PROCESSIONAL: Thy Word (#496-Blue Hymnal)
CALL TO WORSHIP: (congregation reads words in bold)
Leader: Joy comes to those who follow the ways of the Lord.
People: We will follow the Lord with joyful hearts!
Leader: Those who follow the Lord are like trees planted by the river,
bearing fruit each season.
People: May our leaves will never wither! May we know God’s
blessing in all we do.
Leader: Let us worship the Lord who leads us to joy and abundance.
People: We will worship God all of our days.
OPENING HYMN: 411 Stand Up & Bless the Lord
OPENING PRAYER & THE LORD’S PRAYER
HYMN: 748 Lord Of All Hopefulness
ANNOUNCEMENTS, BIRTHDAYS & ANNIVERSARIES
PRESENTATION OF OFFERING:
Offering Received Offertory Hymn: #79 (Blue Hymnal)
HYMN: 634 Will You Come & Follow Me
SCRIPTURE: Genesis 22:1-14 • Luke 14:25-33
PLASTIC JESUS, PLASTIC JESUS....
Genesis 22:1-14 • Luke 14:25-33
A few years ago, the Federal Government, in their infinite wisdom, decided to replace paper money with some sort of a weird, shiny, plastic-y, polymer type.... Stuff. Indestructible, they called it It would last forever. Impossible to rend or rip..... I have a desk drawer filled with little weird, shiny, plastic-y, polymer scraps. Anyway, as I was saying, a few years ago they replaced paper money.
An industrious young entrepreneur from Ontario figured out a quick way to make a little cash. He procured some heavy linen paper and using a high quality printing setup managed to counterfeit a considerable pile of twenty dollar bills. He then decided that he would go gas stations, corner stores and the like, purchasing small items with his false twenties and then receiving new.... plastic.... money as change. Now, you'll remember I called this fellow industrious, young, but not smart. The fellow's twenties featured a delightfully regal and beautiful older lady.... who was definitely NOT the Queen of England.
As you probably know, real Canadian currency has a host of features designed to make it harder to counterfeit. If you hold it up to the light you will see that there's a strip embedded in the paper that has the denomination of the bill printed on it. That strip also glows under UV light. There are several features that you need a magnifier to see as well. All of these things are included to distinguish the real bills from the fakes and also to make it harder to counterfeit. The reason is that when you have that $20 bill you need to be sure that it's real; that it's really worth $20.
Here's another example. Companies that make the different products we use every day spend lots of money creating what's called "brand identity." That means they create a logo or identity for their company
or product that is easily recognizable. Probablythe most successful example of creating this brand identity is the familiar shape of the Coca-Cola bottle or their red can. When you see a can or bottle of Coke, no matter what language it's in, you know it's Coca-Cola.
The same is true for most successful products. The idea is that when you see that logo or name, you know you're getting the real thing, the genuine product. So these same companies spend lots of money every year to keep others from duplicating their product or their identity.
Today, however, one of the big problems is copycat products being produced in Asia that are trying to imitate the genuine product.
Dolce and Banana. Michaelsoft Binbows. A Superman clone called Specialman.
Most of these are rather funny but these forgeries are not always funny. For example, authorities have found clones of a popular brand of down jacket for sale on the Internet. When the jackets were tested, it was discovered that they were not filled with down at all but with all sorts of other things, like chicken feathers (and other parts) swept up from the floor of a poultry factory. This can pose a real health risk by carrying bacteria and disease. Another problem these days is the availability of counterfeit medications that people purchase hoping to save money. I think it's obvious how harmful those could be since they may not have any of the needed medication in them.
In the same way that we can be fooled by counterfeit products or money, we are also in danger of counterfeit religion as well. To be more specific, we are in danger of having a counterfeit faith, of believing in a fake Christianity. We are in danger of worshiping a plastic Jesus.
So what do we mean by "plastic Jesus?" What exactly is a counterfeit faith? Where does this fake Christianity come from and how do we recognize it? More importantly, how do we make sure we don't fall for it?
