“Something In Between”
“And God has put all things under the authority of Christ, and he gave him this authority for the benefit of the church. And the church is his body; it is filled by Christ who fills everything everywhere with his presence.” Ephesians 1:22-23 NLT
Intro: The Battle of Okinawa was the last and biggest of the Pacific island battles of World War II. It involved the U.S. Army against the Japanese Army. At stake were air bases in between the Allied forces and the projected final invasion of Japan to bring an end to the war. Between April 1 and June 22, 1945 Eric Grant tells his story. In the early-morning hours Eric Grant strapped thirty pounds of ammunition and explosives to his already overloaded back hopped on resupply truck and headed toward a rendezvous point. There were twelve soldiers in each truck in a convoy of six vehicles. The front end of the truck was packed with hospital beds. At the time, they were empty. Within hours, they would be full. The first several miles were pretty smooth. Eric could close his eyes and almost see the front porch swing at his home. Then suddenly he was jolted back to Okinawa by the sound of an explosion and gun fire. The front of the truck started smoldering and filling with smoke. Eric picked up his rifle and jumped over the tailgate, off the truck and landed on his feet. He could hear bullets whizzing by his head. They kind of sounded like the buzz of bumble bees. Standing there he remembered that he had thirty pounds of ammunition and explosives strapped to his back. He fell to the ground and began to crawl toward safety and the tree line at the edge of the road. About half way to cover he looked back and could see the truck was now on fire. He knew that besides the hospital beds there were also two cases of grenades. And still eleven other men.
He was faced with a choice. Keep crawling and save himself. Or go back and risk death. It only took him a second to drop the backpack of ammunition and start crawling back toward the truck. The rest of the story is kind of a blur. He just remembers grabbing limp bodies and the two cases of grenades (which if they had exploded would have killed them all) and throwing them over the side of the truck. Later Eric received recognition from the Army for his bravery that day. He was able to save three of the eleven men from the burning truck. Eric Grant was the only thing that stood between those three men and certain death.
That kind of loyalty is hard to find.
Yet it is the story of the early disciples at the beginning of Christian faith. Some would have us believe that everything that has ever been written and everything that we have ever been told about Jesus’ life, death on the cross and resurrection is a lie. They would have us believe that we are crazy and ludicrous. They would have us believe that it is ridiculous to trust in a supernatural Jesus. They would have us believe that it is idiotic to think that God would love the world enough to give his Son so that people like you and me would not perish but have eternal life. Yet this Jesus stands between us and what waits for us after death.
Maybe life does just end and when we die there is just nothing we just cease to exist and that is it. But if there is something else. If there is eternal life after death. If there is a heaven. If there is a hell. I sure don’t want to get that choice wrong.
How many of you here are really good at keeping a secret? I have a friend who has already told me one of the presents I am getting for Christmas.
Now let’s imagine what would have had to have taken place after the crucifixion and death of Jesus. Here are eleven disciples because Judas the Betrayer is gone. He could not keep a secret. He told the Jews where Jesus was praying in the garden so they could have him arrested. We have eleven men who would have had a secret meeting. It would have gone something like this. O.K. guys I suppose we were wrong about this guy Jesus being the Messiah our Saviour. But let's go steal his body. We will sneak up on these Roman soldiers who are guarding the tomb in the middle of the night. We will not kill them. We will just knock them unconscious. Instead of killing them we will take a chance that they will recognize us and be able to identify us tomorrow when they wake up. We will steal the body of Jesus. We will dig another grave and hide him there where he can’t be found. Then we will pretend that we have seen Jesus alive and tell everyone and risk being persecuted ourselves. We will make up some stories about him eating supper with us like he always did. We will invent all kinds of made up lies about Jesus so that we can keep this falsehood of religion going. Now let us just suppose that the disciples all agreed and that they are able to follow through with their secret plan and are able to keep all their stories straight and keep all their lies and deceptions from giving them away.
You might think that you could do that. You might think it would be possible for you to have kept such a secret. But what about when it comes down to being put to the test. Simon Called Peter by Christ died 33-34 years after the death of Christ. He would have had to have kept the secret for all those years. Telling no one or even giving the slightest hint that it was all just a bunch of made up lies. History tells us that Peter was persecuted all those years for his faith. And felt himself to be unworthy to be put to death in the same manner as his Master, and was, therefore crucified with his head downward. James the son of Zebedee: He was put to death by Herod Agrippa shortly before the day of the Passover, in the year 44 or about 11 years after the death of Christ. Both in history and Acts 12:1-2. Andrew: No accurate death date given. A variety of traditions say he was crucified at Patrae in Achaia. Matthew: the author of the Gospel of Matthew, which was written at least twenty years after the death of Christ died a martyr of the faith in Ethiopia. Thomas: According to both Latin and Greek writings died a martyr by being cut to pieces with a lance. James Alpheus: We know he was thrown down from the temple by the scribes and Pharisees; he was then stoned, and beaten to death with a club. Thaddeus: also died a martyr. A martyr is someone who is willing to suffer and willing to die because of what they believe in.
