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The Spiritual Rock
Dr. Baron Mullis
February 28, 2016 - 1 Corinthians 10:1-13

 

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The Spiritual Rock                                                               
1 Corinthians 10:1-13        

Dr. Baron Mullis
Morningside Presbyterian Church
February 28, 2016


Some years back, I heard a rather spectacular account of a passion play production mounted by a local congregation.  As the project progressed, it became for the congregation something of a holy vocation, which if you are going to do a passion play, is exactly as it should be.  Mind you, I’m not itching for us to do one, but here you go.  Congregation members donated their time and skills to build sets, auditions were held, and finally the coveted role of Jesus went to a college student who had the rare qualification of being the only one with a beard.  No amount of money was spared.  On Good Friday, the church gathered, along with their friends and neighbors and a good portion of the town, who had heard by then that something very special was going on, which, of course, was true. 

The first part of the Passion play was a resounding success.  The actors delivered their lines with eloquence and feeling, bringing tears to the eyes of the audience as they described Jesus’s last days- his agonizing in the garden, his betrayal and trial.  The problem occurred- and I’m sure by now you knew there was going to be one- at the crucifixion scene.  As the crucified Jesus was dramatically hoisted to the sky, the cast did not realize that the rubber cement affixing the spearhead to the pole had hardened significantly beyond where it was during the dress-rehearsal, losing in the process, most of its elasticity, and therefore, flexibility.  The middle-school aged boy who played the soldier at the foot of the cross stabbed with all the gusto he could bring to bear, and Jesus cried out with pain, “Oh God, I’ve been stabbed.”

The audience, they tell us, was caught up in the moment and didn’t realize that anything was amiss.  The more biblically literate knew that Jesus never said that, but figured, “Well, he could have said it…”  The stage manager, though, did know that something was not right and brought the curtain down immediately.  They took the bleeding Jesus down from the cross and rushed him to the emergency room where he received a few stitches.  The cast was certain that the passion play was ruined, but the audience, meanwhile, was still none the wiser.  So, the cast agreed that the play should continue to the glory of God, and they began to prepare for the final scene, the glorious ascension of Jesus.  The high school senior who was the understudy for the role of Jesus figured that he could remember a couple of short lines long enough to finish the play.  And though he did not have a beard, the cast decided that, “who were they to say that the resurrected Jesus couldn’t have a clean shave?” 

Now for the final scene of the play, the intrepid crew had worked long and hard to make it as realistic as possible.  They had rigged what are known as Peter Pan Weights in order to harness the risen Jesus and gently lift him skyward by way of sandbag weights.  It made for a powerful image.  What everyone had failed to consider though, was that the new Jesus, in addition to lacking a beard also lacked some thirty pounds that his predecessor carried.  As he lifted his heels for the dramatic final scene, having proclaimed to the disciples that he would return, he was jerked up into the air with a shriek, forcefully disappearing into the rafters and banging his head on the ceiling with a resounding thud, and two sandals gently floated back to the stage and landed at the feet of the shocked disciples.  And for the second time in one evening, Jesus was rushed to the emergency room.1 

Let me ask you a question: in the world we live in, do people think a hurting Jesus needs to be rushed to the hospital?  To the problems of this world, do we believe that knowing Jesus makes a difference?  Do you believe it?  Is the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ enough for the problems of the world as we see them, or should the name of Jesus and the concepts of Jesus be rushed to the emergency room of history? 

We are living in what can only be described as an “interesting time, and I wonder, perhaps you do as well, is Jesus still relevant to heal our wounds and bind up the broken hearted?  Is Jesus headed to the emergency room or is he still at work in the world?  And if Jesus is not in the hospital but in the world, where exactly is he?

I was listening a few weeks ago to a sermon preached by a friend of mine, Dr. Nora Tubbs Tisdale, which was recorded many years ago, in the spring of 2001, to be exact, and she preached that sometimes when we praise God it can look and feel so much like whistling in the wind because even as we sing our songs, it seems that the demon of disease is unleashed in the world an extra measure, or at least her little corner of it, and while we felt so secure in our prosperity in the late nineties and early two- thousands, that we feared that there was a tiger at the door whose name was recession or even depression, and it became clear to me that whether she knew it or not, that day Nora was preaching a prophetic sermon as we came to find our illusion of security snatched away that year, and the line between economic prosperity and hardship became thinner and thinner with each round of corporate downsizing and the so-called jobless recovery.

And I listened to her, all I could think is, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”  Nora’s sermon could no more have anticipated the economic crash of 2008 and the subsequent loss of wealth, jobs and security than any of us could have in 2001, but the issues remain the same.  Our illusions of security are simply that, illusions. 

And I am well aware, that then as now, the image of Jesus is being used and is going to be used for political purposes. 

I have been writing to you extensively this year about being a big tent person, and my hope that we can be and remain a big-tent church.  And by that I mean that we have room for differing viewpoints.  And I have been very up front through many years that, while I certainly have my own political convictions, I will not substitute them for the Gospel as a preacher.  I stand by my pledge not to make this pulpit a place of partisan politics, but I also stand by my pledge that it will, unabashedly, proclaim the moral and ethical teachings of Jesus.  And I believe all these things – moreover, I fundamentally believe there is room in the church for a variety of approaches to social needs.

