"Just Say No"
September 15, 1991
"Just say No." ... Given this title, and the scripture just read, I bet you think you know what this sermon is all about. "I can do all things through him whom strengthens me." ...
"Just say No." I bet you think I'm going to speak about the God-given ability to avoid the negative influences in life. Yes, with the title: "Just say No," and the verse: "I can do all things through him whom strengthens me," I certainly could go on to talk about the need, and the power we have, to avoid a destructive lifestyle.
I could recall a report on the news last Friday night, about the resurgence of smoking among H.S. youth, about how it is estimated that 30% are now addicted to nicotine, in spite of the intensive anti-smoking campaign of recent years.
I could speak directly to the issue of saying "No" to peer pressure in light of a known cancer causing stick of tobacco; saying "No" to the same influences that contribute so innocently, in other ways, to alcoholism and drug addiction.
I could broaden the topic and speak of saying a louder "No" to the corporations that market a known carcinogen for economic gain. In a similar, but somewhat different, vein I could recall the recent gulf war, and speak of the need for Christians to "Just say No" to killing other human beings, directly or indirectly, no matter what the pressure of public opinion says.
Yes, with the title: "Just say No," and the verse: "I can do all things through him whom strengthens me," I certainly could go on to talk about the need, and the power we have, to avoid a destructive lifestyle.
I bet something to this effect was what you thought I was going to preach about this morning, given the title & the scripture. Well, if that's what you thought, you were wrong. Not that such things don't need to be said, and not that I haven't just now sort of stepped up on a soapbox and said them briefly. But that's not really what this sermon is about.
Harry Emerson Fosdick once wrote that "only by a stronger passion can evil passion be expelled." I want to speak about the development of such a stronger passion, a positive passion, which will help one "just say No" to the negative passions of life. But again, this is not what I will mean by the phrase "Just say No." If you're wondering, now, where on earth Pete is taking us,... GOOD! Buckle up, for here we go.
The first stop on our journey is the city of Philippi. Philippi could be any town. In his Cotton Patch Version of Paul's Epistles, Clarence Jordan freely paraphrased the place as Smithville, Alabama; not as well known as Selma, or Atlanta, or Washington DC, but not totally off the beaten track.
A small group of believers gathered there, having been drawn together by God's Spirit, helped by this preacher man named Paul to get started. Then he was off getting new churches going in other towns. These believers in Philippi, (or was that Glen Arm?) they were a conscientious lot. They took very seriously the "Yes" they said to God in Christ Jesus. They meant what they said when they gave themselves to God, so much so that they bore a special burden for this preacher man Paul who first shared with them the good new about Jesus. They prayed for him as he traveled. And they put their money where their prayers were - sending what they could, when they could, in spite of the fact that this Paul was a pretty independent sort of guy who prided himself on his ability to get by on his own.
It wasn't easy being a Christian in Philippi, (or was that Bel Air?). When your values aren't exactly the values of the folks who live around you, you've got to live a little more ... creatively. And when you're trying to be this crazy thing known as the body of Christ, or the church, especially when you're starting from scratch, you need all the help you can get.
No doubt, when these believers in Philippi (or was it Parkville?), when they received a letter from this preacher man Paul, I imagine there were several "Amen"s when that line was read aloud: "I can do all things through him who strengthens me."
Yes, all too often it seems impossible to fulfill an earlier "Yes" said to God, to live a life of faith, to continue to put this faith into practice on a daily basis, even or especially when everything else around us screams out "No" to God, directly or indirectly. But God gives the strength, the power, to make the impossible possible. And the believers in Philippi (or was it Cockeysville?) knew that, and that's why the life they lived together was characterized by this strange thing called Joy.
* * * * *
The second stop on our journey today is a prison cell, who knows exactly where, (could it be Baltimore?), in which a preacher-man Paul pulls together some words into a letter for his friends in Philippi. Paul was no stranger to prison life. For him, it came with the territory of saying "Yes" to God. You live out your "Yes" and sometimes they put you behind bars for it, strange as that may sound.
Writing this letter, he struggled with how to say "thank you" for the prayers and money the believers in Philippi (or was it Edgewood?), sent his way. He was, after all, a pretty self-sufficient sort of guy. Amidst his "thank you" which never actually said "thank you", (you've received that kind of gratitude, haven't you? - maybe you've given some like it); Amid his "thank you" are words to grow on.
