Sermon: It Is What It Is

So I’ve been a little behind lately … a lot behind. There were a few weeks of different services in there. We had a guest preacher. And life has been busy. Just. Busy. So here are a few sermons from a few weeks back.

michael-scott

Texts used – Jeremiah 1:4-10 and 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

  • March 24, 2005 was a banner day for television. On that day, we were introduced to one of the most uncomfortably loveable, one of the most awkwardly and sometimes inadvertently outspoken characters in recent TV history: the self-proclaimed World’s Best Boss … Michael Scott.
    • Show: NBC’s “The Office”
    • Michael Scott = played by comedian Steve Carell
    • Role = regional manager at a small paper company
    • Setting = Scranton, PA
    • Now, I know that the type of humor represented on “The Office” isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Frankly, when it first aired 11 years ago, I thought it was one of the dumbest things I’d ever seen.
      • Humor = awkward, sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes admittedly a little crude
      • In particular: Michael Scott’s humor = built on cringe-worthy moments of saying the wrong thing at the WAY wrong time, blowing past boundaries, frequently coming down on the wrong side of stereotypes – all stemming from Michael’s fundamental and utter lack of self-awareness
        • Socially awkward at best
        • Unwittingly and unintentionally offensive at worst
    • So with all of these painfully obvious flaws, why does the character of Michael Scott continue to be so loved by so many fans around the world, even 3 years after the show’s final season? Because despite all his imperfections, Michael Scott wears his heart on his sleeve. He’s honest to a fault – painfully, awkwardly, uncomfortably, and endearingly honest. Even when he’s saying something horribly politically incorrect, 9 times out of 10, he isn’t saying it to be malicious or rude or hurtful. He’s simply speaking out of a place of naiveté.
      • Blogger quote describing Michael Scott: “[The] colorful contradiction of being fundamentally simple-hearted along with his dismal lack of control over actions and helpless self-indulgence made him instantly lovable.”[1]
      • When it comes to Michael’s sense of humor, it simply is what it is. There’s no hidden agenda, no ulterior motives, no secret meaning to uncover. For better or for worse, Michael Scott speaks his truth in love.
  • Speaking truth = hard, hard, hard
    • Dozens of self-help books out there to help with this
    • Countless seminars and retreats and workshops offered across the country
    • Websites and blogs galore devoted to this topic
    • 2 extremes when it comes to speaking truth
      • Speak out-and-out truth, no matter the cost
        • Blunt
        • Stark
        • Possibly hurtful or brutal
        • “This is my You don’t have to like it. You just have to listen to it. So there!”
      • Speak a tempered version of the truth
        • Watered down
        • Couched in hesitations and qualifiers
        • Truth through rose-colored glasses
        • “This is the truth for me, but you don’t have to like it or respect it or even listen to it if you don’t want to.”
      • Hard to strike that balance between speaking truth with conviction and speaking truth with compassion
    • But as Christians, this idea of speaking truth in love is part of our heritage … it’s part of our tradition … it’s part of our shared story.
      • Ephesians: By speaking the truth with love, let’s grow in every way into Christ[2]
      • Today’s Scripture readings = all about speaking truth in love
  • NT text = 1 Corinthians → “the wedding passage”
    • Passage all about how important it is to speak from a place of love
      • No matter the language: “tongues or mortals and of angels”
      • No matter the rationale: “if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge”
      • No matter the faith: “if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains”
      • No matter the sacrifice: “if I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast”
      • No matter what, “If I do not have love, I have nothing … I gain nothing … I am nothing.”
      • Gr. in this text is probably not surprising – “love” = agape love: Christian love – faith-driven, inspired by the love that God and Jesus had for one another and the love that God has for us
        • Unconditional
        • Unearned
        • Undeservable
        • Not a kind of love that comes with hidden agendas, ulterior motives or secret meanings to uncover
        • “No strings attached” kind of love
    • Easy to understand why this passage is read at so many weddings – the importance of having love like this in a relationship is paramount → If, in contrast to our Scripture, the love you share is impatient, if it is unkind, if it in fact envious or boastful or arrogant or rude, if it is insistent on its own way, if it is irritable or resentful, it is not the kind of love that’s going to last. Sometimes, it’s easy to say that in the midst of all the flowers and guests and joy of a wedding day … and much harder to remember when you’re in the trenches of day-to-day life, juggling work and kids and dishes and various other commitments and trying to hold onto some semblance of yourself. It’s easy to be impatient and irritable. It’s easy to slide into a place of resentment. It’s easy to find yourself saying something that is rude and unkind – speaking something that may be a sharpened version of your truth, but speaking it from a place that is definitely not
      • Certainly doesn’t only happen in marriage
        • Friendships
        • Work relationships
        • Certainly see this in our current political environment: Can anyone remember the last time they felt like they heard a politician on the national stage speaking from a place of self-sacrificing, good-of-the-people, merciful love? Hmmmm.
  • Brings up an important point that’s also emphasized in our OT reading this morning: essence of speaking the truth in love as Christians is the idea that isn’t not our truth … it’s God’s truth
