A Gospel Telling Church
Indiana Jones came riding into town this week. And before he left, he had demonstrated every conceivable kind of chase scene a director has ever imagined: cars, of course, and ships, horses and trains, and one right through the wrinkle in time, all the way to 212 BC in time for the seize of Syracuse. The native son who starred in that battle (and also in this most recent movie) was an inventor named Archimedes. The movie has a sweet ending, quite a switch from two hours plus of strenuous activity, including quite a few killings.
Nevertheless, this globe-trotting movie, #5 in the Indiana Jones series, illustrates the plot of so many things, including the whole work of God. For the movie, it is imagination, followed by conflict, resulting is victory. Indiana Jones returns home, his endless posse of would-be killers are defeated, and the “dial of destiny” is once more where it belongs.
This is familiar to us as bible-readers. We know this plot as what is sometimes called “the biblical world view” or “the Christian worldview.” It also is a triple play: creation, corruption, and salvation. Every time we gather, we tell some piece of this narrative; every time we open the Book, we read some chapter in this story; every time we sing, or preach, or testify, we give voice to some part of this history of the world.
Part One: Creation. “Through Christ, God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth.” Colossians 1:16
Part Two: Corruption. “Sin whispers to the wicked, deep within their hearts.” Psalm 36.
Part Three: Salvation. “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared.” Revelation 21:1.
This is the gospel. This is the good news. God is in the world redeeming everything from the corruption that has infected all of it. God was in Jesus, reconciling the world unto himself. God is in you, changing you from one degree of glory to another. This is the good news of God. This is what we declare when we gather to worship. Thanks be to God.
To God be the glory, great things God has done. We sang that familiar song a few minutes ago. It is one of my favorites and perhaps yours also. “Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord, Let the people rejoice!”
The Hebrew word Shalom is a good word to sum up all that God is doing in the world, in and through the Risen Lord Jesus, and in your own life. We frequently translate that word as Peace, but it has a wider meaning: wholeness, wellness salvation, restoration, even community.
Shalom is the destiny of all creation; it is the direction we are headed; it is the goal of history; it is the desire of every heart. The familiar greeting shalom aleichem is used in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam to wish salvation and wholeness to another person. Peace to you and peace to me and peace to all creation.
Creation is agitated, and we want it to calm down. Nations are hostile to other nations, and we want them to settle their differences without war. Tribes and races are fearful of each other and we want them to live in peace and justice. You are at odds with your neighbor, your boss, even your children, and you pray for calmness and cooperation and communication; you pray for shalom. Even in your own soul, you are troubled and full of doubt and anxious. You pray for peace and contentment. You are praying for the saving shalom of God.
We come together on The Lord’s Day to pray for peace, for shalom, for the wider and deeper experience of salvation. We are not content with just believing God raised Jesus from the dead and giving us hope for our dying days. It is not just a confidence that after this life there is another one, a better one. That is not enough: not enough to satisfy us and not enough to be good news for the whole world. No, we look for the kingdom of God, for the spirit of God to fill us and them and everywhere. We pray for the words and spirit of Jesus to direct every deed and control every word. We want shalom, here and now, as well as then and there; we want God to be all in all.
When we gather on The Lord’s Day we come as gospel-telling people. Here is the good news, the gospel, the word for today: God loves you, Jesus is alive and in the world: the Spirit of life and love swirls all around you, making things beautiful, and just, and peaceful. This is the shalom of God.
We are reminded of all things when we open the Bible and read this story about Jesus. Last week, you recall, I began this series of Nine Gospel Practices of a Christian People. Can you name these nine?
Bible reading & gospel telling; then convert dipping & supper eating; hymn singing, prayer lifting, & money giving; with ballot casting; finally, hand shaking.
These are things we find among those first-century Christians; and we find them throughout Christian history as followers of Jesus gather for worship and fellowship and service. We read the bible, and we tell gospel stories… like the word John recorded in what we now call the 9th chapter of the gospel of John.
The disciples asked Jesus a series of theological questions. It reminds me of a colloquium of doctoral students confronting their teachers with questions. This man is blind from birth—why? Does this mean he was or is a sinner and God is judging him? What role did his parents have in this situation? Aren’t we always trying to blame parents for the way things are?
Jesus had a different vision of the situation. Who knows the answers to your questions? I only know I am here to bring light, and health, and wholeness. It is a day for shalom, Jesus said. It is a day for salvation. Then he did something that would get any nurse, doctor, or hospital shut down: he spit in the dust and took the mud and smeared it on the face and eyes of the blind man.
