Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Let Go and Let God

I would often get very sleepy listening to dad's sermons when I was a kid. I guess all kids can sometimes get lost when it's time for the sermon... The guy up there is using big words, talking about things you don't know and don't care about. It's easy to space out a little, even as an adult, but especially as a kid.

Now, though, I hardly hear a sermon I'm not intent upon listening to with every part of me -- looking to glean some knowledge or revelation that will help me better understand who I am; who I'm supposed to be. I haven't heard my dad preach a sermon in a long, long time. I regret that so much. It may have been 5 years since I attended a service where he preached. Can that be? Maybe it is... Anyway, I miss them, because when my dad was at his worst, he was a rambling, aimless preacher who hit on multiple topics within the same sermon.....and STILL FOUND HOME for most people. And at his best, he could captivate 100 people for a half hour and bring them to sorrowful or angry tears, and joyous laughter, within a single sentence, then help them struggle to the foot of the cross and introduce them once more to Jesus. Those sermons were one of the thousands of reasons why there were 200+ people at his funeral in a church that only seats 150.

I fancy myself a pretty decent speaker, too, when I'm speaking about something I'm passionate about. I love teaching people about service and leadership, and have been told it's obvious I have passion for that when I do teach it -- which I take as an extreme compliment. I imagine my dad was the same way. I imagine most people are the same way. When we have the opportunity to share with people who are interested information about something we love, we turn it up a notch. There is a different tone in our voice. Our eyes light up. We stage-whisper at the dramatic bits. We gesture widely. There is passion in the delivery when there is passion about the message.

I was lamenting the fact that I hadn't heard my dad preach in a while when I learned that my mom still has dozens of cassette tapes which hold more than a hundred of dad's sermons. There probably aren't many of his more recent sermons, but that's ok, because my dad's passions were the same recently as they were 20 years ago. My dad was a forgiver, and a healer, and he believed in a God that could change anyone -- even a pagan -- until that person became a disciple Jesus would be proud of.

I hijacked a few of those tapes when I left Sunday, and listened to them on the way home. Mom said I should be careful about hearing his voice, but aside from a little initial shock, I did fine with that. In fact, these tapes were old enough that his voice seemed somehow different to me than I remember it being. Except for the pervading theme that we cannot put God in a box. Dad loved a God who loves to surprise us, and one of the sermons I listened to was about that. I've actually listened to it multiple times now, and I'll likely end up putting the text of that one on here, but in a nutshell, dad illustrated that Jesus, time and time again taught people that God is a God of surprises.

The Jews expected Jesus to be born into a royal family, but , He was born in a stable into a carpenter's family. They believed in the idea of "An eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth," but , Jesus taught to turn the other cheek. They believed that the sinner was to be treated like the enemy, but He said he came to benefit the sinner. They thought the leper deserved to be treated as an unclean outcast, but He taught that they were the children of God -- and He touched them, and healed them. They believed they were unworthy of God's love, but He said 'Zacheus, come down -- I wish to dine with you.' They believed Jesus was dead and buried forever; and that His followers would disappear... but SURPRISE! They found the tomb empty...and His followers became the largest religious group anywhere, any time.

Dad then challenges his listeners by asking them each... If your favorite part of the Sunday experience -- music, sermon, prayer book, terminology, communion -- were going to disappear for a year, would you still show up to worship Jesus? See, here I am, almost 20 years later, learning from my dad the week after his death that I have been selfish in my attitudes about worship. That I should turn my face completely toward God and yearn to worship Him...and quit worrying about what part of the service or the fellowship or the experience exactly meets or fails to meet my perception of How Things Should Be.

Later, Dad asks the congregations some questions and challenges them to ask themselves these questions going forward...saying that if the answers to these questions are "no," they probably haven't been listening to God as closely as they should be....
Has God done anything lately which shocked or surprised you?
Has your understanding of what God is like and what He wants and what He wants from the Church changed in the last few years?
Has your worship become more an expression of love for God? (Or is it dependent more on some other less significant and worldly thing like the preacher's words, or the book's terminology, or the church's position on some issue?)

Dad closes by teaching that if we really want to love God with all our heart, our soul, our mind, and our strength, and if we really want to know Him, then we have to let go of our personal prejudices and preferences...and let God change OUR thinking and our understanding, adopting a BIBLICAL wisdom and understanding... HIS wisdom and understanding. We can't be SO SURE of ourselves, but be willing to entertain the possibility that the Lord has more in store for us now than we can possibly know or understand.

I CANNOT WAIT to listen to the rest of dad's sermons. I left all but about 5 cassettes at my mom's house. I wish I had them all now. I'll probably get sleepy on some of them, but I have to tell you -- I am VERY EXCITED about the idea that God's waiting to SURPRISE me through my dad's 20 year old words! Dad has always been wise, even in the times when I would have been the last to admit it...but now, his wisdom will pervade even death, for I have a resource invaluable to learn from and use, and I am overwhelmed that my parents have such a gift for me during this time when I need it most. I'll close with the few but powerful words dad prayed at the end of that sermon, asking on behalf of his congregation....

Come, Holy Spirit, and surprise us now with the abundance of your grace. AMEN.

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