Even then we are still compelled to share the things we love because it’s part of who we are.  Isn’t our faith part of who we are, too?  When I was serving at Roswell UMC in Atlanta, GA, there was a monthly street fair during the summer near our church, and if you’ve ever been to Georgia in the summer you know how hot it gets.  So we would take part in the fair by handing out free cold bottled water to people passing by and we’d give out little cards inviting people to come to our church.  One of our members quit the church because of it.  I remember calling her on the phone when she transferred her membership to find out what happened.  Maybe we had done something wrong without realizing it.  Maybe someone said or did something to make her feel unwelcome or unappreciated.  But when we talked, she told me it wasn’t anything we did to her.  She just didn’t want to belong to a church that evangelized in public.  Keep in mind this wasn’t a requirement for the church and about 99% of our members did not participate.  It was just a handful of people who wanted to do something tangible to show the love of Christ to our neighborhood.  The woman who left our church said she didn’t think it was right.  I was really confused what wasn’t “right” about it so I asked her and she responded, “I just think faith is a personal thing.”  And she’s right.  I agree 100%.  Faith is personal, not private.  It is meant to be shared.  It is a personal choice like raising your children, but how many self-help books on raising kids were you given when you had your first child?  How many people felt free to share their own personal parenting philosophy?  Just because something is personal doesn’t mean we can’t share our thoughts, opinions, and preferences with those we love.  We trust they will understand it’s out of love we share those things and in turn listen to them when they share with us.  Our faith, like a fine wine, a good meal, or wonderful music, is made all the better when others experience it with us, so why not tell people about it?  How will people know the difference Christ can make in their life if we aren’t willing to share it with others?

2009-04-11 - Me and Tim working the Easter booth
One of our dedicated INVITE Team members, Tim, helping me out at Easter at Roswell UMC

The challenge is not whether we should share our faith but finding our unique voice to do so.

How Jesus has touched your life is almost surely different from how Jesus has touched mine.  We may have many similarities, but our stories are unique to us.  And so is how we will share it.  For those who are bold, let them proclaim it boldly!  But for the rest of us, we need to find our voice either literally or figuratively.  So this week, I’m asking you to think about one person or persons who you wish would come to church with you.  Think of one person or persons whose life would be made better, who would feel more at peace, who would feel less alone in the world if Christ was a part of it.  And pray about how you might share the love of Christ with them.  The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most phenomenal event the world has ever seen.  But it is so far removed from our everyday life experience, that it takes a personal connection to often make it real.  Among those who don’t come to church, a personal invitation from a friend was still almost twice as likely to be effective as anything else.[1]  And among those seeking to explore faith, more than half of them were looking for casual one-on-one conversations with friends and family.[2]  Even as our experience with traditional church is changing, people still crave that personal connection.

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story..L to R: Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), and Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen)..Ph: Giles Keyte..© 2016 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Jyn’s story is only a part of the Star Wars saga.

It isn’t the whole story by itself.  It’s a vital part that helps us understand all that comes after it, but it isn’t complete without the hope and redemption that follows as a result.  The Gospel story isn’t meant to be a shelter from the storm.  It isn’t a safe haven from the world we live in.  And it isn’t a safety net in case there is an afterlife.  The Gospel story is the armor and shield God gives us to have the strength to go out into the world and share his message of hope and redemption to a world that needs it now more than ever.  As Ken wrote in his article, “The gospel isn’t simply good news we hear – it’s good news we become.  We aren’t simply recipients of grace, but agents of grace as well.[3] If all there was to the story of Jesus is the cross, there would be no Christianity.  It’s what happened after that changed the world. Be a part of the story.  Help to change the world. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] The Barna Group, Churchless, 2014 p.28 (Kindle edition)

[2] https://www.barna.com/research/opportunities-for-faith-sharing/

[3] Ibid, p.64

[1] “Why Race Belongs In Our Gospel Conversations,” Ken Wytsma, Outlook Magazine, Vol. 17, No. 1 (Outreach, Inc. Colorado), p. 60

 

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