“No Guts, No Glory” May 27, 2018
“No Guts, No Glory”
Isaiah 6:1-8/ Romans 8:12-17/ John 3:1-17
There was a party going on in this particular cruise ship. Yes, I understand that every day on a cruise is supposed to be a party, but this was special. The grand ballroom was packed and the ship’s purser had been given the miserable task of counting heads; miserable because no one would sit still. It seemed that every passenger on the ship was there and they were all milling around, talking, and laughing and everyone was in high spirits. It was one heck of a party, especially for 1:00 in the afternoon on a Monday. At the front of the ballroom was a long table with a blazing white tablecloth and seated at this table was the caption, the first mate, and pretty near the entire staff of the cruise ship. Every one of them was beaming as they laughed and joked with passengers and fellow staff members alike. Like I said, it was a special gathering and spirits were high. Now, at the center of the table, between the caption and the 1st mate, sat an elderly man. He stood out by the obvious fact that he was the guest of honor. He also stood out by the obvious fact that he was not having a good time. In fact, he looked downright miserable. He squirmed in his chair and kept looking off to the side doors as if he was planning his escape. But he was the guest of honor and all eyes were upon him.
You see, the day before, the unthinkable had happened on this pleasure cruise: someone had fallen overboard. The alarm had sounded, but by the time the crew arrived to toss in the life buoys to save this poor woman, it looked like she was about to go under for the last time. That’s when everyone noticed the guest of honor flying through the air and into the water below. He immediately swam to the drowning woman and was able to cling to her long enough that a life raft could be deployed and soon everyone was back on deck, safe and sound.
So, yes there was reason for celebration and the time had finally come for the fidgety, uncomfortable guest of honor to stand up and address the crowd. A hush fell upon the room as every single man, woman, and child held their breath to hear the words that this wonderful, brave man might have to say. “This is a moment we will never forget,” they thought to themselves. And they were right, because as the old man cleared his throat and scowled across the room, every man, woman, and child heard him say the words, “All I want to know is which one of you pushed me in!”
Now my point is: this is not bravery. I mean, it’s not much of a challenge to pull off deeds of daring if your life depends on it. True courage, far too often, comes from a place of comfort. Take our friend Nicodemus, for example. First of all, old Nic was a Pharisee which means he was a man of position and a man of power. It would be something like being a Bishop today, I suppose, except it paid a lot better. You ate the finest food, lived in luxury, and if you played your cards right you had the job for life. Not a bad deal. These were devout men: men whose job it was to keep the writings of the law close at hand; men whose job it was to keep the peace and keep order; men whose job it was to keep the faithful coming to the temple; and last of all, men whose job it was to keep their job.
So when we read in John’s gospel Chp. 3, Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him. What follows after this are some of the most important teachings of Christ that we have to this day. (Jn 3:16) For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. Jesus could have said these exact words to his disciples – heck to everyone- but in the gospel of John, it is Nicodemus, a Pharisee, one of the bad guys. God figure. Now coming to Jesus, even though it was at night, was still a gutsy move. What if someone saw him? What if they reported he had been “talking with the enemy?” Like I said, it was a gutsy move. Months later, our Nic proved his courage once again (Jn 7:8) when he defended Jesus’s right to trial before an group of angry Pharisees. They then proceeded to shoot him down and shut him up. Likewise, who was it that brought 100# of herbs and spices to place in Jesus’s tomb? Nicodemus, once again. All at considerable risk, all without any promise of payment or pay back. It took the courage of a man who truly believed. Last week we talked about the power of the Spirit that gets a hold of you to the point where you just can’t help yourself. I have to believe that the courage of Nicodemus was the courage of the spirit.
Another tale of courage from our readings today is the beautiful story of Isaiah’s first step to be the prophet we know of today. Upon being in the presence of the Lord –in his glory – Isaiah is heartbroken because he just knows that he is unworthy. (vs 5) Woe is me for I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips. To paraphrase this text, we might say, “I have finally seen the Lord, only to realize that I’m a total bozo. Boy, am I wretched mess.” But courage came to Isaiah through the spirit that taught the one simple truth of being a follower of Jesus Christ, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” This is followed by the famous verse (vs 9) which reads, Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I, send me.”
Just one more story, and I’ll close. The Prussian king Frederick the Great was widely known as an agnostic. By contrast, General Von Zealand, one of his most trusted officers, was a devout Christian. Thus it was that during a festive gathering the king began making crude jokes about Christ until everyone was rocking with laughter–all but Von Zealand, that is. Finally, he arose and addressed the king: “Sire, you know I have not feared death. I have fought and won 38 battles for you. I am an old man; I shall soon have to go into the presence of One greater than you, the mighty God who saved me from my sin, the Lord Jesus Christ whom you are blaspheming. I salute you, sire, as an old man who loves his Savior, on the edge of eternity.” The place went silent, and with a trembling voice the king replied, “General Von Zealand–I beg your pardon! I beg your pardon!” And with that the party quietly ended.
So where do you find your courage? Do you find it in the grace and forgiveness that comes from a loving God? Do you find hope and courage in the knowledge that even goofballs like us might be asked, “Whom shall I send?” Or do you find it in the glory of God; in the glimpses of glory you have known or in the promise of glory yet to come? If we have learned anything from today’s readings, it is that it’s going to take the guts to step up- the guts to be the Christ in this world – if we ever want to know the real glory of God. And the kicker remains that no one is standing there ready to give you a push; you have to take that leap on your own. So when the question is asked, “Who will go for us,” just remember, our hope is in Christ, our strength is in Christ, and in Paul’s words to the Philippians, (4:7) Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.
Amen & Shalom