Why am I HERE? Because I Have a Practical Need for THE BOOK

Sometimes, MapQuest helps. A GPS is good, too. It used to be you could ask somebody at the gas station (unless of course, you were a man), “Why am I here? Can you give me directions? I don’t know the way. I just want to get to where I know I belong.” It’s all good, if you’re just a little lost along the road. But what if your lost-ness is with life? Then the-way-to-find-your-way is different. Some folks head for the self-help aisle at Dalton Books or Amazon.com. Others see the psychologist or the palm reader. And there’s always Oprah. But, thank God, some still head for church. Then comes the question, “Which church?” Specifically, why… say… the United Methodist Church. And in particular, why this one! “Because I have a practical need for THE BOOK.” That’s a good reason. Perhaps the best of all. Over the remaining weeks of June we’re going to ask the question, “Why am I here?” alot. And we’ll be proposing some deep answers to this piercing question. But we begin at the beginning. Start with The Book, The Bible!

More than the expected, hackneyed appeal to read your Bible is in order and at stake. Oh, certainly, God God’s-self may occasionally want to sing with Socrates the Godspell lyric, “I can see a swath of sinners settin' yonder/and they're actin' like a pack of fools/gazin' into space lettin' their minds wander/'Stead of studyin' the good Lord's rules. You better pay attention, build your comprehension.
There's gonna be a quiz at your ascension/not to mention any threat of hell, but if you're smart you'll learn your lessons well!” Good advice, this. Too few of us heed it in our live-a-day lives. But we need more than a reading of Scripture. We require a keener, sharper, closer understanding, no, experience, of what the Sacred Word does to locate us and fix our direction, now and forever! United Methodists, like their founder John Wesley, have said for over two centuries that we are a people of one book! And at Nichols-Bethel, we say, the very first of our Core Values is “Sharing the Word” as found in The Book. Why? What’s it mean?

It means, this Book, by its very presence, there’s an Outsideness. It’s looking to speak to our Insideness. The solutions for our situations are NOT within us. They’re coming to us from outside, over against, above us! It’s popular and pretty easy to say religion comes from within us. Buddha would be pleased. Also the self-actualization believers and the New-Agers. I’ve heard many a message that a nature-walk will get it done. Golfers tell me it’s holy out there. (It must be. God’s name gets frequent use!) But the Book says, “No.” David was right. “You show me the path where I should go, O Lord; point out the right road for me to walk. Lead me; teach me; for you are the God who gives me salvation. I have no hope except in you.” Ps. 25 It’s not all about me! I can’t save myself in this life, much less for the next. And the Good News is… I don’t have to!

This has always startled us. Moses brought down 2 tablets, 10 Commandments and centuries of Law for a revolutionary life. But it got old. Forgotten. So 600 years after Moses and 600 years before Jesus, God made mischief. The King and the Temple Trustees had decided to renovate church (Temple). The capital campaign maxed. Folks were psyched. ‘Thought they were doin’ somethin’. Little did they know. God was the doer! From outside, over-against, above. II Kgs. 22ff. Some of the workers busted a wall and broke out a scroll, long ago lost. The Book of the Law, given a second time! Deuteronomy! The King read to the people, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your might. These words I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise….” And those who heard it wept, repented, confessed. God speaking. Them listening. That’s the entire pattern of the Book and the great challenge/contradiction to our self-centered, self-directed lives. God speaking. Us listening. It worked for their person and nation. ‘Will today. Obama won’t cure our trauma. McCain won’t heal our pain. Cheaper “gasoline-ation” won’t offer us salvation. No preacher who’s a slick-chick will-be-right-to-say you can make life your picnic. Here’s the true pattern” God speaking, us listening. For 35 years folks have come to me. “Rev., what shall I do? Who shall I be?” For 35 years I’ve responded as my teachers taught me. “What do you think you should do/be?” But 35 years has taught me something more. The answers are not inside us, don’t come from us. Nope, the Book says, “Long ago God laid your answer on your own back doorstep, wrapped in swaddling clothes!” (Willimon) The story’s not about how we got ourselves together, got organized or worked out our own salvation. The Book’s got another story. A radically other God does a radically other thing: born in a manger, willing to be hanged on a cross to express a love so utterly-other-than-ours it can save us from our sin and from ourselves. The difference between the preacher and the shrink is not: one charges you and arm and a leg for a fix and the other doesn’t. Here’s the difference. One directs you to the best story inside you. That’s good. The other points to the otherwise unimaginable story beyond you and helps you feel it as your own. “Why am I here? Can you give me directions? I don’t know the way. The Book gives us Jesus saying, “ I am the Way!” We’re here in need of this Way!

