“Who’s On First?”
Pastor Tom Millner
John 12:44-50; Romans 14:1-9
It seems to have become a national pastime to air people’s faults and failings. We see the occasional broadcast of a local hero but squeezed in between the hero is this or that person’s failure to do something or that they have done something that would expose him or her as guilty of wrong doing. The process is almost as old as mankind. Remember the story of Cain and Abel? Cain felt Abel was taking all the glory, so he decided to get rid of the competition. Seems we just like diminishing another’s efforts. We’re told to exercise good judgment yet we are told not to judge! Exercising good judgment always has its foundation in relationship with God. Judging others, however, takes God’s place and sets self in the precarious place of being first before God. What is it that we are looking for when we engage in gossip about others, exposing the faults of others, or touting our superior standing on a particular topic or subject? Are we looking for significance? Who are we trying to convince? More often than not, we’re trying to convince ourselves. Rarely are we successful, even when we proclaim ourselves the winner! Let’s look at the consequences of setting ourselves up as final judge, being number one.
Relationship with a partner. Relationships are not made in heaven though some may seem heavenly at times. The person to whom we feel attracted strikes some chord in our imprinted past of experiences. Early weeks and months of relationship are filled with hormonal cravings that tell us how great we feel just being near that special person. We in essence know nothing about the other, but just know that the other could never do anything wrong because everything just seems so right. Unfortunately, the time soon comes when it may appear that what has always been done just doesn’t seem right enough to make me “feel” the way I use to feel. That’s when the true joy of relationship can blossom, but it’s often the point where judging and competition come into play to destroy the relationship. Since it is all about me, I need to feel, to sense, to know, that you are all about me. We often think of the other as being the other half of that which can be counted as whole. When that’s not working, disappointment sets in and hearts, minds and eyes start roving for the next candidate of my dream. The process repeats itself, this time with even more baggage than before and we wonder if we’ll ever find what we’re looking for. The answer is “yes you can,” but not where you’re looking! The answer to your prayers is not in the cutie of your dreams. Remember, the other person was looking for you to be their answer as well. Who was the miserable failure? Who was the proclaimed winner? Those questions set the trap that is certain to snare us away from the presence of grace and mercy in the most important relationship we can ever have. The one for which we were created! Relationship is not about power or hierarchy or winning over losing. We’ll address that later on.
Relationship with other people. We experience difficulties not only with intimate one-on-one relationships, but with so called peer or casual relationships as well. We sometimes band together in groups for the purpose of creating what we can’t seem to create alone. Competition builds as one member vies with another for position, for agreement from others. Smaller splinter groups begin to form as individuals begin to compete with others for the top spot of support from others. Churches are not immune from the ravages of competition from within or from without. Denominations and or sects form. There are the reformed, the Pentecostal, the progressives, the liberals, the fundamentalists – all proclaiming the justness of the theological positions they hold. There used to be the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the Samaritans, and many others who held to the rightness of their positions to the exclusion of any others. In our modern society we see divisions that separate us often more frequently than we see what unites us. Feminine versus masculine; gay versus straight; gay versus Christian; left versus right – all seeking to gain acceptance by gaining the upper hand or at least the right to be left alone! It even becomes television and social media worthy to expose the faults or achievements of individuals or groups, just to gain more followers on the road to see who’s on first! As long as we seek to find the person who’s on first (or to be the person on first in at least one other person’s life) we’ll be worshipping at the god of our place and not God in the first place! John 3:17 records Jesus saying “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world.” Believing or not believing is what brings judgment, not by God, but by one’s self. A just God brought about our justification by giving the life of the only just human – Jesus, so that we could relate to God just as if I’d never sinned. God did all the redeeming, what we’re called to is the believing that we’re perfectly measured up by the act of God through Jesus Christ on the cross. We’ll never fully find what we were created for in relationship (or competition) with others only, but we will find that in relationship with Christ!
Relationship with God. God created us to be in relationship with Him. That relationship is broken by our desire to always be in first place or equal to that place. We’ll do just about anything to gain it. The Old Testament is full of the stories of how God reaches out and humans reach back for a while, but succumb to self-desires over God’s greater desire (commands) for us. Christ died once for all. He appeared to His disciples and others calling them to unity of purpose after His resurrection. Today is Pentecost Sunday! In the account of Pentecost in the book of Acts, Jesus left with the believers the One who calls us to unity with Himself and each other -the One who levels the playing field. Not one of us is worthy, but each of us is now justified before God because of the unselfish act of Christ on our behalf. On the day of Pentecost, the believers were in one accord (not a Honda) – according to God’s design for relationship – enabled by the presence of His Holy Spirit. Chaos did not reign, but rather a unity of presence and purpose. The purpose was not for the edification of each individual present so that he or she could tout how special they were to have experienced the outpouring of His Spirit, but rather the purpose was to glorify God and the power of His presence to bring others into the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. God calls us to relationship with Himself and He gives us Himself to nurture the relationship. He doesn’t force Himself and He doesn’t play the power game with us. Revelation 3:20 quotes Jesus stating: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” This does not mean that Jesus is asking to join us in a power struggle or an ego wrestling match. His invitation is to open the door and invite Him in for the feast of our lives – the sharing of the bread of life and the everlasting waters that never run dry. Placing Him at the center of our attention puts all else in perspective. He died to make it happen. What are you willing to do to follow through?
Instead of asking who’s on first, let’s change the question – with whom can I relate to gain all for which I was created? We were created to commune with Him, to reflect Him in our lives, and to live eternally. Opening the door to relationship with Him means opening ourselves up to the fulfillment of our created purpose. He is the way, the truth, and the life that we have sought all our lives. There is no other way. There’s none needed!