The co-opting of the name of Jesus for political advancement is as present a sign of idolatry as I can fathom.  More than that, it is a violation of the third commandment, that we shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord our God.  Indeed, I would argue that it was Jesus's refusal to be a cipher on which people could write their own politics that landed him on a cross in the first place. And, what’s more, to continue to make Jesus the cipher on which we write our personal politics is to make a mockery of Christ and his cross.  Jesus may be many things to us, and we may encounter many expressions of him, we may see him in myriad ways, but make no mistake: the Jesus of Nazareth who went down to death on cross was nobody’s political stooge.  To suggest otherwise, to co-opt the name of Jesus for political purposes is to be an idolater. 

What’s more, it is to such a context that the words of Paul in his letter to the Corinthians become all the more relevant to us today – because if we substitute an idol for the living God, we may as well bypass the emergency room and the hospital and go straight to the graveyard of faith, because an idol will never fill the role of the living Jesus. 

One of my favorite confessions of faith in our Book of Confessions is the Theological Declaration of Barmen.  I love that it spoke and speaks to the problems of idolatry in politics by firmly and plainly anchoring all faith claims to the person of Jesus Christ as the Word of God.  Listen:

“As Jesus Christ is God’s assurance of the forgiveness of all our sins, in the same way and with the same seriousness he is also God’s mighty claim upon our whole life.  Through him befalls us a joyful deliverance from the godless fetters of this world for a free, grateful service to all his creatures.”

And here’s where it gets real: “We reject the false doctrine as though there were areas of our life in which we would not belong to Jesus Christ, but to other lords – areas in which we would not need justification and sanctification through him.”2 

In other words, if we want to rely on idols, that’s fine, but make no mistake about it: they are not Jesus.  They do not have the power to free us from our sins.  They do not have the power to save us, and they will not change our lives.  They are not the spiritual rock from which we draw the water of life. 

My answer to the questions of whether or not Jesus is in the ICU where the world is concerned is simple: no, not the real Jesus. 

The idols might be – and just as well – they were never the spiritual rock in the first place.  The idols do well to die. 

How can we be sure, you may ask, that the Jesus that we worship is the living Jesus, the spiritual rock, and not a dead idol?

The answer is simple: by knowing the Jesus of the Gospel.  If the Jesus you encounter has no basis in the Jesus of the Gospel, he’s not Jesus. 

A few weeks back, I challenged you to read Mark’s Gospel.  It’s all of twenty pages.  Today I challenge you to read the Sermon on the Mount.  It is all of four pages long, and it’s found in Matthew 5-7. 

There you will find phrases like, “blessed are the poor in spirit… blessed are those who mourn… blessed are the meek… blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness… blessed are the merciful… blessed are the peacemakers.”  That’s how you’ll know Jesus. 

Or you can read Luke 15, just one chapter, wherein we find the parables of the lost, where Jesus tells of the depths of God’s compassion and love.  That’s where you’ll see Jesus: in the places of compassion and love.

Or you can read just three verses, in the 21st chapter of John, verses 15-17, where the resurrected Jesus flatly tells Peter to feed his sheep.  That’s where you’ll find Jesus: where people are being fed.

And here’s the thing: I’m not proof-texting Jesus to you with these examples.  They are the heart of the Gospel.

If the Jesus you encounter expects and makes no claim of change in your life, then he’s not Jesus.  He’s not the spiritual rock.  And it is so incredibly easy to miss it.

Let me tell you about an Easter experience that I had years ago in another congregation. We did the things congregations do on Easter: we sang God’s praise and practically raised ourselves to the gates of heaven with our adoration.  The church was, as many churches are, full to capacity and caught up in the beauty and joy of Easter.  But as I walked down the aisle to go to the door to shake hands after the rousing service, a member of the church caught me and said, “I need you to come with me.  I think you ought to know that when we went downstairs to prepare the coffee, we found in the garden a homeless man drinking from the fountain, and he is in your office with some members of the church.  They are looking for some food and drink and a translator.  And by the time I got to my office, that was exactly what I found, a smallish Hispanic man, surrounded by church members, with lemonade and peanut butter crackers and a member of the congregation with adequate fluency to ascertain his needs.  One member skipped lunch with his family on Easter to drive him to the hospital.  And I share this not to pat that congregation on the back, I know that this congregation would do the same, but to say that as we were worshipping God on Easter Sunday, Jesus did come among us, and I, for one, almost missed it.  That is where we will find Jesus: where he is needed.

We cannot give into idolatry.  If the Jesus we’re worshipping doesn’t demand of us our very lives, it’s not Jesus. 

Last Monday night, I had the marvelous experience of hearing the Rev. Dr. Allan Boesak deliver a keynote address at a conference here in Atlanta.  Dr. Boesak has been a prominent theologian since the seventies in South Africa where he worked against the apartheid regime.  As we neared the end of his address, he was asked a question, “How did he sustain his ministry when the odds were so far against him.”  What he said was this: some day I will be in the presence of my judge who will ask me, ‘Where are your wounds?’ 

And if I say, ‘I have no wounds,’ he will say to me, ‘Was there nothing worth fighting for?’

And the one who asks me, ‘Was there nothing worth fighting for,’ will be the one who said to Thomas, ‘Here are the wounds in my hands and feet, and here is the wound in my side, put your hand in it.’

That’s the long and the short of it: the idols will demand nothing of you.  The spiritual rock will demand everything of you.

 

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


 

1 Ted Foote and Alex Thornburg, Being Disciples of Jesus in a Dot Com World (W/JKP: Louisville, 2003) pp1-3
2 The Book of Confessions, The Theological Declaration of Barmen 8.13-8.15

Last Published: March 25, 2016 1:23 AM