FEBRUARY 14, 2010


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            As you have no doubt noticed, some children become extremely obnoxious and defiant, in public places.  Such was the case with a ten-year-old boy, named Robert who was taken to a pediatrician.  Dr. Slonecker and his pediatric staff dreaded the days Robert was scheduled for an office visit.  He literally attacked the clinic, grabbing instruments and files and telephones.  His passive mother would do little more than shake her head in bewilderment.

            During one physical examination, Dr. Slonecker observed severe cavities in Robert’s teeth and knew the boy must be referred to a local dentist, but who would be given the honor?  A referral like Robert could mean the end of a professional friendship.  Dr. Slonecker decided to send him to an older dentist who reportedly understood children.  The confrontation that followed stands as one of the classic moments in the history of human conflict.

            Robert arrived at the dentist’s office prepared for battle. 

            “Get in the chair, young man,” said the dentist.

            “No way!” replied the boy.

            “Son, I told you to climb into the chair, and that’s what I intend for you to do.”

            Robert stared at his opponent for a moment and then replied, “If you make me get in that chair, I will take off all my clothes.”

            The dentist calmly replied, “Son, go ahead.  Take them off.”

            The boy forthwith removed his shirt, shoes and socks, and then looked up in defiance.

            “All right, son,” said the dentist.  “Now get in the chair.”

            “You didn’t hear me,” sputtered Robert.  “I said if you make me get on that chair, I will take off all my clothes.”

            “I already told you, son.  Go ahead.  Take them off.”

            Robert proceeded to remove his pants and his underwear, finally standing totally naked before the dentist and his assistant.

            “Now, son, get in the chair,” said the dentist.

            Robert did as he was told, and sat cooperatively through the entire procedure.  When the cavities had been drilled and filled, he was instructed to get down from the chair.

            “Give me my clothes now,” said the boy.

            “I’m sorry,” replied the dentist.  “Tell your mother that we’re going to keep them tonight.  She can pick them up tomorrow.”

            Can you comprehend what happened next, the shock on Robert’s mother’s face when the door swung open, and there stood her pink son, as naked as the day he was born?  The room was filled with patients, and Robert and his mom walked past them and into the hall.  They went down the public elevator and into the parking lot, ignoring the snickers of onlookers.

            The next day, Robert’s mother returned to retrieve Robert’s clothes, and asked to have a word with the dentist, however, she did not come to protest.  Instead she said, “You don’t know how much I appreciate what happened here yesterday.  You see, Robert has been blackmailing me about his clothes for years.  Whenever we are in a public place, such as a grocery store, he makes unreasonable demands of me.  If I don’t immediately buy him what he wants, he threatens to take off all his clothes.  You are the first person who called his bluff, and the impact on him has been incredible.”[1]

            Unfortunately, like Robert, some of us will do whatever is necessary to get our way.  As Philip Crosby said, “People are not complex.  They really just want to achieve their personal definition of peace and quiet and to have their own sweet way.”[2]

            This morning we resume our One Anothering sermon series where we are considering the building blocks of Christian community.  Thus far we have looked at loving one another, and praying for one another, and caring for one another, and bearing one another’s burdens, and encouraging one another.  Today we look at the importance of submitting to one another.  In his letter to the Ephesians Paul instructs us to “Submit to one another out of reverence to Jesus Christ,”  and Paul not only commands mutual submission, but Paul also models it.  Take out your pew Bible and turn with me to the Book of Acts, chapter 21:17.  Luke writes,


            When we had come to Jerusalem, the brothers received us warmly.  The next day Paul went with us to visit James; and all the elders were present.  After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.  When the heard it, they praised God.  Then they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands of believers there are among the Jews, and they are all zealous for the law.  They have been told about you that you teach all the Jews living among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, and that you tell them not to circumcise their children or observe the customs.What then is to be done?  They will certainly hear that you have come.


            Note the false rumor.  Rumors had spread to Jerusalem that Paul was encouraging Jewish Christians to forsake their ancestral customs.  Of course, Paul never tried to draw Jewish Christians away from those customs they loved - things like circumcision and Passover - he only insisted that Gentiles who became Christians did not have to observe these Jewish religious customs. 

            Well, faced with this unfounded rumor, the elders suggested a solution:


            So do what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow.  Join these men, go through the rite of purification with them, and pay for the shaving of their heads.  Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself observe and guard the law.


