Nothin’ Held Back

When it comes to time, the best is worship time. The best of the best is time with the children. I’ve often asked kids over the years what God looks like. I remember the exchange between two them one Sunday morning. I asked, “Girls and boys, what do you think God really looks like? One little one answered. “Like air!” “Why?” I asked. The child shot back. “Because God is everywhere.” Do you think God lives anywhere special?” I pursued. A second little one spoke up. “Well, my mommy says God lives in me. But now I don’t think so.” Why is that?” I asked. Answer: ‘Because if God is air, every time I breathe, he keeps getting out!” Can you say that? Do you feel God enter into you with every breath you take? All of God? Does God entirely fill you up? But then too, does God get out with every breath you take? Completely out? This morning in these all too brief moments we are here to give God glory, I invite you to experience with me, giving God glory with our every breath. All in. All out. Nothing held back!
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” That’s the basic, basic basis of our faith, from Moses to Jesus. Only one God, one Lord of our lives, one source of our everything, right down to the air we breathe. Nothing held back. Afterall, the air we breathe is God’s own breath, ever since God knelt down and breathed his breath into Grandpa Adam. And the breath we exhale likewise belongs to God. Nothing held back, says what Jesus calls “the greatest commandment.” ‘Not our hearts, nor our minds; not our souls, nor a single shred of all our strength. Do you let God in, all of God, only to find like my little friend, that all of God keeps getting out… and are you glad to release God, joyfully giving God away?

Most of us have a hard time holding God #1 in our lives. But the shema, the great call to faith that Jesus counts the greatest commandment of them all goes even farther. It insists, and Jesus with it, that God is not merely #1 with us, but the only one! God, the consuming reality in our lives. I wish I could say it to be true for me. And perhaps it needs to be before I can expect to help it come true for you. But the truth is I’m not there yet. And every look in the mirror reminds me time is running short! For me, and for you. But I am getting there. You? Are we headed in the right direction? O, I love that song from the musical, Fiddler on the Roof, “If I Were a Rich Man”. If I were, what would I do? It’s not so outrageous a question. With deep sadness, I note the passage of expanded legalized gambling in our state. By and by, 1000’s will sit-the-day in front of one-armed-bandits and other corrupting confections of a morally corrupt industry. And they will conjure up fortunes they will never see, singing their own version of, “If I were a Rich Person.” They’ll imagine bills paid, trips taken, baubles secured, and leisure assured. It is the signal testimony to an age gone wrong. Few will sing like Tevye. “If I were rich I’d have the time I lack to sit in the [holy place] and pray. And maybe have a seat by the eastern wall. And I’d discuss the Holy Books with the learned men several hours every day. And that… would be the sweetest thing… of all!” I bid you, beg you as your friend and pastor, ‘next time you’re dreamin’ in these ever-tightening-times of what you’d do in riches, pray. Really pray. Pray that you will become rich in whole heart and full mind by desiring to be consumed by God, all of God for all of you. Nothing held back. That would be the sweetest thing of all. And don’t leave out your might. We mean by that your every energy. Imagine it. Conceive it. Crave it. ‘A time in your life when your every energy is bent toward God. Conjure yourself kind of leaning into the Kingdom. I admit all preachers want to think it. This is the moment everybody says yes when called on by the church. Tithers are filling every available pew seat. ‘And lining up to get in the door. And they all want autographed copies of the morning sermon. Well, likely, NOT. (‘Though God wouldn’t mind. And the Finance Committee would love the tithing and we’d all be a lot healthier spiritually.) But God’s dream is not so institutional or self-serving. God simply desires that God’s person and being and way-of-living take up all the room. And we lend our every energy to doing as God desires. God the conscious thought behind our every kindness. God the driver of every unselfish act and serious sacrifice. God the hoped-for object of every desire to please. Imagine your marriage, your family, your church, the community, the nation like so. ‘Nothing held back. Can you imagine it? God can. And God does!

