Summary: An inductive sermon exploring the idolatry of our (often Christian) busyness in light to the need for "Sabbath times" of relationship-building

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A Haunting Question for a Busy Church

John 21:15-17 and Deuteronomy 5:12-15

I love my wife Linda. I do.

Now, to be honest, there are times that I do not enjoy being with her. But I do love her.

To be painfully honest, she’s not a very exciting person for me to talk. There are lots of people I’d rather talk to. Usually, I probably talk to her more out of duty than desire. Or, more likely, I talk to her when I need something or want something, or it serve some useful purpose in my life and work.

But I love my wife Linda. I do.

It’s just that I find her company less than enthralling. Sometimes I go days without talking to her, except maybe briefly at meals.

But I love my wife Linda. I do.

When I do talk to her, I find my mind wanders rather easily. Five or ten minutes, and I’m thinking about my job, or the kids, or mowing the lawn, sorting socks, or something else. I have a hard time focusing on her, you know? She seems so far away.

It’s not like she’s really part of my everyday life. Oh, once a week I gather together with other husbands and we sing songs about our wives and talk to them publicly, and even hear a homiletic discourse about how wonderful they are. In fact, I regularly stand up and lead in those discourses. I’ve been known to give some stirring ones that even got people crying. That’s pretty good, you know.

Why, I teach at an institution dedicated to such skills. I regularly teach people what a worthy wife she is, and quiz them regularly on certain events in her life that depict her love for me.

I just don’t really care to be with her very much.

"Simon, son of John, do you love me?"

Jesus. His message of love was rejected by a world in search of power and efficiency and control. He stood by a few friends along the Lake of Galilee and simply asked, "Do you love me."

The question was not, How many people take you seriously? How many lives have you touched? How much are you going to accomplish? But, are you really in love with Jesus?

Henri Nouwen, who gave up his teaching post at Harvard to work and live in a home for mentally retarded adults in Toronto, writes that it is not enough to us to be moral, ethical, religious, effective, efficient, well trained and well talented. That is not the heart of Christian leadership.

The central question is: are the leaders of the future truly men and women of God, people with an ardent desire to dwell in God’s presence, to listen to God’s voice, to look at God’s beauty, to touch God’s incarnate Word and to taste fully God’s infinite goodness?

But that is a question most of you will never be asked by a church, a board, an eldership or another minister. You will be asked about results, efficiency, work schedules and time budgeting. But you will never be asked about intimacy with God. Eugene Peterson says that ours is the easiest job to fake. You can be highly successful in American Christian work and be totally unconnected to God.

Dr. Os Guiness in The Gravediggers File writes:

Reliance on the computer is fast replacing reliance on the Holy Spirit. Personal development is a growing substitute for conversion. . . . Results have ousted fruit as the yardstick of success, and the matrix of action is no longer worship and fellowship. Instead, a self perpetuating series of conventions, consultations and committees is orbiting the Christian world.

In our idolatry of busyness, we even recast our Biblical heroes to make them busy, driven, efficient first century Americans.

We portray Jesus as hurrying from need to need, from town to town, in an exhausting three year frenzy of doing-something-now-ness. Gone is the unhurried sense of movement in the gospels. Of the three years of Christ’s public minister, we can account for less than one actual month of time. We simply miss the nights spent in prayer, which were probably followed by long afternoon naps in the warm sunshine. We miss his frequent escapes from the crowds, just to be with his friends, just to enjoy them, and to enjoy life, and to enjoy God.

We refashion the Apostle Paul into the world’s most effective, efficient and prodigious missionary. Yet the reality is somewhat less than that. Paul spent fully half of his Christian life doing nothing public or well known. When he did start traveling he started less than two dozen churches in nearly fourteen years of full time work. Most of those churches were small and struggling and a number of them did not make it. Of the truly large, dynamic, successful and effective congregations of the first or second centuries, (Antioch, Ephesus, Rome, Alexandria, Jerusalem) not one of them was started by Paul. But he couldn’t be our hero unless he was the epitome of competent effectiveness -- unless he could produce a bottom line that outshines the competition.

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Gary Pettyjohn

commented on Apr 22, 2009

Tom has been one of my favorite preachers ever since I first heard him preach in the 1970s. He is a gifted communicator, writer, teacher, and Christian role model and leader. It is great to find his sermons on SermonCentral. Thank you Tom for posting!

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