I don’t recommend that as a remedy for anything. But I do recommend the compassion and confidence that came with it. Jesus saw the man as worthy of the grace and mercy of God. Jesus touched the man with the healing and helping power of God. Jesus turned this theological seminar into a transforming encounter with another human being. “Go and wash your face in the Pool of Siloam.”
Jesus brought Shalom where others were merely speculating on why and when. Jesus had salvation in his hands and soul. Jesus saw this blind man as a person, a human being, the creation of the everlasting God of heaven and earth. Jesus dispensed salvation into the life and soul of this disabled man.
Three times in this narrative, the blind man told his gospel story. “I went and washed, and now I can see,” –verse 11. “He put mud on my eyes and when I washed it away, I could see,”—verse 13. “I know this: I was blind and now I can see! –verse 35.
Fifty years ago this week, my wife and I boarded an El Al flight out of New York City and flew to Tel Aviv. For a year, we lived in Jerusalem.
I remember the first time I went to the pool of Siloam. The Baptist missionary Norm Lytle took me and my companion, the famous theologian Dale Moody, to the Gihon Spring in the Kidron Valley, at the edge of the city of Jerusalem. We walked down the stone steps into the water and started into Hezekiah’s Tunnel. King Hezekiah directed that this tunnel through solid rock be cut, to divert the spring water into the walled city. It flowed then and flows now about 1800 feet in a circuitous route through the ridge into a pool inside the city walls. The pool of Siloam.
Not everybody can make this walk through history. There is no light, except the candles, phones, and flashlight you bring with you. The tunnel is narrow—shoulder to shoulder; the water is waist deep; the stone ceiling often is so low you have to stoop. It is narrow. In the end, you emerge to sunlight, openness and relief. Thank God!
Our joy at emerging from the dark tunnel must not be compared to the exhilaration of that nameless son of God. He testified three times, “I was blind, but now I see.”
Since then, millions of people have testified: “I was anxious, but now I am at peace.” I was angry, but now I am content.” I was suspicious, but now I am trusting God.” “I was sad, but now I live in the joy of the Lord.” “I was mean, and selfish but now I am kind and gracious.” Thanks be to God.
All of these are gospel-telling testimonies. All of these are the words of people who have discovered their true humanity in the love and mercy of God. All of these are the testimonies of people who turned their back on selfishness, and meanness, and stinginess and open themselves to the wonder and will of God.
This week a member of our congregation wrote out his testimony. He shared it with me and gave me permission to include part of it in this message today. He describes his journey, which included an encounter with a person who, in the name of Jesus, had caused him much harm. His narrative of that encounter reads like this:
I wanted to run away…. But the sling of that truth “EVERYONE DESERVES COMPASSION” was stronger than the need to run away. I sat across the table from him and made eye contact with this former oppressor. We had found common ground: another shared truth. The lies of the church had hurt both of us in different ways. Despite this recognition of common ground, it was hard sitting across from this human, this former enemy. I grabbed his hand. The silence between was thick and heavy, encompassing injustice, repentance, and hope. Before I could strategically plan what to say, a sentence or two just came out: "May love be louder than the lies that we have believed."
This is the beginning of shalom. This is the road to salvation. This is the way to wholeness. This is path of peace. This is community. This is the kingdom of God. This is heaven on earth.
This is God hearing and answering our prayer, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
When Dale Moody and I climbed out of that pool of Siloam, the missionary Norm Lytle was there to greet us. He had not walked with us through the tunnel. He drove his VW bus around the ridge and parked it there at the edge of the pool. He handed us towels and said, “Get in and let’s go home.”
The tunnel of Hezekiah is not the only way to get to the pool of Siloam.
Your way may be through darkness and trouble, or it may not; your way may be through doubt and division, or it may not; your way may be through joy and sunshine, or it may not; your way may be through love and learning, or it may not.
But when you get to the shalom of God, the salvation, you also will have a story, a gospel story: once I was lost, but now I am found; once I was addicted, but now I am free; once I was confused but now, I am clear; once I was blind, but now I can see.
Or in the words of the hymn we will now sing:
“I was bruised but Jesus heled me, faint was I from any a fall. Sight was gone and fears possessed me, but he freed me from them all. Days of darkness till come over me, sorrows paths I often tread. But the savor still is with me, by his hand I’m safely led.”
Praise God and thank you Jesus!