March 26, 2006
Fourth Sunday of Lent
Cross Eyed: Promise"
Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn
The regulations of a certain hospital required that a wheelchair be provided for patients being discharged. A particular student nurse found an elderly gentleman, already dressed and sitting on the bed with a suitcase at his feet. The gentleman insisted, over and over again, that he didn't need her help in leaving the hospital.
After a chat about rules being rules, he reluctantly got into the wheelchair and let the nurse wheel him to the elevator. On the way down she asked him if his wife was meeting him.
He said, "I don't know. She's still upstairs in the bathroom changing out of her hospital gown." (1)
We love to laugh don't we? And we love to laugh at ourselves and unfortunately at each other. Sometimes comical things happen to us. And sometimes we do comical things. Our brains descend to our backside and we holler those fate filled words, "Hey, Bubba, watch this." That's why America's Funniest Videos is still around and going strong.
Of course, sometimes that humor has nothing to do with us but has more to do with the situation.
Take this one for example. Show clip.
That clip won the $100,000 best video for 2005 or 2004, I don't remember which.
In the Scripture this morning, Nicodemus' actions are almost comical. And a bit ironic as we'll see as we hear Jesus message to Nicodemus.
Let's look at the passage, John 3:14-21
 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
 "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.
 "Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.
 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.
 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God."
Nicodemus sets up a secret meeting with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, which he or Joseph of Arimathea probably owned. Nicodemus sneaks around in the dark to ask Jesus what he means about being born again.
As they are sitting there in the dark, did you notice what Jesus told Nicodemus, about those who believe. He says, "Those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God."
Jesus could have just hit Nicodemus with a 2X4 and gotten it over with. But Nicodemus didn't seem to mind and didn't take offense. Maybe he was used to the way Jesus taught, or thought or spoke. There's one school of thought that claims Nicodemus was really Mary's brother and therefore Jesus' uncle.
Jesus was talking about the Jewish leaders who were about to reject him as the people who choose darkness over light. They were living in darkness because they had forgotten their purpose in life as individuals and as a nation. They were God's chosen people for a reason, not for their personal pleasure. It was at God's pleasure that they were chosen, "the least of all people," God said. It was because God is God, that they were chosen. That's Grace.
But they were chosen to be used. They were chosen to serve. It's the same with us. We call this time a Worship Service. But it's not for our benefit. Oh, we benefit from it. In our Worship we are strengthened and loved and forgiven and reconciled and redeemed and filled with the Holy Spirit. But it's not for our benefit. It's for God's. We gather to Worship so we can go out in Service.
We ought to have signs like I saw in another church. Over each of the doors on the outside, as you enter the Sanctuary, a sign reads: "Worship begins when we enter these doors." And as you leave a sign oabove the door reads: "Service begins when you leave through these doors."
Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church begins almost every Worship Service with the words, remember, "We are not here to be served we are here to go out and serve."
In contrast to the people of darkness Jesus was talking about, those are people who are willingly, intentionally living in the light. We slip into the darkness when we begin to forget our purpose. But we live in the light when we live a life of Service.
Sometimes it's hard to live a life of service. But we are powered by our Cross Eyed: Faith and a Cross Eyed: Promise we find in this passage.
First, there is the PROMISE OF MERCY AND FORGIVENESS.
Most of us would be a little embarrassed to have unexpected company when the house was a mess. We'd start scrambling around, picking things up and making excuses. I read about a who family was staying at a hotel in Nigeria, West Africa, one time when they heard a knock on the door. They opened it and found a smiling Nigerian gentleman ready to clean their room.
The wife was totally mortified. She said she was embarrassed. Sound like my wife Mary, I made the mistake of telling her I was going to get her a housekeeper for her birthday on year. She nearly went into a panic talking how much she had to clean up before she'd let a housekeeper into her house.
Anyway this woman said her family had travel bags, curling irons and crumpled clothing sprawled across the entire landscape of their unmade beds. Wet towels were all over the bathroom floor. The woman started apologizing profusely, but the young man replied graciously, "No problem. For this reason I have come, to put your things in order."
Scripture says that's exactly what Jesus came to do for us. To put our lives in order! To straighten up our mess. And the truth is we can't do it ourselves. We've tried and we've failed. So, instead, Jesus offers to clean us up from the inside out. (2)
"Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him."
We're able to serve because of the PROMISE OF MERCY AND FORGIVENESS.
Second, there's the PROMISE OF HOPE, hope born of life eternal.
The movie The Notebook, tells the love story of Noah and Allie. Allie suffers from senile dementia. She doesn't recognize Noah. But everyday Noah reads to Allie, from a notebook filled with the stories of their life together, even though she doesn't recognize him, and she sees the tales as fiction. In the middle of a reading, Noah is called away by his new physician.
