Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:
Years ago, a Rabbi named Melvin Glaser titled a sermon with a phrase that is very familiar to Americans. It was the little line that appears on many of the items we buy: “Some assembly required.” On some items, the phrase should be prefaced in bold print with “LET THE BUYER BEWARE!” Those of us who are handy are usually happy to save a few bucks and put things together ourselves. Those who are not handy are equally happy to pay the extra amount to have items assembled that life itself is one of those items: “It is up to us to take the raw materials of life and assemble them into works of art.”
Borrowing his thought, I suggest that the Christian life requires some assembly if we want to get out of it what God is willing to put into it. Two high school students were sitting in a fast food restaurant, talking about whatever 15-year-olds usually talk about. One said, “I can’t wait to get a car.” The other responded, “Me, too, man, the best thing that ever happened to me was getting my bicycle.” “I have a bike, too,” said the first. The conversation continued:
“Mine has 10 speeds, dual hand brakes, high-speed tires, lights, generator, everything.”
“I got mine for Christmas when I was 13.”
“Yeah, my dad saved all year to get it for me.”
“I got mine from my mom’s brother out in California–I’ve never even met him.”
“Nothing but ice and snow has kept me off mine. It’s right outside. Is yours?”
“Naw, mine’s still in the box.”
Many Christians have had 10-speed lives since before they were 16, but have never had them out of first gear. The Christian lives of others are still in the boxes. Some assembly is required and they’ve never expended the time and energy to put them together.
I’m not trying to be critical, or pass judgment on others. I’m sorry to say that my own Christian life has probably never been past fifth gear. I get about half way to letting God have His way with my life, but then I want to maintain some control–as though I have a better idea of what to do with it than He has. A long time ago I learned something that occasionally I forget. I have done a lot of evil in my life and I’ve come to regret every bit of it. I’ve also done a little good and I’ve never been sorry that I did any of it. In attempting to serve God and other people, I’ve been used, misused and abused, but I’ve never regretted trying to do something good.
Serving God and others is a strange sort of experience. About the time you let go of sin and selfishness long enough to try it, some neat rewards of joy and satisfaction come back to you. Enjoying them, you want more and try to get more. Suddenly, your motives are selfish again and the rewards aren’t there! This is as far as the people in first gear ever get. They find the Christian life to their liking and then try to keep it just that way. Occasionally, they speed up a bit, but find the work to be harder. Fearing a loss of control if they shift gears, they just back off again.
St. Paul once wrote to some Christians who had received the gift of eternal life, but kept it wrapped up with ribbon and bow intact. Some Christians in Thessalonica were perfectly content to become part of the church and then let the church take care of them until Christ returned. Heaven was their home and the church was their meal ticket. It’s bad enough that such people are idle or, as we say today, “moochers,” but these are also the most likely people to find fault with others. They have no business of their own to mind, so they mind everybody else’s. Consult every list of spiritual gifts you can find in the New Testament and I promise that you will not find even one under the heading of “critic.”
St. Paul suggested that the way to separate the sheep from the goats in the visible church at Thessalonica was to set down the simple rule that those who don’t work don’t eat. It should be noted that Paul was a crusader for those who couldn’t work (or as in our day, can’t find work)! This is not some blanket criticism of welfare, although some of the Apostle’s thinking could probably also be applied there. Paul’s society and the situation of the church were far too different from our own to try to apply his words literally. What we need to do is apply them to ourselves and not to others–concentrate on our own work, rather than the worklessness of someone else.
In Sunday’s Gospel lesson, Jesus warns His disciples that following Him might mean going to some unhealthy or at least uneasy places, like prisons. He, like Paul, doesn’t pull any punches. His life is not a walk in the park. It takes what He calls “patient endurance.” If that doesn’t sound like work and effort, then try betrayal from your friends and murder from your adversaries!
Feddersen’s Fables has the story of two soldiers eating from tin plates near a battlefield. One said to the other, “Where do you live?” “Well,” said the second fellow, “my home is in Richmond, Virginia, but I live in that fox hole right over there.” Heaven may be our home, but it is not where we are presently doing our Christian living. The big question is: “How are we doing at it?” Are we keeping it in first gear? Is there still some assembly required?
Unlike a Christmas gift that we might receive from a rich uncle, who would never notice the expense and not give a hoot what we did with it, the Christian life is a gift to us from the grace and mercy of God. It cost Jesus everything He had to give–His final resource–His very life. But it is a gift from the greatest bounty in the universe–God’s love for us. It is designed to give us…not just the simple knowledge of having it…but the great joy of living it. If you haven’t found and filled your niche in Christ’s mission–whether it is telling the Good News, inviting others, praying, giving, etc.–there is definitely some assembly still needed.
Of all the joys of parenting boys, one of the greatest was watching them put something together and take pride in doing it. I watched both of my sons accomplish things in athletics, mechanics, carpentry, etc., but my own pride of them absolutely paled in comparison to sharing their satisfaction at having done it themselves. It is, I believe, a tiny glimpse into what God must feel when we do well at doing good. I watched them put blocks together, repair automobiles and even build their own homes. The joy of their joy is rarely matched in any other part of the rest of my life.
In a small way, I helped them in a few of those things and that helps me to understand why God gives us our Christian lives with some assembly still required. He loves so much to help with the assembly.
The promise of God’s Spirit within us, to help us make the best of the potentials we have, is just one more part of His unquenchable love. If only I could remember–when I want to shake my fist at God for not doing something for me that He could instantly and effortlessly do–how much pleasure and satisfaction it has given Dan and Joel to do something themselves, and how much joy it has given all of us as a result. God already knows more than we can even imagine. He must often want to rush us or force us, but His love enables Him to wait as we finally get part A and slot B together.
Every parent should have the experience of buying an expensive toy, only to have the child unwrap it, unpack it and play with the box instead of the toy. It can give us a glimpse into the patience of God.
Almost everything we buy today that needs some assembly comes with directions in Spanish, French and Japanese, as well as English. Imagine putting it together without directions you can read and then you will know why we cannot live the Christian life without God’s direction, help and enabling.
Apart from faith, God’s way is foreign to us. Don’t be upset that He doesn’t do it for you–how else would the most loving Parent in the universe behave? He wants to help. He has the directions. He knows the language. He can’t wait to show you how to do it. The gift is ours–He already paid the price we couldn’t afford. In the Word and Sacraments, He is giving us the directions. Some assembly is required and “DAD” is waiting for us.