Sermon from Sunday, May 22, 2022
Speaker: Rev. Doug de Graffenried
Scripture: John 3:16-21
The Bottom Line:
Our lesson this morning comes from the third chapter of John’s Gospel. Starting with the 16th verse.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the son into the world to condemn the world. But in order that the world might be saved through Him. those who believe in Him are not condemned, but those who do not believe are condemned already because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment that light has come into the world and people love the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil for all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.
Friends, this is the Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God. Amen.
I will miss Chris when he’s gone. He’s fun to harass, or harass, if you will. We talk deep theological things in the early morning worship service because he doesn’t know the hymnody of the Methodist Church. And this morning, he got up right in the middle of one of the hymns. He claimed he was not getting up he was just adjusting his bulletin. and he referenced Alice Cooper in in this service. And I thought, dude, you don’t know Alice Cooper. He and Chris have met Alice Cooper. I remember Alice Cooper when he was singing on AM Radio because AM radio was the only place that rock people could sing. FM was Lawrence Welk. And talk radio was on FM radio. That’s how long I have been around. I feel ancient, but it’s been it’s been a joy to serve with him. And we look forward to hearing great things for his ministry in West Monroe. And we’ll see him again, because that’s the way Louisiana Methodism works. We’re such a small annual conference, we just all pass each other.
In 1983, I went to work. I was appointed to the Aurora United Methodist Church, and the senior minister was Burl Moreland. And when Burl Moreland retired from Trinity United Methodist Church, I hired him to be one of the associate pastors of the church. I lived in Baton Rouge. and our new district superintendent was one of my associate pastors a long, long time ago. Life just seems to circle around. and it makes you sad as a clergy person when you hear that one of your colleagues has died. And that happened to us in the Methodist Connection in Louisiana this week. And it happened to me. A friend of mine, Steve Kelly, passed away. Steve was a pastor in our annual conference for years, and he went back to SMU and got his degree in counseling, and he’d been a pastoral counselor for years. He had retired, and this week died.
What makes it so hard is I know Steve Kelly, back when I was the associate pastor, to Aurora, he grew up in that church. And his daddy, Joe Kelly, one Friday said, Doug, come with me. I want to show you something. And Steve Kelly’s car was parked there outside the church. And Joe Kelly and I walked to the car and Joe popped open the trunk and said, this is what my son has learned in preparation for ministry. It was the trunk of a big old Electra, 225. If you don’t understand that, that’s a Buick. That’s about as long as this building. And it was a huge car with a huge trunk, And Joe popped that trunk open, and Steve Kelly had bought every variety of beer that was sold in Shreveport, Louisiana, and had them in his trunk. Doug, that’s how my son is preparing for the ministry. Joe He’s going to be a great minister. He’s doing sermon research, and that’s what he is today, is he’s trying to learn about sin. Steve went on to Perkins and he and his wife, Jamie Trammel Kelly. Janie Trammel was from Dubai, got married and for years served the church, and they both gone on to be with the Lord.
Steve’s dad Joe was something. Joe Kelly was one of those Methodist who could call the bishop and say, Bishop, I want to know Preacher and 15 minutes later, the bishop was assigning a new preacher. Joe Kelly had served in World War Two. He had gone back to college on the VA plan and got his degree in engineering. He had made his fortune once. he retired. he got bored sitting at home, and he went out and made his fortune a second time. He was a marvelous human being. He would come in the office and sit down, and we called it holding forth. You had to listen to Joe Kelly’s stories, and he had a lot of them. But Joe Kelly, before you leave the office, would ask you two questions.
They were the same two questions so you could be prepared. His two questions were these: Do you remember where you came from? Do you remember where you came from? It was a question to remind you of your heritage. It was a question to keep you from getting too cocky. It was also a question to keep you from getting too low. that you are a product of how you were raised. You are a product of your family, your product of your church. You’re a product of those places where you went to school. You are a product of the culture You grew up in. Do you remember where you came from?
And the second question Joe Kelly would always ask is, do you remember whose you are? do you remember that you belonged to Jesus Christ? That you are his child. that he loves you, and that if no one else had ever existed but you, he would have still gone to the cross and died for you. That’s how much he loves you. And Joe wanted to keep us in balance, and he did a good job of keeping us in balance, of reminding us where we came from and reminding us who we belong to.
