Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. – Acts 9:1-5
This Sunday at church turned out to be a great experience. Once again, God managed to surprise me by bringing things together in a remarkable way; I should be used to it by now.
First, way back in January I had been asked to do special music during the 9:00 Praise Service. Of course I promptly forgot until Wednesday of last week, when I received my reminder email. In consequence I ended up doing John Lennon’s Imagine, for no better reason than I happened to have been playing around with it for few days and the church office wanted a song title for the bulletin.
Usually I’ll do something like this solo, but this time I was fortunate enough to pick up the Praise team’s Hans on bass guitar, Brett on drums, and David on piano.
If you know Imagine you understand it’s not a song that should be done in church without a little explanation. Some Christian artists change the words, but I wanted to present Lennon’s work as he wrote it, so I put it into context by saying the following:
This John Lennon classic, released in 1971, needs a little explanation if I’m going to use it in a worship service.
First, it’s a beautiful song, and I believe creativity of this order always honors The Creator. I’m not tweaking the words, but I will clarify:
It’s clear to me that the lines that tend to upset people – “Imagine there’s no heaven”; imagine “no hell below us”; and imagine “no religion too” – stand as a cry against the kind of religion John Lennon was too familiar with, the kind he saw all around him – a religion that was negative; divisive; corrupt; nationalistic; angry; self-righteous; exclusionary; un-redemptive. Maybe you have seen evidence of that kind of religion today…?
But, I am convinced that the Jesus I follow is likely tapping his foot along with Lennon’s haunting words, and saying, “Right on! I don’t believe in that kind of religion either. And I’m totally with you on the whole peace thing.”
You see, I am convinced that what we’re up to here at Wake Forest Presbyterian Church is the ministry of telling the Good News story with authenticity, with passion, with humility, and with invitational grace….
GOD’S WORD: What’s remarkable is that Rebekah’s message dealt with the exact same idea. She preached on Paul’s Road to Damascus conversion, and talked a lot about how our life in Christ transforms us into people of the Way, followers of Jesus living lives characterized by grace and mercy rather than the kind of divisive, angry, religion that turned off John Lennon in 1971 and continues to dominate the news today.
Being “converted” is an ongoing initiative of God’s grace. Rebekah concluded her sermon by sharing the answer she gives whenever someone asks if she “really knows” that she is “saved.”
“I asked Jesus to come into my heart, soul, mind, life this very morning,” she said, “when my husband brought me a loving cup of perfect coffee, and I rolled over and realized that I have another day before me, and I ask Jesus to come into my heart… again, because life can be very hard… and I will again tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after… until the day I die. I could not serve him, nor follow him, otherwise.”
INVITATION: The message of the gospel is one of invitation. It’s an invitation to change our orientation from from darkness toward light, from getting to giving, from law to grace, from hate to love, from self to others, from domination to surrender; and – ultimately – from death to life…
When the apostle Paul first set out down that Damascus Road he represented all that was wrong about religion – bigotry, manipulation, self-righteousness, judgmentalism, condemnation, fear. But then he met Jesus – “full of grace and truth… from his fullness we have received grace upon grace” (John 1:14-17). I believe that what the world needs today is less of religion and more of Jesus.
I believe that what the world needs today is less of religion and more of Jesus.
The balance of this good Sunday was about celebrating the blessings of family. I gave hummingbird feeders to Rebekah, and to my mum, and we enjoyed the beauty of springtime in North Carolina.
You can view the original John Lennon Imagine video at this link – DEREK