You have all probably heard the current buzz phrase, “thinking outside the box.” If you use the phrase the same way I do, then it refers to something like abstract thinking – an imagining and inventing process that forces us to think beyond the mold in which we currently operate. Today, I want to modify that phrase a bit to talk about “living outside the box.” So you understand where I’m coming from, we’re going to show a video clip.
As they get this clip cued up, I need to give you some background information, which requires a bit of a confession on my part. I love the TV show, King of the Hill. In fact, I might even have to go so far as to say that I am addicted to this show. When possible, I arrange my schedule and activities so I can watch King of the Hill reruns. Now, I wasn’t allowed to watch King of the Hill when I was growing up, and my mother still sighs with disdain when she knows I am watching this show. There are certainly aspects of the show which fall far short of modeling ideal moral behavior; yet, I have found that almost every show sends a positive message in one way or another; not to mention the fact that the Hills are faithful members of Arlen Methodist Church.
One of my most favorite episodes finds Bobby, the only child of Hank and Peggy Hill, in a bit of trouble. Seeking to remedy the problem, Hank takes Bobby to the pastor of Arlen Methodist, who suggests that Bobby get involved in a local after-school youth group that meets at the community center. On the first day, Bobby shows up in a suit and tie, with his Bible tucked under his arm, only to discover that the Christian youth group consists of skaters and punk rockers; what might be considered a rather “unorthodox” Christian youth group. Through the course of the episode, we watch Bobby become immersed in this culture; he adopts the lingo, the dress, and the hobbies of his new friends. Furthermore, Bobby begins learning the Word and applying it in his life. Still, the skating and punk rock is too much for Hank, who forces Bobby to quit the group, much to Bobby’s disappointment. Now you, like I, will probably scratch your head in wonder, asking why Hank would remove Bobby from a Christian youth group in which he was so enthusiastically involved. The end of the show gives a glimpse into Hank’s rationale; let’s watch. (Show video clip.)
As you have heard, Hank leaves Bobby with a very simple but profound comment. “I don’t want the Lord to end up in this box.” Hank is saying to Bobby, I don’t want the Lord to become just another memory; I don’t want your faith to end up in this box, collecting dust on the top shelf in the garage. Hank’s statement turned positive might have gone something like this, “Bobby, I want you always to live for the Lord.” Or, “Bobby, I want you to live an authentic life in which the Lord shines through in all that you do everyday.” So the logical question is, how do we live such lives? How do we keep our faith, and even the Lord, from ending up in our memory boxes?
Before I delve into that question, I want to give us a minute to reflect on how we might already be living our lives in ways that put the Lord in a box. Maybe our interaction with God is limited to church on Sundays. Maybe we try to hide our faith from our peers or co-workers. Maybe we only live our faith to the point that it is comfortable to us, never stretching ourselves or “stepping out in faith.” We each know those things we do or don’t do that tend to “put the Lord in a box,” and for each of us, those ways are probably different.
We do not have the benefit of seeing what would have happened if Bobby had stayed in the Christian skater group, or what happened as a result of him being pulled from the group. But we are led by Hank’s actions to believe that Bobby’s enthusiasm for the Lord was only superficial and temporary. We might think of it something like pouring lighter fluid on a fire. It causes the fire to burn higher, and brighter, and hotter, but only for a few moments, and then it dies away. Or maybe the parallel in our own lives comes with those “mountain-top experiences.” Like in my own life, I remember many times I have gone on retreats or similar experiences and felt a profound connection or reconnection with God and, as a result of that, I have enthusiastically vowed to read the Bible more, or pray more, or something like that. I would maintain that commitment for a while, but more times than not, I have not carried such commitments or re-commitments consistently through the years. So how do we live lives of sustained enthusiasm for the Lord? What do we do to change our lives, to “live outside the box?” Paul has offered us some clues in the passage we heard earlier from 2 Corinthians.
