Pointers and Retrievers
a sermon by Rev. J. Christy Ramsey
click the title above for a mp3 recording
Preached at South Lake Tahoe Community Presbyterian Church on February 14, 2016
Based on John 3:16-17
The church has left the building. Have you heard about this program? They had it down in Carson City. Have you ever heard of this? It’s a program, and I really can’t – I couldn’t find it, where it started. It might have been the guys’ seminar. I don’t know. But it’s a thing where churches cancel their Sunday service to go do Sunday service. It’s a strange thing. They give up their worship time, their worship hour. They have all the people come. And they go out, and they do service projects.
One church packed thousands of ready-to-go disaster food relief packets so that they could immediately be shipped and give a family sustenance for three days. And they put it all together and packaged it all up, and that’s what they did on Sunday morning. Other one went up and cleaned up a place. Some places fixed up some houses that needed repair. Just all sorts of projects that they go out, and they cancel service to give service. They go out from their building. The church leaves a building and goes out and bes the church in the world. That is a huge sacrifice.
And I’m not just talking about listening to the choir and drinking the fine coffee and desserts afterwards. Not that kind of sacrifice. There’s more of a sacrifice. It’s not just leading the preaching and the teaching and the singing and the praying. It’s the offering. There’s, like, two people here at least that were doing that math already. Wait a minute, they didn’t get an offering on Sunday? That is a big thing. Because the offering doesn’t go to the church that Sunday. The offering goes to the world. The church has left the building. It’s a hard program. Carson could only stand it for, like, two or three years, and then they, they switched it to Saturday. It’s hard. It’s hard to leave the building, to give that all up, to give up our service for service to the world.
Now, I know what you’re all thinking. Like you think, every time I preach, what in the world does that title have to do with what he’s talking about? Pointers and retrievers? Valentine’s Day? I thought he was going to go with puppy love. Darn, we missed it again. Pointers and retrievers is about stores I’ve been to, churches I’ve served, and people I know. It comes down to pointers and retriever. And you know this. You just haven’t thought about it.
Pointers and retrieve – have you ever gone to a store and asked for something, for, A, find someone, A; and then, B, ask for it. Where is this? And what do you get? Do you get a point? Over there? That’s where they should be? It’s where they used to be? That’s where I think it’d be? That’s where something I don’t like is, and [indiscernible] send him over to you? Huh? You get a pointer? Over there somewhere. I think it used to be there, should be there. And you know, if you get enough, you can get a game going, you know, because you get – and then you get closer because, you know, there is no distance in pointing. It’s just a directional thing. It’s not how far. You know, I tried to get a thing, what if we did the fingers thing? That was a little further, that was way far. It’s not really going anywhere. If you could help, I got a Kickstarter project. We might be getting that going.
All right. But you get over there, and you get near the place in the same direction, and you get the next sales person, they give you another point; you know? And then you go that way, you get another point. You know, it’s like you’re a pinball, you know, trying to hit the target, boom, boom, all over the place. Oh, pointing. Then there are some stores, some stores, they don’t have any pointers. They got retrievers. “Oh, I’ll go get you that. I’ll get you that. Wait right here.” I don’t like that so much because I am a little nervous. They’re not coming back, you know. Maybe I don’t think well enough of myself, but I’m thinking I’ll never see them again.
I really like the retrievers that say, “Come on. It’s over here. Come on. I’ll take you. Come on. Let’s go.” And they go, and they look for it with you. [Indiscernible], it was here. Where is that thing? You know, and they find it. It’s not where it used to be, or not where it should be, or not where it was last week or any of that stuff. It’s, “We’ll find it together. Come on. Let’s go. Let’s go get that. We’ll get it together. We’ll figure this out ourselves. We’ll find it. I don’t know where it is, but I will find out. We will find someone somewhere to get it.”
Retrievers. There’s people like that, too; isn’t there? Find people? You go and ask for help, and they say, “No, you can get help over there.” “Oh, these people over there might help you.” “Oh, there’s that book over there. That book there might help you there. And while you’re there, you can do that here, and you should live your life there and get that job there, move there.” Lot of pointers. If you’ve got a couple retrievers in your life, keep them close. “I don’t know, let’s go.” “I’m bringing my truck. You’re moving, I’m bringing my truck. When you want me there?” Not “There’s some moving companies over there, they’re really good.” Pointers and retrievers.
