Perhaps you know the joke about the man who was sent to prison. After some time he noticed a peculiar pattern of activity. One of the inmates would call out a number, “36,” they might say. And a ripple of laughter would move through the prisoners. The new inmate asked what this was all about and was told it was how they told jokes. “There are only so many jokes out there and we have all been together so long that we have heard them all. So, instead of taking the time to tell the joke in its entirety, we’ve given them all numbers.” “48,” a prisoner called out and the whole cellblock erupted with laughter.
In time the new guy learned the jokes, and so one evening, as everyone was settling in for the night he called out, “152!” And there was silence, absolute silence. “261,” he tried again, and once more the response was silence. Frustrated and confused he turned to his cellmate. “What’s wrong, those a both great jokes?” “Yes they are,” he replied, “but some people just can’t tell a joke.”
Well, just like jokes there are only so many devotional messages out there, and if you spend enough time reading devotionals you will come to know them to the point that we could simply give them numbers. If that was the case, than my plan was to write devotional 29 this morning.
You know that devotional, number 29? It is the one the starts by recounting all the reasons we are unlovable and unworthy of God’s attention, followed by the declaration the God loves us anyway. “We have destroyed the environment in our pursuit of personal satisfaction, fighting wars to lay claim of resources we believe are ours to squander, while at the same time neglecting the weak and widowed, the poor and pitiful. We are worthless worms, undeserving of God’s love, BUT,” and this is where sermon 29 would differ from devotional 28 or 30, because it as this point that I am reminded of another truth, “BUT, ‘God so loved the world that he gave us His only Son…”
The message of devotional 29 is an important one. It helps us keep a perspective on who we are and who God is. It is a good confessional message, that opens us up to the reality of our lives, so we can appreciate, with a renewed spirit of gratitude, the gracious, underserved love of God. The only problem is it did not resonate with me this today, and try as I might to pull together an inventory of our sinful ways, I kept getting pulled in the different direction.
Now don’t misunderstand me. There is plenty of material out there to fill up a really good devotional 29. We have motorcycle gangs about to start a war, a couple hit & runs, and ongoing acts of unspeakable violence. There are stories of selfishness and greed, of blind lust for every manner of things, as well as the tales of those left broken in the wake. There is plenty of darkness out there, make no mistake about that. But there is also so much light. And this morning as I considered the balance of it all God kept showing me the light.
There is so much light in this world. Maybe it is a glass half full or half empty kind of thing, but today God keeps pulling me to the light. And I need that, maybe you do too, because this is a hard time and there are too many long shadows.
A couple years ago we were helping clean out my wife’s grandmother’s house. As we sorted through those boxes, left unpacked since they were stored nearly 60 years ago, I came across the front page of the New Mexican from Sunday, August 31, 1961. I saved it. The headline tells of the closing of the gate between East and West Germany. There is the story of riots in Paris, of the Kuwait government asking British troops to leave. There is a story of the escape of 5 youth from the Springer Correctional facility. There is always plenty of darkness to go around. But there is lots of light too. In that paper there were some other stories as well. It seems almost comical the kinds of things that made it across the editor’s desk. Like the frontpage story about the woman who realized half-way through her morning train commute that she had left the oven on with a casserole in it. So, she told the conductor, who wrote a note and attached it to a rock, which he threw out to a switch operator as they roared by. The switchman made a call to the woman’s daughter and the casserole was rescued, “Perfectly browned and delicious.” Or the report of a Mexican Scout troop’s visit to Espanola where they were treated to a swim in the municipal pool, and a tour of Ghost Ranch.
Darkness and light, mixed together, and so what do you see?
The fruits of God’s kingdom are all around us, and sometimes, by the grace of God we see them and are reminded there is light and we are loved. And my central point today is that is a gift from God. We can see the Kingdom of God, right here, right now.
All around us the Kingdom of God shines, as surely as our darkness casts its long shadow. But by God’s grace, we have been given eyes that can see the light in the darkness, even to the point where we no longer see a glass ¾ empty, but rather a cup that runs over!
Friends, there is always time for devotional 29, but not today. Today we are given devotional number 1. And it is not one I write. It is the message of God, offered to His peculiar treasures. Peculiar treasures who, even when surrounded by light still too often see darkness.
Devotional number 1 is the good news proclaimed by Christ and revealed to us in Him. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish, but have everlasting light! Indeed, God did not send the Son to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”
Hear it. Believe it. Behold the kingdom of God all around you. The Good News of Christ.