Like those who would approach life with a "grin and bear it" attitude, he wrote that he had learned how to be content with whatever his lot was in life, whether good or bad, rich or poor. Such wisdom from the school of hard knocks, could've been spouted by anyone, regardless of a belief in God. His words on contentment in life weren't particularly Christian, until he added his own peculiar twist: "I can do all things through him who strengthens me;" or, as Clarence Jordan would put it, "With the help of him who empowers me, I feel up to anything."
These aren't just words to help some prisoner for Christ's sake to be able to grin and bear his miserable circumstances; though certainly the ability to just plain accept your lot in life sure is alot better than beating your head against a wall. And, looking a little deeper, these aren't just words to help a person "Just Say No" to all the negative, destructive influences of life; though certainly saying "No" sure beats giving in to the pressure of evil. But, as Fosdick said, "only by a stronger passion can evil passion be expelled."
No, these words of Paul aren't just about the ability to stoically approach life with a grin and bear it attitude, or the ability to "Just say No" to that which is negative, destructive, and evil. These words are about the strength to fully live out the life Jesus called us to life. These words are about the power to live out our "Yes" to God.
"I can do all things through him who strengthens me." Quite literally, this speaks of "power", using a word in the original language from which we derive "dynamite". God gives us power to do all things. Not just the ability to survive, but the power the succeed, given the fact that success in God's eyes is not necessarily how success is commonly viewed. God gives us power to do all things. Not just the ability to "say no" to negative passions, but the power live positively in a negative world.
God gave that preacher man Paul the power to fulfill his ministry, his mission, his project in life; not just to endure hardship, as important as endurance is, but to press on toward his goal in Christ Jesus. And God gave to the believers in Philippi (or was it Fallston?) the power to be the body of Christ, the presence of God, right where they were; not just to "say no" to all the bad things around, as important as it is to avoid what is harmful, but to live a lifestyle characterized by Joy.
* * * * * *
The final stop on our journey today brings us full circle, back to the title of this sermon. If, by "Just say No," I am not referring to staying away from the negative passions of life, then what on earth DO I mean?
Well, part of our service today has focused upon recognizing and dedicating those who have said "Yes" to positions of leadership in our congregation. One of the many things I appreciate about this church is the fact that more than 30% of the people do 90% of the work, as is usually the case. We do seek to involve more people in ministry, in mission, in the work of being the body of Christ here and now.
Now, how we usually approach this whole business of involving people, is to work at getting folks to say "yes" to a particular responsibility. I'd like to suggest that this is somewhat a backward way of operating. Too often, when we are called to a particular task, the first question we ask ourselves is: "Am I able to do this?" But that's not really the issue. If, indeed, we can do all things through him who strengthens us, then "ability" is not the problem.
Granted, not everyone is given the same gifts for ministry but everyone is gifted. The process of calling out leadership is not so much centered upon getting people who will say "Yes", as upon discovering who is gifted in what area. If we are called by the church to a task, our major question is "am I available?" because "I can do all things through him who strengthens me."
In prayer, and in discussion with those who know and love me, and love the Lord, if I determine that I am not available for this task now, then I can "Just say No," without the burden of guilt which so often accompanies such a decision when approached through the avenue of "Am I able to do this?" In a sense, when that question governs our decision, a "No" is a blow to our sense of self-worth. If we say "No" to this, then what good are we to God? What will God's people think of us? But rather, when we have said "yes" to God, making a vow of faith before God's people, at a particular point in time we are empowered for ministry. The issue becomes, then, one of focus.
When it says, "I can do all things," it doesn't mean "I can do everything at the same time." God doesn't call us to burn out for Jesus, which some of us try doing because our sense of self-worth is wrapped up in this doing of all things. Instead, we need to focus our mission. Everyone who has said "yes" to Jesus has a mission, a project, a direction. This may change over time. But it is up to us to discern the boundaries of our calling.
For instance, a few individuals took on new responsibilities this year in our church life. In order to do so, they needed to weigh their availability, and then say "No" to some other responsibilities. This I supported, because it is not our purpose as a church to overburden people, but instead to help each of us determine what our calling, our current mission is, and to "just say No" to what doesn't fit at present.
Now, my fear in saying this is that some will use it as an excuse not to do anything, to "just say no" to everything, or to only the things that seem unpleasant. But, that's the risk of the gospel. He or she who has ears, listen. "Just say No," when you need to for in the passon of your "Yes" to Jesus Christ in baptism, God has given you the power to do all things, but not all at the same time.
©1991Peter L. Haynes
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