Sermon from July 24, 2011

Luke & John:

Slurpees, Life, and Following Jesus with Heart and Joy

Luke 10:36-37; 15:31-32; John 1:14; 20:31

Are you living today or just alive?  Are you merely functioning this morning, or are you living the life that is life indeed?  John wrote, these things have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, and that believing, you may have life in his name.

Josh McDowell used to talk to groups of male college students and would challenge them.  You know what, you can function or you can live, which will it be?  You can get a functional degree from this university and get a functional job and a functional wife and have functional children and live in a functional house and just function.  Or you can live, really live, the life that is life indeed.

Today we’re looking at the gospel writers Luke and John and the Gospels they wrote.  They are pictured in the window third back on my right.  I want to begin by drawing for you some contrasts between these two guys and Matthew and Mark, whom we talked about last week.  And this is all overstated, but try to get my point here.  Mark, if you remember is the decisive action gospel, and Matthew is the intelligent, reflective faith gospel.  Both tend to be pretty left brain: logical, conceptual, get her done.  Now, there is logic and concept and action in John and Luke too, but they tend to be more right brain.  If Matthew and Mark are the gospels of intelligent faith and decisive action, Luke and John are the gospels of heart and joy.  If Matthew and Mark are more reference book and documentary film, Luke and John are more historical novel and short story collection.  If Matthew and Mark could be considered more Edward Gibbon and Ken Burns (if you know who they are), Luke and John could be considered more Jane Austen and Leo Tolstoy.  Matthew and Mark are about following Jesus with intelligent faith and decisive action, Luke and John are about following Jesus with loving heart, and passionate joy.

Some time when I was a kid we got a 7-11 in Newport and they were the first ones to come out with “slurpees” and we knew what snow cones were and if you went to Wilmington you could get Italian ice but we just thought slurpees were the most modern technological treat in the world.  One summer day this kid named Ronnie Koterwaus who lived a few blocks up the street was sitting on his banana seat, high handlebar bike in front of our house talking with my friends and me; and he was eating/slurping whatever this big coke slurpee.  It was probably only about 12-14 ounces but it looked gigantic to us and we were all staring with wide eyed mouth watering envy.  All of a sudden we heard a fire siren and could see the fire engine pass just a couple of blocks away, and Ronnie Koterwaus yelled out Yippie, and threw that half consumed coke slurpee up in the air and went riding as fast as his little legs could take him on that bike to follow the fire engine.  He was several feet down the street going the other direction when the slurpee went slpat all over the middle of the street.  We were all sort of sad to see such a treat go to waste but it was so funny to watch the sheer joy, the reckless, childlike abandon of Ronnie in going after that fire truck.  Luke and John are about the sheer joy of embracing the life that is life indeed, the life that Jesus would die and rise again to secure with a childlike, reckless abandon.

How do Luke and John show us this heart and joy?  One way they do it is through this fascinating cast of characters to whom they introduce us.  They couldn’t have made up characters as interesting relate-to-able as these.  Indeed sometimes I feel that if I were a novelist I could never invent characters as interesting or strangely compelling as some of you.  But John especially is a master at this.  He tells us about Nicodemus, Nick at night, a high up, really intelligent guy too afraid to see Jesus, or be seen with Jesus during the day, but who despite his fear is there at the end.  Then there is the woman at the well, whose sex life in the past is probably a bit checkered, sort of comes from the wrong side of the tracks yet shows herself to be spiritually a person of depth and a leader at bringing people to faith.  Then there is the surprising Lazarus who provokes Jesus to tears and yet later blasts out of his premature grave alive.  And when Jesus says to Lazarus’ equally interesting sisters I am the resurrection and the life, that was not merely a concept in a book to them, it was visceral, in your face, terrifyingly joyful reality.

