Sunday, January 22, 2017

January 22, 2017

Rev. John Watts

Nampa First UMC



John 3:16-21

The second in a series of four.


We’re in a series I’m calling “Messed but Blessed.”  I googled those words to see what I might find.  I was directed to the biography of a man I had never heard of before – John Walker Bratton.  Here is a poem he wrote over 100 years ago:


Messed but blessed!

I wasn’t sure how I was going to work that into this series, but as you can see, I just did.   And I also want to share with you a bit of trivia that I stumbled upon in the process of learning about John Walker Bratton.  He was a musical performer, composer, and producer.  He was married to the popular Broadway actress Dorothy Zimmerman.  Forgive me, but as I look at his picture, I wonder what a famous actress would have seen in him.   Maybe it was his poetry.

Here’s the trivia that I learned:  John Walter Bratton’s enduring claim to fame is a song he wrote back in 1907.  He called it, “Teddy Bear Picnic.”  And I also learned that this song has now inspired a wonderful new video game called, “Teddy Bear Picnic Massacre.”  Yes, you’re right, I do need to stay away from Google.

A quick review.  Last week we ended with a challenge:  When we see a truly messed person, hold back the judgment and criticism that comes to us so naturally and say to ourselves instead, “I know a mess when I see one because I am one.”  We all are.  We all have messes, make messes, and are messes.

We also talked about how we make a real mess of things, whether it’s financially, professionally, in a relationship, in a marriage, at school, whatever kind of mess we’ve made, and we have a tendency to excuse it by saying, “But nobody’s perfect”.  And that when we say that, we are saying more than we realize.  We are saying, “There is a perfect that nobody is.”  When we can acknowledge that, we are but a baby step away from acknowledging God.  For God is that “perfect” that nobody is.  So one enormous blessing that can come from our messes is that they can bring God near.

Today we’re going to talk about what happens when God comes near.  Often we think of God as kind of a combined policeman and judge whose job it is to catch us doing something wrong and then condemn us and punish us.  Wherever we got that idea, we did not get it from Jesus.

One day Jesus came upon a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery.  The prescribed punishment was death by stoning.  Remember what Jesus said, first to those who were so eager to be judge, jury, and executioners?  “If anyone is without sin, let him cast the first stone.”  And then after they had all gone away, Jesus turned to the woman and said:  “Has no one condemned you?  Neither do I condemn you.  Go and sin no more” (John 8:10-11).

Jesus was never big on condemnation.  It’s right in the scripture we read for today.  Right after the John 3:16 verse many of us have memorized.  “For God sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through him” (3:17).

Paul who wrote the letter to the Romans that we spent some time with last week, caught onto this.  He said, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

Again and again, Jesus showed us what this means in his dealings with messed up people.  There was the adulterous woman.  And then there was Zacchaeus, the dishonest tax collector.

He had made a real mess of his life.  For years he had been overcharging people on their taxes.  He had enriched himself on the backs of the hard working people of his own community.  No wonder he was hated and despised.  He hated himself.  He despised himself.  But he was stuck.  He could see no way out.  He could see no way forward.  And out of the hopeless mess that was his life, somehow he knew he had to see Jesus.

Remember, he’s up there in that tree.  He’s not sure he even wants Jesus to see him, but Jesus sees him, calls him by name, and says, “Come down, for I’m going to your house today”.  Zacchaeus got more of Jesus than he had bargained for.

Behind closed doors we can imagine what Jesus might have said.  “Zacchaeus, I want you to leave your life of sin behind and I want you to follow me.  Because there is a way out.  There is a way forward.  You have to pay back everything that came to you dishonestly, and with more interest than the law requires.  And then follow me.”  Zacchaeus paid back all the people he’d cheated way more than he owed them, and he followed Jesus.  And Jesus said, “Salvation has come to this house today” (Luke 19:9).

There was the woman at the well.  She was a Samaritan.  Jesus was a Jew.  The Samaritans and the Jews had been feuding for centuries.  Jesus wasn’t supposed to be there, in Samaria.  But I think he knew there was someone there who needed him.  Someone whose life was a mess.

This woman had been married five times.  That’s a lot in today’s world.  That would have been a whole lot back then.  And the man she was living with was not her husband.  All these marriages.  All these relationships.  One mess after another, each time trying to correct the previous mess in a way that made things even messier.

Now it’s just her and Jesus.  She is startled that he even speaks to her.  She’s a woman.  She’s a Samaritan.  She’s a mess.  But Jesus spoke to her and offered her the living water that would quench the thirst she had been trying to quench her entire life (John 4:1-30).

There was the thief on the cross.  There were two thieves on two crosses, one on either side of Jesus.  Both were a mess.  Both had been arrested and condemned to die.  Both had only one purpose left in life – to serve as an example, a negative example, so others would not follow the path they had followed that had so thoroughly and irrevocably messed up their lives.  Both of the thieves died beside Jesus.  But only one was willing to repent before he died.  Only one said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  And Jesus said to him, “Today, you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

Jesus reveals a God who loves and accepts and forgives.  Who doesn’t condemn us for the mess we’ve made of our lives, but who uses our messes to come near to us.  It’s when our lives aren’t working, it’s when we are broken and hurting and desperate, that God blesses us by showing up.

