All in Sermon Manuscript

Turning Over Tables (John 2:13-22)

The cafeteria at R.P. Dawkins Middle School had a stage on one end. Unfortunately, its purpose was not to enliven our lunch period with musical dinner theater, but to make the room multi-functional for orchestra concerts, spelling bees, and for school administrators to make outlandish promises about high school to gullible 8th graders that high school could not keep. This raises a logistical problem. What are you going to do if a room is supposed to house dozens of cafeteria tables during the day but at night needs rows of chairs for a concert in which kids on the cusp of puberty sing Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All”? Hypothetically.

Well, the fine folks at Rudolph Periwinkle Dawkins Middle School made a reasonable and—I am sure—a very common choice: You purchase cafeteria tables that can fold up and easily be rolled into storage. Problem solved. Except…there was one problem these reasonable administrators did not anticipate. You see, it was a little too easy to fold up those tables. And middle schoolers have an uncanny ability to discover those kind of bugs in the system.

One day in the 7th grade—just as we were being dismissed from lunch—a band of juvenile ruffians stood up around their lunch table. Their ringleader pulled and turned the latch, the group folded the table up, and then—as if caught by flashing blue lights on some street corner in West Side Story—they scattered in every direction. A surprised giggle rippled through the hallway as we spilled out of the cafeteria. Suddenly storming out after us…well, we had this assistant principal who looked like Judge Judy. And we called her Judge Judy. She did not suffer fools. And she was upset. She came tearing out of the cafeteria seeking vengeance on the gang of pre-pubescent suburban scoundrels that dared to bring chaos to her ordered cafeteria. And when one rattles the unrattle-able Judge Judy, it turns what would have been an isolated incident into a lunch time crime spree unlike any I had seen in my young life.

Rebirth (Roman 6:1-14, 23)

I am going to go against everything that Julie Andrews believed in and start at the end rather than the beginning. Romans 6:23—“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord”—is one of the earliest verses that I memorized. It is part of a series of verses known as the Roman Road. Has anyone here heard of the Roman Road? Not the Appian Way that led to Rome but the parts of Paul’s letter that is supposed to lay out the road to salvation?

In my church we were taught the Roman Road early on. You start on the road with Romans 3:23, which is our problem as humans: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Then you come to the consequence of our problem in the first part of Romans 6:23, that our sin warrants death. But then the turn comes when you double back to Romans 5:8 which tells us that “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” Then the road ends at our response in Romans 10:9: “For if you confess with your mouth that ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in your heart God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” That was the Roman Road: a quick and easy way to lay out the plan of salvation for little Baptist kids.

It may sound like I’m trying to knock that approach but that’s not my aim. As a teaching tool, the Roman Road was very effective. After all, it is still with me after all these years. And there are important lessons to remember along that path. We do all mess up and fall short of what God asks of us. God does love us so much that Christ came to earth to live with us, show us what love is, and die even though we mess up all the time. But it was presented as a quick and easy transaction; a way to go to heaven when you die. And I just think that the Christian faith is far more than a spiritual transaction that determines our afterlife. I need it to be more than that. As a result, I have been in an epic wrestling match with Romans 6:23 all week long and even late into last night.

Prison Break (Philippians 4:4-9)

This past week, our middle schoolers did a local missions camp that we’ve come to call Light Up Music City. This is something that Katie Gossage and I threw together in a pinch a few years ago and it has become a cool regular part of our summer. For about half of the day, we serve somewhere in the Nashville area. This year we volunteered at Fall-Hamilton Elementary, Second Harvest, and GraceWorks Ministries out in Franklin. The other half, we’ll do something like canoe the Harpeth or go to Topgolf.

On Tuesday—by popular demand—we went to the Escape Game. For those of you who haven’t been to one of these, you are “locked” in some sort of themed room, you’re given a story like you are spies in a foreign country or you’re astronauts on a Martian space station, and then you have one hour to solve a series of intricate puzzles in order to escape from the room.

That is how I found myself locked into prison with five middle school guys one afternoon this week. I should have known we were in for an experience from two things the Escape Game guy said. First, he told us that Prison Break was the hardest room that they had. Then, he apologized that we weren’t starting on time. They had to clean up a little bit more because “it got a little crazy in there for the last group.” I gave him a quizzical look and he just kind of raised his eyebrows at me and I am still uncertain if I want to know what went down for the group before us. So with the reality that this room was the toughest to escape and the possibility that the prior group went Lord of the Flies on each other, he locked three of us in one cell and three in another and told us that getting out of our respective cells was just the first step of breaking out.

