This is the written version of a message I delivered on February 19, 2017 to the congregation of Vestal United Methodist Church, Knoxville, TN. I so very much appreciate Pastor Kevin Blue for giving me the opportunity to not only speak in front of his church, but experience and participate in a more traditional order of worship.
While this is what I wrote, I actually delivered the majority of the message without a printed transcript, so my verbal delivery was not exact.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, oh Lord, our Rock and Redeemer.
Normally, Pastor Kevin takes this time to give you his reflection on the gospel reading, and I’ll get to that. But, before I do, I need to get you to “See Red” with me. I mean really, truly “See Red.”
I want to talk to you about the Bible for a bit. In this box are 1,138 pieces of paper – one for every page of scripture in my bible. So, let’s pull out the Old Testament. That’s a boatload of paper isn’t it? – 872 pages, to be exact. It’s actually 76% of the Bible. And, almost all the most colorful stories are in this part. You’ve got talking serpents, a giant ship, floods, pillars of fire, chariots, burning bushes, splitting seas, plagues of frogs and locust, wars, civil strife, family drama, more wars, oppression, survival, wilderness adventures … You could preach from this stack for a lifetime and probably never get through it all.
Back to the box and the remaining 266 pages.
These pages represent the Epistles and make up 21 of the 27 books in the New Testament. The Epistles are letters. The Apostle Paul wrote 13 of them, ten to specific churches and three to church leaders. Paul’s are mostly encouraging the churches, pointing out things that could become bigger problems, or explaining how the church should work. The Apostles Peter and John who were two of the Twelve Disciples, James, Jesus’ half-brother, and Jude, a servant of Jesus, wrote the other eight. Their letters are more general or universal rather than sent to a specific church.
I’ve heard a lot of preachers deliver messages out of the Epistles, especially Paul’s letters to the various churches, and when they do preach out of them, they tend to reinforce those messages with scripture from the Old Testament. So let’s put these over here with the Old Testament pages.
OK, let’s pull this one out. This thin sheaf is the Book of Revelations. It was written by the Apostle John, and it’s every bit as exciting a story as anything in the Old Testament, but not very many preach about it and, when they do, they tend to misrepresent it. However, they do refer to a few scriptures in it, so we’ll go ahead and put it on this stack, too.
Let’s see. What do we have next? Acts of the Apostles! Hey, I like this one. Did you know they made a TV mini-series just a year or three ago about this one? Good stuff! We’ll add it to the big stack, too.
OK, before I pull the last pages out of the box, I want to tell you about four gentlemen. Three are Jewish. One isn’t. One is a doctor. One used to work for the government. One is a preacher. One is just a boy, a teenager, but very beloved by his Teacher. Two are best friends with the boy’s teacher. And, one is a close friend and colleague of another friend of the boy’s Teacher.
Those four gentlemen are Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and they left you this. Eye-witness accounts by two, and reports of first-hand accounts by two others. Everything you need to know about Jesus … who he was, who he is, who he ever shall be … what he did, what he said … is right here in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
And the most amazing part, for me anyway, is that those four fellas didn’t just “recollect” … they didn’t say, “I remember the time Jesus talked about feeding the poor …”. No way! They wrote, “Jesus said” and “Jesus did”, and then they wrote down what he said and what he did to the best of their ability and memory.
Now, the Bible as a whole is God’s word, we know that. God’s Spirit was fully on Moses when he recorded centuries of oral traditions and his own eye-witness accounts of the Exodus. God’s Spirit was fully on every prophet and poet and author of the Old Testament. It was all God-inspired, and it is God’s holy word.
But the men who wrote the Old Testament couldn’t walk or break bread with God like Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John did with Jesus. The men who wrote the Old Testament couldn’t physically embrace or touch God or kiss His cheek. They couldn’t even look on the Face of God when He did appear to some of them. They could only know God the Father’s will, His commandments, and His laws as it was revealed to them by Him.
The Gospels, on the other hand, are eye-witness accounts, a kind of transcript if you will, of what God Himself … God the Son … said and did … while He was in the flesh, in real-time, walking among us, breaking bread, sharing meals, laughing, crying, comforting, healing with his own hands, his own voice not shouting down from the heavens, but being present right there with them.
These other New Testament books were all written by men who knew him personally in the flesh or to whom he revealed himself after his resurrection, but these are for the most part, clarifications and affirmations of things that happened here in the Gospels.
You’re lucky here at Vestal. Pastor Kevin told me he always does his reflections out of the Gospels. But there are so many other churches and preachers out there that spend almost all their time over here in these other books and don’t break out the Gospels until Advent, Lent and Easter, and even then, most will refer back to Old Testament prophecies in an effort to justify or prove foreknowledge of the Gospel passage.
And here’s my problem with that and why I’m seeing red and why I need you to see red, too. And you need to see it more than 5-20 minutes once a week on Sunday. You need to see it every day. You need to study it. You need to meditate on it. You need to pray on it and over it and under it.
You need to know the Gospels so well that they become like breathing. You’ve all been sitting here for some time now. Show of hands: How many of you sat here all morning ignoring the message and consciously thinking about your next breath and the one after that and the next and the next? No one? But you’ve been breathing the whole time. Or at least I hope you have. If anyone is napping next to you, please nudge them and make sure they’re still breathing …
Why? Well, that’s my first point. See I AM a Methodist, but I am NOT a Christian. You can look aghast or gasp or furrow your brows. It’s okay. I did the first time I heard that, too. But it’s true.
