“Have I got a deal for you”

Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:

Acts 1:15-26
1 John 4:13-21
John 17:11-19

Comedians love to do routines about the truthfulness of used car salesmen. There is some truth in the advice that whenever you are going to a used car lot, you should drive an old locomotive — not because of its trade-in value, but because it has a built-in bull catcher. Some years ago, I bought a “pre-owned” car from a genuinely honest and fair man, I am sorry to say that my experience has shown him to be more of an exception than the rule. I recently heard someone say that the three most difficult situations for maintaining truthfulness are:

  1. When you are in the company of liars (such as a group of fishermen, sitting around

    trading “Whoppers”).

  2. When you are in politics.
  3. When you sell used cars.

It is at least possible that the last two are just more examples of the first one. Maybe people believe that issues and automobiles are boring and cannot be sold on their own merits, so they sell them with tall tales. Then again, if a car isn’t worth more than a pile of baloney, why should I pay good money for it?

This Sunday’s Scripture from First John continues the lessons on integrity: practice what you preach; love in truth and action, not just words. This Sunday, the lesson gets blunt: “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brother or sister are liars.” You see what happens? Just about the time we get comfortable with our judgments on our stereotypes of politicians and salesmen, God’s Word smacks us right between our brothers and sisters — the ones we love to hate.

When we seriously pursue the kind of integrity in which we honestly love each other as we love God — more important, in which we love as God loves us — we discover something we may not want to know. We learn the truth about ourselves — something older than the traditional and confessional language of the Church: “We are sinful and unclean.” I’m not sure that the worst of human beings ever show similarities to the best of us, but the best of us do reveal behavior similar to the worst. Only one person, Jesus, is 100 percent integral. The rest of us bring to our lives — even our Christian lives — bits and pieces of all kinds. We are at the same time saint and sinner, so from time to time we are cool and aloof, rather than warm and caring. We bounce around in a middle ground between the perfect love we have received and the hate that love has overcome.

Hypocrites and liars may fool themselves and others for a time, but they eventually condemn
themselves. In the sight of God, their distance from the truth is always clear. Our journey as Christians toward oneness with Christ is a continuing struggle against the hypocrisy and lying that are in the world and in us. We find ourselves putting on a false face to the world and to God. We “explain” ourselves, find excuses for our actions and justify our attitudes.

Feddersen’s Fables has the story about the young boy who watched and waited as his grandfather spent long, painstaking hours building a boat. The old man gave considerable care and scrutiny to every cut of the wood, every angle and connection, the mast, the reinforcements and sealing. Impatient, and literally worn out with waiting, the boy finally begged the old man to get on with it: “Why do you take so long? Let’s finish it and get out on the ocean.” The grandfather smiled and, with the wisdom that comes from experience said, “When you finally sail your ship, it has to be sound. You can’t ‘explain’ anything to the ocean.”

We can’t explain our occasional hatefulness or lack of love to God either. When we are fully exposed to His perfect love, we cannot even excuse our attitudes and behavior to ourselves. Sunday’s lesson from First John says, “perfect love casts out fear.” It also pushes out our lack of love.

Glendon Harris wrote that when the movie, The Exorcist, was turning a few stomachs and quite a few dollars some years ago, it publicized the Roman Catholic Church’s ancient, but little used practice of expelling demons or evil spirits by means of certain words and rituals. A Roman priest was critical of the movie and the ritual. He told Harris that getting the devil or a demon out leaves a vacuum. Jesus told a parable with the same point. The priest maintained that a more positive and effective way is when God enters the person’s life. He drew the analogy of lighting up a dark room. “You don’t pump out the darkness; you merely open the door and the light rushes in and expels the darkness.”

In Sunday’s Gospel lesson, Jesus alludes to the Christian’s problem of living in the world but not being of the world. Knowing that He is leaving the world, He prays for His disciples who will remain in the company of hypocrites and liars. Just as the Father has sent Him into the world, so He is sending them into the world to carry on His mission and, perhaps, even take their places in government or selling used cars.

When astronauts first traveled to the moon, they had every intention of walking on the surface, even though they were aware that the moon’s temperature and atmosphere were not exactly conducive to life. Their blood could boil or freeze, and there was nothing good to breathe, but they had little or no fear. It was not perfect love that cast out their fear; it was faith in a PLSS, a Portable Life-Support System. Wearing a PLSS allowed each of them the opportunity to be on the moon but in the atmosphere of earth. The system gave them the temperature and atmosphere that earthlings need. They were on the moon but not of the moon.

The Holy Spirit supplies our SLSS — Spiritual Life-Support System. He enables us to move freely in the world without being of the world. The astronauts could not stay away from their ship forever. Eventually, they would have to recharge and replenish the supplies of their systems, and they would need food and drink that the moon could not give. We also need to regularly fill up on the love of God, and we need a food and drink that the world cannot give.

The Greek word for “world,” which appears several times in Sunday’s lessons, is the same word that we transliterate into English as “cosmos.” It appears 188 times in the New Testament. The writings of John contain 104 of those occurrences. It is interesting that the world did not know and even rejected Jesus, yet He is the Savior of the world. We are in but not of the world and need to be protected from it, but God so loved it that He gave His only Son for it. Jesus did not come to condemn or destroy the world but to save it. Our faith in Him is what keeps us in but not of the world and our faith also overcomes the world.

All these thoughts and more from the writings of John keep pulling us out and then pushing us back into the world. We should never make the mistake of thinking that the church is God. It is not. The church is people involved in an ongoing struggle between their faith and hypocrisy, deceit and a thousand other temptations. On the surface, it may appear that we win some and lose some, but the victory is really never in doubt. The victory over sin, death and deceit is a given — given by God. Christians live a life of discipleship that springs from the grace and love of God. Their lives are enriched, enlivened and empowered by a forgiveness that comes from His love, the self-giving love of a Savior who gives all — body, blood and life itself on our behalf.

The church gathers faithfully around the Good News of that love, hearing it and praising God for it, and sharing the food and drink that the world cannot give. At its worst, the church may not look much different from the rest of the world, but at our best we share a love that the world cannot find anywhere else.

At LCMS World Mission, the ultimate goal is to tell the Good News about Jesus all over the world. But that is not the goal of some denominational bureaucracy. It is the mission of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It is not an excuse for the existence of a synodical board. It is the responsibility of every Christian, everywhere! It is the call of God. What a deal!

Jesus loves, forgives, calls and sends us. And it is clear that He wants us to begin His mission with His love–no fibbing.

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