Not What You Think (Luke 7:36-8:3)

We’re in the middle of a weird season in Nashville where someone you know, but not everyone is on spring break. It was this past week for some people. It’s next week for others. Some might even have it the week after that. If one of my students from Youth Group were missing in late April and I asked, “Where’s so-and-so?” and someone said, “Oh, they’re on spring break,” I absolutely would believe them.

This past week was spring break for our boys. We took them up to see some of EA’s family in New Jersey and took them into New York City for a couple of days. People ask me if we had a good trip. Yeah, it was pretty good. They got to hang out with their cousins, they saw the Statue of Liberty and a few other sights in the city. It was pretty good. One person asked me if it was a restful trip. No. My kids get tired walking around Kroger when we’re shopping for groceries. Getting them to traverse a city of 8 million people was a pretty big ask. They did great, but I think of “a restful vacation” the same way that I think about flying cars. Like I think it might happen somewhere way off in the future, but I’m growing increasingly skeptical that I’ll ever see it.  

People who haven’t been up to New York always ask “Are Northerners nice?” Which is weird, because there is no way that everyone in a densely populated area is going to act the same way. No one asks me “Are Northerners brunettes?” But people always ask if Northerners are uniformly nice. Some of them are. There were many helpful folks as we tried to navigate the city, individuals who commented on the adorableness of our kids as they skipped around the Statue of Liberty, or who gave that reassuring nod when one of them had a meltdown. There were plenty of nice people. 

But there was this one guy.

Brave New Day (2 Corinthians 5:17-19)

It is still Christmas. As such, we shouldn’t sprint past the manger quite yet. We are also in a time during which we are looking forward to the new year.

I don’t know if you are the type of person who makes new year resolutions. I don’t officially make any though I did sign up for a spring half-marathon in a potentially ill-advised attempt to get myself to eat better and exercise more. But as the calendar turns, many of us cannot help but think about what this next year is going to look like for each of us. Keeping Christmas and the New Year in mind, I wanted us to reflect this morning on how the former might inform the latter. How can the Christmas story propel us forward in being the kind of people God desires in 2019?

In God's Country (Philippians 2:6-11)

It might be late November, but for the church calendar, this is the last Sunday of the year before everything starts brand new next week with Advent. Advent is a season in which we are thrown to and fro through time as we look back to the prophets of the Hebrew Bible, the birth of Jesus, and towards a future in which we pray that God will make all things right. Yet before we get there, we have this last Sunday which is known as Christ the King Sunday or Reign of Christ Sunday. I confess that this is one of those topics about which I immediately said, “I’m going to talk about that and I have no idea how I’m going to talk about that.”

Talking about royalty is difficult; especially in this country where we don’t have much of a frame of reference for kings. Not having a king is kind of our whole deal in the United States. That is where we started as a country and as such, I think we’re kind of resistant to the idea of any kind of authority.

Everything I know about kings comes from this strange mixture of Bible stories, U.S. History, the musical Hamilton, whatever the situation is with Great Britain and their royal family, Disney fairy tales, and the Super Mario video games where the king is apparently an absent father who perpetually permits his princess daughter to get kidnapped by a fire-breathing turtle dragon. In my mind, kings have either been silly or fictional or existed so long ago that it is a challenge to make heads or tails of them. How do you and I talk about Jesus reigning as king in our present context?

Swallowed in the Sea (Jonah 1-4)

Let me be honest. I picked Jonah purely because I have never heard anyone preach on it before. I know that people have preached on it before. I shared that I was preaching about this Bible story on Facebook and I immediately had two friends from college say, “Oh, I just preached about that!” But I can’t recall anyone in my three and a half decades of going to church ever preaching about this story. And it is such a wonderful, ridiculous, crazy story. In four short chapters, you get daring would-be escapes, storms at sea, a giant man-eating fish, and cities spared destruction. I’m surprised we do not hear this story every year as a palate cleanser.

Perhaps the reason that we don’t hear people preaching about Jonah that often is that most of us see it as a children’s story. Virtually any tale involving animals is a de facto children’s story which gets us into trouble quickly as anyone who has read Noah’s Ark to an inquisitive child can attest.

In fact, my most vivid memory of the Jonah story was a children’s musical that my church did. I got to play Jonah. My job? To run in the sanctuary; the same sanctuary I was forbidden to run in through my entire childhood. Every time the title song of “Go, Go Jonah” was sang I got to sprint up and down the aisles. I got to hide in a giant papier-mâché whale that fired a confetti cannon when I got spit back on dry land. It was one of my top five experiences in a church sanctuary ever.

But we usually don’t give children’s stories much thought and that’s truly a shame because those tales are often far more complicated than they seem. Often we’ll completely miss the point because we’ve manufactured a neat and tidy moral.