The woman caught in adultery, the dishonest tax collector, the woman at the well, the thief on the cross – they were all searching and seeking for something better than their mess.  And in every case Jesus offered them something better.  He offered them himself.

There is something important here for us to notice.  Jesus didn’t wait for people to clean up their messes before he came to them.  And Jesus by coming to these messed up people didn’t snap his fingers and solve all their problems.  They were still messed up people.  But they were on their way to something better the moment they started following Jesus.  Jesus invited messy people to follow him while they were still messy.

It’s the very next verse after Jesus saves the life of the adulterous woman.  John 8:12.  “When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world'”.  When we have created a mess, we are in a dark place and we need light if we are going to find our way out of that dark place.  Without light, we will stumble around and knock things over and trip and fall down and the mess will get worse, not better.  Jesus is that light to show us the way out.

Here’s the full verse:  “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

When we get ourselves into a real mess, it’s usually because we ignored our better judgment.  We talked ourselves into it.   We knew we shouldn’t, but we did, it didn’t seem like a big deal at the time, but now it’s a huge deal, a huge mess.  We didn’t follow Jesus into the mess, so now it’s time to follow him out of the mess.  Because the only way to get out of a dark place is to follow someone who has more light than you and Jesus says, “I am that person.  I am the light of the world.”

Now I know what you want.  You want what I want when I’m in a mess.  We want AAA.  We want to make a call and have someone show up in a big truck and fix it.  Then we shake hands and say, “Thank you.  I will call you next time I need you.”  It might work that way with a dead battery.  It does not work that way with life.

It does not work that way because God loves us too much to do it that way.  God’s goal for us is not to fix our messes and clean things up.  God is described in the Bible as a Father, and what a father wants more than anything is a relationship with his children.  Relationship matters more than behavior.  I would much rather have imperfect children who love me than perfect children who don’t care anything about me.

Our Heavenly Father is that way, too.  He wants a relationship.  Behavior matters, but relationship matters more.  Here’s why.  We parents have a little experience with this, too.  If you just swoop in and fix all the problems your children get into, they will never learn.  They will never grow.  They will never leave your basement.  They will end up, over and over and over again, right back in the same mess they were in before.  God loves us too much for that.  So it’s slow growth in a relationship, not a quick fix without a relationship that God desires for us.

God desires for us to have a deep and personal relationship with Jesus.  He is our light.  He is our way out of the darkness.  Jesus came not to fix our messes but to enter into a relationship with us.  And it’s our messes that can open that door.  Isn’t that amazing! If not for the messes that we have and make and are, we might never have invited Jesus into our lives.

I’m guessing we have a pretty good representation this morning of people who have lived what we have been talking about this morning.  You can relate because you’ve been there.  This isn’t just talk.  It is real life.  And there is a certain sequence of events that I think quite a few of you will recognize.  So don’t take my word for it.  Take the word of all those who have experienced this for themselves.

Here’s the sequence.   See if this looks familiar to anyone here:

I messed up / I gave up / I looked up/ God showed up.

We could have testimony after testimony from so many of you this morning on how that pattern has played itself out in your lives.  Each testimony different.  Each testimony the same.  Each testimony giving glory to God who so loved this messy world that he came to us, not to condemn us, but to show up right when we needed him, right in the hopeless mess of our lives and to give us hope and lead us to a better way.  God showed up and taught us to follow his Son.

This is our story.  We aren’t perfect people who have never messed up.  We are messes who have been redeemed from our messes by One who is not into condemnation but is into love.

And here is what I have experienced in my own life and I know so many of you have experienced in yours:  Without the mess, we might never have met Jesus.  Jesus might have remained just a name.  Someone in history who lived long ago.  But now it’s personal.  He’s our personal Savior.  He saved us and is still saving us from ourselves.

I’m going to ask you to do something that you will probably find uncomfortable.  If those words on the screen (I messed up / I gave up / I looked up / God showed up) are your story, I want you to stand up.

Maybe you haven’t gotten to “God showed up” yet.  But you’re tired up the mess your life has become and you’re ready to give up and look up and see for yourself if God will show up.  He will.  And if that’s you, I want you to stand up.

Now I want the rest of you messes to stand up with everyone else.  And I want to pray with you all.


God, we are all standing.  At least, we are all standing in our hearts.  Because we all know how much we need you, how much we need Jesus, your Son, to be our light and to lead us out of our darkness.  May this be so much more than just guilt or emotion or peer pressure.  May this be real.  May this be a new beginning for all of us, not just out of our mess, but into a life-saving, life-giving relationship with Jesus.  It’s in his name that we pray.  Amen.