Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth, Pastor
Rev. Millie Myren, Support Minister
11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Sermon June 21, 2015
2 CORINTHIANS 6:1-10
6As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. 2For he says, “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! 3We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, 4but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities,5beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; 6by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love,7truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; 10as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
“HAVING NOTHING BUT OWNING EVERYTHING?"
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
Have you ever been hated for who you are? I have. I suspect a good number of people here have experienced hatred directed at them not because of something he or she did but because of who he or she is. Hatred in America was clearly highlighted this week in Charlestown, South Carolina. Nine people, including the pastor, at Emanuel A.M. E. Church, gunned down during their Bible study.
Why? The answer to this perplexing question is surely multi-layered. We have the alleged gunman, a 21 year old loner, who dropped out of school years ago, who had apparently been taking psychotropic drugs, shooting people because they were African-American. This obviously disturbed loner was given a gun for his 21st birthday by his father. Why? What kind of father does this?
As Jesus wonders in Matthew 7:9-10: “Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake?” This young man’s father gave this disturbed young man a snake!
Sisters and brothers, hate is a sickness of the soul. Hatred has destroyed many more people through our troubled history than anything else. War must be fueled by hate for war to happen. Domestic violence must be fueled by hate for domestic violence to happen. Shootings in our city streets must be fueled by hate for these shootings to happen. Racism must be fueled by hate for racism to happen. And let me assert that self-hatred lies behind most every addiction I know of.
So what are we to do? Part of the answer lies in our preaching text. Two Sundays ago, I explored Paul’s 2nd Letter to the Corinthians. Today we again find our preaching text from this most interesting letter. In our text, Paul proclaims: “Since we work together with him (Christ), we are also begging you not to receive the grace of God in vain.” (2nd Corinthians 6:1)
Now who is this “we” Paul is speaking about? It is most probably Timothy, Apollos, and Paul himself. But in another sense, it could be anyone who is working to bring about the ultimate consummation of God’s realm – the ultimate defeat of hate by love.
And here’s an important message: human cooperation is essential if hate is to be overcome by love. Sisters and brothers, God needs you. God needs me. God needs us! The Risen Jesus needs us! If we fail to live the gospel – if we fail to proclaim the gospel - then we’ve failed at being disciples of the Risen Jesus.
But what does this mean – to live the gospel and proclaim the gospel? We know we’re called to be disciples, which means we’re called to be different than those who are not disciples. Not better – no, not better – but decidedly different!
Brothers and sisters, as disciples we’re not meant to fit into any society in which we find ourselves. If we fit in, then something is probably amiss! Disciples are counter-cultural. Where there is hatred, disciples are meant to sow love.
The reason a disciple would wish to fit into society would be in order to act as a subversive within that society. The society in which we’re immersed is a society taken over by never-ending talk; never-ending activity; never-ending noise; never-ending personal aggrandizement; never-ending arguments; never-ending violence; never-ending hatred.
Sisters and brothers, if we are to sow love, if we are to stand up to the hatred polluting our planet we need to do two things: 1) we need to worship God and 2) we need to listen to God. If we worship deeply – we will be able to hear God call us to God’s healing love.
Without embracing, without engaging, both of these spiritual practices – we cease being true disciples of Jesus Christ and we become something else. We become easier prey to the soul-sickness of hatred. Hatred is real. I don’t need to tell you this. But without worship – without deep listening to the loving voice of God – hatred may well have its demonic way with us.
So why is it that so many self-described Christians seldom, if ever, go to church? It’s perplexing to me! I need to say this clearly: if someone never goes to church – and is not home-bound because of illness or age – such a person is not a Christian as we understand the term. And please understand I am in no way saying such people are bad people. In no way am I saying God’s grace doesn’t pour down upon such people. But something is seriously amiss when a Christian stops worshipping!
We know from a recent survey that some 7.5 million Christians in our country have given up practicing their faith since 2012. That’s a lot of people who have dropped out of Christianity in just the past three years! Over 35% of all-Americans never attend any church of any kind. Why such a religious exodus?