Churches are like that, too. Oooh, he’s gone from preaching to meddling. There he goes again. Why can’t we have some puppy love jokes? That was fun. You can go over there for salvation. Do this, do that, find Jesus. If you get this here, come to this service now, we open up our doors here, come here, do this, do that, do the Bible, do the confirmation, do this, do that. You can do that. Then there’s retrievers. I’ll come and get you. I’ll come and be with you. This is from the deacons. We know you’re having a hard time. Retrievers.
And now is the place – I like to give, you know, subtitles for people, you know, know what’s going on next is now we get to the scripture. Because some of you say, “Does he ever get to the scripture? There’s scripture.” John – and I’m just doing two verse – there’s a lot of verses here about a lot of stuff. There’s a whole born again anew from above thing. That’s a whole sermon. And if you get it, if [B&C] doesn’t get the thing done, you might hear that one. But tonight, today, you’re just hearing about 16 and 17, just 16 and 17. That’s all.
Now, the 16 verse, that’s a pointer verse. I think it doesn’t have to be, but it too often is. How do I get eternal life? Well, you go to Jesus. You go to Jesus to do that. That’s how you do that. For God so loved the world that he gave – and it said he gave his only son so they may not perish but have eternal life. You know that eternal life starts right now. That’s present. It’s not after death. It’s not a death insurance thing. It doesn’t start after we die. The Greek says it’s now. Get eternal life right now.
And too often we stop at John 3:16. Too often we stop there. We don’t go to the next verse. We say, oh, great, me and mine, we’re saved. Yeah, we know the way to Jesus and to Heaven. We’re going that way, yeah. Then there’s that pest – there’s more than one verse in the Bible. That’s bad news to some people. And then John 3:16 goes to 17 and messes everything up. We had it gone down, we got ourselves saved, me and mine, we’re with Jesus, we’re eternal life, yay, rah. And then you get the 17th verse, like Jesus, you just couldn’t quit there. You had to go on.
And he talks about “For God sent.” What? Wait a minute. Last verse was “gave.” What’s this “sent” stuff? Oh, no. What are we getting into now? The son into the world. Wait a minute. The world? If you look at John, the world’s not a fun place. The world is a bunch of people that are nasty, that are hostile, that are chaos, that are after Jesus, that don’t believe. And that’s the world.
Not the good folks here at South Lake Tahoe. Gosh, this is a good church. I have never in 35 years of pastoring heard so many Bible pages turning during a scripture reading. I congrat- proud of yourself. That’s amazing. They’re actually reading the Bible. I was actually – I had chills. I went up there and go, “Whoo, what’s that?” Salute.
But it’s the world. The people don’t read their Bible. And people don’t have, well, they may have a Bible, but they never open it. People that are hostile to religion, or even worse than hostile, indifferent, don’t care, don’t think it matters. That’s who God sent Jesus in. Whoa, [indiscernible]. Not to condemn the world? Well, that’s no fun. We’re not to condemn the world? That’s like our number one favorite thing to do. [Indiscernible], we’re going to cut down the debates to, like, 20 minutes, if we can’t condemn the world. Not to condemn the world, but the world through him be saved.
Wait a minute. We’re saving the whole world. Oh, ho, ho, I thought it was just me and mine. But you’re telling me that it’s the world, the one you’ve been telling me is so awful and hostile and chaotic and against Jesus, all those outside things. It’s cosmo. It’s cosmopolitan, the cosmos. The whole mess. The whole mess of things will be saved through Him. I should have just stopped, like the football players fan says, just that one verse. You go to 17, you’ve got to go save the world. Wow.
What does that look like, that world-saving stuff? How are we different then? One thing’s different is evangelism. Oh, he’s saying the “E” word. This is a really upsetting sermon. Evangelism. When, you know, you know, it’s too often the question is how are we going to get young people to church? How are we going to get the young people to church? If that is your question, your answer is doomed. Doom’s a little strong. I’ll back up. Very difficult, not doomed. Maybe just [doo]. Because you’re starting all wrong. You’re trying to save the church. You’re trying to get the church, the world to save the church. No, the church saves the world. You’ve got it backwards. It’s not going to work right.