    • Now, before we go any further, let me be abundantly clear this morning. I am not saying that just because we are Christians, whatever “truth” (and yes, I’m putting that word in very heavy and deliberate air quotes”) we speak is automatically a word from God. Just because we are Christians, we do not speak exclusively for God. Every word that comes from our mouths certainly is not God-breathed or God-inspired. And just because we say it and claim, “But I’m a Christian!” doesn’t automatically make it God’s truth.
    • God’s truth = difficult
      • Time and time again throughout the Bible, those whom God has called on to speak truth have tried to wriggle out of doing so … sometimes quite dramatically!
        • Moses called by God at the burning bush: “Who am I to go to Pharaoh and to bring the Israelites out of Egypt? … My Lord, I’ve never been able to speak well, not yesterday, not the day before, and certainly not now since you’ve been talking to your servant. I have a slow mouth and a thick tongue.”[3]
        • Jonah ran in the completely opposite direction of where God was trying to take him to speak truth[4]
        • Peter denied Jesus three times instead of identifying himself as one of Christ’s disciples[5]
        • Gideon’s reply to God’s call: “With all due respect, my Lord, how can I rescue Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I’m the youngest in my household.”[6]
        • Today’s text: “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.”[7] → Heb. reveals that this is more than a gentle chiding on Jeremiah’s part – “Ah” is not soft or tempered or benign but a cry of alarm
      • Sometimes difficult to grasp/understand – NT passage speaks to this: For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. … For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.[8]
      • Sometimes difficult to fit into the fabric of our lives
      • Sometimes difficult to convey
    • We know that God’s word comes to us in love because we know that God loves us. We know that God desires good for all God’s children – a peaceful existence, basic securities (food and shelter), companionship in our relationships with each other and our relationship with God. And we know by our own experience how comforting and strengthening and empowering it can be to put our trust in God during difficult times – times of struggle and stress, time of challenge and change, times of weariness and worry. Why, then, if we know all these things, is it so hard for us to speak God’s truth in those moments that are presented to us?
      • Moments when we hear someone belittling another beloved child of God – inappropriate joke, snarky comment, prejudiced remark
        • “All Muslims” … this
        • Or “all immigrants” … that
        • “All black people” … this
        • Or “all Republicans/Democrats” … that
        • Jokes about women, about LGBT people, about those struggling with this mental illness or that disability
        • We know we hear these things, and we know that they are not God’s truth.
      • Moments when we hear someone justifying something hateful using faith → So much evil throughout history has been done in God’s name – things that I cannot believe God would truly condone: slaughtering of thousands during the Crusades, torture during the Spanish Inquisition and Salem witch trials, slavery, forced obliteration of culture for hundreds of thousands of American Indians … the list goes on and on. “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.”
    • Friends, the thing about God’s truth is that it is uncomfortable because it is meant to change lives – to change them for the better. Jesus’ entire ministry was spent preaching and teaching and embodying God’s truth, and it made the wrong people uncomfortable, and they killed him for it. God’s truth is uncomfortable. God’s truth is extreme because it ignores all the boundaries that we put up between each other. God’s truth ignores the “us” and the “them.” It ignores the “haves” and the “have nots.” It ignores all the ways that we try to separate ourselves.
      • Time and time again – God to those whom God has called to speak: “You shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you.”[9]
  • Speaking God’s truth of love, of grace, of forgiveness, of justice, of peace is hard. It just is. Because it is an uncompromising truth. It is love for all. It is grace for all. It is forgiveness and justice and peace for all. The lines that we draw, the distinctions that we make, the walls that we put up between us and other people – those who look, think, speak, believe, understand differently than us – don’t matter in the face of God’s truth. And that’s a hard thing to say, both to ourselves and to the world around us. But we find ourselves in this crazy time – this time of division, this time in which so many people from all sides are trying to drive home all the ways that we are different: politically, economically, racially, socially, and so on. In the face of all that tries to pull this society and this world apart, God calls us to cry out God’s truth: “Love bears all thing, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things! Love never ends!”[10] Like Michael Scott, God is asking us to wear a heart on our sleeves. Not our own hearts … but God’s heart.

BENEDICTION: Beatles said it best: “Spread the word and you’ll be free / Spread the word and be like me / Spread the word I’m thinking of / Have you heard the word is love?”[11]

[1] “Why I love : The Michael Scott character of The Office (U.S.)” from Flawsophy: An Out-of-Context Approach to Finding a Problem with Everything (Rated: PG 13). http://www.flawsophy.net/2011/08/why-i-love-michael-scott-character-of.html. Posted Aug. 14, 2011, accessed Oct. 21, 2016.

[2] Eph 4:15.

[3] Ex 3:13, 4:10.

[4] Jonah 1:1-3.

[5] Lk 22:54-62.

[6] Judges 6:15.

[7] Jer 1:6.

[8] 1 Cor 13:9-10, 12.

[9] Jer 1:7-8.

[10] 1 Cor 13:7-8a.

[11] “The Word” by The Beatles, written by Chris Lake and Sebastien Leger, released on Rubber Soul album Dec. 3, 1965.

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