I’m in the midst of a sermon series entitled The Games People Play, and this past week I preached a message on the party game Charades. I’m not going to rehash the message here, but the point I hoped I made was we are called to LOVE people with a “sincere” love, and perhaps the reason so many disciples of Jesus Christ are considered hypocrites is because our love has not always been “sincere.”
I do hate it, though, when I wake up on Sunday morning, and I sense the Holy Spirit prompting me to rewrite my message. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen (it’s a scary thing, too!). I remember one time (and it’s been a long time) that I prepared the message, and the moment I stepped into the pulpit, the Holy Spirit changed the message completely. I didn’t preach what I had prepared, but the message went in an entirely different direction. Once. That happened once. It didn’t happen this past Sunday, but it sure felt like it might happen. So, I think I’ll process that episode here.
I must confess I had an uneasiness all week about the message. As I prayed over the text, and researched and did the exegetical work (you preachers know what I mean), I was uncomfortable all week long. It might have had something to do with the fact I was dealing with the issue of hypocrisy (especially as one who sometimes feels a bit hypocritical). I never felt “right” about the direction the message was taking. I felt like there was something I needed to say, but I wasn’t sure exactly what that “something” was. I even canceled an out-of-town trip to work through the issues that arose in my sermon prep (well, this was just one of the reasons, but…).
I must also confess the only substantive change I made to the message on Sunday morning was the conclusion. I added these words:
“When we play Charades, it’s important that we send the right signals. We can be pretty sure if our teammates aren’t getting the correct answer that we’re sending the wrong signals. If your team is getting it wrong, CHANGE THE SIGNAL. Perhaps, the world is getting the wrong answer about the church because we’re sending the wrong signal.”
“Change the signal!” This could be an entirely different message. Let’s review Charades for a moment. One team member pantomimes a word or phrase for his/her team in order to win the game. We know that a charade is a pretense, or pretending, and that’s the direction I took the message–hypocrites pretend to be something they’re not–and we disciples of Jesus get accused of that all the time. While the pretext for the game of Charades is about pretending to be something we’re not, the object is to win the game by giving great signals, by being a good actor. Yes, it’s about acting, but follow me and see if this makes sense.
The “acting out” team member knows the answer. He/she knows what he/she is trying to communicate. In their heart-of-hearts, they want to communicate this truth to their team members so they can win the game. The intention of their heart is to communicate in such a manner as to help their teammates get the answer correct. The heart knows, even if the body and mind can’t communicate the phrase compellingly enough for others to seize the truth. I think that’s the real problem with the church. I think that’s the real problem with me.
I know the truth of God’s love. I know the truth that Jesus died on the cross that we might be redeemed and reconciled to a loving Father who only wants a relationship with us. I know the truth that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. I know the answer! My problem is in communicating the answer in such a way that my teammates get it right. I want desperately to share this Good News with my team. I want desperately for them to know the love of God in Jesus Christ. So, I spend my life giving them signals to help them understand. The problem is my signals are not always the best in the world. Sometimes, my signals get crossed. What is meant to be love comes across as judgment. What is meant to communicate unity is seen as divisive. What is offered in compassion is received as animosity.
What’s the problem? Why are my signals so bad? One reason, played out in three ways: SIN. First, there is sin in me. Truth is, I’m not always a good actor. I’m not always as close to the truth as I should be, and sin in my own life causes me to act in ways that are counter to the truth I am, in my heart-of-hearts, trying to communicate. It prevents others from picking up my signals, even when I’m desperately trying to share them.
Secondly, there is sin in the world around me. Rather than quote a litany of the sin and evil that exists in the world around me, suffice it to say, evil in the world blocks the effective communication and reception of the Gospel message. The Enemy fights feverishly to prevent others from hearing the message of hope and life in Jesus Christ, and he will use everything at his disposal to insure that as few people as possible come to the knowledge of the truth.
Thirdly, there is sin in my teammates. As I said, we’ve all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and that includes those to whom I’m seeking to communicate the truth of God’s love. To say “they” are sinners is not to render judgment, my friends, it is to acknowledge the human condition (the very condition that necessitates a Savior), and the very thing that prevents me from giving the best signals I can give is the thing that causes them to misinterpret the signals being sent. Sin just gets in the way of everything!
There is hope, though, and a remedy–confession, repentance and prayer. As the signal-giver, I need to confess that my signals are sometimes weak because of sin. Part of the problem these days is no one wants to admit to sin. We don’t want to call anything sin. We want to keep “sin” at arms length, have it continue to be some nebulous, undefinable concept, not naming anything specific, but more a “none of us is perfect” attitude that absolves us from responsibility for our actions (or lack thereof). Sin is real, though…in my life, in the world, and in the lives of others. Hatred, anger, sexual immorality, lying, cheating, stealing, greediness (so, pick any of Paul’s lists from the New Testament here) are all real acts and attitudes we battle constantly. If we can’t name them in our own lives, we won’t open ourselves to the power of the Holy Spirit to transform us, and we’ll continue to send and receive the wrong signals.
Repentance is that act which opens our hearts to the transforming grace of God in Jesus Christ. Repentance opens us to a fresh anointing of the Holy Spirit to cleanse us and correct us so that the signals we send are made more clear for others…others whose hearts are also being made ready by the Spirit to receive the signals we’re sending.
I believe prayer is the key to the entire process. Pray for God to cleanse me…to give me a pure heart (Psalm 51:10), and pray for the Holy Spirit to work in my “teammates” to receive the message of grace I so desperately desire to share, because I do really, really, really, in my heart-of-hearts, want us to win. I pray God knows that the intention of my heart is to share His love and grace, and not simply put on a show for others. I pray He knows that though I sometimes fall short in giving the right signals, my desire is to see His Kingdom come. After all, isn’t that the point? Isn’t that what’s at the heart of the game of Charades?
Yeah, I’m probably over-thinking the whole thing, but I know if my teammates aren’t getting the right answer, it’s probably because I’m giving the wrong signals. I need to change my signals. Holy Spirit, come into my heart and transform me, so that the signals I give to others might lead to their redemption and our reconciliation to You and to each other. Come, Holy Spirit!
Until next time, keep looking up…