[Shared with the people of Friendship Lutheran Church, Amelia, Ohio, during worship celebrations on June 24 and 25, 2006.]Second Corinthians 6:1-13
A man who collected rare books was talking with a friend who didn’t care about books at all. The friend said that he had just cleaned out his attic and tossed out some old books. “Old books?” the collector asked with a pained voice. “You didn’t throw away old books?” “Yes,” his friend said. “They were musty, messy old things. One of them was an old Bible.” “An old Bible? What did it look like?” “Well, it was in Latin, although there was German on the front, and it said something like Guten on it.”
The book collector was beside himself. “That was probably a Gutenberg Bible, the first book ever printed with movable type, back in the 1400s. It was the first printed Bible read by the church Reformers. Do you know that one those Bibles sold the other day for four-million dollars?” “Well,” the friend replied. “This one probably wasn’t worth much. Some idiot named Martin Luther had scribbled stuff all over it.”It’s possible for us to lose valuable things, to let them slip through our fingers, sometimes because we have no idea how valuable they are
But there's another big way to lose things of value. You’re probably familiar with the term “jumping the shark.” It was invented by four University of Michigan students twenty-one years ago. Bored, they talked about the episodes when they knew their favorite TV shows started going downhill. They decided that for Happy Days
, the downhill slide began when Henry Winkler’s ‘Fonzi’ jumped a shark. The friends then adopted that term, “jumping the shark” to describe any point when TV series passed a point of no return
, when they weren’t as good as they’d been before.
Just as surely as we can lose valuable things we never knew had value, we can also lose those things we know have value by taking them for granted
. I’m sure that the producers and cast of Happy Days
didn’t intend to let the show deteriorate after Fonzi jumped the shark. But fans and critics agree that it did.
Our Bible lesson for this weekend is taken from a letter written by the first century preacher Paul to the church in the Greek city of Corinth. He writes to them on behalf of himself and his team. Today’s lesson begins with these words:
As we work together with him [that is, with God], we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says [here, Paul cites a passage from the Old Testament book of Isaiah, a place in which God promised the giving of the Savior Jesus, Who would be born 750-years later], ‘At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.’ See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!
A good way to paraphrase Paul’s words might be: Don’t lose the most valuable thing you have! Don’t let your relationship with Jesus Christ jump the shark!
In spite of what some say, it is
possible, through indifference or neglect, to lose one’s faith relationship with Jesus Christ, just as we can lose other relationships in our lives.
In another one of his New Testament books, Galatians, Paul talks about this sad possibility. There were people in the church at Galatia who weren’t hostile to Christ, but had decided to add something else to their lives. In their case, the added thing was superstitious dependence on spirits. Paul wrote to them: “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to beings that by nature are not gods. Now, however, that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits?...I am afraid that my work for you may have been wasted.”Jesus Christ gives all who turn from sin and put their lives in His hands forgiveness and everlasting life. They’re His free gifts to all with faith
But God never forces anyone to keep living with Him at the center of their lives. That’s why Paul begs the church at Corinth--and this church--not to jump the shark, to keep our relationship with Christ alive, to keep living for Christ in the here and now.
In our lesson, Paul tells us how he kept his relationship with Christ strong. He did it in the same way people keep other relationships alive: by loyally hanging in there, by apologizing when he strayed, through daily attendance to Christ
. Paul made Jesus Christ his highest priority, his greatest love, his first concern, no matter what happened in his life. You and I can do the same thing
. God will help us hang onto Jesus no matter what. In our lesson, Paul described how he hung in there with Christ, even in the midst of tough circumstances. I love Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase
of Paul’s words:
“Our work as God's servants gets validated—or not—in the details. People are watching us as we stay at our post, alertly, unswervingly . . . in hard times, tough times, bad times; when we're beaten up, jailed, and mobbed; working hard, working late, working without eating; with pure heart, clear head, steady hand; in gentleness, holiness, and honest love; when we're telling the truth, and when God's showing his power; when we're doing our best setting things right; when we're praised, and when we're blamed; slandered, and honored; true to our word, though distrusted; ignored by the world, but recognized by God; terrifically alive, though rumored to be dead; beaten within an inch of our lives, but refusing to die; immersed in tears, yet always filled with deep joy; living on handouts, yet enriching many; having nothing, having it all.”
