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Cher and Nicholas Cage starred in a 1987 movie called Moonstruck. In the film, Cher’s fiancé rushes to his dying mother’s bedside in Sicily. During his absence, Cher meets his estranged younger brother, played by Nicholas Cage. Cher is thunderstruck when she takes an immediate liking to Cage and an uneasy romance develops. At one point in the movie, Cage tells Cher that he loves her, whereupon Cher slaps his face and says, “Snap out of it.”
We want to say the same thing when we read the Old Testament. Time and time again, Israel sins against the Lord. We want to shout to God, "Snap out of it!" That is, until we realize that we, too, have sinned like Israel--and God keeps loving us, as well.
Many years ago I went to see a theatrical production called Cotton Patch Gospel, a musical about the life of Jesus with an Appalachian, country-western twist. It was based on Clarence Jordan’s paraphrase of the New Testament, by the same name. It tries to tell the story of Jesus as if he has been born in Georgia in the 1950’s. The lyrics and music were written and composed by the late Harry Chapin. I wish I could play one of the songs for you, for it is both gripping and haunting.
It begins with Herod’s men singing:
All through the ages, the wise men and sages,
have said there are dirty deeds that simply must be done.
To keep society going, and the benefits flowing,
there’s the simple necessity of hurting someone.
It means strength and agility, taking responsibility,
it’s the core of what leadership’s really about.
When the red blood starts coming, just think of it as plumbing, if you’ve got a problem you must flush it out.
Then the narrator comes in and tells this story: Herod had seen to it that on Sunday morning a bomb got tossed into the nursery of a church where Jesus was supposed to be. Fortunately, Joe had taken Jesus to Mexico, so the plan failed to get him. But the explosion did kill 14 innocent infants and toddlers. It was a horrible sight that morning. The doctor couldn’t even convince one mother that her child was dead. And then the mother sings her song:
Rock a by sweet baby, Mama is here
Hush a by sweet angel, there’s nothing to fear
Close your eyes sweet darling, all through the night
Mama will hold you safe ‘til the morning light.
What chain letters, many multi-level marketers and pyramid schemes have in common is this. They appeal to greed. It is the theology of Wall Street. In that film, Michael Douglas’ character, Gordon Gecko delivers this speech,
“…greed -- for lack of a better word -- is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit… …and greed -- you mark my words -- will not only save (this company), but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA.”
The problem is, though that philosophy is popular, and even pervasive, it is fundamentally false. Greed leads to incredible evil. “Wall Street” was prophetic.
Ivan Boesky, David Brace and Faith Metro Church in Wichita, ENRON, EXXON, AIG, WORLDCOM, HALLIBURTON, MORGAN STANLEY - you fill in the names of the companies and individuals who have been indicted.
On the other side of the theological equation is the Gospel, as practiced by Jesus and circulated in a different kind of chain letter by the Apostle Paul.
Two thirds of the New Testament comes from him, from his Missionary Journeys and his, for lack of a better phrase, “Letters and Papers from prison.” His letters, which we count as Biblical truth, circulated from prison. They changed the world and the people in it. He wrote to places like Philippi, Corinth, Thessalonica, Ephesus, and Rome. I have been there.
“Pray for me,” he wrote from prison, “so that when I speak, I may make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains.”
And he did make the Gospel known, sometimes at great cost. He was imprisoned multiple times for his witness to Christ -- in Jerusalem, Caesarea Philippi, in Rome, under house arrest and then again in Rome at his death.
Jesus said in John 13: 35, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” A great New Testament example of this being done is in the early church. As Jews began to put their faith in Christ as the Messiah, they began to feel the effects of hostility toward them. They were ostracized from their families; basically they were considered to be dead.
In the movie, Fiddler on the Roof, tradition was very important. The tradition was that a matchmaker paired up men and women for marriage. The oldest daughter fell in love with a different Jewish man who was very Orthodox. The father gave his permission. The second daughter fell in love with a man who was a radical Jew, still Jewish, but with some modern ideas. Going against tradition they were not seeking the father’s permission to marry, just his blessing. He gave both. The third daughter fell in love with a man who was not a Jew, and the father would not give his permission, nor his blessing, and disowned the daughter when she married, even considering her dead.
This is the way it would have been for the early believers who had been Jews. They were kicked out of the...
