August 14, 2016
Rev. John Watts
Nampa First UMC
I did a little research on alphabet soup. Not the soup. I remember well from my childhood the soup. I have no idea if they still make it. I sure hope so. But my research was on the “alphabet soup” that comes from using initials as abbreviations.
I found out it goes back to FDR, whose very name illustrates alphabet soup. Instead of saying, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, people just started calling him FDR. But his name was not the beginning of this practice. It was his programs. As he tried to lift our nation out of the Great Depression, the “alphabet agencies” came into being. For example, the NRA. And I don’t mean the National Rifle Association. I mean the National Recovery Act. And also the CCC, the TVA, the WPA, the SEC, the FHA, and the NLRB. I won’t tell you what all those mean. This is a sermon, not a history lesson, after all.
Alphabet soup has made a comeback as texting has become the main way younger people communicate. It takes way too much time and way too much thumb power to text out “Laughing out Loud”, so all it takes is “LOL” and everyone under 40 knows what you mean.
Just for fun, let’s see how youthful this group is. I will call out the texting abbreviation, and you tell me what it means.
BTW (by the way)
TTYL (talk to you later)
SFLR (sorry for late reply)
NNTR (no need to reply)
TYVM (thank you very much)
And finally, IDK. I wanted to end with this one, because you’ll get this one right even if you have no idea what it means. Because it means, “I Don’t Know”.
Not long ago, but way before texting, the big thing in Christian circles was WWJD. You know what that one means, don’t you? “What Would Jesus Do?” I finally figured that out, and just about the time I did I saw someone wearing a T-shirt that said FDFX.
I’ll warn you. You could waste a lot of time trying to figure out that one. The tricky part is the “X”. There are about three words in the English language that start with “X” and none of them will make any sense at all with whatever you might think F, D, and F stand for. Actually the “X” in FDFX is not an “X” at all. It’s the Greek “chi” which looks exactly like our “X”. The Greek “chi” is the first letter in the Greek word for Christ.
The funny thing is that every year people get offended when they see “Xmas” used as an abbreviation for Christmas. They think it’s like putting an “X” through the name of Christ. It’s an insult to Christians. The truth is the Greek “chi” has been used as an abbreviation for Christ ever since the beginnings of Christianity.
But I digress. The “X” in FDFX stands for Christ. The rest is English, not Greek. It stands for “Fully Devoted Follower of Christ”.
I tried to do some research on the origins of FDFX. I didn’t get very far. So this is just an educated guess. There is an incredible church just outside Chicago, Illinois that calls itself WillowCreekCommunityChurch. If you visit the Willow Creek campus (I have, and it is a campus, larger than most college campuses) you will see and hear these words again and again: “Our mission is to turn irreligious people into fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.” My hunch is that WillowCreekCommunityChurch has something to do with that T-shirt that said FDFX.
I’m not sure I’m too keen about wearing that on a T-Shirt. It kind of falls into the same category as wearing the medal you have been awarded for humility. I’m not sure it’s a good idea to advertize the fact that you consider yourself a fully devoted follower of Christ. For one thing, it seems a little arrogant. For another, I’m not sure there is such a thing as a fully devoted follower of Christ. We’re all works in progress. God is not through with us yet.
I think of Ken Sherwood. Ken was a great guy in one of my earlier churches. And by the way (BTW), I have met so many wonderful people over the years in the churches I have served, this church included. It’s a great privilege to be a pastor. As I go through the day, I think of so many people so often with the deepest of gratitude. But I think of Ken when I come to this subject of God not being through with us yet.
Ken loved to tell (and re-tell) the story of the nurse who asked him if he was a born-again Christian. He answer was, “Yes, frequently.” He wasn’t being flip or smart-alecky. Well, maybe a little, knowing Ken. But really, he was just telling her how he understood Christianity. Christianity is not a destination. It is a process. It is a journey. You don’t become “born-again” and that’s it. Because that’s only the beginning of a life-long adventure of living into your professed desire to follow Jesus Christ.
That’s how they see it at Willow Creek. They don’t claim to be fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. But that’s their goal. That’s what they are striving after. And when they bring “irreligious people” into their church and into a relationship with Jesus Christ, they aren’t done. That’s just the beginning for them. What comes next is helping these baby Christians grow in Christ and become ever more fully devoted followers of Christ. FDFX. So the next time I see that on a T-shirt, I’ll try to remember that it’s a statement of what the wearer wants to become, not what the wearer already is.
How do you measure your progress? How do you know how you are doing as a follower of Jesus and what you need to do if you are stuck to get unstuck and continue making progress? Jesus gave us a very useful measuring stick in the scripture we read today, his conversation with the lawyer.
This lawyer was apparently trying to trip Jesus up. It was a trick question. That’s what it means when it says, “a lawyer stood up to put him to the test.” And then the question: “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus answered the question with another question. “What is written in the law? How do you read?” In other words, “What do you think?” See, Jesus was pretty good at answering these trick questions.
The lawyer responded by saying, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Some of you thought Jesus said that. In this version of the story, it’s the lawyer. And Jesus just agrees. He says, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.”