The first thing we need to know is that, unlike counterfeit products or money that are produced by someone else, each one of us is responsible for creating these knockoffs. A plastic Jesus is some kind of caricature of Jesus that is not the real Jesus. It's the image we create in our minds of Jesus - the Jesus we think we want to believe in. John Calvin wrote, "every
one of us is, even from his mother's womb, a master craftsman of idols." What he's saying is that you and I are like a plastic Jesus factory.
What are some of these fake jesuses that we create? Let's look at some of the ways we misunderstand Jesus. Many people today see Jesus in the same category as Mister Rogers - a kind, gentle moral teacher telling
stories that have a good life lesson but not really requiring much on my part. Back in 2005, psychologist Christian Smith studied Christian youth and discovered that many of them held similar views about God and about morals but that these views weren't really biblical. After further research he discovered that these beliefs had become widespread in American religion. Here they are. See if this describes your own beliefs.
Smith called this kind of faith Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, which is a complicated way of saying that God's goal is to make me happy and to help out when I can't take care of things myself. Friends, that is NOT the God of the Bible. That's a made up faith with ME as the center. That's a plastic Jesus.
Instead, in our Scripture reading today Jesus says, "being my disciple is a total commitment. This is not a part-time thing. To follow me you have to be willing to give up everything else that you love more than me. You have to love me more than your money or your pride or your family or even your own life. Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple."
What Jesus is saying is that being His disciple has to be the most important thing in your life. This is a radical concept for most of us, particularly in modern American culture. Our society says, "take care of number one." Jesus says, "you're not number one."
One of the things that I find interesting about this passage is the two short parables Jesus uses as illustrations.
In the first one, in verses 28 and 29, he says "If you want to build a building, don't you first sit down and figure out how much it's going to cost and whether or not you can afford to complete it? " In the second parable he compares the decision to follow him to the decision of a king to go into battle against another. In both illustrations, what Jesus is saying is that being His follower takes a complete commitment and that commitment should come from careful, thoughtful Consideration of what's involved.
We saw that level of commitment from Abraham in our Old Testament reading. Abraham trusted God so fully that he was willing to give up the thing that was more important to him than anything in the whole world his son Isaac.
I think it's important to point out here that God is not asking you to take a vow of poverty, or to live like the Amish.
When Jesus says that we are to "hate" our parents or spouse or siblings or children he's using hyperbole. If hating your parents were a true tenet of Jesus, most 15 year olds I know would make some fine Christians.
What He's saying is that we need to have our priorities straight. In Matthew 6 He tells us, "seek first the Kingdom of God and then all these things shall be added to you."
So back to our idea of Plastic Jesus...?
What are some ways that following the real Jesus is different from a plastic Jesus?
First of all, a plastic Jesus is easy to live with. There's no real requirement for you to change as long as you're being more good than bad.
But following the real Jesus is hard. We're told this over and over again. The path is narrow, and difficult.
Second, with our Plastic Jesus, the church and our faith (and I'm not only talking about Sunday mornings... All the time, friends, all the time) becomes something that we add to our already busy life. If I'm lucky I'll be able to make some time in my schedule to be at church or to help out with a service project.
Finally, the plastic Jesus exists to meet our desires. This is the heart of the "prosperity gospel." At the root of this is the idea that more than anything God wants me to be happy and that means he must want me to have the things that make me happy, like a nice home and a fancy Car.
But Jesus did not come to earth, die on a cross and then rise again from death to make us happy. He came to make us whole, to help us through our difficulties and trials, and to bring us joy.
Our happiness depends on our circumstances and so we are not always happy. Things in life can make us sad or angry. But joy (and we know that joy is sometimes different from happiness) .... True joy comes from understanding what God has done for us and continues to do for us. The Apostle Paul says, "rejoice in the Lord always." Joy comes from the wholeness that Jesus, his teaching and the path of discipleship provides.
So our challenge this morning is to get rid of our Plastic Jesus. Get rid of the Jesus that we've created in our mind. Instead, let's trust in the Jesus who was one of us and yet fully God. Believe in the teaching and wisdom that you find in the pages of the New Testament. Make God the most important thing in our life today and every day.
Choose wholeness over happiness. Choose to give Christ the most important place in your life, even if it means having to change. Choose to get rid of your plastic Jesus and follow the real deal.
.CLOSING HYMN: 370 Hallelujah, Sing To Jesus
BENEDICTION & CHORAL AMEN
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