And what about other examples from fictional stories: in Beauty and the Beast we find the Beauty having a preconceived notion of what the Beast is like…in the movie Shrek…which by the way is Anne’s nickname for me when I shave my head…. the princess in that movie…she had a preconceived notion of who her rescuer should be…and man was she surprised when it turned out to be an ogre! And here we are dealing with much the same thing…. Nathanael…he had a preconceived notion of who the Messiah was supposed to be…and he definitely wasn’t from Nazareth…and it seems that perhaps he had good reason for these expectations. You see, the Messiah, he was the subject of over 300 prophecies in scripture…and Jesus fulfilled every one of them…but there was no direct prophecy in scripture about Jesus being from Nazareth.
Now, those of you that know your Bible, you immediately think of what Matthew wrote in 2:23 of his Gospel…that the prophets’ statements that “he will be called a Nazarene” were fulfilled in Jesus. But, did you know…this is not stated anywhere in the Old Testament? Nowhere in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, or any other prophets is there a statement that Jesus would be from Nazareth. Is this a contradiction? I don’t think so…the Holy Spirit inspired these gospel writers in ways that we will never be inspired. Also, don’t forget…there were such things as oral traditions that were not necessarily scripture…and it could have been one of these traditions Matthew was referring to…so, I don’t think there is a contradiction at all.
Last night I watched a video called "HEREAFTER" with Matt Damon. It is a movie about people grappling with what happens to them after they die. Matt Damon plays the part of a reluctant Psychic who connects with people who have died by touching the hands of relatives. He relates what those who have died are saying. By the way, doing this is strictly prohibited in the Bible (Deuteronomy 18:10-14).
The thing that really strikes me about Genesis 25 is a clear reference to the HEREAFTER. Genesis 25:7 says "Abraham lived for 175 years, and he died at a ripe old age..." That's an understatement! 175 is almost OVERRIPE but I think the idea here is that it was a fruitful life because it goes on to say that he "lived a long and satisfying life. He breathed his last and JOINED HIS ANCESTORS IN DEATH."
Think about that statement for a moment. Genesis 25:8 (NASB) - "gathered to his people." Henry Morris in his book "the Genesis Record", points out that this is an interesting phrase since NONE of his ancestors were buried in the cave of Machpelah where he was buried, so it can't refer to the actual BURIAL PLACE.
It has to be a reference to LIFE AFTER DEATH! Do "HIS PEOPLE" refer to those who died, from Adam down to him, believing in God? Are "his people" believers, the believing line through the line of Seth? I think so. God is creating a scarlet thread of redemption down through the pages of the Old Testament that will eventually end up with the birth of Christ. He is creating a spiritual line that extends down even further.
What makes this statement even more compelling as a reference to the HEREAFTER is that nineteen hundred years later, the place where believers are said to go to when they die is actually described as "ABRAHAM'S BOSOM" (Luke 16:22). We will be with Abraham, the father of those who believe (Romans 4:9-13).
As we talked about my research for this sermon, my wife said it seemed to her that the message of the New Testament on discipline in the church was that we should use the minimum action, or the minimum amount of force necessary to accomplish the desired result.
In the comedy move “Police Academy” that came out in 1982 one of the recruits, who is very badge heavy and loves his weapons, is walking down a residential street. A sweet little old lady is standing by the walk and as he approaches she says, “Officer, would you get my kitty out of the tree?”
He looks up, says “Sure, ma’am”, draws his gun and shoots the cat.
And thinking this through, I have to agree that when church leadership goes overboard in reacting to sin in the body that is proof positive that the Holy Spirit was not sought and He was not in the process.
When He is, there will be order, there will be peace, there will be sincere expression of Christ’s love, and the church will benefit.
SERVANTHOOD: THE SOLOIST
There was an interesting movie recently. It bombed at the box office, but it was a very interesting film. "The Soloist" was a true story about a Los Angeles Times columnist named Steve Lopez who discovered a homeless person on the street who, in turn, was a Julliard School of Music dropout. At one point in the film, the homeless person (exhibiting evidence of the schizophrenia he denied) shouted that Steve Lopez was his god. And Lopez, believing that he was turning that stated devotion into a good thing, commanded the man to do something that he thought would benefit the man. As a result, Lopez went through a personal crisis when he was rejected by the homeless man, frustrated because he had tried to provide good things to the fellow, but experienced only hostile ingratitude and even assault at the hands of his intended beneficiary.
The truth remains, no matter how beneficent our intentions, we be God for anyone else, we can only point people to God, the ONLY authentic and valid choice. A lot of people don’t like the idea that God would "command" people to love Him. They would perceive this as weakness in God, some human type of insecurity and neediness. As with all of the commandments, thou...