Jesus sits atop a mount, preaching to a crowd

Sermon Passage 1 John 1:5-2:6

Sisters and brothers I would like to begin this morning’s message with a quote. This is from J.R.R. Tolkein’s famous book, “The Fellowship of the Ring.”

“Frodo: I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had ever happened.

Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given you.”[1]

This morning my heart is greatly troubled. I am wrestling with the events in Charlotte, North Carolina this past week. I am struggling with the shootings in recent months of African Americans by police officers. I am struggling with the violence in this country in general. I am struggling with medial outlets who follow the mantra, “If it bleeds it leads,” so that only the most salacious; the most raunchy; the most violent and the most distasteful news comes first in the news cycle; and what few good things there are happening in our communities comes last. I am struggling because I am not sure with whom to be more frustrated: the news agencies or us. Why are we so eager to find out what other people are hiding in their closets? Why are we so eager to discover what other people are doing wrong? Why are we so quick to place blame when someone discovers the things we hide in the dark places of our lives? I find myself wishing like Frodo that these things had never happened. But the reality is an African American was shot this week by police officers in Charlotte, North Carolina. The details are still a little fuzzy, and the lack of clarity has become an excuse for protests, riots, riot police, swat teams and the National Guard to take to the streets in Uptown Charlotte this week. I am finding in my heart of hearts I am tired of all the darkness. In my despair I am reminded of God’s light through the words of a Charlie Peacock song. D.C. Talk put out a cover of this song back in 1995 called, “In The Light.”

I keep trying to find a life
On my own, apart from You
I am the king of excuses
I’ve got one for every selfish thing I do

What’s going on inside of me?
I despise my own behavior
This only serves to confirm my suspicions
That I’m still a man in need of a Savior

I want to be in the Light
As You are in the Light
I want to shine like the stars in the heavens
Oh, Lord be my Light and be my salvation
Cause all I want is to be in the Light
All I want is to be in the Light[2]

This morning’s passage is about wanting more than anything to be in the light because God is in the light. In God there is no darkness at all. There is no sin. There is no short fall. There is no mistake. God’s goodness is so great and so wonderful it spreads like too much water over too little counter top and drips off the edges. Sisters and brothers I want to be in the light. I want to live dripping in God’s goodness, wonder and love. I want to be clean, and free of the stains of sin and doubt; fear and dread. There was a time when this country was the land of the free and the home of the brave. For too many today it is the home of the free and the land of the scared. Our fears lead us to do things which are dreadful and harmful to ourselves and to others. Fear and selfishness have lead us into darkness and division. I see it in our country and I have seen it in too many churches. Our fears lead us to focus on ourselves; our self-worth; how we are seen in the community and what power and wealth our image provides. This is a terrible thing. What makes this mindset so terrible is where it puts our focus. When we allow our fears, our worries and our stress to drive us we take our focus off of God we choose – we choose to live in darkness. We choose to live in sin. Do you know what sin is? Sin is disobedience to God. When we choose to run from our fears we choose to be disobedient to God; and we choose to live lives of misery cut off from all that might do us good. Praise be to God we have another choice. Amen? Amen!

(Sisters and brothers did you know it is okay to shout, “Amen!” in church so long as what we are saying, “Amen,” to gives honor, glory and praise to God. Let’s try it. God is good. Amen? Amen! God is good all the time. Amen?! Amen!! And all the time God is good. Amen? Amen!)

Praise be to God we do not have to choose to walk in darkness. Amen? Amen! We do not have to choose to walk in sin and doubt. God has been working since we messed things up at the Fall to put creation back in order. God has been working to bring creation back into the light. Amen? Amen! But here’s the thing. Just as God made the world and saw to it the world was good, it was humanity who messed creation up. Amen? Amen! God made it good and we messed it up. Amen?! Amen!! We played a part in messing it up, and God has given us a part to play in making it right. We have to do our part. Amen?! Amen!! The way to do our part is to make a choice. Let’s have some yes or no church. God is good. Yes? Yes! Are we gonna choose to walk in darkness? No! No, we are not. Are we gonna choose to live as Christians in name only? No! Are we going to accept God’s invitation to walk in the light? Yes! Are we going to live into the promises of God? Yes. Then let the words of that old Afro American spiritual be true among us.

“Lord, I want to be a Christian in my heart
Lord, I want to be more loving in my heart
Lord, I want to be more holy in my heart
Lord, I want to be like Jesus in my heart.”[3]

Hear a word of caution sisters and brothers. This business of claiming to be a Christian is no light thing to consider. John tells us, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar and his word is not in us” (1John 1:9,10).[4] I don’t know about y’all, but I know this to be true. (pause) My God is not a liar. Amen? Amen! Amen?! Amen!! If I know, and you know that our God is not a liar then we have to let the change start with us. We cannot sit back and point the finger at the Black Lives Matter folks. We cannot stand in judgment of the Blue Lives Matter supporters of the police. Finger pointing is not gonna get this done. Finger pointing is not going to bring the change we seek. If we want to see a change – if we want to see American truly become a Christian nation again we cannot hold to hope for President, a congressman, a city council person or a police officer to bring the change we seek. We have to follow that old saying. If you want to start a fire you’ve gotta light it from the bottom. John Wesley didn’t start the Methodist movement with the episcopacy, the bishops, the elders and the deacons. John Wesley started the Methodist movement with the coal miners, and the house maids. The fires of the Great Revival started at the bottom with people like you and me. God made it happen. God provided the flame of the Holy Spirit and we were the kindling. We are the small town. We are rural America. America was built by people who prayed for freedom and were willing to stand up for what was right. And it always began with prayer.

Sisters and brothers, I long for a third Great Revival of God’s loving grace in the world. I long for the church to rise up in defense of children, orphans, foster kids, and children who don’t have basic necessities in school. I long for the church to stand up for those who are mistreated whether that is to stand up against police brutality, or standing up against those whose fears and rage have led to rioting, looting and destruction of public property. I am not scared of a little civil disobedience every now and then. But the question we as Christians must ask first is how is God served by civil disobedience? How will others see God through our actions? Will people see me and think our God is a liar? (pause) My God is not a liar. I want to live my life as close to that familiar old saying as I can. I want to “preach the gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” The only way I know of to live faithfully to God out in the world is to begin with prayer. Prayer connects us to God like no other way can. Prayer helps us to tune into the Holy Spirit when our lives become full of the static and distracting noises of stress and frustration. Through prayer we feel God’s presence; we hear God’s voice and receive God’s power of peace. Sisters and brothers isn’t that what our state needs this morning -a peace, in the midst of anger and frustration which passes all understanding? Let us all pray for peace this morning and that we would carry ourselves so others will see that our God is not a liar.

In the Name of Jesus Christ – Amen.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pjAAC13al9s

[2]https://play.google.com/music/preview/Tvdoqmhiwvjvo2t7fhyim2g5m5m?lyrics=1&utm_source=google&utm_medium=search&utm_campaign=lyrics&pcampaignid=kp-lyrics

[3] “Lord, I want to be a Christian,” UM Hymnal, Afro-American Spiritual; adapt. And arr. By William Farley Smith, 1986 (UM Publishing House: Nashville 1986) #402.

[4] All Scripture verses come from the ESV translation.

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