[A column by Bill Lewellis, published in 1997]
Preachers over the years have moved from the classic “three-point” sermon to one memorable point. Television has, indeed, affected our attention span. Recently, however, I heard sermon-resource guru Leonard Sweet suggest that sermons be “pointless.” His “point” was that sermons ought to invite us into further contemplation. Open-ended images and stories do that better than points. My contribution to that discussion is a “pointless” column. My image: swirls.
Persons of faith, it has seemed to me, thrive within energizing swirls of apparent oxymorons — swirls of law and love, tradition and risk, sacrifice and celebration, already and not yet, death and resurrection. Persons of faith thrive where the world often sees only contradiction and foolishness.
“Be not anxious,” Jesus said. “Be not afraid,” he said again. Commands? No. These are promises. Invitations. When we move within the swirls of life’s storms — finding safe harbor in God’s eye — we need not be anxious about the force or flow of the current. On the other hand when we give ourselves over to current obsession — be the current one of despair, unfounded optimism, certainty, bible belting or anything less than God on which we bet our lives — we allow ourselves to be manipulated somewhere beyond God’s eye.
Rabbi Harold Kushner, author of "When Bad Things Happen to Good People," a swirl of its own, recently caught my ear again. “I believe the most precious thing in the sight of God is the good deed freely chosen,” he said on the public television series, Searching for God in America. “When I choose to be generous, to be truthful, to be forgiving — when I choose to do good, the Talmud tells me that God looks down and says, 'For that moment alone, it was worth creating the world.'" The good deed freely chosen … within the swirl of God’s will and human freedom.
The TV series also featured former White House hatchet man Charles Colson who found religion in prison. The interviewer asked him if he is surprised by people still doubting the authenticity of his conversion, even 23 years later.
“Of course,” he said, because if Jesus Christ will come and live in my life, if he will take the toughest of the Nixon tough guys and turn Chuck Colson’s life around, he could turn anyone’s life around. The problem is a lot of people are running away and don't want their lives turned around.”
Kushner and Colson. Jew and evangelical Christian. Another swirl?
Caught up in a current of arrogance, I used to doubt the authenticity of Colson’s conversion. No more. What right do I have to doubt the authenticity of anyone’s conversion to God?
Be not anxious. Be not afraid. Life within the swirl is not a default compromise but an intentionally staked out position. When you live in God’s eye of the storm, you can also dance on the edge to the music of the center. Is there a “point” in that image? Sorry about that.