Paul knew that no matter what might happen to him, he still had Christ with
him and Christ’s hope in
him because Christ was for
him. That’s why he hung in there with tough, persverant faith.
A man I know was recently remembering a time, decades past when his wife had cheated on him repeatedly, even though she loved her husband. When the husband confronted her, the wife was certain that was the end of their relationship. Instead, the husband said he still loved her and wanted to work things out. Months of prayer and heartfelt conversation and some counseling helped them both to deal with their situation. It was hard. Today though, that couple has a strong marriage and the man tells me that sometimes his wife says, “If you hadn’t been so forgiving and tough and persevering, I would have lost you. I would have lost out on all the good things we’ve shared.”
There are Christians who risk losing all the blessings God wants to give us in this life and all the joy He promises in eternity by failing to keep Christ at the center of their lives.
Do you remember Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep
? A shepherd had 100 sheep and one turned up missing. The shepherd so valued every single sheep
that he left the ninety-nine he had in the sheep pen to go find the lost one. When the shepherd found the missing sheep, he threw a party. Just so, Jesus says, there’s a party in heaven every time a sheep that was lost gets found.
Now, in that parable, you and I are the sheep. We’re part of Jesus’ flock. He’s the Good Shepherd and it’s hard to imagine that anyone who belongs to Jesus would walk away. But, you know, sheep are dumb. They see a thatch of grass a little ways off and they go to try it out. They see another and do the same. And so it goes until they find themselves far away from the shepherd. We can be dumb sheep ourselves sometimes, chasing after things that may seem more important than Christ at the time and when trouble hits, panicking when we should be praying.The most valuable thing you and I have is our relationship with Jesus Christ. We won’t lose that relationship when we trust Christ through thick and thin.
Jesus Christ wants to be with you through all the moments of your life, good and bad. I’m convinced that all Christians, deep down, want vibrant, life-enriching relationships with Christ. So, let me make three simple suggestions for how you can strengthen the most valuable relationship in your life. (These may be remedial suggestions for some of you. Don't be insulted! Remember that every year when his Green Bay Packers got together to prepare for the upcoming season, he gathered these professional athletes around, held up a ball and said, "Gentlemen, this is a football." Going back over basic things is good no matter how seasoned we may be.):First: Make and keep an appointment with God each day
. By that, I mean, spend some time with the Bible, maybe the Our Daily Bread
devotional booklet we give away for free here, and a list of prayer concerns. Pray about what you read and ask God to do His will in your life and in the lives of all for whom you pray.Second: If this isn’t a habit you’ve cultivated, commit yourself to worshiping at least three times a month and get involved with one of our small groups or Bible studies
. Christianity is not a solo enterprise. Christians are meant to take the journey of faith and life with the Church universal and local as our family. When you’re with other Christians, silently ask God to help you be attentive and caring. At the end of today’s lesson, Paul told the Corinthian church, “our hearts are wide open to you.” Ask God to make your heart wide open to your fellow Christians.Third: Commit yourself to serve in the greater community
. Hearts wide open to Christ and to fellow Christians are also meant to be open to all their neighbors. The thermometer in the lobby is designed to record the information you provide on our weekly attendance sheets about the hours you’re volunteering beyond the walls and outside the ministries of Friendship.
These three suggestions are rooted in those three priorities for churches and Christians I’ve mentioned the past two weeks--loving Christ, loving Christ’s people in the Church, and loving the world
. None of us is capable of loving like that on our own. But if we’ll make ourselves available to Him each day, Christ will fill us with His love.
With that power to love will also come the stronger faith that goes with joyful, confident living. We’ll have faith that never jumps the shark and always holds onto Christ!
[The "jump the shark" motif is suggested by HomileticsOnline
in a 2003 sermon, created by one of the originators of the term twelve years after their late-night conversation.
[It's Ray Ortlund who tells the story of the rare book collector and his different friend and also shares the insightful three priorities for churches and Christians here
[If you're into wasting time on the web, the Jump the Shark web site is here
. It was started twelve years after the term was adopted by those college students, by one of the discussion's original participants. It remains a very popular site.]