“A Church Like Jesus: Creative Communication” by Rev. Cody Sandahl – September 17, 2017

Lay Reader = 2 Samuel 6:1-5

David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand.2David and all the people with him set out and went from Baale-judah, to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the Lord of hosts who is enthroned on the cherubim. 3They carried the ark of God on a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart 4with the ark of God; and Ahio went in front of the ark. 5David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the Lord with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals.

Introduction

We are continuing our series looking at the key ministries of Jesus and how we can pattern our church and our lives on those key ministries. Last week we heard about Jesus’ habit of invitation to relationships, and we were reminded that Jesus invited people to a relationship AND THEN their lives were changed, they didn’t have to fix their lives before being in a relationship with Jesus.

This week we are looking at creative communication. When I first decided to become a pastor I offered God a bargain of sorts. A deal. Good thing I have the power to make deals with God, right? I prayed, “God, I will go wherever you send me. I’ll do whatever you want me to do. I’ll say what you tell me. Just don’t make it boring.”

I imagine that there’s a switchboard in heaven that lights up anytime someone prays that kind of prayer, and there’s an angel that turns around excitedly and hollers out, “We got a live one, Jesus!” Or maybe it’s more ominous like Jabba the Hutt’s laugh in Star Wars, “Ho ho ho…!” However that plays out in heaven, I can assure you God has DEFINITELY lived up to his end of the bargain. I have not been bored as a pastor.

God doesn’t really DO boring, you know? That’s not his thing. I mean, he made the duck-billed platypus. Or have you ever seen how much intestine God squeezed inside us? I wonder if that was a bet God had with a curious angel. God is CREATOR and that means God is CREATIVE!

And Jesus exemplified that during his time on earth. People MARVELED at how he taught. He wasn’t like the other scribes or the other rabbis. He was shocking. He was riveting. He was memorable. He was creative.

Jesus was ANYTHING but boring. Are you with me?

OK, you know every once in a while I like to ask a poll question and get a response, so get ready to raise your hand. Ready? Raise your hand if you have ever – at any time in your life – been bored in church. It’s OK, no judgment here. Notice I said “at any time in your life” so I can pretend that none of those hands apply to my time here at this church.

But shouldn’t that tell us that we can do better? We gather on Sunday to remind ourselves of the greatest story in the history of the universe. We gather on Sunday to worship the CREATOR of the universe. We gather on Sunday to get instructions from that creator on how to live our own very personal lives. What can be boring about that? I watched The Lego Batman movie earlier this year and it was surprisingly entertaining, but guess how much it affects how I live? Nada! Church should be far more engaging than The Lego Batman movie. As a side note, if we had an 80 million dollar budget like The Lego Batman Movie I assure you I could be very creative.

We already heard in our first text today how David was creative in his worship. He brought out all the instruments – lyres, harps, tambourines, castanets, and cymbals. He played all the best songs. He danced before the Lord with all his might. Don’t worry – I know my limits. Dancing will not be happening today. I don’t wanna pull a hammy, you know.

But on our Music Dedication Sunday, this is a good time to remember that music and song and yes, even dance, are different ways to communicate. Music is one of the most effective ways to tell the good news of Jesus Christ. I guarantee you my son Charlie can’t tell you a single thing I have ever preached, but he knows dozens of songs on Christian radio. And I can’t say no when my two year-old tells me, “Daddy, sing, Thank You Jesus.” He can’t read, but he knows songs. Such is the power of music. And such is the power of creative, not boring, communication. Let’s see how creative Jesus was in his communication.

John 8:2-11

2Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. 3The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, 4they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. 5Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”

What Did He Write?

This passage has the second greatest mystery in our faith, at least in my estimation. The greatest mystery is why we have to go through teething outside the womb where everyone can hear the child scream. But the second greatest mystery is this: what did Jesus write with his finger on the ground?

I mean, let’s put this into context. Imagine that you’re in between two groups of people. You have protestors on one side and counter-protestors on the other. They’re fuming mad at each other. Insults are flying. A riot is starting to form. What could you say to disperse the crowd? What could you do?

Jesus said one sentence and wrote something in the ground that made every…single…person drop their weapon and go home. Wow!

That’s creative communication!

We’re watching these videos every month for the next two years, they’re called 24 to Double, and we’re actually going to watch one today at 11:45 in Ficklin Hall if you want to come. And Jerry Lawson, the pastor who leads those videos, gave his best guess. And he said, “if Jesus is asking a question, it’s not because he wants to know the answer.” Right? He already knows. So when he said, “let anyone who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her,” he knew the sins of every person in the crowd. And so maybe Jesus looked over and saw brother John over there. And brother John had been maybe a little too friendly with Mary lately. So Jesus wrote “Mary” in the ground and looked over at brother John. Next thing you know, brother John is beating a path back to his house. And then maybe Jesus looked to the other side and saw Jim. And Jim had his own little secret affair going on with his neighbor Rachel. So Jesus stares at Jim and writes, “Rachel” in the dust. Jim drops that stone like a hot potato and he’s gone at warp speed. You get the idea. That’s one potential. We don’t know what Jesus wrote, but it was powerful enough to disperse an angry mob. If I can get you to remember something I said for a day or two I’m happy. Jesus apparently had a little higher ceiling with his communication than I do.

