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Bumper Sticker Theology

Date:3/11/18

Series: Lent

Category: 2018 Sermons

Passage: Job 12:7-10

Speaker: Nicole Trotter

Bumper stickers can be fun and harmless, some can be outright offensive, and some can reduce a complicated idea into an overrated simplicity. This is true, especially for Bumper sticker theology.

 Some are fun…

Jesus loves you, but I’m his favorite.

Forget world peace—
visualize using your
turn signal!

Where am I going and
why am I in this
handbasket?

Stop stop and make you think-

Thank God I'm an atheist!

My Karma ran over
your Dogma.

This one was written just for me I think-

Lord, walk beside me
with your arm on my shoulder and your hand over my mouth.

 And one of favorites-

Lord, save me from
your followers.

I’m sure that bumper sticker wasn’t referring to any of us. It’s referring to those who have it all figured out. Those who impose their beliefs on others and shut the door when you have a difference of opinion.

And the upper sticker that epitomizes that way of thinking is the one I like the least.

The Bible said. I believe it. That settles it.

And the first question that comes to mind for me is which Bible are you referring to? There are over 100 translations in Modern English alone, and no to are the same. Each translates based on manuscripts, thousands, and that’s because we don’t have an original copy of any Bible, so scholars are always trying to report what they think would be the closest to the original. And those manuscripts have variants; where you compare any two manuscripts and there are variations of phrases, words spelled differently, whole words missing, or words in different orders, etc…I could keep going, as my professors did our first week of seminary. That kind of information is unsettling for people who have built there life around the literal meaning of what they understood in their translation of the bible. There are no discussions for them about historical context, no textual criticism, so what they were taught was upsetting to the point of leaving the classroom. I hope one of you leave the sanctuary.

I remember years ago now, going out to dinner with a couple John and I didn’t know too well, a business kind of dinner and the couple's kid were getting to an age where they thought they would join a church. And she settled on an evangelical church. And I was curious so I asked her gently and kindly trying to understand why, and this is what I remember…she said…”I’m too busy and overloaded and the world is crazy and I’m afraid. I just want someone to tell me what to do and what to believe so I can feel safe and make it heaven.”

I loved the honesty of her answer and I think that’s at the core of fundamentalism; a deep-rooted fear that an overblown sense of security through a prescribed set of beliefs provide.

If you believe this, accept that, you can be sure of eternal acceptance and love. You will be alright when the time comes. The trouble is, that line of reasoning is usually followed with… and those who don’t agree with my interpretation are condemned to hell. And I believe it so much, I’ll hold a sign up over the goal post at a football game, and the people who agree will feel safe and the ones who don’t will be praying to God to save them from his followers.

The Bible said. I believe it. That settles it.

Which brings us to our NT scripture… Especially John 3:16. I think it’s our internet password. I read somewhere It’s the most popular choice among scripture for screensavers, signs at rallies and stadiums.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

I have a confession to make. When I saw this was the lectionary reading for this morning I groaned. Because this scripture has been used by so many churches as an condemnation for those who might choose another faith. And it has been used to create a kind of fear and a sense of false security in an afterlife,

God so loved the world…..