Hitting the Wall (Isaiah 40:21-31)

So last Friday I almost died. My wife E.A. has been going to spin class for several months now. She seems to like it and has made a point of staying committed to it. I run but have always heard that these spin classes are a good source of cross-training. So at some point I commented that I might like to try to go to a class with her. We kind of danced around me going for about a month because our children were on break and I traveled a lot this summer. But last Friday, with the boys in school, I joined E.A. at Krank Fitness just a few blocks from here.

Part of me was worried because summer has thrown my fitness regimen off a bit. Then there was another part of me that was not too concerned because I have been a runner since I was in high school. Why would I think that I would not have any trouble with a spin class? Because there’s a seat! In my arrogance, I thought, “If I could sit down while I was running, I could go twice as far and twice as fast.” This was the first of many stupid thoughts that traversed my mind on this fateful morning.

Before we started, I got on the stationary bike and sort of pedaled a little bit to get used to it. I could tell that this exercise was going to tax some muscles that didn’t normally get used, but I was not worried. The whole point was to work on some muscles that didn’t get as much attention while running. So we begin our 30 minute spin session which was to be followed by 30 minutes of strength training. The music is thumping and our instructor is telling us to speed up, get out of the saddle, increase the resistance on the bike, lower it, go up and down and back, up and down and back. And it’s tough. 

Clear Eyes, Clean Heart (Psalm 51:1-12)

The traditional backstory behind Psalm 51 is that it was written by David after the prophet Nathan called the King of Israel out for a particularly heinous episode. You can find the story in 2 Samuel 11-12, but I’ll give you the Cliff Notes version. David saw a married woman named Bathsheba bathing on a rooftop and wanted her. He sends for her. It’s important to remember that Bathsheba doesn’t really have any say over this matter. He’s the king and she’s a woman and the king will get what he wants. David sleeps with Bathsheba and gets her pregnant. He then brings her husband Uriah home from war, and, in what plays out like a scene from a really messed up sitcom, unsuccessfully tries to get Uriah to sleep with Bathsheba so that the husband will be none the wiser.

However, Uriah, even when he’s drunk, is too noble to go home and sleep with his wife when his fellow soldiers are sleeping in tents in a field. So David arranges with his general to have Uriah sent to the front lines of battle and then to call everyone but Uriah back effectively assuring the man’s death. And Uriah dies. David has Uriah killed for the wrong that David committed. Nathan calls David out for his great transgression and David, finally, recognizes the error of his ways and must reckon with the massive way in which he had sinned. Now sin can be a tricky topic and I can think of at least one reason why.

EA and I were once in Las Vegas. We had just camped and hiked the Grand Canyon. Vegas is sensory overload for anyone, but was especially overwhelming after our sojourn in the wilderness. As we walked the Strip, we wandered in and out of lavish hotels and casinos. The sky, which the night before was full of brightest stars I had ever seen, was now dominated by neon, searchlights, and constantly changing advertisements. The sidewalks and casinos buzzed with conversations, music blared from every direction, and there was a chorus of revelers yelling “Wooooooo!” with every passing party bus. We saw real live lions near slot machines and replicas of Venetian canals. We meandered through marble palaces and trudged over littered pamphlets for local prostitutes. Sin City was a lot to take in.

Come and See

This sermon has intimidated me all week long because I knew that I was going to speak about Guatemala. And I knew that whatever I said this morning would be woefully inadequate in describing all that we experienced. It would be like taking a cup to the sea, bringing it back, and saying the cup contained the ocean. What do you say when you know what you say will fall short? I needed help. Thankfully on our final night at the Unbound Center, I and a few of our adult chaperones found ourselves sitting around the dinner table talking with Chico, the head of the Center. Was there any message that he wanted us to share with Woodmont? What did he want me to say?

Chico thought for a moment and then through Yovany, who translated for him, expressed that the first thing he wanted to express was gratitude. This congregation has done so much for the people in Guatemala from sponsoring scores of children and the elderly to raising the funds to build multiple houses for families that needed reliable shelter. Through Unbound, Woodmont has given so much to the Guatemalan people and he wanted you to know that he was profoundly grateful for that generosity.

The second thing he told me was to extend an invitation to come and see what Unbound was doing in Guatemala. It echoed a theme present among the staff throughout the week. They truly wanted people to experience what was going on first hand: to see the people and talk to them, to walk the dirt and gravel roads of their villages, to get a sense of what life is like and how this organization is trying to partner with families to empower them. Chico wanted me ask that you would consider coming down and seeing for yourselves what is happening in Guatemala.