Same Message, New Methods

But also notice what doesn’t happen. Jesus doesn’t pretend that adultery is OK. He didn’t just shock his audience for the sake of shocking them, he communicated a long-standing truth in a very different way. The long-standing truth is that God isn’t a fan of adultery. That’s not really in debate. There is no alternative narrative for that. Jesus doesn’t change that. He says, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” Adultery is still a sin. God still cares. Jesus just chooses not to condemn her because of it. He wants her to change. He wants her to be different. He’s not out for retribution but transformation.

So whenever we talk about creative communication as a key ministry of Jesus, we also have to recognize that he said, “I did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it.” Jesus didn’t throw out God’s truth just so he could make a memorable point. He wasn’t an entertainer. He was entertaining, but his job wasn’t to be an entertainer. He communicated God’s unchanging truth in a memorable way.

That means that when we come to this never-boring church we are supposed to communicate the same message in a creative way. It’s kind of like a TV show where you know the basic plot – the heroes get in trouble, but then they figure it out and save the day. Why watch it when you know they heroes are going to win every time? Well, it’s interesting to see how they get from trouble to resolution. In the same way, we have the same basic message of Jesus Christ to communicate every week. But it should be engaging enough every week to be worth experiencing again and again.

A Church Like Jesus

This was actually one of the clear take-aways from the worship survey we handed out earlier this year. People across every age range put comments about wanting to see the format vary a bit more week-to-week. There is a comfort in knowing what’s coming, but there is an opportunity to grow when there’s something new. My former pastor used to say, “You have to give people the nod of recognition before the ‘aha!’ of revelation.” In other words, you have to make sure people feel acknowledged and respected before asking them to be open to something new. So it’s a bit like threading a needle to figure out how much familiar and how much creative we should have each week.

But I have to admit one of my limitations. I am a very systematic person. I come up with a process and I stick to it unless I have to change it. That can make me have blinders on sometimes. It’s like I need a “be creative” bullet point on my Sunday planning checklist, because otherwise I just keep going down the same road every week.

So one thing we’re talking about is getting a group of people together who are good at this – you know who you are, and I probably know you are, too. I don’t have this all figured out yet, but it might look like a creative team that meets every month to come up with ideas for each sermon series.

Do you remember how amazing the church looked for Vacation Bible School? Maybe there’s a way to temporarily decorate the church that goes hand-in-hand with the sermon series. Or maybe we get a group of people together who can enact the Scripture instead of just reading it. We’re talking about something like that for Maundy Thursday this year. Or a couple of weeks ago do you remember how we had you talk to each other for the call to worship, and we flipped the prayer of confession so that you were granting FORGIVENESS to people in your life while Susan played some music? Maybe we do interesting things with those parts of the worship service. Or if you remember Youth Sunday where I led some hymns and Kenneth and Kate led some hymns. I said we were singing them in a “Coke with a twist of lime” style. They were classic hymns with something new mixed in. Maybe we do that “Coke with lime” with our closing hymn some weeks. I can’t tell you what we’ll come up with, because I’m the systematic person, not the super creative person. I can run a creative team, but I can’t have all those creative ideas. I need help.

So here are three ways you can help us be a church like Jesus when it comes to creative communication. If you have that gift – maybe it’s in music, maybe it’s in visuals, maybe it’s in drama, maybe it’s in something else – if you could contribute to that team, let me know. I have some names in mind to invite to help with this, but I probably don’t know everyone who has the gift and interest to do that here.

A second way you can help is to let me know if you have any ideas. Maybe there’s something you’ve always wanted to see. A few congregants have mentioned a desire for a hymn-sing. So we’re talking about having a couple of Sundays in the next year where we won’t plan the hymns ahead of time and you can request them live from our hymnal. That’s an idea that came from a congregant. If you have some ideas, let me know.

And the third way you can help us have creative communication like Jesus is to be open. Let us suppose, this being Music Dedication Sunday and all, that music is your thing. If we put together a dramatic enactment of a Scripture, that might not do it for you. So I’m asking you to remember that there are other people in our church who are starving for something like that – be happy for them even if it didn’t work for you. Giving us space to try things is a great way that everyone can invest in the creative communication of First Pres Littleton.

Summary

Sisters and brothers, church should be the most engaging thing you do every week. It’s the greatest story with the greatest personal impact. Way better than The Lego Batman movie. But to stay engaging, we have to be creative in our communication. Jesus couldn’t have dispelled that crowd by saying the same old thing the same old way. He communicated the same old thing in a dramatically new way, and it saved a woman’s life.

May we be a church like Jesus with our creative communication. Amen.