There was a third question. Joe Kelly had, and I loved going to committee meetings with Joe Kelly because he was going to ask his third question. It didn’t matter if it was the Finance Committee. It didn’t matter. It was the board of trustees. Or the Church Council or Administrative Council or Council on Ministries. We Methodist have been through so many administrative structures; it just exhausts me. but Joe Kelly was going to ask his questions. He was going to listen to the presentation. He was going to listen to the pros and the cons. He was going to listen to all the people in the body that wanted to talk about the issue. But right about the point, we were ready to vote, Joe Kelly would raise his hand and say, I have just one question: what’s the bottom line?
He always wanted to get to the bottom line in his business as an engineer and a business owner and the work of the church and the sermons we preached in the Bible studies we taught, Joe Kelly was going to ask you, what is the bottom line? And you had better be able to answer his question, because if you couldn’t answer the question about the bottom line, you had wasted your time, his time and God’s time. That’s stout.
so, when it comes to matters of your faith, when it comes to matters of your belief system, when it comes to matters of being a Christian, what is your bottom line? what is your non-negotiable? or what are your non-negotiable Bibles? Have you thought about it? Do you live out of it? Does it inform how you live and how you treat others as a disciple of Jesus Christ? Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night. Do not read too much into that. If you teach a Sunday school lesson and you say that Nicodemus came to Jesus by night because he was ashamed and he didn’t want Jesus or anybody to see him talking to Jesus Nicodemus came to Jesus by night because Nicodemus was treating Jesus as a rabbi. rabbis taught during the day, and they discussed with other rabbis’ theology at night. Nicodemus is showing Jesus’ respect. He’s honoring Jesus as a fellow rabbi. He comes to Jesus by night because that’s what rabbis do. Rabbi, we know that you’re a teacher, come from God for no one can do these signs that you do, apart from the presence of God. And Jesus answered him; very truly, I tell you, no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born from above. The Greek also says without being born again. Nicodemus says, how can anyone be born after growing old? Can anyone to enter a second time to the mother’s womb and be born? Jesus answered, Truly, I tell you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the spirit. what is born of the flesh is flesh. What is born of the spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I say to you, you must be born again.
Nicodemus, you want to know about me. You want to know information about me. You want to know my theological positions. You want to know how I’m able to do the things that I can do. Nicodemus, I’m telling you, there’s something more important you need to know. You need to know me. You need to know me as your lord, Nicodemus. You need to be willing to surrender your life to me. Nicodemus You need to be and become one of my followers. And that’s the challenge that Jesus lays before Nicodemus Jesus is coaching and coaxing and challenging Nicodemus to change his non-negotiables. Jesus is coaching and coaxing Nicodemus to change his bottom line. it needs to be Jesus.
For 20 weeks, we’ve been reading about Jesus. the essential reading about Jesus. Not so you can garner more information, but so that you can deepen your relationship with him. So, you can know him better. So, you can walk with him in a deeper, more intimate way. so, you can know the voice of the Savior speaking to you. It hasn’t been an academic exercise. It hopefully has been an exercise of transformation. We want to change your bottom line. we honestly want to change your non-negotiables. Exodus, the third chapter is the call of Moses from the burning bush. and God says, I’ve heard the cries of my people and Moses, I want you to go down to Egypt and go toe to toe with Pharaoh and set my people free. And Moses does what most of us will do when we’re called to great endeavor. Moses starts clicking off a bunch of excuses why he can’t do this. and he gets to a bottom-line excuse. And he has got an interesting question. He says, OK, God, you want me to do this thing? Well, who are you? Who are you to command me? Who are you to say you can outdo Pharaoh? Just who are you? I want to know your name.
And God answers Moses. And He says, thus you shall say to the Israelites, I am has sent me to you. the big word for it is it’s the Tetragrammaton. it’s the four letters that we pronounce Yahweh. It’s based on the Hebrew verb to be. It can be translated I am who I am, I was who I was, or cause to be that which I cause to be. I will be what I will be. it’s the name of God that expands His… it expands his length and breadth and width and depth and height of reach. It’s a word that is untranslatable, almost incomprehensible, of course. it’s a name that so wholly that the Jews will not pronounce it, that they say the word Adonai rather than saying the Tetragrammatonn it’s a word uniquely related to the Hebrew deity God. and in John’s Gospel, Jesus takes this I am, and he uses it to describe himself and his ministry.
there are seven occurrences of the I am in the Gospel of John. Jesus says that I am the bread of life. I’m that which you need daily to sustain you. We pray in the church; Give us this day our daily bread. Give us what we need for today, Lord. And Jesus is saying in John’s Gospel, I am what you need Daily. I’m all you need Daily. whatever needs you have, whatever challenges are before you, whatever you need produced in your life. I am the bread of life. I can produce that and bring that into life.