What the lawyer has done (and what Jesus himself does in Matthew and Mark) was to summarize the Ten Commandments. Last week we talked about the Ten Commandments as part of God’s revelation to us about how we are supposed to live. The ten can be condensed into two. Here’s how: The first four have to do with loving God. The last six have to do with loving our neighbor. So a shorthand version of the Ten Commandments is: Love God and love your neighbor.
That’s the measuring stick. That’s how we gauge our progress as Christian disciples. It comes right out of the Old Testament, but it also comes right out of the teaching of Jesus in the New Testament. We are to love God and we are to love our neighbor.
Some of you will like to see this on a graph. Others of you will be taking a mental recess right now because graphs just aren’t your thing. This is a pretty simple one though. There is a vertical dimension to our lives a Christians. That’s our love of God. And there’s a horizontal dimension. That’s our love of our neighbor. So if you put both of those on a graph, it might look something like this:
The “Q’s” stand for “quadrants”. There are four quadrants. And we can live in any of the four.
We’ll start with Quadrant 3. This is where we find the rugged individualists. They don’t have much use for God and they don’t have a lot of use for people either. These are selfish people. And we all have a tendency toward that. We’re all born that way. Babies are the most selfish people on earth. So one way to look at Quadrant 3 is that this is where we will end up if we don’t grow up. It’s a dark, dreary, lonely place and there are a lot of people today who are there.
Quadrant 1 represents love of God and indifference to our neighbor. This one really make no sense. It is a contradiction. It’s in I John: “If any one says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar . . . he who loves God should love his brother also” (4:20-21). There should be no one living in Quadrant 1. It should be a barren wilderness. Kind of like the southwest corner of Idaho. But actually a lot of people are living there. Because a lot of people profess love for God, love to worship, love to pray and read the Bible and give money, but don’t really care that much about their neighbor.
Jesus described such people: “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith” (Matthew 23:23).
The lawyer who spoke to Jesus may very possibly have been this kind of a person. Because we read the rest of it and we see the lawyer has a follow-up question. “Who is my neighbor?” It’s like he got the “loving God” part. He was having trouble with the “loving your neighbor” part.
And Jesus then tells him the parable of the Good Samaritan which includes a priest and a Levite who are clearly Quadrant 1 folk. They walk right by the one who really needs their help. Quadrant 1, like Quadrant 3, is a sad and lonely place to be, and it is far from unpopulated even though as I hope you can see by now, it’s hard to imagine who would want to live there.
Then we have Quadrant 4. These are all the very good, caring, loving, socially responsible people who don’t have any use for God. I mentioned last week that I used to live in Portland. Portland is full of these people.
They don’t love God. The very idea of God does not hold much meaning for them. But they do love people. They genuinely care about making life better for all people, not just for themselves, and about leaving the world better for their children and their grandchildren. These are people for the most part who are living by the ethic of Jesus. They may not know it. They don’t have faith in Jesus. They don’t have a clue about what faith in Jesus would look like.
So we have a special responsibility to share our faith with these people. Gently. They will turn and run the other way if we force it on them. They don’t all live in Portland. They live in the TreasureValley, too. They really are great people. But as much respect as we may have for Quadrant 4 people, this is not the best place to live out your days either.
The place to be if you are a Christian, in fact I’d say the place to be whether you are a Christian or not, is Quadrant 2. This is where you love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind and you love your neighbor as yourself. Your love for God inspires and energizes your love for people. And as you allow God’s love to flow through you to other people, your love for God is magnified. Praise and worship lead to service and compassion which leads to more praise and worship which leads to more service and compassion. Around and around we go. If we were to illustrate it, it might look something like this:
It’s not a vicious circle. It’s a gracious circle. It’s the rhythm of the Christian life that allows us to become ever more fully devoted followers of Christ. Because you see, the object isn’t to get to Quadrant 2 and sit there. Quadrant 2 is not a destination. It is a direction. It is a compass setting. If we follow it, it will take us to the next level, and the next and the next, as we “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (II Peter 3:18).
So how are we doing? How are we doing as individual Christian disciples? How are you doing? And how are we doing as a community of faith, as the body of Christ? We need to keep asking ourselves that. It’s easy to drift into one of the other three quadrants. It’s easy to get lost. We need to consult our compass as we continue our journey of Christian discipleship.
Here’s the thing to remember. It doesn’t matter how long we’ve been at this or whether we are just now beginning, we’re not there yet. If you’ve ever taken a long drive with children, you are familiar with that question. “Are we there yet?” For the Christian, the answer is always, “No.” The answer is always that we have progress to make. We always have room for improvement. FDFX is a direction, not a destination. Because God is not through with us yet.
God, we love you. And we love our neighbor. Help us to see that this isn’t enough. You call us to love you ever more fully — heart, soul, mind, and strength. And you call us to love our neighbor at least as much as much as we love ourselves, at most as much as you love us. That’s a lot. That’s enough to keep us busy in this life and the next. Dear God, may we leave here today committed to the journey, the whole journey, of following Jesus. In his name, Amen.