Living the Good News Pleases God

Luke 10: 25-37             Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III

Colossians 1: 1-14        July 10, 2016

“...you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God.

Prayer:  Holy God, we bless you this morning; all that is within us blesses your holy name.  May we keep your covenant, may we walk in your ways.  May we remember your wisdom and strive to obey.  Amen.

Over the years, every so often people have come up to me and said something like, “Galen, those Bible stories are so old.  They don’t mean much to me anymore.”  Usually these are youth, or they are non-church go-ers who are trying to justify why they haven’t been at church. However, it is a good idea to try and keep scripture fresh, so I have found that re-telling the Biblical story using modern-day language and stories can be helpful.

So, here goes a modern-day rendition of Jesus’ age-old Good Samaritan story.  By the way, this modern-day rendition is a true story, except for the first and last parts—I made those up.

Just the other day, there was this great faith teacher / motivational speaker who was asked by a skeptic in the audienceabout how to get into heaven.  Being a great teacher, the skeptic’s question was answered with a question from the teacher—” What does your ancient wisdom say?”  The skeptic said, “To get into heaven, you’ve got to love God with all you’ve got—heart, soul, mind, body… and you’ve got to love your neighbor and yourself in the same way.”  “You got it,” said the faith teacher.  “Now, make sure you do that.  It pleases God when you do.”

But in this day of extreme hatred toward others, the skeptic decided to push the issue further: “I get loving God and myself, but who’s the neighbor I’m supposed to love?”

The faith teacher thought for a moment and said, [Now, here’s the true part of the story…]  “There’s this motorcycle group that formed last year called the “American Bikers United Against Jihad.”  Several months ago, that group spent a lot of time recruiting bikers to ride through a town called Islamberg located in New York.  This town is exclusively a Muslim town.  The biker group was attempting to call attention to what they considered to be a homegrown jihadist threat, right here in the United States.  But, on the day of the ride in early May, only five bikers showed up.  But, 400 people turned out for a counterdemonstration.  Once the five bikers passed through and left town, the demonstrators were welcomed by the Islamberg residents with food, speeches, and music” (“Welcome to Islamberg,” The Christian Century, June 22, 2016, p. 8).  And the teacher said to the skeptic, “So, who was a neighbor among the three groups?”  And the skeptic replied, “I guess the ones who showed hospitality and the ones who stood up on their behalf.”  The teacher said, “You’re right.  Go and do likewise.  It pleases God when you do.”

For both the counterdemonstrators and the residents of Islamberg, New York, the problem is religism, which is religious bigotry and intolerance.  The solution was peaceful activismand solidarity by the counterdemonstrators, and compassion and hospitality by the residents.  I think those please God.

In Jesus’ day, the problem was the bitter religious rivalry and bigotry between Jews and Samaritans.  However, this animosity between the two groups was in direct conflict with God’s will and ways and Jesus knew it! The solution: be a neighbor by reaching out and expressing compassion, mercy, and tenderness toward the other person, adversary or not.  I think Jesus intends the lawyer to know that it pleases God to act in such ways.

For the people in the brand new church in Colossae, they received the Good News about God through Jesus Christ by Epaphras.  He reported back to Paul telling him that the Colossians had found and were sharing the Good News of Christ.  They were filled with new hope because they were forgiven and accepted by God!  They were rescued from the power of darkness.  They were transferred into the God’s realm!  It’s like they were singing “Heaven is my home!” all the time.

The problem was that these new Christians in Colossae needed to develop new ways of living now that they heard the Good News that God’s grace and love were available to them by having faith and believing in Jesus Christ.  That problem is magnified even more because these new ways of living needed to replace their old lives of pagan religious beliefs, 

hatred and barbarism, and being inhospitable toward others.

The solution: Prayer.  Paul and company engaged in prayers of encouragement for these new Christians.  Prayer, in at least in two parts: 1) Prayer that God would fill them with spiritual wisdom and understanding and knowledge of God.  And, 2) prayer that this new spiritual wisdom would be applied by leading lives worthy of God, fully pleasing to God, which is to say, becoming the very reflection of Jesus in thought, word and deed.

Back then, and now, this doesn’t mean duplicating Jesus’ actions; obviously, we can’t do that.  It does mean letting God’s grace push into the core center of our lives so that our living reflects Jesus’ Spirit living in us.

Robert Fulghum, in his popular book It Was On Fire When I Lay on It, tells a story of a teacher of his, Dr. Papaderos.  On the last day of class, Dr. Papaderos asked, “Are there any final questions?”  Robert Fulghum, thinking that he was going to be a smart aleck and jokester piped up and asked, “What is the meaning of life?”  Surprisingly, Dr. Papaderos pulled out a small round mirror.  He told how, as a boy, he used have tons of fun shining light from the mirror into dark places where the sun would never shine—into deep holes and crevices and dark closets.  As Dr. Papaderos grew up, he began to understand that this game with the mirror was metaphor for what he needed to do in his life.  He said, “I came to understand that I am not the source of light. But light—truth, understanding, knowledge and wisdom—are there, and will only shine in many dark places as I reflect it.  I am a fragment of a larger mirror whose whole design and shape I do not know.  Nevertheless, with what I have I can reflect light into the dark places of this world—into the dark places of people’s hearts, and maybe change some things in some people.  Perhaps others may see and do likewise.  This is what I am about.  This is the meaning of my life” said Dr. Papaderos (http://www.homileticsonline.com/subscriber/illustration_search.asp?keywords=Fulghum&imageField2.x=0&imageField2.y=0, retrieved, July 8, 2016).

That sounds like good wisdom to me… reflect the light of Christ that is in your hearts into places where it does not shine yet.  That’s what you and I can do! I think that’s what the “go and do likewise” in Jesus’ parable can mean for us.  It’s making the connection of understanding God’s Good News with living God’s Good News.  Having wisdom and knowledge of God’s love and grace leads to living lives that reproduce the same love and grace for others to experience.  This is a life worthy of the Lord, a life fully, I believe, that is pleasing to God.

There’s a syndicated radio program called “Intelligence for Your Life,” where, host John Tesh puts out little nuggets of information that give the show its name.  They are shorthand “how-to” summaries on all sorts of topics, such as “Four ways to have more joy in your life,” “Three ways to make summer more enjoyable this year,” “Five ways to get ahead at work” and many more like that.  Tesh has a staff that spends hours scouring books, magazines, websites, etc. for these items.  Much of the information the show puts out is good advice—if you remember to apply it (http://www.homileticsonline.com/subscriber/btl_display.asp?installment_id=93040974, retrieved July 9, 2016).  That’s a key idea: connect what you understand about God’s wisdom and Good News to what you do in your living.

Jesus doesn’t teach love as a concept.  He teaches by living it.  He doesn’t preach about healing; he touches the lepers and allowed diseased people to touch him.  He didn’t talk much about including and engaging women, he did it.  He associated with the marginalized.  He broke laws that didn’t promote human well-being.  Jesus authentically lived out God’s love and grace.  His life pleased God.

So, have we Got Wisdom?  It’s a good thing, I think, to grow in wisdom by ‘going and doing likewise,’ by living out the Good News in our lives, expressing the values God teaches us through Jesus.  I believe it pleases God when we do.  It’s a good thing to keep God’s covenant in word and in action.  It pleases God when we do.  Let us stand and sing verse 5 of “O My Soul Bless Your Creator.”  May it please God as we do.  Amen.