“The Cutting Room Floor”
The Sanctuary Sermon for 3/14/21
The Sermon at The Sanctuary for 3/14/21
“The Cutting Room Floor” John 6:35-40
A few days ago, someone who up until then I thought was my friend, tagged an unflattering photo of me on Facebook. In which, for some reason, I looked both dim-witted—not a stretch, and morbidly aged—ditto. And it bothered me because everyone knows Facebook is the place where we can all be pathologically attractive and happy and funny and have lives that are portrayed as nothing but the highlight reel. Wheee!
I smiled to myself and wondered what it would be like if somewhere in a parallel dimension we all had alternate social media profiles, ones that were comprised solely of the bad pictures we’ve deleted off our phones. You know, the ones where we’re smiling while our eyes are closed and our butts look big. All the status updates in this alternate Facebook were things like, “I spent last night alone while sobbing into my Star Wars pillow.” Or, “I just manipulated a friend to get my own way.” I know one thing—I’d be a whole lot more motivated to spend time reading other people’s status updates. Truth be known, I’m not prone to post on social media. I visit Facebook to see what people are up to, but I haven’t updated my status page in years.
Photos can portray us in an unflattering light or in extraordinary ways. Last week I transferred a bunch of photos from my phone to the desktop for posterity’s sake. While there, I browsed through pics of Christmases past, the grandsons who are growing up before my very eyes, of trips that Heather and I made to the Horseshoe in Columbus and pics of Andrew and Kim’s wedding. Their ceremony and reception were a lavish and elegant event, all certainly worthy of a highlight reel with everyone looking their absolute best. Well, except for the pic of me dancing with Rory to “Sweet Caroline.” But hey, it was a night to remember. Though given the fact that we live in a fallen world, I wonder if dressing up for weddings is the best idea.
I mean, maybe instead of dressing up and looking our very best, it might make more theological sense if we just rolled out of bed and showed up totally as is. Crusty sleep in our eyes with bed head, sporting morning halitosis and that Paul McCartney tour t-shirt. Hmmmph. That would be more realistic. Because in the end, as much as I’d love it if a highlight reel of our shiniest, most spiffy moments were only what defined us—they’re just not.
Moments like weddings, baptisms, graduations and reunions – moments of beauty and celebration are important, but again, if we choose to think theologically—those moments are no less important in defining us than are our times of failure and need.
Let’s look at our text:
35 Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But you haven’t believed in me even though you have seen me. 37 However, those the Father has given me will come to me, and I will never reject them. 38 For I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me, not to do my own will. 39 And this is the will of God, that I should not lose even one of all those he has given me, but that I should raise them up at the last day. 40 For it is my Father’s will that all who see his Son and believe in him should have eternal life. I will raise them up at the last day.”
Jesus says that the will of the Father is that nothing be lost that has been given into his hands, but that all will be raised up on the last day. In which begs the question, what exactly then has been given to the Son?
I’m pretty sure God didn’t cherry-pick the Facebook worthy things of this world to hand to the Son. No, it was the whole camera roll. I don’t think the Father handed him just a highlight reel of our brightest, shiniest most spiffed up moments in life. Nope. I’m pretty sure it’s uncut footage.
Yet so many of us who were raised in the church were given the message that God is only interested in loving and saving an already cleaned up version of ourselves, so that we can only come to God with our conscience as clean as our white Sunday School shoes. As though God can only love or make use of us when we are our very best selves. And so, the times when we are small, self-centered and angry—that’s just the proverbial stuff we sweep under the rug before company arrives.
And I think all of this might be related to how we view the good and the bad in our lives. It’s like this weird deal we make with God, that if we agree to be good then God will agree to “not give us more than we can handle” which is nonsense by the way. I wonder if maybe God doesn’t work in quite the same either/or way that we do. Because I don’t think it was God who set up this weird quid pro quo, where in exchange for us being good God agrees to make sure our lives are never hard and we never suffer. I wonder if the basic premise we so often operate under is that if we are our best self, then God can use us and if we are our worst self then we are on our own. Likewise, if our life is “good” it means God is pleased with us and if our life is hard then it means God doesn’t care. In other words, the only thing of value is what show up in our highlight reel.
And yet, the God revealed in Jesus doesn’t seem to share that economy. He is the oddest combination of wastefully generous and creatively frugal. First of all, Jesus will accept all who come to him. I mean, that guy loves a sinner and will offer forgiveness and mercy to basically anyone. Just look around. He’s got no taste. So rather than Jesus being stingy like we are stingy, Jesus is just throwing around blessings and forgiveness like they grow on trees and at the same time won’t let anything go to waste. I’d love nothing more than to cut the raw footage of my life down to that highlight reel of just the wonderful moments when I managed to be my best, most redemptive self. But in the editing room of our lives, as we try and cut out the footage of when we thought only of ourselves, or we yelled at our kids, or when we cut someone down behind their back, or—just fill in the blank. Yet, as those bits of film fall to the cutting room floor so we can whitewash the broken reality we live in, we hear our Savior say, “Wait! I can use that stuff.” It’s like we have a soul food God who makes spiritual ox tail soup with black-eyed peas out of the stuff we’d rather throw out. So, if life is hard and we can’t manage to always be our biggest and brightest selves, it doesn’t mean something is “wrong.” Nothing’s wrong because Jesus didn’t come to redeem our Facebook status updates, Jesus came to save sinners and nothing will be lost that has been given him by the Father. None of it.
Jesus said …this is the will of God, that I should not lose even one of all those he has given me, but that I should raise them up at the last day. To me that means that the good, the bad, and the ugly is all used for the purpose of redemption in a way only our God can do. I can personally testify to this. My personal problems and struggles and my history of melancholy episodes and my struggle with trying in vain to balance my faith and my cynicism—that stuff has come in much more handily in ministry than the fact that I passed a Greek class.
I don’t know why we have a God who has such bad taste as to use even the worst parts of us for the glory of God’s name. Or why this same God also grants us such love and joy in this life. But this is what we have. We may wish to curate a version of ourselves that we feel is worthy to be shared but God says, “Yes, I’ll take those happy shiny things, but I’d also like to use whatever it is you’re hiding behind your back right now.” See, we are an either/or people with both, and are loved by a God for whom nothing will be lost, and all will be redeemed.
This means that the same God who was present when you took your first breath, the same God who watched over your skinned knees and scuffed shoes, the same God when you were in the belly of the whale floating in the quiet deep water; the God who felt absent in your young adult angst and on whose name you have called in prayer countless times, the God who has named and claimed you as God’s own, and who will also be present when you take your final breath and redeems your life from the grave—this God will use the entire uncut footage of your life for God’s purpose. Which is to say; nothing is lost. Nothing is wasted. The good is so good and the bad is so useful. And to the glory of God’s name, it shall all be raised on the last day.
So then, wear all those photos on your life’s wall. Let’s allow God to use those unsightly snapshots of our life experience, the ones where our eyes are closed and our butts look too big—the good, the bad and the ugly. In Christ we are a handsome display, a collage and compilation of how he has met us in unattractive moments and is making all things beautiful in his time. You really might want to rethink that passport picture thing though.
This is the Word of the Lord for the day.