There are three groups of people in our world:
Some play the game …
Some watch the game …
And some don’t even know the game is being played.
The players …
The watchers …
And the disconnected …
I don’t want to be disconnected …
And I’m not satisfied to watch the game …
I want to play the game!
That’s what Jesus invites to do …
Come and follow me.
I’ll make you into a player …
I’ll show you how to love.
That’s the game we want to play.
Play it hard.
Play it to the end.
Play it to win.
Play it with everything we have.
Until the coach calls us off the field,
And sends us to the showers!
And when we’re done, other players will take our place.
When we’re all done, another team.
Every 30 or 40 years, a whole new team hits the field.
Perpetua and Felicitas …
Clement of Alexandria and Origen …
Thomas Aquinas and Erasmus … Wycliffe and Hus … Luther and Zwingli, Calvin and Knox …
Mother Teresa and William Sloan Coffin …
Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day …
Barbara Brown Taylor and Diana Butler Bass …
You and me …
Covenant on the Corner.
There will always be a team.
Jesus still calls fishermen to leave their boats and nets behind …
A tax collector to change professions …
A physician to become a healer of souls …
A man on the Damascus Road to become an unexpected disciple …
To play the game,
Play it well.
Play it for everyone who’s played the game for us.
Before we ever showed up … long before any of us were here.
When the day is done, the lights turned off, we lay our head down,
We know, don’t we?
We know that we played the game well, or maybe we didn’t.
We struck out a few times, and dropped the ball.
Maybe we hit a Grand Slam and made the winning catch!
Good or bad, or mostly in between, we played the game.
That’s what counts!
Dear friends in Christ,
Play the game … play it well!
Don’t waste your time with thoughts and things that are of no account.
Don’t fret and fuss about those who see the world with different eyes and sing a new song in the old land.
Don’t dig in your heels and resist change, because change is the heart and soul of real life.
Listen to the voices of compassion.
Pay attention to those who seek justice.
Learn from those who push, wider and wider, the boundaries of love … infinite love, unconditional love … because God is love, and God so loved the world …
Set your mind and heart upon Jesus.
The High Priest of our faith.
Keep on surrendering.
Keep on giving your life.
Again and again.
Because, the Christian life is a SERIES of surrenders.
At every turn in the road, we give our lives to Christ all over again.
Because we’re always becoming new people.
Who we were no longer exists; what we did is only a faint memory.
We’re brand new people every seven years.
And every seven years, if not more often, we need to give our life to Christ … at every turn of the road; in every moment of time!
As a child in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, Hope Reformed Church, I remember some fine pastors – I remember Rev. Vermeer, tall and refined, with a shock of silver hair … then he moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, and we moved there, too, some years later.
One Sunday, we visited his church.
I have neither idea nor recollection, except for one moment.
I can still see the church, and where I was sitting with Mom and Dad.
Rev. Vermeer asked in the course of his message, “Who will go?”
There I was, a high school student, and that question, like a spear, drove deep into my heart, and I wanted to stand up, right then and there, and shout with everything I had, “I’ll go. I’ll do it. Yes, I will.”
Being a sedate Protestant in a Dutch Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I didn’t jump up and I didn’t shout, but I jumped up in my heart, and I shouted to heaven that morning, “LORD, I will go. Yes, I will.”
A year or two later, at Immanuel Reformed Church, the Rev. Dr. Jerome DeJong … a man of dignity and preaching skill, well-read and passionate … every year, a week-long missions conference … and always a special evening, a service for young people, ending with candlelight and a moment of dedication for “full-time Christian service.”
I was there that night … I have no idea how it all went, but I remember the candles - I remember the invitation to come forward and give my life to Christ for full-time Christian service …
I remember sitting there …
The Spirit at work …
A few young people went forward.
But I was glued to the pew …
So God fired a full barrage at me …
God is ruthless.
God threw a roundhouse punch and it landed:
A cute blond went forward …
And I wanted to meet her.
A cute blond was God’s pry bar that got me outta of the pew!
What a God!
So I stepped up to the front with my candle, a prayer of dedication was said over al us, and then the youth pastor took us to a side room for counsel and further prayer … I don’t remember what he said.
But later that week, the blond and I had a date!
And for the rest of my life, I knew that I had given my life to Christ for full-time Christian service.
The blond and I went our separate ways in a year or so, but my walk with Christ has lasted the whole of my life.
God is good all the time.
And all the time God is good.
God is not above using teen hormones to move a young man a little closer to Christ!
Plenty of other moments along the way.
Retreats and conferences, mostly.
A pastors’ group in West Virginia … the Ecumenical Institute in the early 70s … a charismatic prayer group in northern Wisconsin …
A small monastery in Oklahoma and conversations with Fr. Jim Conner, a Trappist monk.
Leadership Conferences at Willow Creek Community Church in Barrington, Illinois.
Prayer groups and Bible studies …
And a lot of light and funny moments, too – pizza and beer with all kinds of friends – cooking together, going to the movies, enjoying the power of friendship, and the love of Donna, and the love of my children.
God in a thousand different ways touches our lives with grace.
Moments of love and hope that come like a downbeat in music … or an exclamation point in writing.
A moment slightly unusual.
A transforming moment … maybe a great joy, like the birth of a child, or a great sorrow like the premature death of a loved …
And in it all, the hand of God.
We hit the bed at night with a grateful heart, and breath our last prayer of the day: Thank you, LORD. Thank you!
Moments of surrender.
Many years ago at a retreat, the leader spoke of his marriage …
He loved his wife, of course, but as a young man, he saw himself as unattractive and odd, and if he didn’t marry this girl then and there, he believed no other girl would marry him … so, “I got married,” he said, “by default.”
He was responsible and faithful to his wife.
He mowed the law and took out the garbage.
But over time, he realized: “I never chose my wife.”
“I guess she chose me,” he said, “but I had never chosen her.”
“I looked at her one day, and my heart was flooded with indescribable joy, and that day, after twelve years of marriage, I choose her … for the first time, I choose her, and I gave my life to her.”
Sometimes we’re related to Christ more by circumstance than by choice.
We grow up in the church.
We’re baptized, confirmed, trained and taught … we do the church thing, and we do it well …
But circumstance is one thing; choice is another.
For those of us in the church, steeped in its ways and patterns, it may come as startling news to us that it’s been a long time since we’ve given our lives to Christ.
We’re preachers and elders and deacons and Sunday School teachers and choir members and youth group leaders and committee members and hard workers …
We know the hymns and we say our prayers,
We have our pew and we have our ways.
We settle in and we settle down.
We do the church thing rather well.
But have we given our lives to Christ?
Maybe when we were young.
Maybe twenty years ago.
Maybe five years ago.
But what about today!
Let’s give it a try this morning.
Right here, right now.
At Covenant on the Corner.
We all need a moment, now and then, when we can start all over again – a moment to decide, a moment of surrender … a moment to look at Christ, full in the face, the Man of Sorrows on Calvary’s Cross, the Risen Christ inviting Thomas to touch his wounds, the Great High Priest of our Faith … a long, careful look at Christ, and to choose Christ again!
Because Christ is permanent.
He’s the rock, he’s the anchor.
He’s forever; he’s permanent.
Let’s close our eyes, bow our head – let’s think of Christ … and ask ourselves, “When was the last time I gave my life to him?” [pause] …
Maybe today is a good day to do it!
If it seems right in your spirit, silently repeat after me the prayer of surrender, and give your life to Christ.
LORD Jesus Christ,
Son of the Living God,
I give myself to you,
In faith and obedience.
God bless each and all of you.
To God be the glory.
Amen and Amen!