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His Marvelous Light
The Rev. Dr. Baron Mullis
May 18, 2014 - 1 Peter 2:1-10, John 14:1-14

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His Marvelous Light
1 Peter 2:1-10, John 14:1-14     

Rev. Dr. Baron Mullis
Morningside Presbyterian Church
May 18, 2014

 

When I read our readings for the day today, they struck me as having a certain evangelistic flair about them and that prompted something of a flashback for me. 
You see, I had to have my head examined when I said I wanted to be a minister- every candidate does, and it’s probably a good practice – I know that this Presbytery still does it, as well they should.  I have it on fairly good authority that Jim Jones of the Jonestown tragedy in South America was once weeded out of the Methodist church’s ordination track because of a psych evaluation.  As part of it we have to take certain tests and inventories, again, all perfectly reasonable.  I always assumed because I like people that I’m an extrovert and my Myers-Briggs confirmed that I am decidedly not.  (I still like people.)  One of the tests is called the TSI, or the Theological Students’ Inventory.  Most seminarians when they take this test have scores that graph out neatly down the center of the page, a little to the left, a little to the right. 
Well, I’m not sure I should share this, but not me.  My score zigzagged wildly all over the page, with the furthest score out there on the low side being evangelism.
Now you have to remember that I am from Charlotte, which at one point was the home of PTL ministries, PTL standing for “Praise the Lord” and I was in high school around the time when that particular televangelism ministry came rather incredibly unglued.  We all watched the scandals and the trial, and let’s just say that evangelism, which for the purposes of that inventory was defined as “preaching the Gospel to the unchurched,” ranked somewhere below a root canal in my mind at that point.  I was raised to be polite and I was always told you don’t talk about religion in polite society.  You didn’t talk politics or family either, and that doesn’t leave much but the weather.
Mighty fine weather, we’re having these days, no?
That, and when I was in college, there was a street preacher who used to come to campus – I understand that he would visit all of the campuses of the system of the University of North Carolina, he had a pretty standard shtick.  He would stand on a corner somewhere in the middle of a highly populated part of the university – for us it was the main quad by the bell tower, and he would holler epithets at everyone as they passed by. 
The fraternity brothers were going to hell for drinking.
The sorority sisters were going to hell for wearing short skirts.
The art and music students were going to hell for being artistic.  (He also assumed they were all gay, and they were going to hell for that too, with a special corner reserved.)
I was also raised to believe that telling people that they are going to hell is generally not polite either.
If this was preaching the gospel to the unchurched, I wanted nothing to do with it, whatsoever.
In fact, if preaching hadn’t been a mandatory class in seminary, I might have managed not ever to take a class in it on my way to a comfortable career in academia.
Our readings today have a certain evangelistic flair to them, don’t they, but it sounds a little different from the sort of coercive religion so many of us associate with the act of evangelism. 
Now please note this: they do not say for me to make a proclamation – but rather for us to proclaim the acts of the one who has called us out of darkness into his marvelous light. 
That’s right, you’re called to make a proclamation.
Now I do have it on good authority as well that the number one fear that is shared by Americans today is public speaking.  I checked a couple of different sources and it does seem consistent that public speaking is utterly terrifying to people. 
I was fascinated by the fact that in two studies, death ranked in the top ten, in one case as the number two fear, but couldn’t bump off public speaking as number one. 
Think this through: would you really rather die than speak in public?  It’s great job security for Drew and me, but I’m telling you, giving a sermon beats the alternative.
But just what exactly is it that we’re called to proclaim?
And does it have to look and sound like a sermon – in a pulpit or on a street-corner either one?
What if it sounded more like this,
“Do not let your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
Have you ever heard those words at the right moment? 
“I go to prepare a place for you, and if I do that, don’t you know that I’m going to bring you to where I am?”
Now, I’ve said those words in the pulpit, many times, just like I did today.  I said them recently at a funeral, as I have many times.
But I have also said those words at the bedside. 
Maybe you have too – I know so often, when we want to have something to say – something of comfort and exhortation and encouragement, so many Christians worry that that they just can’t possibly come up with something worth hearing to say, some word of hope to the situation, that they wind up doing one of two things: saying nothing or saying the wrong thing. 
And we forget that we have the script right here in John 14 – don’t be afraid, I go before to prepare a place for you. 
It’s all right there.  And it’s good news.  It’s the good word that we all need to hear sometimes.