I’m the light of the world. Jesus would say. I’m the light shining in the midst of darkness. Sometimes it’s a floodlight. Sometimes it’s just the candle in a dark room. But with me there is no darkness. with me there is light, and you can see clearly who you are and who I am. You can see clearly the culture in which you live and the path to take. Jesus said, I’m the door, I’m the gateway into the sheepfold, the place where you’re safe, the place where you’re cared for.
Then He said, I’m the good shepherd Jesus saying I’m the Good Shepherd is an oxymoron because in that culture, shepherds were not good shepherds were not even allowed in the temple because they were considered unclean, because their business practice was such that if you have 100 sheep and you lose one, what a shepherd would do was go steal another sheep from somebody else’s flock. That’s why Jesus says, which one of you having 100 sheep and losing one will not leave the 99 and go after the one. The answer was none of them would do that. But Jesus says, I’m the good shepherd. I’m going to find that one lost lamb. I’m going to find that one person who is estranged from community. I’m going to find that one person whose relationships with our God are broken. I’m going to be the good shepherd and I’m going to go seeking the one. I’m going to go looking in the foreign country for the Prodigals because I want to bring them home. then Jesus said to Mary and Martha, I’m the resurrection and I am the life. That’s all I’ve got to know. I’m the resurrection and I am the life. my hope for eternity is not based on my goodness, it’s not based on my service or work. It’s based on Jesus Christ. and then the 14th chapter of John’s gospel he promises them I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the father but by me. And the church has… we haven’t handled that passage of Scripture very well. Jesus is a unique way to God. Jesus is the only way to God I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the father, but by me. It is not an exclusive statement. It is an inclusive statement. Jesus was saying My arms are open wide. I welcome everyone into the Kingdom of God. I welcome everyone to follow me. You don’t have to learn religious secrets. You don’t have to be part of some strange group. You don’t even have to look very hard for this. I’m telling you right now, y’all, I’m the way to God. Come be a part of what I’m doing. Come be a part of my kingdom. Come and follow me. Well, who can do this? Jesus says everyone can do this.
And then the 15th chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus said, I’m the true vine. I am the connection. I’m the one that brings life. I am the source of life and energy and healing and power for you. So, Jesus, in these I am statements is reflecting and letting folks know he is Yahweh. He is the holy one of Old Testament times. He is the one that spoke in the burning bush. He is the one that drove the waters away at the Red Sea. He is the one that is bringing salvation to the Jewish people and indeed to all people. he is powerful, he is loving, he is inviting us all to join in relationship with him.
We Methodist are still living under that Methodist advertising slogan our hearts, our minds, our doors are open. Remember that one? man we had posters with open doors. our hearts, our minds, our doors are open. and it arises out of a great desire to be seen and understood and experienced as open-minded Christians. Unfortunately, open minded and loving are not necessarily the same thing. We went through a time in the church. It was though tolerance was some great and noble virtue, and we kind of got that from John Wesley, because Wesley said, if your heart is right, give me your hand. And Wesley was so open minded. One author called him theologically promiscuous. Wesley believed anything if it worked. except he had core orthodox beliefs that he wouldn’t compromise. he wouldn’t give up on. Wesley believed in original sin. He believed in justification by faith. He believed in the new birth. He believed in inward and outward holiness. How do you like that? Those are core beliefs of the Christian faith.
