June 24, 2012
I. I am ambivalent about public expressions of Christian faith by sports figures and other celebrities. “To Tebow” has become a verb and for some a joke. Josh Hamilton has had to explain his faith in humiliation. When Webb Simpson won the U.S. Open golf tournament last week he said, “I’d be stupid not to thank my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, because it was tough out there, and I was nervous, and I felt his presence all day.” On the one hand, these folk have opportunities to let their light shine before others, as Jesus said in Matthew 5:16. Sometimes they seem to draw attention to themselves or make faith in Christ seem silly. Letting our light shine has to balance with what Jesus said later in Matthew 6:1, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them.”
Early in the 1994 college football season the Colorado Buffaloes played at powerhouse Michigan. Colorado’s coach Bill McCartney has been very public with his Christian witness. With six seconds left and down 26-21, Colorado regained possession on their own 34 yard line. A Michigan fan seated on the 50 yard line yelled to McCartney, “Hey, Coach, where’s your God now?” McCartney said that was when he knew Colorado would win. On the last play of the game a 74 yard pass into the end zone was tipped into the air and grabbed by a Colorado player who fell over the goal line for the winning touchdown. On TV we often see fans for both teams apparently praying during tense game moments. I honestly don’t think God cares which team wins, but Coach McCartney felt the Michigan fan’s taunt put God’s reputation on the line and somehow ensured that the tipped pass fell to Colorado.
A. The driving force behind David’s confrontation with Goliath was his concern that God’s reputation was on the line. When David heard Goliath’s taunts, he took them as defiance of the God of Israel, not just of Saul’s army. David could not understand how Saul, his brothers or any of Israel’s soldiers could let this go unchallenged, so he volunteered. When Goliath saw David coming with shepherd’s staff in hand, he was insulted and cursed him in the name of his gods. David returned the curse not claiming superior weapons but a superior God. By the defeat of Goliath and the Philistines all the earth would know there was a God in Israel.
B. David shouted, “You come with sword and spear and javelin, but I come in the name of the Lord of hosts.” And confidently said, “The battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hand.” Goliath’s challenge was to hand-to-hand combat. David’s shepherd’s staff was clearly no match for Goliath’s sword. Nothing in the text suggests God miraculously guided the stone from David’s sling to Goliath’s forehead. We do need to realize that David was not using a small rock that would go in a slingshot. Slingstones were about fist size, round and weighing 2-3 pounds. Modern major league pitchers can hurl a baseball between 90 and 100 MPH. With the added leverage of the sling, a skilled hurler could accurately propel a slingstone at 125 MPH at close range. Undoubtedly Goliath’s skull shattered and his brain hemorrhaged. But David would be the first to tell us that it was not about physics and anatomy. Goliath fell to God’s reputation. Notice, also, that David’s language shifted from “me” to “us.” He did not defeat Goliath for himself but for all Israel. I wonder if David was remembering his day with Goliath when he wrote in Psalm 20:7-8, “Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses, but our pride is in the name of the Lord our God. They will collapse and fall, but we shall rise and stand upright.”
C. A little later today you will be voting on the budget for 1st Christian Church, Duncanville for 2012-13. I know that the stewardship and budget team and the Board have put a lot of careful and prayerful thought into this. As I observed this process, I was impressed that the budget is organized around the mission of the church, not around administrative categories. Slipping into a “how do we pay the bills?” mentality is all too easy. We start to think of money as the means and limit of how we get things done as a church. David’s story suggests that our dollars are something like his slingstones. Yes, the number is limited, and they must be used skillfully, but the work of the church is not done by dollars. It is done by people with the same confidence in God that David had. As we think about stewardship today, put God’s reputation on the line as you deploy your money and other resources for ministry.
II. David perceived that Goliath’s taunts put God’s reputation on the line. We need to ask, “Where is God’s reputation on the line today?”
A. If you listen to the rhetoric, you might conclude that God’s reputation is on the line in every theological, social, political, economic and ethical debate that clambers for attention and adherents. However, these issues are about our reputations, not God’s – even if we try to drag God into them.
1. They may be more important than who will win this year’s World Series, but God’s reputation is not at stake in this fall’s election, in the survival of the Euro, in the stock market, in the schools.
2. As much as people try to blame God for natural disasters and human cruelty, from crime to war, God’s reputation is not on the line where we are called to justice and compassion.