Why am I here? To distinguish the rumors of religion from the realities of faith. Here, we have the Manual for that. But it will surprise us, should we really open The Book and be open to it. Most of our lives we’ve been told our Book is a roadmap for life. Let me (Willimon) suggest another image. We need and we have a Book that’s a photo. It shows a collision at an intersection! Here’s the only way to see the head-on between our self-centeredness and God’s greater truthfulness. The Book marks the place where our littleness collides with God’s bigness! Personally, I love all the lists in the Bible. I love to share them with you. Just last week we were all over the nine gifts of the Spirit. I love to boil down some passage into 3 hints for this, or 5 ways to that, or 7 things to avoid (like those deadly sins). Easy, quick, understandable, memorable. But maybe the upshot is not really disciples, passionate followers of Christ, forever and rightly in love with God. Maybe the best we get this way: what old John Wesley used to call Almost Christians! More than once I’ve had someone in my office or on the line saying, “Ken, I don’t think I’m a Bible believer anymore. I just can’t accept (take your pick) … Adam and Eve, Noah and the flood, parting the waters (or walking on them), the sun standing still, or the virgin birth.” OK. But if you’re going to turn away, at least stop pretending this is the hardest stuff you’re asked to believe. At

least get to the part where you’re asked to turn the other cheek instead of knocking somebody’s block off. ‘Or to treat the people with the “Will work for food” signs on the down ramp to Arundel Mills Mall like Christ went to the cross for them. ‘Or to see the person next to you at Communion (the one you “had it out with” after Tues. night’s church meeting) as royalty. (Jesus does.) Now we’re talkin’ hard to believe. Real faith. This is living faith. And this is the stuff of The Book. Everybody knows it’s good to be rich. Jesus says blessed the poor! Crash! Everybody knows the holy eye is on the really nice and the much like us. But when Jesus comes he gets up in his home church and announces before he hits the road, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me… to preach Good News to the poor.” “ ‘To heal the brokenhearted and announce the captives shall be released and the blind shall see. The downtrodden are going to stand (over their) oppressors, and God is ready to bless all who come to him.’” He added, “These Scriptures come true today!” Can you hear the brakes screech and the glass break? We have a practical need of the Book to place at the intersection where our easy-believing comes to a halt and our real-living-for-God begins!

“Why am I here? Can you give me directions? I don’t know the way. I just want to get to where I know I belong.” We’re here to get help. We get it from the Book and each other as nowhere else. It’s no accident at all that the words disciple and discipline sound so much alike. United Methodists say it like this. “Our theological task [our God-thinking/God-talk] is essentially practical. It informs [our personal] decisions and serves the church’s life and work. Our interest [passion] is to incorporate [flesh out] the promises and demands of the gospel in our daily lives.” (‘04 Discipline, p. 79) We take Jesus at his Bible word that we are to make disciples. They are not born. They are nurtured and guided. It’s why it’s so important to get our kids into regular praise and study and experience of God in Christ. Disciples are brought to the place where the holy and the everyday collide. It’s why we need to show/tell folks about our Jesus-Experiences. God wants us to share our God-Moments and our Jesus-Sightings and the places where he’s touched us. And to practice prowling in the Word, praising in the sanctuary, praying in private, fasting to be emptied, so we can come to his table to feast and be full, and go out and serve and be faith-full. It’s why I’m here! How about you?

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