Now, I would be willing to die for the truth. You might even being willing to keep a secret or a lie when they drive that first nail into your hand as they crucify on a cross. But when they start to drive that second nail into your other hand and third nail into your feet. Someone would have said stop. This is nonsense. It is all a bunch of made up lies. But none of the disciples did that. As far as we know the only one who died of natural causes was John the beloved and he helped take care of Mary the mother of Jesus. The rest suffered persecution, beatings, stoning, being filleted with a knife, crucified upside down. All because they stood between the false religions and the truth that Jesus really is the savior of the world.
That kind of loyalty and unity is hard to find.
There was once two men who each set out to build their own church. Both had a pile of bricks. The first man picked up each brick, one by one and carefully inspected every brick. He pulled out a measuring tape and measured each brick. How long it was. How wide it was. How deep it was. He would throw some good-looking bricks out. Of course any brick that had a chip or a flaw was tossed it into the reject pile. When asked why? He said, “I’m building a church and want it to stand. Every brick needs to measure up to the same standard.” Finally he started stacking those bricks one on top of another. But after just a few hours of stacking those brick just fell down into a big pile. Down the road a bit was the second man who set out to build a church. You had never seen such a mess of bricks. Some were small and some were big. Some were chipped and some looked almost like a pile of rocks. Big ones and little one. It looked silly. The guy up the street had almost perfect bricks and when he stacked them one on top of another they just fell down. But this man took something that looked like a shovel and began to stir something in a bucket and he brought it over and laid a row of brick and then he put a healthy layer of this stuff down and laid another row of brick and then some more of this stuff and then more brick. The next day he was done and there stood the finished walls of the church still standing.
You see it is not how perfect the bricks are that build a church it is the stuff that looks like cement that holds it together that builds a church.
What do you call the stuff that holds the church together? What we really need to do in church is just stick together.
There is a bond between soldiers and martyrs. There is a tie that unites us as believers and members of the same community of faith.
“Blest be the tie that binds
our hearts in Christian love;
the fellowship of kindred minds
is like to that above.”
This hymn begins by stating that the body of Christ is bound together by love. The second and third stanzas of this hymn talk about how that suffering or rejoicing we do it together. The hymn concludes with the hope that this unity will be permanently forged together forever by death. These themes are found all throughout the bible especially the writings of one of Paul's letters. He writes on the unity and diversity of the body of Christ with this thought: “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” 1 Corinthians 12:26-27. Just a few verses later begins the great chapter on church unity and love in 1 Corinthians 13.
That kind of loyalty and unity and love is hard to find.
It reminds me of watching my mom make a cake from scratch. I am not talking about the kind that comes out of a box where you just add water and put it in the oven. I am talking about: Real flour and yeast. Milk and lard. Salt and sugar and baking soda. Vanilla and chopped nuts and raisins. A teaspoon of this and an pinch of that. It is amazing to watch someone make a cake from scratch. Nothing less than a miracle that all that mess of different stuff can rise and come out tasting so good.
People can be so unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered, but because you are standing between as representatives of the body Christ and the world you love them anyway. Sometimes even when you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish ulterior motives, But just keep standing between them and be kind anyway.
The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow, but keep doing good anyway. Transparency and revealing that you are also tempted and have to repent will make you vulnerable, but be honest and stand between them anyway. What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight, but build it up anyway. People need help but may attack you if you try to help them but help them anyway. You don’t throw a life away just because it’s been banged up a bit. In the final analysis in the final judgment, it's between you and God anyway. The key to a spiritual life is to live in such a way that you only want to be where God is. When you develop this kind of relationship with God, you discover that there is never a burden that he does not carry, never a sorrow that he does not share.
How do you express the oneness of unity as the body of Christ?
That kind of loyalty and unity and love and oneness is hard to find.
There is “Something in Between” us that is called the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ that holds us together.
Aren’t you thankful to be part of this beautiful thing we call membership in the church.