3. God’s reputation is not at stake in our attempts at rational proofs for God’s existence or the accuracy of the Bible, as though somehow God is at odds with science, history and philosophy.
4. God’s reputation is not at stake in the defeat of those we consider to be our enemies. Martin Niemoeller was a pastor in Nazi Germany and was imprisoned for 8 years for protesting Hitler’s policies to him in person. He said, “It took me a long time to learn that God is not the enemy of my enemies. He is not even the enemy of his enemies.”
B. God’s reputation is on the line where unbelievers should be able to look and see God.
1. Wherever people see injustice and human suffering, unbelievers should be able to see that God is confronting it. That may come through compassion, through self-sacrifice or through exposing truth. We’d like that to come through people who act in the name of Jesus, but God can work through outsiders.
2. In John 13:35 and 17:22-24 at the Last Supper, Jesus said that the world would know we are his disciples by our love for one another and that the world would know he had been sent from God when we are as united with each other as Jesus is with his Father.
C. If we approach our personal stewardship as deciding on an appropriate amount or percentage to give to the church, our reputation is on the line, not God’s. If the church’s budget is planned for institutional maintenance and survival, our reputation is on the line, not God’s. But we can put God’s reputation on the line as we deploy our money and other resources for ministry. That happens when we recognize that what we have does not belong to us but to God. We do not just give some of it to God and do what we want with the rest. No! Everything is God’s, some of it we use individually and some of it we use together as a church. God’s reputation is on the line when a church says, “Serving people in the name of Jesus is more important that being comfortable or surviving.”
III. To help you get the power of Jesus calming the storm in Mark 4:35-41, you need to know a couple of things. In that time, storms on water were thought of as the work of chaos and even demons opposed to God’s creation and redemption. Also, when Jesus rebukes the wind and speaks to the sea, he uses the same words as when he cast demons out of people. This story is about more than Jesus’ power over nature. Jesus is not just protecting the safety and comfort of this disciples; he is confronting the chaos that is opposed to God. He had been teaching from a boat all day.
On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.”36And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him.37A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped.38But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”39He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”41And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
A. Jesus seemed disappointed in the disciples. What did he expect of them? Faith and not fear. When we are afraid, we can be sure our reputation is what’s on the line. Faith is what put’s God’s reputation on the line. Faith does not always mean that every storm will be calmed and we arrive safely at a happy ending. When they got to the other side, Jesus healed the Gadarene Demoniac and went right back where they started. God’s reputation is on the line when faith puts us where God is redeeming people.
B. After Jesus challenged their fear and faith, perhaps the disciples asked the wrong question. Instead of, “Who is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” maybe they should have asked, “Who is this that even raging, life-threatening circumstances do not disturb his sleep?” The question for us may be, “If God’s reputation is on the line and not ours, why do we lose sleep over what the future holds? Why do we lose sleep when the Dow is down? Why do we lose sleep when we face puzzling decisions? Why do we lose sleep over what others do?”
C. If God’s reputation is on the line, stewardship is a question of faith not fear. I’m not suggesting reckless personal or church spending. If anything, I’m suggesting holding a steady course focused on serving people in the name of Jesus even when daily storms threaten to blow us off course.
IV. The question comes down to where will you put God’s reputation on the line as you deploy your money and other resources for ministry?
A. Perhaps you’ve heard this question. If someone looked at your checkbook, what would they conclude is important to you? Whose reputation does your checkbook put on the line? I’m not suggesting an austere, no-frills life. Rather, I’m asking what does what you spend on entertainment say about what brings you joy? What does your personal budget say about what you find satisfying? What does your charitable giving say about your commitment to justice and compassion as well as to your church?
B. I already mentioned how powerful organizing this church’s budget around mission rather than administration is. In addition, I learned at the last Board meeting your policy of giving 10% of everything that comes in to mission in the world, beyond your walls. A congregation that tithes together like this can say to its members, we encourage you to tithe individually as well. This puts God’s reputation out front. As your mission here prospers, Christ’s mission around the world will prosper too.
C. As you put God’s reputation on the line to deploy your money and other resources for ministry, you can be as confident as David and Jesus were. Is a Goliath taunting Christ within your earshot? Don’t resort to a slingshot pebble, hurl a full sized slingstone. Is a storm of chaos threatening to swamp you? Do not be afraid. With faith in Jesus’ authority, sail on through to heal the hurting people on the other side.