Paul’s primary purpose in this his second letter to the Corinthians is to appeal for their support of an offering for the Jerusalem Church. In modern-day United Methodist terms, this might be seen as something like a letter from the Bishop to all the local churches in his Episcopal area asking for funds toward the “fair-share apportionment,” our support of the general missions and ministries of the United Methodist Church. But Paul knows that if he is going to get the Corinthians on board in support of the Jerusalem church, he first has to remind them of their association with Christ, their “reason for living.” In the opening chapters of this second letter, Paul establishes the goal of the Christian life as glorifying God. In the passage we read this morning, Paul expands on our goal of glorifying God, even as he addresses the problem of “earthly distractions.” Paul explores the idea of “being at home in our body,” which necessarily entails, at least to some degree, “being away from the Lord.”
Paul recognizes that we are faced with a myriad of distractions that cause us to compartmentalize our faith or “put the Lord in a box.” As we probably recognized when we reflected on our own lives a few moments ago, there are other goals and goods that compete with our commitment to the Lord. But Paul reminds us in verse 10 that even if we are “at home in the body,” we must live our lives in the daily give-and-take of the world so that when the time comes that we are given the opportunity to be with the Lord full-time, we will pass judgment at the seat of Christ. The pressure of society often pushes us to put value on external things – the clothes we wear, the words we say, the music to listen to and the like. We can even get to the point of a Pharisee-like attitude, where we do any say certain things as a way of showing off our faith rather than genuinely practicing it. Paul makes clear that these “externals,” what people see about us, are wasting away like rust eats iron. Though Bobby’s enthusiasm for the Christian group and his adoption of the Christian rock and skater culture seemed admirable, we are led to believe that it is only superficial. But Paul goes on to tell us that even though our “externals” may be superficial and wasting away, on the inside we are being renewed day-by-day through the power of Christ. If we are to live “outside the box,” it is this day-to-day life-giving spirit of Jesus Christ that must shine above and beyond any of the externals that we are inclined to show-off.
Paul says, “We live by faith, not by sight.” Paul knew that to consider only that which is seen is a sure way to be misled about what is really important and what is truly going on. Not only should our own faith shine through, we must also seek the pure faith of those around us. When we look at only the externals, when we consider only those things which make us “at home in the body,” then it is almost as if the fundamentally transformative resurrection of Christ did not even happen. “Christ died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.”
Christ’s death and resurrection change things so fundamentally that the old ways of looking, perceiving, and understanding become irrelevant. The passage we read this morning ends with a couple of well-known and beautiful sentences with which many of you are probably familiar. “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” The coming of the new is the building of our right relationship with God, and right relationship with God does not come with the valuing of the earthly. We have new standards! We have to let go of our temptation to value the externals and then to cast them aside into our memory boxes when they are no longer “en vogue.” And in its place, we must express love with one another and with God. In Paul’s view, life is not governed or defined by what is happening around us, but by what God is doing on the inside.
“If we make it our goal to please the Lord, whether we are at home in our body or away from it,” then we will not be tempted to put the Lord in a box. We do not have to take extreme measures; we do not have to pray, fancy elaborate prayers or try to incorporate every spiritual discipline that exists into our daily lives. In fact, extreme measures may make it even harder to live a day-to-day life that glorifies Christ. We are God’s chosen vessels, and as such, we do not need to adopt the trappings of the Christian rock and skater culture as Bobby did, or build cathedrals, or engage in other extraordinary acts to prove our faith. Rather, we need to simply live our day-to-day lives in such a way that we love and honor one another and God.
Certainly, we can keep our memory boxes, and we should continue to fill them. But what goes in our box should make room for Christ in our lives rather than taking the Lord out of our lives. We must seek to live lives “outside the box.” “Living outside the box” means living beyond the standards and expectations which society has set for us. “Living outside the box” means living not according to the fads and whims of our society, but according to the life and resurrection of Jesus Christ.