There is an old commercial about an investment firm featuring British actor John Houseman in his immaculate 3-piece suit, a gold watch dangling from his vest, looking flawless, in a proper stern sort of way. He looks into the camera and in his own inimitable way says: “We make money the old-fashioned way. We earn it.”
Great commercial. Great motto. We could also say: “I do my job the old-fashioned way. I earn it.” Or we could say: “I serve God and my church the old-fashioned way. I earn it.”
Maybe God looks a little like John Houseman, trim, prim and just a little grim. Sitting on his golden throne with his I-Pad. On that screen is your name and your picture. God then adds up the good stuff, then subtracts the bad. And if the total adds up? You’re in: Barely. Then God says: “You get to heaven the old-fashioned way. You earn it.”
We laugh and say, “how ridiculous!” But, for many people inside and outside the church, this is one way of looking at God. Of course, it’s not true but to some extent that’s the challenge that faces the church today. We live in a world full of people saying: “If God is about grace? Prove it!”
Shortly after Easter, we see the miracle that occurred on the Jewish holiday called Pentecost. Jews from all over are gathered for a celebration. On that same day, the disciples hear roaring sounds of wind, like a tornado sweeping through the area. Tongues of fire settle on each person. Immediately they go out, full of fire and energy and speak to the crowd in their own languages.
People are amazed. What are they saying? Well, it’s not John Houseman, “if you want to see Jesus, “do it the old-fashioned way: earn it!” It’s more like, “turn to God and be forgiven. God loves you. God wants to be with you. God wants to guide you. God’s Holy Spirit will change you.”
That’s what people desperately needed to hear, and they were converted by the thousands.
We’ve all been accosted by people who wanted to preach at us without having any idea who we are, what we believe, what we need to hear, what we are going through or what we are enduring.
We watch evangelists on TV. We click on websites. Social media is filled with catchy slogans and sincere people who tell us about Jesus, but they are often ignored because for the most part we are full up to our eyeballs with sermons, messages, studies and talks.
Maybe John Houseman is right, not in describing God but in describing how we are to witness to others as followers of Jesus Christ. John Houseman would say to each of us: “We talk to others about Jesus, the old-fashioned way: We earn it.”
So, what does work? If we are to go forth and be witnesses for Jesus. If we are to carry out the message of Pentecost with all the enthusiasm of the original disciples, we need to relearn what God is teaching in this passage of Scripture. It’s not the words, it’s what’s behind the words. What we do speaks so much louder than words but at some point, the words matter too.
Here is a modern example: The Supreme Court plans to overturn Roe V Wade allowing states to decide whether to allow abortion or not. Mention the word abortion and any group would instantly divide between those who would defend the rights of the unborn child and those who would defend the rights of the mother to choose.
There are several ways we could respond. We could meet and have a debate over which side is right. Another response would be to do or say nothing. What if the church took a different response and discussed how they could respond to both sides with compassion and ministry? If abortion is no longer an option, then how can we offer counseling and other practical alternatives and help for the mother, the child to be born and the father?
What about those who choose abortion. How can we offer counseling to help the mother and father deal with the emotions and guilt that often follow a decision to terminate a birth?
Is a healthy debate important when it comes to any sensitive subject like abortion? Of course, but even more important is the potential ministry offered by God’s church to those experiencing the reality of unplanned pregnancy.
At Pentecost the people heard followers of Jesus speaking to them in their own language. What if that really meant that the followers of Jesus related to each of them offering grace, comfort, love, and hope? Today, followers of Jesus offer desperately needed grace, comfort, love, and hope.
This certainly beats facing John Houseman looking, trim, prim and just a little grim. Instead, picture Jesus, with a smile, looking at you with eyes filled with compassion and a face that projects warmth and acceptance. Instead of hearing, we get to heaven the old-fashioned way, you hear, “Welcome. Put down your burdens and rest. You are safe with me and with my church.”