First United Methodist Church
Glen Rose, TX
Aug 28, 2011
“Soul Prints: Obey”
(John 14:15, 1 John 2:1-6)
Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn
This morning I want us to begin by using a version of the Prayer of Confession from the liturgy of Holy Communion. If you will join me.
CONFESSION AND PARDON
ALL: Merciful God, we confess that we have not always loved you with our whole heart. Though we try, at times we have failed to be an obedient church. Though our desire is different, we have not done your will, we have broken your law, we have rebelled against your love, we have not loved our neighbors, and we have not heard the cry of the needy. So, we stand before you this morning asking simply: Forgive us.
Forgive us and Free us for joyful obedience, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(All pray in silence.)
Leader: (To People) Hear the good news: Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ died for us while we were yet sinners; that proves God’s love toward us. In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven!
People: (To Leader): In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven! Glory to God. Amen
Have you ever thought about just how incredible that prayer of confession is? I personally love being reminded that my sins are forgiven. At times I find it extremely uncomfortable to openly go through the list of things I have and haven’t done. In my head I can think of all kinds of excuses or apologies or any number of reasons as each thing on that list pushes another one of my spiritual and emotional buttons.
But you know what gets me every single time? Do you know what single phrase I have wrestled with for years? Free us for joyful obedience.
For me and for many of us, maybe even most of us, the idea of Obedience is anything but Joyful. My Dad, at times, seemed to demand blind obedience which I always questioned. The military demanded blind obedience but I understood it was for my own good and the good of those we served. You know the old quote, “Ours is not to question why. Ours is but to do or die.”
Personally, I was more motivated by the sacrificial nature of an old Coast Guard motto from the rescue boat days: “You have to go out but you don’t have to come back.” In other words you had to obey the higher call of duty, fulfill your purpose and attempt the rescue.
So what is Joyful Obedience? What does it mean to OBEY? Or maybe we need to ask, What was Wesley’s reason for putting the word Obey as the last of the three words on his signet ring?
Today we’re going to look at the third word from John Wesley’s signet ring and the third aspect of Discipleship OBEY. If you remember, Jesus said He was “the Way, the Truth and the Life.”
We live our Discipleship through our Head, Hearts and Hands. The Way = Love which comes from the Heart. The Truth = Believe which come from the Head and the Life = Obey which we do with our Hands. All of these add up to the ingredients of what it takes to be a faithful Disciple. Today we look at OBEY.
Let’s look at two passages this morning both of which, I think, are pretty clear about what it means to Obey. John 14:15, 1 John 2:1-6
John 14:15 (NRSV)
 "If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
1 John 2:1-6 (NRSV)
 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous;
 and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
 Now by this we may be sure that we know him, if we obey his commandments.
 Whoever says, "I have come to know him," but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist;
 but whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection. By this we may be sure that we are in him:
 whoever says, "I abide in him," ought to walk just as he walked.
John was the first one to talk about walking the walk, not just talking the talk. When we Obey His commandments we show how much we love Him. When we Obey His teachings and try to live as Jesus taught, what we Believe gets translated into Love through the actions of our hands.
Obedience is surrendering our head, heart and hands to God. Obedience is trusting God completely by surrendering what we know and believe in our head, wrapping it in what we feel in our hearts and souls and holding it in the strength of our hands so that God, through the saving work of Jesus Christ and the guidance of the Holy Spirit can empower that work so that our hands become the hands of Christ in the world doing the work of the Kingdom through us.
A. Joyful Obedience helps us stay focused and reminds us that Believing and Loving aren’t enough. We can know and believe everything there is about God and Christ and the Christian Faith but if it doesn’t get from our head to our heart it doesn’t change us. Even if it gets to our heart and floods our heart but doesn’t go any further, then you can’t really call it discipleship.
We can Love everything there is to love about God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit but if the power of that Love never gets transferred to our hands to affect how we live, how we act, how we treat one another and what we do for others, then it’s not really what God intended it to be or what Christ calls us to be and do.
A young man went to work on a farm and he confided in the farmer that he'd really like to develop some strong muscles while he was there. The farmer told him that could be easily done by picking up a sack of potatoes in each hand and holding them at arm’s length for as long as he could. If he did this several times a day and increased the weight every week or so, he'd have strong muscles in no time.
The young man thought it was a great idea and began immediately by picking up 5 pound potato sacks in each hand. He was able to hold them for thirty seconds. He rested for a minute and did it again. Each day he did this and was able to extend the time and the number of holds.
