Sermon: Between Lukewarm and Unbelief
This week I was sitting in the office of the Council of Churches working on plans for our church’s involvement with Springfield’s new women’s homeless shelter when Rev Mark Struckhoff walked in and asked me when I was leaving for Italy and who was preaching while I am gone. I told him that we were going to try using technology so that I could preach both Sundays, and then I told him my sermon topic for next week, “Is GOD on Facebook?” and Mark answered the question, then I answered the question, and we both said, “Oooh. That would be a good sermon!” Mark’s answer was really good. Mark said “Of course not because….”
Too bad. You won’t hear Mark’s answer until later in this sermon.
So last week, I was in the young adult sunday school class, and they have started an exciting new curriculum called, “not a fan.” Keith asked me to come to class last week because he wanted my spin on something the curriculum says, and that’s this: Jesus never wanted a bunch of fans, Jesus wanted followers.
So the question the class wanted answered was this: is it really all or nothing with God?
We may sing “I surrender all” and sing “All to Jesus, I surrender. All to him I freely give,” but I know I have stumbled over those words. I give you my heart Jesus, but I would like to keep control over some areas of my life. You may see into my life Jesus, but there are times I’d like you to turn the cameras off. Do you remember the Bette Midler hit “From a distance”?
From a distance we all have enough,
and no one is in need.
And there are no guns, no bombs, and no disease,
no hungry mouths to feed.
From a distance you look like my friend,
even though we are at war.
From a distance I just cannot comprehend
what all this fighting is for.
From a distance there is harmony,
and it echoes through the land.
And it’s the hope of hopes, it’s the love of loves,
it’s the heart of every man.
From a distance we are instruments
marching in a common band.
Playing songs of hope, playing songs of peace.
They’re the songs of every man.
God is watching us. God is watching us.
God is watching us from a distance.
Boy, that’s a nice idea. It was extremely popular, and I think there is no irony in the fact that the song became Song of the Year in the same year we went to war for the first time in the Persian Gulf. At least from a distance, we look like good people doing what we’re supposed to do. It was a great song, but it is not at all biblical. Not at all.
This is the God that knows the number of hairs on our heads and knows and calls each of us by name, who speaks and pushes us onto the path God prefers, and sends us his only son to die and rise to conquer each and everyone of the sins of each and every one of us. And there’s no distance at all between God and us… except the distance that we create.
The concept of all or nothing with God is really quite scary. We may sing “I surrender all,” but there are things we hold back. We close the door to our bedrooms. We close the covers of our checkbooks. We keep a habit we know God would like us to lose. We sneak a moment that we consider private. We hold back. We create distance between us and God, and the distance I create is probably all together different from the distance you create, but we all have it. Distance. It’s not what God wants, and it’s nothing to sing about.
So the Sunday school asked me the questions: Is it really all or nothing with God? and I quoted two scriptures: today’s scripture readings.
In Revelation, Jesus speaks to a church and says that if they continue to be lukewarm in their relationship with and devotion to him, he will spit them out of his mouth. Another way Jesus has said this is that if we are ashamed of him, he will be ashamed of us in front of the Father. Lukewarm is simply not good enough. Be against or be for. Our leaders say “whoever isn’t for us is against us” while Jesus said, “whoever isn’t against us is for us,” but when Jesus is talking about disciples and church members, it’s pick a side and go with it, go for it. Don’t sit on the fence. Don’t be lukewarm. Be cold or be HOT.
So, yes, it’s all or nothing with God, but most of us, or maybe all of us, aren’t quite there yet. We haven’t yet turned over everything, so are we spit out-able?
Here’s the other scripture that comes to mind: Jesus is asked to heal a boy with a violent spirit by the boy’s father. Jesus asks the man if he believes. And the man says the oddest thing: “I believe; help me overcome my unbelief.” That is as real as it gets. It may not be the sweetest thing anyone said to Jesus, or the smartest thing anyone said to Jesus, but it was definitely one of the most honest, authentic things anyone said to Jesus. “I believe; help me overcome my unbelief.” I’m trying, but I need your help to get to the next level.
And that seems to be acceptable to Jesus. It’s enough for him to heal the boy. The guy is lukewarm in his faith development, yes, this is the first moment he’s had Jesus in his life, he’s a little on the fence. But…. but! he asks Jesus to help him believe more.
Is it all or nothing with God? Yes. All is the goal. All is what God wants. No distance is what God wants. Are we there yet? Probably not. We are holding something back or many somethings back. So how do we get from lukewarm to hot? Lord, I believe. Help me overcome my unbelief. Not my disbelief. My unbelief. Not my “I don’t believe that” but my “I haven’t believed that yet.” I haven’t seen what you can do with my relationships. I don’t know the difference you’d make in my finances. I don’t know what would happen if I exposed my whole self to you. That’s unbelief, not disbelief. See the difference?
My colleague Mark said God is not on Facebook because God does not want the whitewashed, carefully constructed images of ourselves that we show the world. God wants our true selves.
God doesn’t want your Facebook self, your masked self, your perfectly socially-acceptable self that you show outside your home. God wants the real you, warts and all. God wants all of it, without the distance that we try to maintain so we can think we’re good people. God wants the sin. He died for it and then rose to make it go away. He wants it! How do we get there, from unbelief to belief, from lukewarm to all-in, cards up, I surrender all? As Jesus said, some things can only come out through prayer. That’s the way to do it. We have to pray. Pray on the way to work. Pray before you go to bed. Pray whenever you’re stressed. Pray whenever you’re relaxed. Pray, pray, pray, pray every day. I believe, Lord, help my unbelief.
And if you pray everyday, occasionally throw out the formulas we so often use. All prayer don’t have to start to a beautiful beginning like “Dear Heavenly father” or “Gracious God.” They don’t have to be in King James’ English. They can start with, “hey, God…” They can start with, “HELP ME.” The more you pray, the more you’re going to start slipping up and saying things you didn’t mean to say… and that’s when you’re closing the distance God didn’t want in the first place. Pray until you say something you didn’t mean to say to God. If we pray until we’re real with God, and then, my friends, we will begin to burn hot and we will finally begin to be all in. Amen.