Archive: 2019 | 2018
One We Do Not Know - Part II
March 10th, 2019
As I reminded you last Sunday, a group of representatives from the religious
powers that were, came asking John the Baptist who he was. He answered them by
carefully explaining that he was merely a voice seeking to prepare peoples’ hearts for
the imminent arrival of one who was mightier than he.
And, in the course of that conversation came this enigmatic statement which
occasioned not only last Sunday’s sermon, but today’s as well. That statement, if you
remember, was, Among you stands one whom you do not know. Now, this morning I
would like to lift these nine words out of their original, primitive setting on the banks of
the River Jordan, and plant them smack dab in the middle of this congregation, and also
say to you, there stands one whom you do not know.
Now that statement is not entirely true, for which we sincerely and deeply thank
God. However, because this is a modern church in a modern world, I am aware of the
fact that, for many church members, any talk about the literal, living presence of Christ
hits a blank wall. In fact, actions speak so loudly that I sometimes wonder if I cannot
truthfully say that for a majority of us, John’s statement bears an awful lot of truth.
Now, why do I say this? First, because our modern world is afraid to believe, and
that’s due to the fact that people just don’t want to get involved. Now, you can say what
you want about the prevalence of social media, but I would still argue that the rule of
thumb is impersonality. Most of us would feel sorry for the hermit who renounces
civilization and lives in a cabin in the middle of a wilderness. But, any city you might
name is full of hermits living in a secluded, air-conditioned caves, so to speak. So, I
wonder, how many of you know you next-door neighbors, or the ones across the street?
I suspect that this attitude is based largely on insecurity. After all, how many
more days, or years, before some fool panics, pushes a button somewhere, and boom,
there we go? Might this sound a mite bit familiar, even in the church? Recent surveys
continue to reveal that those among us who are a bit younger are just not very sure who
Christ was, or is, and have no clue to what is meant by the phrase, the presence of
In the middle of the night, two young parents pace the hospital corridor with me.
Their child is critical, possibly dying. I discover that though both are church members,
the mother does not believe in eternal life, and the father does not believe in prayer, and
neither has ever really been convinced that Jesus Christ is present in our world. So,
from the depths of my own being rises the silent, anguished cry, My God, what can I say
So, later, in less pressured moments I ask myself, How is it possible, and where
has the church failed, when these parents can be members of a church and yet must
confess that among them, as it were, stands one whom they do not know? Just what
have we done to the Christ who said, And so I am with you always, even unto the end?
What about their membership vows, taken before God and us? Did they not say that
they confessed Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior? Did they not say that of their own
Am I to conclude that more than half of this religion business, this thing called
Christianity, is nothing but a farce, with no actual connection with the real business of
living? This I refuse to believe. There are some of our fellow citizens who do not believe
in democracy, but I do, and I will continue to do so despite those who call themselves
Americans, but, that is in name only, isn’t it?
You may wonder, how did the preacher become so cynical? I’ll tell you. I have
seen so much evidence that so many seek the sanctuary of church membership, but
remain unwilling to allow themselves to become involved, committed, surrendered, and
receptive. I refuse to give in to their kind of pressure. I simply must face the fact that
there is an ever-growning pressure upon Christ’s church to conform to the world’s
thinking. I must vow to God, that, as long as the majority are so mixed up on what they
believe, I must constantly seek to open their eyes to see the one whom they do not
Secondly, I want to tell you that I believe that we have been taken to the
cleaners. What we hear and see and experience has so shaped our sense of values
that we have been fooled into accepting those kinds of values as an answer to the
gnawing hunger of our souls. So, we accept the security of our government instead of
the security of our faith. Love is simply another name for sex, and morality is what we
decide it is for the moment. Concern for neighbor? Well, we pay taxes, and therefore
there’s no need to contribute to missions, foreign or domestic. Repentance? Why we
now have drugs that are supposed to induce repentance. So who needs Lent, anyway?
Or, the Lenten sermons in which the outdated preacher urges us to forty days of
repentance and a search to experience God’s forgiving love? Sin? Why that’s only a
defunct church term, that older people talk about, since they have plenty of time to look
back and regret. But, we’re too busy to bother about sin. Responsibility to God? This
involves the old idea that the only reason that we exist is to glorify God who created us.
Who says that he did? What about artificial insemination? Aren’t we on the verge of
creating life in the laboratory? Why, we can virtually build a whole human being, part by
part, organ by organ, in this new age we live in.
Toynbee, the British historian, told us that out of 22 great civilizations, 19 have
perished, not from external conquest, but from the evaporation of belief within. This is
certainly suggestive of what is happening to us. We can no longer distinguish between
what we want and what we need. We just cannot, or refuse, to see that we substitute
physical values for the spiritual power that our souls are hungry for. So, we stumble
through life seeking answers from professionals, and non-professionals, alike. Because,
you see, we have fooled ourselves into thinking that we do not need to labor, pray,
sacrifice and sweat for the Kingdom of God where and when we live. Lordy, do I
remember how we looked forward to the building of the great society, only to see it
crumble in the chaos of South Vietnam. But, you see, our attitude was that the great
society would somehow replace the Kingdom of God. What blind fools we were, then,
Do we believe that what is being done with Jesus Christ, i.e. that he who must be
experienced in faith, is no longer relevant in our modern times? Do we think that if you
are educated, Jesus of Nazareth is no longer intellectual enough to meet your needs?
Or, is the way you think simply your defense mechanism to protect and exonerate you
from having to get involved in basic, honest, time-proven Christian beliefs?
Finally, and briefly, let me offer a piece of advice. Stop cheating yourself. This is
the reason that I have said everything else this morning, so that I can say to you, open
your spiritual eyes. Stop cheating yourself. Look at, know, and love the one who stands
among us whom you do not know. This is the heart, the life, and the vitality of
Christianity. The Christian faith is not a set of beliefs about a way of life taught by a
great teacher a long time ago. The Christian faith is a conviction about, and belief in, a
literal, living Christ who can be experienced by anyone who will open his eyes in faith.
Rummaging thorough my top dresser drawer one day years ago, I found an old
roll of film that turned out to be no good because it had not been exposed and the
expiration date was long past. So, I threw it away. Are we like that, doomed to end up
undeveloped because we have never allowed ourselves to be exposed? Can we be so
blind as to not understand that we will never be a productive Christian until we have
been completely exposed to the presence of the living Christ, who stands waiting to
transform your whole life?
Logic and ethics are good, but they are not enough to produce in you a sense of
the living presence of Christ. John Wesley had logic and ethics to which he added
service and searching. He was a minister in the church and served as a missionary to
Native Americans, but he did not become dynamic until he came to know the one who
stands among us, when, as he observed, he felt his heart strangely warmed.
Oh, yes, there is one who searches tirelessly and endlessly for each stray sheep;
for each one who is feebly, and blindly, searching for a way to live. His is a shepherd’s
heart, restless to hold that stray, lost sheep in his arms.
Jesus said that if we know him we will love him. And if we love him, we will serve
him. And if we serve him, then it will be evident in the way that we live. Herein lies the
difference. In some, says the philosopher, William James, religion exists as a dull habit,
while in others, it is like an acute fever. Some Christians produce much fruit while others
are like dead branches on a tree. The difference? Some Christians live daily in the
vitality and strength of a living Christ within their hearts. To the rest, on the basis of
visible evidence, it must be honestly said, with tears in one’s heart, Among you stands
one whom you do not know. God forgive our blindness!
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