People embracing life in his name.  It continues today.  Of course there is the story of a little guy who was afraid of a thunder storm one night and asked if he could get in bed with his mom.  His mom explained that Jesus was with him and would protect him and was right there in bed with him.  And he said I know mom, but I still want to get in bed with you and have you just hold me.  Why she asked.  He replied because sometimes I need to feel Jesus with skin on (  The word became flesh, John says, and dwelt among us, God with skin on, and he interacted and shared real life with real people.  A few weeks ago a few of our youth went on a mission trip to inner city Cincinnati, and Angie showed me a video of one of the little girls they worked with singing a gospel song.  It wasn’t just a concept; it was a real flesh and blood and loving girl to whom they ministered and who shared life with them.  I asked the youth from our church where they saw God and how they experienced Jesus’ presence in their trip and here is an excerpt from one of our young people, Jacob Stoner:

In my group we worked at a church named Christ Bethel.  It was a predominately African American church and it was noticeably being affected just by the wear and tear of the city around it.  But inside that small church in this summer camp, was the most amazing set of kids I have ever met.  In the first five minutes those kids, with all the love that they could muster, were hugging us and trying to battle for our attention.  I cannot imagine a better situation then what I was in.  It was almost like God handed those kids to us on a silver platter and said, “Here you go, boys, this is the best batch I have.”  It was that amazing.  Six hours a day for four days was simply God in that place.  Anyone could see him working through the people volunteering with us, and I never wanted that feeling to go away.  God put a sense of urgency that I need to go and help people in the world as much as possible, no matter what costs I need to get there may be.

Luke too has quite a cast of characters to show us.  Matthew and Mark do also, of course, but Luke has several people the others’ don’t.  Luke also seems to have a more focused concern for last, lost, and least among us.  Matthew of course tells us of Jesus teaching’ that to reach out to the least among us is to do it for him.  But Luke goes a step further.  He puts even more skin on it.  He alone tells us of Mary’s song before Jesus’ birth which predicts God’s lifting up of the lowly and poor through him.  More women appear favorably in Luke’s gospel than they do in Mark and Matthew.  Luke alone includes Jesus’ explicit instructions to make room for the poor and the lame and the blind at his banquet table.  The least are the greatest, the last will be first, the childlike is the wisest, and Luke alone includes the parables of the lost coin, lost sheep and lost son who comes home again to the delight of the father.  And finally Luke alone includes the parable of not the despised Samaritan (which would’ve been normal and expected) but rather the Good Samaritan which makes it unmistakable that to get the gospel, to embrace this life that is life indeed is to join Jesus in this concern for the weakest and most vulnerable in our midst.  Go, Jesus said, and do likewise.  And so we do with heart and joy and reckless childlike abandon, no matter how much it costs, slurpees and all.

And so what do we do about it?  What do we take with us from Luke and John as we go from here today?  Never forget, just believe, really believe.  At vacation bible school last week one night I was sitting in a chair out in the hall waiting for my next group of children to come for the bible lesson.  And as another group of children was filing down the hall to another station, this one little boy saw me and all of a sudden, no warning, just jumped up and hugged my neck, then just kept on walking down the hall.  You know what, its one thing to know intellectually, the conceptual subtleties of the doctrine of atonement and incarnation.  But let me tell you, it’s a-whole-nother thing to feel it all in a moment’s time, to feel it with skin on when you least expect it.

Never forget.  Following Jesus is about intelligent faith and decisive action.  It’s also about embracing a gift of life with joyous reckless abandon.  It’s about a heart for the least, last, and lost.  Look for that heart and joy when you read Luke and John.  Look for that heart and joy in all of life.

And next time a child squeezes your neck – just believe.  With Mary and Martha and Lazarus and the woman at the well and Nicodemus and least, last, lost sons everywhere, just believe.  Believe that the word became flesh and dwelt among us.  Still does.  Just believe with our youth.  Just believe with Jacob.  Believe that Jesus still gives hugs with skin on.

It’s about heart and joy.  These things were written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, and that believing, you may have life in his name.

Rev. David B. Humphrey

Asbury United Methodist Church, Smyrna, Delaware

July 24, 2011

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