The second week he moved up to 10 pound sacks, increasing the time and the repetitions each day. Then he moved up to 20 pound sacks, worked his way up to 50 pounds and finally was able to hold 100 pound potato sacks in each hand for a full minute.
He was so excited he ran to tell the farmer and confided that, beginning the next day, he would put potatoes in the sacks.
Trying to be a Faithful Disciple without obedience is like trying to build muscles without potatoes in the sacks. You won't get anywhere.
Sports practices are really underway now that school has officially started. Coaches constantly tell the teams to keep their head in the game. That means stay focused. That means don't get distracted. That means do what you've been taught.
I'm not an athlete but I do know that there are certain aspects to training for any sport that deal with muscle memory. I think it was Greg Norman or it might have been Payne Stewart who said in an interview that he practiced a single putt until he could hit it 100 times in a row and that there were times when he practiced driving the ball until his hands bled just to train his body to swing correctly.
Muscle memory. Athletes use it, musicians use it, Christians use a form of it. Christians call it the Spiritual Disciplines (Bible Study, prayer, worship, fasting, tithing and the like) We practice them in order to stay focused. We practice them so we can maintain our Spiritual Muscle Memory. We practice them as a form of Obedience. We practice them so our hands can activate what we know in our head and feel in our heart.
How many of you have seen Karate Kid, either the old one or the new one? They both have similar storylines and scenes. They’re both about boys displace from their friends who become enemies with the school bully and friends with a seeming nobody who just happens to be a karate or kung-fu master.
In both of them, the master teaches the student muscle memory and discipline in some very unconventional ways. In the newest version, Mr. Han teaches Dre that kung fu is not about punches and parries, but discipline maturity and calm. WATCH
Mr. Han is right. Everything we do, even the smallest thing, can be a part of our Obedience. We may not see the consequences immediately but our obedience is important.
When we Obey we are putting our Belief and our Love into action. We move what we know from our Heads, to our Hearts and it naturally is reflected through the work of our Hands. It’s important to our spiritual lives and our walk of faith that we maintain that focus through our Obedience.
B. When golfers lose their focus they get what some players call the Yips. They can’t make the putt or the swing. Their body forgets what to do.
When football players lose focus they fumble or stumble. When baseball players lose focus they can’t connect with the ball. When we lose focus we stumble and fumble and can’t connect and the work of God’s kingdom goes undone.
That’s why daily disciplines of prayer and Bible Study as well as participation in worship and a small group of some kind so important, they help us keep our focus so we can Obey and serve with Joyful Obedience. And that’s not small potatoes.
II. NO SMALL POTATOES:
A. My Mom made lumpy mashed potatoes. Unlike lumpy Cream of Wheat, lumpy mashed potatoes are a good thing. It told us kids something. It told us the potatoes were real not instant. And the potato peels were there to prove it. Lumpy mashed potatoes actually went down easier.
Gordon MacDonald, editor at large of Leadership Journal and chancellor of Denver Seminary, tells about going out to dinner with his family one time. The restaurant server introduced herself, brought water with lemon, and described the specials. Then it was time to order.
MacDonald said he ordered the lamb, he said he always orders lamb.
The server asked, "How do you want your potatoes: mashed, fries, or baked?"
He told the server, "I love mashed potatoes but only if they're real … not powdered. Could you tell me if …"
"I'm not supposed to tell you that," she responded. "Rules."
Instantly he felt challenged and confronted her in a friendly manner. "Let's think about this," he said. "What if we were all—and we actually could be—your very best friends. Then do you think you'd tell me if the potatoes are real or not?"
"Yeah, I probably would," she said. "Hmmm … here's what I'll do for you. I'll just whisper this once." She lowered her voice and said. "I've worked here for four years. I've never, ever, seen any potato peelings on the floor."
He ordered the baked potato.
The point is this. The potato peelings were the evidence or lack of evidence of the real thing, just as our actions are the evidence of our faith. So the question becomes: Is there evidence of your walk with Christ on the floor of your Spiritual House. Are there any potato peelings on the floor? If you’ll pardon the pun, do others find your faith a-peeling through how you live?”
While in the service we had a cook who made us think we were eating real mashed potatoes because of the lumps. But then one day while serving mess duty and taking out the garbage I discovered there were only enough potato peels for about 4 or 5 potatoes. That wasn't enough to feed 30 men.