And don’t for one second think you have to have it all sewn up to open your mouth and say good news.  My suspicion is that part of the fear of making a public proclamation about the good God, even to just one other person in a moment when a good word is needed, is the worry that we have to understand everything about God to say a good word.
The rationale goes something like this: since I don’t have a Ph.D. in biblical interpretation, I don’t know what I can say.
Horse feathers, as Peter Gomes used to say. 
None of us ever has God nailed down.  The ineffable, almighty, everlasting God, the creator of the universe ex nihilo, that God is not going to be nailed down and contained in just a few words of sermonizing or opining. 
I remember a story that I heard once from Edwina Gateley, who founded a group called the Volunteer Missionary Movement back in the sixties.  She told a group of college students, of which I was a part, that she thought she knew exactly what she was getting into when she started a missionary movement.  You see, she had such an uphill fight with the bishop of her church, because in those days, women didn’t start things, or so she said, and she had to fight her way all the way from her parish priest up the ladder to the bishop to get permission to do what she felt called to do.  Because she had fought so hard and felt that God was on her side as she was struggling to start her work that when she finally got that permission and set off to Africa, she thought that she had God neatly boxed up in a tight package and stored with her luggage that she was shipping ahead of her.
When we think we have to have it all sewn up, we’re not leaving any room for God to act, you know.
She concluded that God must’ve escaped from her luggage, because when she got there she could see God everywhere- in the faces of the people who greeted her with warmth and hospitality and flatly overturned all of her illusions.
Has that ever happened to you?  It has happened to me!
But let’s be clear about one thing here, I’m not promoting rank ignorance.
I don’t want your lips pinned shut with the proclamation trapped inside just because you’re afraid you’ll say the wrong thing.  But neither do I want you to take that as permission to remain in ignorance. 
Let me just say this very kindly and with no judgment: if these names are unfamiliar to you: Noah, Moses, or John the Baptist, we need to have a conversation.  Drew will help you.  Our job as your pastors is to teach you.  Indeed, that is how the Book of Order styles us – nowhere in its pages will you find an “Inspirational Elder,” but rather we are “Teaching elders.”  Our job is to teach you. 
Drew and his team have put together a phenomenal adult education program all the way through the fall.  Melinda has prepared VBS and Mission camp material for the children, to say nothing of the weekly offerings that she puts together every week and frequently the adults learn as much as the children that they are teaching.  You read theology in my office at lunchtime on Thursdays, and I’ll be doing a year-long series on the Apostles’ Creed for Theology on Tap.
Because, you see, Peter doesn’t tell his readers in his epistle (that’s a letter, by the way) that they are to proclaim something generic.  He tells his listeners that they are to proclaim something specific. 
Listen: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
You are the means by which God’s good acts are being shared.  And God hasn’t asked whether you are comfortable with that task or not.  It’s a specific call – to proclaim the acts of God.
I am going to let you off one hook, though.
Proclamation is not the same thing as seeking conversion.
You do not have to go around trying to make converts.  That is God’s job.  God is just saying that we do the proclaiming. 
Let me tell you another story about Dr. Paul Lehman at Union Theological Seminary in New York.  Dr. Lehman, in the aftermath of WWII adopted a young Jewish boy who lost his entire family in the Holocaust.  He raised him the context of Union Seminary, a community of faith – a deliberate community seeking through their lives and words to proclaim who God is.  The boy came to Dr. Lehman one day perplexed.  He said to him, “Everybody’s always asking me when I’m going to accept Jesus.  You never ask me that.  Why not?  Doesn’t it matter?”  Dr. Lehman paused and replied “Oh, it matters a great deal.  I just figure that if God who loves you more than I ever could isn’t in any hurry, well, I shouldn’t be either.” 
Just tell the story.  Just tell the story!  Let God sort out what happens next.
Finally, I’m left with one closing observation from another friend, Larry Owens, a minister here in our Presbytery who works with Presbyterian Homes of Georgia.  Larry is a fundraiser, and he works to make sure that no one ever has to leave the place where they’ve come to spend their final years just because they outlived their money, so he’s always asking folks to give lots of money.  (If you want play golf for a good cause this fall, you just let me know and I’ll get you hooked up with him.)
But Larry said something a while back that I really liked and I want to share it with you.  He said, “I’m not sure God cares as much about our orthodoxy as God does about our orthopraxis.
What he meant is that he’s not at all sure that God sits around checking to make sure we believe all the right things all the time, or that we can tell the difference between justification, sanctification, beatification, and vacation.  I’m pretty sure God doesn’t sit around checking any of those things.
But God is very concerned with our practice.  God is very concerned with what we’re doing. 
“You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.
 

Last Published: November 21, 2014 11:49 PM