I can’t be “a” Christian because Christian isn’t a noun. It’s not a name. It’s an adjective – a word that describes a noun. I can’t be “a” Christian. Thankfully, however, I can be Christian. We can all be Christian. But … and it’s a pretty important but … we can only be Christian if others can tell by our outward actions that we are living out what Christ taught us.
And where do we find that Christ taught us? We find the first-hand account of his teachings in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
I want you to See Red by with me by digging into the Gospels and, more importantly, the church, the universal Body of Christ, the WORLD needs you to See Red first and above all other scripture.
All these other books – the Old Testament, the rest of the New Testament – they’re all wonderful, holy, God-inspired, God-given works, but … without the Gospels – they don’t get us where we need to be. We couldn’t even understand the other 23 New Testament books without them, plus we wouldn’t even be Christian! We’d be standing in our designated spots outside the temples, waiting for the high priest to speak to the crowd.
Which leads my second point and some more Red I want you to see.
I need 7 gentlemen to volunteer to come up here with me. If you would please form a line going out from the cross over here out this way facing the far wall, and if you would each place your hands on the gentleman in front of you. Now just hang in here with me for a few minutes.
Every man in this line represents 6 people. Every person represented in this line except two lived in the Old Testament part of the bible. EVERY person represented in this line was Jewish. Every single one. This line is a blood line – a family tree.
It begins here in the front and comes forward in time for 42 generations. It includes a lot of names we all have trouble pronouncing, but it also includes names we recognize like Abraham, Isaac, Boaz, King David, and King Solomon. You can’t push your way into this line, you can’t cut this line, you can’t buy your way into this line. There is no earthly government or executive order or army or any world leader that can get you or themselves into this bloodline. Not even Ancestry dot com’s DNA tests could get you into this line. You only get into THIS line by being born into it. It is unbreakable until …
Until we get all the way to here. To the last person represented in this line. And I’ll tell you what; this last person is someone special, because THIS person made a way. He suffered mightily for it, though. He was ridiculed, he was beaten, he was whipped, he was humiliated, but he was unlike any other person before him or since.
Yet, with all he went through, He still made a way. And, when they finally took him, when they nailed him to that cross … when they pierced him with a spear … when His blood ran down … That red, red blood … when that blood was spilled and washed over us?!?
His blood broke every chain, freed us from our sins, broke an impenetrable bloodline, and brought all of us into HIS BLOODLINE … under HIS new covenant … and made us the adopted sons and daughters of God! His red blood!
He didn’t put any restrictions or exclusions or exceptions on it, either. He hung there on that cross and said, “Father, forgive THEM for THEY know not what they do …” And John tells us, “For God so loved the WORLD” … not just the Jews, not just the disciples, not just this bunch or that bunch or the bunch over there …. THE WHOLE GREAT BIG CHAOTIC, LOST, FRIGHTENED, ANGRY, WONDERFUL WORLD. His blood poured out over all of us!
How precious is that? How undeserving are we? And all He asks of us in return is to follow Him. To spread the Good News. To be HIS hands and feet. To go where and when he calls us and do what he bids us to do … to turn the other cheek, to go the extra mile, to give both our shirt and our jacket, to be charitable, to help one another … to love God above all others, to love one another and even our enemies…
And, by his own words, the two greatest commandments … To love God above all others and to love one another, even our enemies, as he loves us …
Is that so much to ask for all He’s done for us?
This man here at the end of this divine bloodline made a way for everyone. And now it’s up to us to find the way He made, and to step fully and firmly on to that Way.
To do that, we absolutely have to clearly and completely see this red and see His Red.
See this red, study this red, know this red, keep it in your heart, LIVE it, BE it …
And see His red that He spilled out for all of us … in the face of everyone, no matter what or who they are, because there is NO ONE on this planet that His blood was NOT spilled for. No one. You may not see it at first glance, but keep looking. They may not know it’s on them, but keep showing them. You’ll find it and they’ll see it if you look hard enough and deep enough.
It’s there. I know it’s there. Because He’s promised you that right here in THIS red.
See red, folks. When you see, study, know, live, breathe that red; as you grow more and more in the teachings in the Gospels, as you carry out what He taught … THEN … then you ARE Christian.
Gentlemen, you can go back to your seats. Thank you.
I’d also like to thank you for allowing me and my family to be here with you this morning. I have to tell you that I love older churches like Vestal, and I’m fascinated with yours. I know a lot of you are newer members of Vestal, so you may not be aware that the building we’re in right now dates back to the 1920’s, or that the cemetery outside is even older. The oldest grave I could find record of belongs to a Mr. William Doyle. Knoxville was only about 15 years old when William Doyle was born in 1793. Mr. Doyle died 70 years later in 1863.
To give you a little historical perspective on why I find all that fascinating, it means that God has been especially present in this space on the corner of Ogle Avenue and Martin Mill Pike – that this has been considered and consecrated as holy ground – for at least 154 years. It gives a new perspective to that hymn, “Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place …”. And you know that wherever the Father is, so is the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
So, thank you again for having me and allowing me to breathe in and stand with the presence of the Lord in your church today, and to have – hopefully – encouraged you to See Red.
And all God’s people said … Amen.