Our hearts, our minds, our doors are open. I’ve been around folks in the church, and I’ve made dogmatic statements, and I’ve seen the subtle piercing of the lips and the barely imperceptible shaking up ahead. And the message was sent. Preacher, in this crowd, you’ve got to have an open mind. it’s believe and let believe. You can’t be dogmatic. Being dogmatic or having strong views, Preacher, it’s just not acceptable. But I want to make my case this morning for a closed mind. a closed mind. because an ever-open mind is like an ever-open drain. There’s a lot of rubbish that can pass through both of them. If our Christian faith is a race, as Paul and the writer of Hebrews says, it is a race, then a race has got to have a clear goal. A race must have a clearly defined course, a race must have a definitive direction. Can you see somebody going to Talladega or Daytona driving fast and turning right? No, it won’t work because in a NASCAR speedway you drive fast, and you turn left. because that’s the way the race is run. Jesus is our goal. Jesus is our finish line. Jesus is the one toward which we are running and racing. your GPS in your car guides you based on a fixed point, based on the program destination you’ve put into it. And while you can take detours, the nice voice will always tell you, in her sweet way, recalculating. and she’s going to get you back on that journey.
There is a Christian bottom line. There are Christian non-negotiables. And I want to say to be a growing, vibrant, dynamic church, we need to be closed minded about certain matters related to the faith. These matters are settled. they’re settled in Scripture; they’re settled in church tradition. here are mine. I believe in God. I believe in the love of God. I believe in the trustworthiness of Christ. I believe he is the authentic word of the father. I believe that he lived. He died. He physically rose again. I believe his words; I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the father but by me. I believe in the divinely inspired word of God. I like John Wesley. Am a man of the book. I believe in mercy. I also believe in judgment. These are not options with me. These are not negotiables. They are my bottom-line core beliefs. Call me dogmatic, if you will, but I’m on a perilous journey and I would be a fool to doubt the one that is the pioneer and perfector of my faith. the one that is on the journey running the race before me.
When you have Jesus as your bottom line then your pronouns can come alive. Your pronouns can come alive. My soul. I didn’t know that pronouns were so complex. Seems like every week we’re having a story about pronouns, and which ones we should use. I want to argue that pronouns are important for our non-negotiables. We need to know Jesus as my Lord and Savior, your Lord and Savior. It’s not enough to know about Jesus. We need to know Him personally. We need to walk with him day by day. We need to deepen our relationship with Christ. We need to say, Jesus, I’m following you. You’re way too far out ahead of me. Let me catch up. or we need to confess. Lord, I was following you, but now I find myself in front of you. Lord, I need to get on my knees while you get back in front of me where you belong. It’s getting the me into the cross that changes lives. It’s getting me into the cross that changes lives.
Take Martin Luther. For years, he was a rigid Roman monk. He laboriously worked on his passage into heaven by vigils, flagellations, fasting. He still never felt his sins were forgiven until the day when the pronouns came alive for him. And he cried; The Son of God who loved me and gave himself up for me. Luther wrote in his commentary to Galatians Years later; me and for me. read, therefore, with great vehemency these words; me and for me, and so inwardly practice with yourself that with a sure faith you may conceive and present this me in your heart and apply it to yourself. Not doubting you, not doubting that you are the number of those to whom this me belongs. Christ died for me Luther Realized.
or John Wesley. Whatever happened on Aldersgate Street on May 24th. 1738. There’s no question but the pronoun came alive, he says himself. The assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins. Even mine and saved me from the law of sin and death.
Or his brother Charles, who had a similar experience a day or two before John the ME came into his heart, suddenly he cried and wrote. And these words are in the Methodist hymnal, I felt the Lord’s atoning blood close to my soul applied. Me, me. He loved the Son of God for me. For me. He died. that’s my non-negotiable, my bottom line. That’s why I wanted us to do these essential readings about Jesus. for Jesus. He is my Lord and my Savior. And I want you to have that same relationship, where you know Jesus as yours, where you follow him as yours, where you know that for you, he died on the cross so that your sins, all of your sins, would be forgiven.
Yes, for that, I want to argue that we have a closed mind. that we have some things related to our lives and our faith as Christians, that we don’t negotiate. that we don’t deviate from. They become for us, the anchor that holds the foundation on which we stand. They become our bottom line.
Would you stand and pray with me?
We thank you That in you there is all we need Lord. There is life and love and mercy and forgiveness, there is guidance and strength. There is fearlessness and hope. We thank you that will never be able to comprehend what is the height, the depth, the width and the breadth of your love. We thank you that you did all of this for us, and we pray that in Jesus’ name the pronouns would come alive.