Is it that our churches are hard-pressed to be entertaining and engaging? That may well be part of the problem. But do we come to church to be entertained? Lord, I hope not! God forbid that I be judged on how entertaining I am! If 40 years of full-time ministerial service hasn’t turned me into a religious entertainer, then I’m pretty certain it won’t happen in whatever remaining time God gives me.
Sisters and brothers, I’m convinced many have dropped from Christian practice because they have stopped worshipping God and listening to God. Both are bound together! Our churches must be places where both of these vital experiences occur. If a church doesn’t provide a healthy setting for the worship of God, if a church doesn’t provide multiple opportunities for listening to God, then such churches should go!
But the fewer churches the fewer opportunities to help heal the soul – the fewer opportunities to present antidotes to the plague of hatred. Each day 3,500 people quit their churches. Each year 4,000 churches close their doors. How can we be surprised by the prevalence of hatred in our country – 260,000 people a year are victims of hate crimes in our country. Our politics are held hostage to hate. Hate and rage are allowed to run amok everywhere we look.
To combat hatred we need to do two simple things: 1) worship God and 2) listen to God. Everything else flows from these two practices, these two disciplines. And, yes, as Christians, the God we worship, the God we listen to, is the God revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As Christians, we believe God has come closest to us – as a matter of fact – become one of us in Jesus. Which brings us back again to: 1) worship God and 2) listen to God.
Something the minister and professor Eugene Peterson makes clear in his book, Subversive Spirituality, touched me this week. This is what he writes: “I want to simplify your lives. When others are telling you to read more, I want to tell you to read less; when others are telling you to do more, I want to tell you to do less.
“The world does not need more of you; it needs more of God. Your friends do not need more of you; they need more of God. And you don’t need more of you; you need more of God.
He continues: “The Christian life consists in what God does for us, not what we do for God; the Christian life consists in what God says to us, not what we say about God.”
This seems pretty simple, does it not? Yet it’s not always easy. We’ve been mislead into believing that we should be doing more and more Christian acts of charity – but that is not the basis of a Christian life.
Charity certainly has its place, don’t misunderstand me. Charity is a powerful tool against hatred. But it is not the foundation of the Christian life. Worship of God and listening to God serve as the basis of the Christian life and our only hope to heal hatred.
Listen to the spiritual writer Ronald Rolheiser from an article of his: “The gospel is not as much about worthiness as it is about surrender. What God wants from us is not a million acts of virtue, but a million acts of surrender, culminating in a massive surrender of soul, mind, and body ... Then (and only then) can salvation be given to us.”
Brothers and sisters, in our Baptist tradition, this massive surrender to God is what freely-chosen baptism is all about. Baptism is not the joining of some special club. Baptism is a personal surrender to the love and almighty power of God.
Here’s another way to understand this need for surrender. The Belfast author and Oxford professor, C.S. Lewis, wrote an interesting novella, The Great Divorce, in 1945. C.S. Lewis is well-known for his The Screwtape Letters and Chronicles of Narnia. We may be unaware that Lewis, although baptized as an Anglican while an infant, became an atheist, especially due to his experiences in the brutal trench warfare of the First World War.
Lewis eventually returned to Christianity – even though he did so kicking and screaming, as he himself admits. In The Great Divorce, we find a number of people living in a grey, overcast and dreary city. They get onto a bus and are driven to the foothills of heaven. There they are given opportunities to enter heaven. All of them, for various reasons, refuse.
And here is a quotation from this work that I wish to bring to us this morning: “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy (Your) will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy (Your) will be done.’ All that are in Hell, chose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell.” In other words, the people in hell decide to go there. And I am certain that the decision to go to hell is fueled by deciding to hate. Sisters and brothers, hatred is always a decision. Rage may happen within us because of deep anger but hatred is always a decision a person makes.
So, for love to flow through us, we must surrender! is no other way to the fullness of Jesus Christ. There is no Surrender! Surrender! There is no other way to the fullness of life. There is no other way to the fullness of God. There other antidote to hatred. No other path away from the path to hell.
And how do we learn to surrender? Two things are required: 1) worship God and 2) listen to God. Then we can boast with our bother Paul: “I have nothing, but I own everything.” Such is the place we come to when we 1) worship God and 2) listen to God. End of story! Amen!