Summary: Jesus Christ sets us free from: 1. Cynicism 2. Despair 3. Self
Comedian Rodney Dangerfield, who passed away earlier this month at age 82, made his living playing the part of someone chronically depressed and making fun of himself because he “got no respect.” He would complain to his audiences with lines like: “I tell ya I get no respect from anyone. I bought a cemetery plot. The guy said, ‘There goes the neighborhood ’” “I come from a stupid family. During the Civil War my great uncle fought for the West.” “Last week I told my psychiatrist, ‘I keep thinking about suicide.’ He told me to pay in advance.” “My uncle’s dying wish, he wanted me on his lap. He was in the electric chair.” “I could tell that my parents hated me. My bath toys were a toaster and a radio.” “I remember I was so depressed I was going to jump out a window on the tenth floor, so they sent a priest to talk to me. He said, “On your mark. …” “My wife made me join a bridge club. I jump off next Tuesday.”
Dangerfield was actually making fun of the self-absorbed despair which seems to be in vogue in our culture. Take a look at the television programs which are based on despair and packed with stories based on violence, cruelty and inhumanity. Where are the happy stories and shows about really good people? There are a few, but they are often so sappy, syrupy and poorly acted that you can’t stand to watch them. I would love to be entertained by something other than violence complete with dismembered corpses and dissection tables. We have a problem in this culture, and the problem is that we have drifted away from God — and in the process we have drifted away from joy. I believe that Jesus Christ came to set hearts free and give us deep down joy. Last week we talked about the kingdom of God because it is important to understand that we are secure in the love and power of God which will answer injustice and usher in a kingdom of joy. The Bible says, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire’” (Hebrews 12:28-29). The world is shaking and those who place their trust in this world are losing hope, but those who place their confidence in the unshakable kingdom of God dare to hope, to dream and to be happy.
If Jesus came to set us free, he came to free us from our sin. He came to free us from our guilt. But our sin drove a wedge not only between us and God, but between us and life. Americans, in spite of their affluence, do not seem to be enjoying life very much. I want to say today that Jesus Christ came to free us from the results of our sin, and the first point is: Jesus Christ came to free us from cynicism. Tony Campolo was at the Nazarene University this week and told about lecturing at UCLA last year. While he was speaking, his heart felt heavy because the privileged students at this University in California were so cynical. At one point he said to the students: “I’m 70-years-old and you are 23, and I am younger than you are, because people are as young as their dreams and their visions, and as old as their cynicism. You are cynical and I’m still dreaming and having visions, because the Holy Spirit is alive in my life.”
Do you remember what happened on the day of Pentecost? The Holy Spirit came upon the believers and they were enjoying themselves so much that those around them thought they were drunk. They weren’t used to seeing people that happy. Peter stood up and said, “These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams’” (Acts 2:15-17). That is what happens when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, you have an attitude adjustment. Cynicism is turned into trust and faith. You are able to dream great dreams and have vision and hope for the future.
I looked up the definition of cynicism to get a clearer idea of what it meant. The dictionary defined it as, “Peevish. Contemptuously distrustful of human nature and motives. Distrustful. A sneering disbelief in sincerity or integrity. A dislike of human beings and their society. A gloomy, distrustful view of life.” That describes a lot of people in today’s world. When I see people dragging themselves through life, I wish for them the Jesus that liberates. When I see young people with a permanent pout molded into their expression, I wish for them the Jesus who can set their sights on something other than the passing things of this world. I wish for all of us a faith in the unshakable kingdom of God that can help us to relax and dare to be happy in the wonderful world that God has made — despite the problems that life sometimes brings.