So I asked him about it. He said he learned a long time ago that if you peeled and 3/4 boiled 4 or 5 fresh potatoes, then coarsely mashed them and mixed them into the instant potatoes, no one could tell the difference and everyone thought you were making them real mashed potatoes. Then he ordered me not to tell the rest of the crew.
Talk about disappointing and deceptive; talk about appearance over reality. And yet that’s exactly what some of us do. We appear to have faith. We appear to Believe and trust God. We appear to Love God with all of our “heart, soul, mind and strength” But there are no potato peels on the floor because what we Believe and the Love we proclaim never moves to our Hands.
B. But let me show you what happens when we Believe God and let the Love of God be expressed through our hands and Obey.
Remember, the Yaukani Village project in Nigeria. In January of 2010, I told you about this little start up church that began as a dream by one man in Nigeria who was a Lay Delegate to General Conference. Luka wanted to start a church in the remote village of 400 people. A friend of mine, Rev. Jana Ware and her little church decided to help. Shortly after Luka got back from the 2008 General Conference, he (he’s a layperson by the way) found a pastor and the church got started with 8 people. Last I heard they were worshipping with over 80 in attendance.
The Jana asked Luka what the church needed. He said the church needed everything but the Village needed a Well. I heard about it and challenged us to help raise the money to dig a well.
They started digging but after the first 2 days the diggers left because the village was so poor the workers didn’t like the food they wee being served. Luka found another crew and brought food but they hit rock. Lots of rock and had to purchase dynamite to finish.
But We believed, we loved and we obeyed. We sent the rest of the money we had raised and today the well is finished. Today they have water. Everyone has clean water. Everyone can drink.
All because one man believed and obeyed and two congregations across the world from that little village Loved God enough to Believe along with him and Obey Christ’s call to reach out to all the world. In so doing we have left our Soul Prints in a little village in Nigeria and we never left the country.
We gave each of you a small potato as you came in this morning. What I need to tell you this morning is, there are no small potatoes in the church when we Obey. When we do what God has called us to do it has a lasting impression. And God honors the smallest thing and multiplies it like the loaves and fishes or the mustard seed.
Take that potato and do something with it. Take all the potatoes that your family has gotten and invite another family or two to bring their potatoes and use them for the beginning of old fashioned stone soup or a pot of potato soup or stew or something. Let you imagination run wild. Open yourself to hearing God. Have fun but use your potato to Obey and remind yourself and others that there are no small potatoes when we Obey. And leave some peelings on the floor.
Years ago I heard a preacher tell a story about a group of people who were gathered to pray for a family who was going through a time of financial difficulty. In other words, they were broke, out of work, and the prospects were slim. As one of the men was praying fervently there was a knock at the door. They stopped, opened the door and there was a sturdy boy standing there.
The man said, "What do you want?" The boy replied, "Pa couldn't come, so I brought his prayers in the pickup. Just come and help me, please, and we'll bring them in."
Pa's "prayers" consisted of a big sack of potatoes, a quarter of a beef, flour, fresh and home canned vegetables, apples and jellies. The prayer meeting broke up pretty quickly after that, all because that one man’s prayers became potatoes.
What “Pa” Believed, through the Love he felt, got transferred to his Hands in an act of faith and kindness. That’s Joyful Obedience.
So, let me ask you this, are there potato peelings in your life? And are there enough for the full batch of mashed potatoes which your life of faithful discipleship is cooking? Or is it just the appearance of discipleship?
In other words, has what you Believe, been infected with the Love of Christ enough to move your hands and feet to Obey and live what Christ has taught?
That’s the challenge isn’t it? Because, it’s easy to Believe. It’s easy to Love. But it’s hard to Obey.
Believe. Love. Obey. That’s our mission as we seek to make and become faithful Disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
This morning as we pause for our time of reflection ask yourself about the potato peelings in your life. Ask yourself about your Christian Action. Is the power and energy of what you Believe and the Love of Christ being transferred to your hands so you can Obey with your actions?
If there is something keeping you from fully living a Christ-like life, then admit that to Him. Offer it up in prayer, but leave it at the altar. Trust Him.
And during these moments, if your heart has been touched by God’s presence, if you have felt the Holy Spirit move and would like to spend time in prayer at the altar or make a public profession of your faith in Christ and join the fellowship of our church, then come forward as we sing our Hymn of Invitation.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.