As Noah leaves to see his doctor, the nurse asks Allie if she'd like to "play the piano for a few minutes. You like that." When Allie protests that she doesn't know any tunes, the nurse explains that Allie can read music. Allie gets up to play. And you hear piano music in the background of the scene. Noah visits with the doctor who is a new attending physician. He's examined and then the doctor questions his practice of reading to his wife. Looking at his notes, and says, "I understand that you read to Miss Hamilton."
Noah replies, "Yeah, to help her remember."
The doctor simply says, "Huh." Noah detects skepticism and says, "You don't think it will help."
With an air of certainty, the young doctor says, "No, I don't."
Noah explains, "She remembers, Doc. I read to her, and she remembers. Not always, but she remembers."
The doctor lectures, "Senile dementia is degenerative. After a certain point, its victims don't come back."
Noah says, "That's what they keep telling me."
The doctor says that he doesn't want Noah to get his hopes up. Noah gets off the table and says, "Well, thanks Doc, but you know what they say, science goes only so far, and then comes God."
The doctor repeats, "Then comes God."
The piano that's been playing in the background suddenly comes to a stop. Noah says, "They forgot to turn the page for her."
And the all of a sudden the piano begins again, with a new song. The doctor says, "I guess they flipped that page."
Noah smiles and says, "No, THAT she's playing by memory." (3)
Hope, even a glimmer of hope, can keep us going in the even worst situations. Gilbert Beenken, pastor of Door Creek Church in Madison, Wisconson said, "Other men see only a hopeless end, but the Christian rejoices in an endless hope."
That hope is born of the Promise we hear in this passage: "Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life."
Third there is the PROMISE OF MORE. More to come, more life, more love, more hope, more faith, more strength, more mercy, more of God, more of Christ, so much more that it will take an eternity for us to receive it all.
Kathy was one of the happiest woman around. She had worked in a hospital kitchen. But her work came to an end when she developed cancer. During one visit to her hospital room her pastor found her in great pain. She was propped on her side, facing a big window that looked out into the wide open space of a South Dakota sky. As her pastor prayed with her, a thought came to mind. He asked, "Kathy, would you like to have a cross in the room?" With most of her strength gone all Kathy could do was nod.
Her pastor went to the church sanctuary and took the large, silver cross off of the altar and carried it in his arms to the hospital. As he walked down the halls of the hospital carrying this large cross people looked at him kind of strangely. When he entered Kathy's room, he held up the cross and said, "See what I have?" She looked up, tears filling her eyes, and said, "For me?"
The pastor took the cross from their Church sanctuary and placed in on the sill in the center of the big window, where Kathy could see it silhouetted against the sky. That's were it remained for the last two days of her life. That cross gave her strength and indescribable comfort. (4) And with every glance, that cross reminded Kathy of the PROMISE OF MORE.
"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 just read about a guy from the Appalachian Mountains who migrated to the West Coast during the First World War. Part of his reason was that he wanted to do his part to support the war effort. Unfortunately, they wouldn't let him enlist. He was too old and had a large family. So, he did the next best thing he began working in the aircraft industry helping to build planes.
A number of weeks went by and the accounting office began to notice that none of this guys paychecks were ever cashed. When they investigated, they found our that this guy couldn't read but he had kept every one of the paychecks and had them neatly filed away. He'd never seen a paycheck before. So, he didn't know what to do with them. He assumed they were just expressions of appreciation for his part in the war effort. In the mean time, he'd taken a second job which paid cash, in order to support his family. (5)
As funny as that is, it's also sad and tragic. There are a lot of people just like that man, who still live in darkness and have never been exposed to the light of Christ. We can understand them.
But there are also a lot of people who know this passage and can quote it in their sleep. The problem is, they know it up here, in the head, but it's never taken hold, here, in the heart. They know the words intellectually but the PROMISE hasn't taken root in their souls.
Our challenge is to have a CROSS EYED: FOCUS on the CROSS EYED: PROMISE of God.
1. PreachingNow, Vol. 5, No. 11, March 21, 2006. An email newsletter from Preaching Magazine
2. Mike Silva, Would You Like Fries With That? (Word Publishing, 2005), p. 42; submitted by Delight Silva, Portland, Oregon.
3. The Notebook, New Line Cinema, 2004
4. Upper Room. March-April 1992, p. 34.
5. Richard C. Halverson, THE GOSPEL FOR THE WHOLE OF LIFE (Palm Springs, Ca.: Ronald N. Haynes Publishers, 1964).
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