The world, not the church, not Christians… the world…

~~~~

John was writing to people at a time when people are were making a choice. We are confronted with that same choice all the time. But to use this scripture as a way of condemning those who live in such remote parts of the world as to never have heard of Jesus Christ is taking it too far. John Bischoff did a beautiful job of reconciling this challenge. If God is love, and people have love in their hearts, how could an all loving God condemn them for loving? John Bischoff said it, I believe it, that settles it.

…everyone who believes in him may not perish..

When John uses the word believe it’s always an action verb, rooted in what you do... it’s not a prescribed set of beliefs or doctrine. It’s what you do and how you live…

everyone who believes in him may not perish..but may have eternal life.

Eternal life, the Greek understanding, was not a heaven you get to when this life is over…it is to experience life now as it should be, today because Jesus has already bought it to us. It’s what scholars refer to as a realized eschatology, not one that will come in the future as the ancient Hebrew people waited for a return, but one that is available to us now, if only we would participate… In Pauls writing its the understanding of what it means to be ‘in Christ.” [1]A life lived in Christ looks differently from the world as it is.

God did not send his son to condemn the words but to save it.

We condemn ourselves when we get it wrong. We condemn ourselves to a life unfulfilled when we convince ourselves that we have it right, and we begin to play God by condemning others. We condemn ourselves for countless reasons, and God frees us from that if only we would allow ourselves to hear the most important piece of this passage.

God gave us his only son…God so loved the world, God gifted God’s self to us in the incarnation of Jesus Christ.

All of this, all of Christ is a gift. It’s not a reduced set of beliefs you throw on a car or hold up on a sign. Its a way of life that is gifted to us, if only we would receive it, freely.

And I don’t know anyone who comes to church and doesn’t wish for a peaceable kingdom here and now. We are in dire need of a change in the quality of human existence in this world.

A life lived in Christ doesn't protect us from false assurances as though nothing will ever go wrong again. Not in the world and not in our own lives. A life lived in Christ isn’t a like a positive attitude or a self-help book, or a prosperity gospel that ensures security if only we would do a b and c. A life lived in Christ, an eternal life is a gift.

One must make a choice, to live according to this gift. Not so that God will love you. But because God loves you. So loved the world, that he gave us his only son.

This Pastor, who grew up in an interfaith home, also believes that God so loved the world that God also gave the world more than just one way to live a life centered in love and peace. Trusting that God is bigger than one religion does not water down my faith and I hope you don’t allow it to water down yours. It should strengthen it. Because you've made a choice to receive this gift from God not out of fear of condemnation, but as a choice that this way of love is the way for You, just as I have made the choice that it is the way and truth and life for me. And I’m so glad that for my sister that way is the Bahai faith, and for my other sister its Judaism, and for my mother its Sufism.

~~~

In the Sufi tradition…God is referred to as the beloved. It is an intimate experience of God, one that perhaps begins in nature, as one experiences love for all create just as we do.

And this mornings scripture in the Book of Job, JOb a pious man who does everything right, follows the rules, loves God with all his heart and strength and soul, has his life fall apart before him….and he asks all the same questions we ask when things fall apart for us…especially when the kingdom, the eternal life we thought we were given starts to feel as though we are condemned to a kind of hell here on earth…

And that question…why, why am I suffering, why am I in pain, why cancer?

BBT in her book an altar in the world says instead of asking why bad things happen to good people we should be saying ‘when bad things happen to good people….”What do you do when pain and its attendant suffering finally show up at your door?”

This scripture in Job teaches we are no different than the rest of God’s creations. God does not save the rabbit from being eaten by the coyote any more than the worm by the bird, or human beings from disease. What God does is to love us so unconditionally that God sees us through it, and transforms our hurt. Not because we did anything right to deserve it any more than we did anything wrong to experience pain.

A God who’s love is relentless even in when life seems at it’s worst. And for some of us maybe especially then. For some us, to be in the midst of some kind of pain, allows us to give in and give over and to rest in God’s love who sees us through, who is in it with us, and loves us relentlessly. I was reassured of that these past few weeks. At some point, I'm going to write a book titled the gift of shingles. (that’ll sell) I was in so much discomfort that to move in any direction hurt. And fatigue took over because sleeping was impossible…but I gave into it, thanks to the constant encouragement from a few elders. The truth is, I had no choice but to give into it because it hurt too much to fight it…But when we give in, we aren't so much giving into the pain, as we are giving in and giving over to Christ…to a Christ who know all too intimately what it means to suffer…giving in to God who is there loving us, inviting us to be with him in silence and in stillness.. to give into being held…

In his hand is the life of every living thing
and the breath of every human being.

A world that God so loves. This Lenten season…to sit in silence and listen…. listen to the birds, listen to the bay… to a duck pond…to the complaints of a loved one…to the pain that wells up in dreams lost and gone.. is to experience a part of this eternal life…to experience loss is not the opposite of eternal life…it is to experience a God who loves you and never leaves you, is sitting beside you, love incarnate…given for you… like the bread that we receive and the cup we receive, eternal life is not gifted as an assurance of a happy easy going life…eternal life in Christ is gifted to you as a deep sense of peace and love if only we would receive it. That’s all we have to do……receive the gift.

Amen.

 

[1] Feasting on the Word, W. Hulitt Gloer