Are you prepared to make this exchange, all of God for all of you? Like the woman holding to the hem of Christ? Like the father of the stricken child who could see death, but trust Jesus entirely for new life? O, dear friends, are you, can you be, do you wanna be like the blind two who believed, utterly believed, though they could only stagger along beside him, that Jesus could open their eyes, once and for all? And were you to decide, this very day to say yes, like any of these, how would your life be changed? 12 years ill, this woman comes to Jesus. Well, at least to his feet. She’ll settle for that, she believes so strongly. She is not intent on telling him her whole story. The Great Physician has no need of a case history. For her and for us, Jesus already knows! She will be entirely open and vulnerable to Christ and to the crowd. She will risk his will-to-heal and the crowd’s capacity to trample her (the world often does that to those at risk). But when she fingers the fringe of his robe… ahhh, in an instant she is whole! [BJ Illust.] I have seen this with my own eyes. I am witness it still happens. And it can be so for you! All of God for all of you. Are you ready? Oh, think on that that father. His daughter already dead. He knows it. Knows it for sure. But he goes to Jesus anyway. All of him for all of Jesus. “If you come I know she will live again.” Jesus comes. But the father must wait while the crowds crowd in. And this woman is healed. Imagine. Surely he felt like us, there in the hospital or the doctor’s waiting area. It seems everyone is treated before us and our loves. But wait this father does. He trusts, completely trusts GOD’S time! How are you doin’ on this? Now, Jesus goes right by the New Orleans-style funeral their havin’, so ready to say that death can defeat us. In fact, he sends them all home. Then it’s just he and the child and the father. And Jesus himself holds nothing back. And life wins over death in the sickroom, even as it does on the cross-crowded hill sometime later on. Humpf! Jesus’ all for our all. And life beats death. That’s what happens. ‘You ready for that? And don’t forget the blind. In pairs to protect each other. ‘Not seated but following. Stumbling along. [I know about this. Harvey Illust.] No familiar ground. No landmark furniture in their own sweet home. If you’re worried the ground’s gonna fall out from under you in these uncertain financial times, you have a glimpse of these two. If you’re so angry or distressed you can’t see straight, you’re onto these two. If you can’t see any way out of the illness or the mess or the sin you’re in, this is your story in these two unseeing souls. And Jesus asks, now as then, “Do you believe that I can do this?” If our answer is as theirs, with no thing in our soul held back, “Yes, Lord,” He will touch our unseeing parts. And our eyes will be opened, too. O, what a sight to see. I know. I’ve seen it. And in some of you! WOW! Wow. wow!

Praise God, we really do know, you and I. We know because we have seen Jesus. We know what God has emptied into Christ and into us. What are we willing to empty out? Are we ready in our faith for nothing held back?! It seems this week history has either been stalking, or swirling around us. (Which, may depend on your point of view.) We can hardly hold a conversation or hear a news report that doesn’t distress or depress, threaten us or throttle our hopes. The For Sale signs on houses are now being joined by Job Wanted postings from the papers to the web. Tuesday Night’s jubilation in some quarters insisting “Yes we can,” seems shouted down by so many indicators insisting, “No we can’t”. And I am struck by the irony of a sermon series announced by our neighbors titled, “The End of The World.” [At that least that will end the deficits in our churches and our households.] But more than all of this, I am persuaded by a central symbol on a distant hill. A cross that overlooks a lonesome, loathsome valley where the unwanted-in-things-and-people were once caste-in altogether. It was the last thing Jesus ever saw. And in that place, looking on that view, God did and does hold nothing back. And there, Jesus says with his final breath. “This is not for nothing. It’s done. I have done what I came to do. It is accomplished.” It was. Friday faded into Saturday. Sunrise that day fell into darkness, in ancient lives as in ours. But in the night, with all God’s might, God Eastered on an unsuspecting world. And by the time we heard and ran to see it, Christ had already gone to make a new world and a new day and a new eternity. God did. God does… love in Christ with nothing held back. Ancient truth to meet an urgent world in need. Hear this: The Lord is one. The only One. Healing happens. Believing makes for seeing. All that’s dead is raised. Believe it. Hold nothin’ back.

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