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Newaygo United Methodist Church
Sunday, November 19, 2017
Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors

Bringing Good News

Bringing Good News
Romans 10:5-15
 
I’m convinced our little dog is a master deceiver. He knows the rules very well. No jumping up on the couch or the bed. He knows the only piece of furniture he can sit on is the arm chair in the living room which is covered with a blanket just for him.  He knows which door to go to when he wants out. He knows where the treats are stored and where his bed is and to go there when he hears the words “Time for bed!” But I have gone into the bedroom and found the pillows on the bed completely rearranged and the covers pulled back a little, just enough for a little body to burrow into. But do you think I can catch him in the act? By the time I enter the room he has jumped down and into his bed looking innocent. He even yawns as if to say, “why did you wake me up?” He looks as if he wants me to say “Good dog!” But of course I can only stand there with my hands on my hips looking stern and disapproving which quickly breaks down when he comes over with that little wag of his tail that says, “I want to go out now please!” And once again he has won the “stay off the bed” training battle.
 
Life is about learning the rules. If we live by the “rules” we won’t get in trouble with the law or the IRS. If we learn the “rules” and live by them we fit within society’s bounds and become good citizens, contributing to the welfare of our society and its members. We also try to live our faith by learning the “rules” of our denominations and churches and what we feel to be the “rules” God gives us to guide our behavior into right living.  
 
Around Jesus’ time the Jewish faith was based on meticulous obedience to the rules or the law. For example there was a rule about how far one could walk on the Sabbath and anything weighing over two dried figs could not be carried on the Sabbath. No food could be cooked on the Sabbath, nor could one do any healing. They could only take measures to keep a sick person from dying. And did you know that in more modern times musical instruments were not allowed to be played in church, women had to keep their hair covered in church and be silent and separated from the men. In Puritan times there was no card playing, dancing, or other frivolous ways of passing time. I wonder what modern day rules we can come up with that have put qualifications upon our faith and the ways we live our faith in daily life.
 
Some rules are very good to have in place, they do help to guide us as we live our faith. But it seems that when we live by just the rules our relationship with God can become one of earning our place or being good enough to be in relationship with God. Our relationship with God would become one like debtor and creditor, earner and assessor, or judge and criminal. The Israelites believed that by obeying the laws of God one could find life, but no one was able to. The laws were tough and dealt with every aspect of life—what foods you could eat, what you could live in, what you could wear, what you could do on the Sabbath. The laws were so meticulous that they became impossible to follow. 
But because of Jesus we are no longer faced with the task of satisfying God’s justice. We need only to accept God’s love, grace and mercy which he freely offers. Faith is confessing and believing--confessing that Jesus is Lord and Savior and believing that he has risen from the dead. It’s not just knowing about Jesus, it’s knowing Jesus that makes us people of faith. When Jesus is in our hearts and minds all we do flows from that. 
 
Faith is not about rules and regulations and other forms of legalese that so often get distorted and bent to fit someone’s agenda. Faith is about living by the Spirit of Jesus within us more and more fully as we come to know and depend on Jesus. 
And as faith continues to grow within us, as we grow deeper and deeper into our knowledge of Jesus through our experiences and those shared by others, we become ambassadors of Jesus in what we do and say.
 
Rita was close to 40 when I first met her. She had been battling alcoholism and drug abuse for years. She had been sober for close to 3 months and was battling the urge to start drinking again, or at least to have one more drink. We both knew what that meant. She said she believed in Jesus, but felt she had disappointed him so often. She just couldn’t live by his rules and she felt one of those rules was not to drink. And every time she broke that rule the guilt and feelings of inadequacy bombarded her and left her with a sense of hopelessness. Then she would spiral down into a bout of drinking again.   In spite of my urging her not to take that first drink again, I felt she was going to do it anyway. A week later, when she came for her scheduled counseling session she told me what had happened since we had last talked. She had been on her way to the bar to have a drink. She said she prayed a little prayer, “Please God, stop me.” When she stopped for a red light she watched as a blue butterfly landed on her windshield wiper. She had never seen such a beautiful butterfly before and certainly never a blue one. It was in that moment that she knew she could never take a drink again. She knew beyond a doubt that God was with her, that Jesus was the one she had to follow, that his Spirit was within her. In that moment she knew Jesus. She has been sober now for 10 years, does not touch drugs, stopped smoking and willingly shares her story with others. 
 
Jesus does not make it impossible for us to live in faith. He simply asks us to follow. And when we stumble, just when we think we have failed again, Jesus picks us up, brushes us off and asks us to follow again. It is when we truly know Jesus as the one who picks us up when we have fallen that we can best share that good news with others.
 
It is my dream that some day we will stop arguing about the rules and get to the heart of the matter: Jesus Christ is Lord, He is risen from the dead, he dwells within us and we are called to share that good news with others. When we offer our gifts this morning we can truly say, “Jesus, this is for you because you are for us.” When we come to the communion table this morning we can truly say, “Jesus, we give our lives to you because you gave your life for us.” In God’s act of sending Jesus He was indeed bringing good news!
               
 
 

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