Amy Piatt’s not very nice sermon

First Christian Church, Portland, Oregon

First Christian Church, Portland, Oregon

Nice sermon, pastor.” That’s what folks sometimes say at the door as they leave church. It’s an easy thing to say, positive in tone, neutral with respect to what the preacher said. The only response it calls for is “Thank you. It’s nice to see you today.”

But what do you say at the door when this is what the preacher said during the sermon a few minutes earlier?

“Anybody can be nice. But there is a difference between being Nice and being a Christ follower.

“Nice” never stirs the waters. It never makes people uncomfortable. And it certainly never asks people to do anything that would compromise their security.

“Jesus was not a nice man. He was a good, compassionate and loving man.  And for that, his security was certainly compromised.

“We’re not here just to be liked – we’re here because we need to be LOVED and we need to love others…and that is risky business.

“But, God is in the business of taking risks.”

After church, comments went in different directions. “Sermons like that will make us a different kind of church,” one person told me.

“How would people who’ve never been in church before respond” someone else asked. “What they need is a sermon that invites them into the church because it is a community that accepts them as they are.”

“That’s one sermon we sure talked about after we got home,” was a comment later in the week by someone else who has been going to church for a long, long time.

And since Sunday morning I’ve been thinking about it more than I usually do. Here’s what I liked about the sermon.

  • It was a logical development of the gospel reading for the day which was the stiff and challenging way that Jesus dealt with Peter on the beach: “If you love me, feed my sheep.”
  • It was phrased in the indicative mood rather than the imperative. The preacher was making factual statements about one aspect of the church that has marked its life from the beginning. She was not telling us how it ought to be and how we as church members ought to be doing things.
  • We were not being scolded. Instead, the preacher was calling attention to one aspect of life in the church that has always been there but is often not mentioned in conversations about what it means to be part of the life of a Christian community.

The preacher had this to say about Jesus:

“Jesus isn’t nice, and he couldn’t care less about his public image. Here, in the Gospel of John, Jesus has finished his life on earth…at least as the man who walked around teaching and healing and loving everybody – remember?

“That’s what got him killed.  He stirred things up and raised a few too many questions. The people in power couldn’t have him running around questioning their authority. That would be chaos. Where’s the order?  Where’s the line? We can’t have this! We’ve got to keep things under control here. And so, they crucified him.”

Then came the question: “Who are we without Jesus?”

And then the answer:

“We are a bunch of nice, orderly, folks.…And a people without hope. What is required of us? What’s our job? Why do we keep showing up here – week after week, year after year? For a common life of fellowship, prayers, meals, service and study. To put love into action.

“This is nourishment for the soul. And food for the body of Christ. That’s what the church is. Jesus has not left us.  His spirit is still with us. In order to keep Christ alive we are called to BE Christ to the world. Entering into the body of Christ is a process of discovering a new humanity. Ours is a story of a God who throughout history has brought change and upheaval to our neatly structured lives.

The sermon ends with an appeal. “Let’s be faithful enough to give all that we have so that the world may receive all that God has to give. No more mister nice guy, no more Miss Manners.

“Hear Christ’s call Brothers and Sisters:  He says it to us as he says it to Peter on the Beach: ‘Follow me.’ We don’t get to play Church, we’re going to be church.
We are going to embrace the spirit of Christ. By getting past the facades and pleasantries and by tending and feeding others in a way that makes love real.

“Nice just won’t get it done, but we by the grace of God WILL live into a new life – a resurrection life, A future of hope.”

To hear the sermon, preceded by the scripture reading and a musical interlude, click this link: A Nice Church.

 

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3 Responses to Amy Piatt’s not very nice sermon

  1. Gene Hill says:

    Thank you so much for this, Keith…and Amy. It took me many years just to learn to say “no,” always trying to be a “yes” man. But unfortunately I’ve often, and too often, confused “being nice” with my own acceptance and rejection. I’ve cared too much about what people think…and that is sad.

  2. Joe Culpepper says:

    Keith,
    I remember your telling Guy & me about this sermon when we saw you in Aug. on our bike trip, but I’ve forgotten what your told us that YOU said to Amy at the door! One of my colleagues recently said that if there is nothing in Jesus’ teachings that makes us uncomfortable, then we are probably not understanding what Jesus is saying. I can think of many things Jesus said that were caring, compassionate, challenging, even upsetting, but none that were just nice. Even when our temptation is to be or say nice, maybe we need to think about how we can deepen that to real kindness, real compassion, real love.This reminds me of the cartoon where the parishoner at the door says to the pastor, “You really made me think today. . . . Don’t ever do it again!”
    Joe

    • Joe, as your note indicates, Amy has made this point about niceness in earlier sermons. The one in this blog is a more extensive exposition of the idea than in earlier sermons.

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