And I tell you, I know, I’ve raised some of the young people. Got to live with them, raise them right up. And they don’t need saving. Just ask them. They’ll tell you. They’ve been told by their parents, they’ve been told by their school, they’ve been told most by mass media that they are the greatest thing ever, and they deserve the best. And they don’t need saving. So we come peddling salvation to them, well, huh, we don’t need any of that.
But that’s John 3:16. What if we peddled John 3:17? Because they, God bless them, and I’m serious, they have a burden, they have a desire to save the world. They want to fix the world. They want to save the world. And if we figure out that’s what we’re about, they’ll join up with us. Or more likely we could join up with them.
That is something people want to be involved in, not, hey, we’re here to have a great church. They don’t care. They’re not into save the church. They didn’t go through World War II where the institutions saved the world and the freedom and got the Nazis and all that. And we loved the institutions back then. Back before I was born and after, why, that was the great Fifties. That was super institutions save the world. We all worked together. We made these great things. We built up a spiritual industrial complex in the Presbyterian church in the mainline denominations because we were going to rid the world of evil, and that’s just like the Nazis.
Yeah, it’s a different world now, sorry. Don’t trust the institutions. The young people don’t trust the latest app unless they built it themselves. And next week’s app is something different. But they still have the good and clean and passionate desire to make a better world. And if we tell them we’re about that, and if we are about that, if the church leaves the building and does service to the world instead of service for themselves, there’ll be plenty of people. All kinds. All messed up.
The Serenity Prayer has a longer version than just the three sentences that we normally associate it and see on plaques. Niebuhr, when I wrote it, wrote several versions. One was a long one. One of the ones that I’ve been working with that’s been helping me with my issues, which you can ask me about later, but it’s taking, as Jesus did, this world as it is, not as I would have it. Taking as Jesus did the world as it is, not as I would have it. I do a lot of “as I would have it” stuff.
But after looking at John 17, I’m thinking that if Niebuhr was looking at that verse, maybe he would have written yet another version and changed one word and said “loving,” as Jesus did, this world as it is, not as I would have it. That’s tough to do. Loving as Jesus did the world as it is, not as I would have it. Jesus died for that world, the world he was in: brutish, slavery, militaristic, awfulness, betrayers. That’s the world he died for, not the world he was calling us to. That’s the world he loved.
Salvation – and sometimes I do little bumper stickers for people that like to remember one thing for, like, when people ask them, and they weren’t really listening. So this is the time to listen for that, you know, a tweet, if you’d do a tweet. But it’s “Salvation is like potato chips. You can’t stop with one.” John 3:16 may think that John 17 says “For God so loved me.” But he didn’t condemn me, but saved me. No, it’s the world. You can’t stop with one.
There’s a church in Arlington, Virginia, First Presbyterian Church of Arlington, Virginia. They’ve been having some troubles lately. They’ve been there about a hundred years, though. But this year is going to be their last Easter. By their choice. Got out among the congregation, the community, and talked to them, talked to the cops and the teachers and the service workers and the people that make the town go, and listened to them, and felt their pain that they could not afford to live in the community they worked. They had to go way out somewhere because there was no affordable housing. And that, oh, yeah, there was some affordable housing. One year they had 122 affordable housing units, 122; 3,600 people applied for those. Hundred twenty-two; 3,600 people wanted them.
This church, beautiful church, big land, wonderful location, said we’re going to sell our property, tear down our church, and build moderate income housing. Reserve them for seniors, people that grew up here and lived here and can no longer afford to stay, and other people that need it. They sold their property to a nonprofit that’s been doing housing developments around that at a 20 percent discount. Woohoo, Presbyterian. Gave them all up, and now they’re giving away the parts of the church, the pews and the Bibles to other churches, the homeless shelters, furnishings, getting ready to close up about May or June. And in their place will be a place that serves the world, the poor, the struggling, the working every day, everyday stiffs. The church has left the building.
Transcipt differs from the recording with some exclaimations removed and some patter while I checked my notes edited out.
Transcription done by edigitaltranscription.com Recommend for fast, accurate, and patient transcriptions.
Christy Ramsey. Some rights reserved. This work is licensed under a
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The church in Arlington had its last building based worship service. It’s service to God and the community continues. https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/social-issues/arlington-congregation-holds-last-worship-service-before-churchs-demolition/2016/06/05/7d323a4a-2b4f-11e6-9de3-6e6e7a14000c_story.html