            This shaving of the heads was part of something called “The Nazarite Vow.”  The vow was quite involved.  It involved abstention from meat and wine for 30 days.  Then at the end of the 30 days certain offerings had to be brought – a year-old lamb for a sin offering and a ram for a peace offering.  Also, one’s hair needed to be shorn and burned on the altar with the sacrifice.   Got the picture?  Lamb.  Ram.  Hair.  On the altar.  This was done to thank God for some blessing in your life.  A healthy child.  Bountiful crops.  A Husker victory.  Anyway, all this was quite costly, and beyond the resources of some who wanted to undertake it.  So, it was considered an act of piety for some wealthier person to defray the expenses of someone who was taking the vow – and that’s what Paul was asked to do.  They asked him to pick up the tab for these four men so that he could demonstrate to all that he was not opposed to Jewish Christians observing Jewish customs.

            Now the question is, would he do it?  After all, there was no truth to the rumor.  Why should he submit to this expense when he had done nothing wrong?  Why not play “The Apostle Card?”  Why not say, “Forget it.  These rumors are unfounded.  I’m an apostle of Jesus Christ.  I am not going to submit to this!”  This whole idea was surely distasteful to Paul. 

            Have you ever been asked to do something distasteful?  Have you ever done something to keep the peace rather than insisting on your rights or your innocence?That’s tough to do in our culture.  Submission is not our long suit.  Demanding our rights, assertiveness training is our coinage.  “I demand my rights!”  “Give an inch, they’ll take a mile!” “My way or the highway” is our culture’s mantra.   And of course, it’s never us who is stubborn, intractable, mule-headed.  It’s always the other person.  For example, take Lucy and Linus from the “Peanuts” comic strip.  Lucy says to him, “You’re stubborn, do you know that?”

            Linus replies, “On the contrary ... I’m not stubborn, I’m merely tenacious.”

            “Linus, you’re the most stubborn person I’ve ever known.”

            Linus again replies, “I have tenacity.  I have the same tenacity that got George Washington through Valley Forge.”

            “Ha, that’s a laugh!”

            Linus replies, “Stubbornness is a fault ... tenacity is a virtue!”

            “Linus, you are so stubborn you won’t even admit you’re stubborn!”

            “Lucy, I cling tenaciously to my very valid view that I am tenacious.”

            In the next frame, Lucy punches Linus and knocks him on his keester.  The strip ends with Linus on his back, seeing stars and saying, “On the other hand, perhaps I’ll admit to a little mule-headedness.”

            And the question is: “Will Paul be mule-headed?”  Will he cling to his innocence?  Will he say, “That’s their problem, not mine.  Let them deal with it?  I’m not going to empower those who spread lies.”  Listen to what comes next.  Verse 26.


            Then Paul took the men, and the next day, having purified himself, he entered the temple with them, making public the completion the days of purification when the sacrifice would be made for each of them. 


            Why did Paul do it?  Why did he submit to this request?  Luke doesn’t tell us, but  I’m convinced he did it for the good of the church.  Greater than his own pride or ego was the unity of the church.  He was willing to lay aside being wronged for solidarity in Christ.

            In closing I want to make three remarks.  First, I want us to know that submission is a clear call to all Christians.  Listen to some statements from the Bible.  Here are three from Jesus: “If anyone would come after me, let them deny themselves.” Did you catch that?  If we are going to follow Christ, we have to give up insisting on our own way.  Here’s another statement from Jesus.  “I have not come to be served, but to serve.”  And here’s a third statement from Jesus.  It comes from  his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Not my will, but your will be done.”  And listen to this counsel from the Apostle Paul, “Submit yourselves to one another out of reverence for Christ.”  One cannot read the New Testament without coming across the call to lay aside our desires, at times, for the good of others.

            The second remark is this, we need to guard against extremes when it comes to submission.

            Remember that old line from a Kenny Rogers’ song: “You need to know when to hold them and when to fold them?”  So it is with this call to submit.  We have to know when to do it and when not to do it.  You see, while some hardly ever submit others submit much too easily and often.  Some of us allow people to walk all over us.   Some of us are doormats.  Jesus wasn’t.  He stood up when he needed to stand up.  He went nose to nose with the Pharisees.  He was a stand-up kind of guy, but he also gave in.  He submitted to the cross.  He prayed, “Not my will but your will be done.”  He said, “I have not come to be served but to serve.”  He struck this balance in his life.  We need to strike a balance as well.

            Did you hear the story of the husband and wife who pulled into a full service gas station.  They are hard to find – full service gas stations –  but they pulled into a full service gas station, and as the attendant pumped the gas, he walked to the front of the car to wipe the windshield.  The attendant noticed that the couple in the car looked a little angry at one another.  He began to wipe the windshield.

            The driver called out to the attendant, “You don’t have to wipe my side of the windshield.  Just clean her side.  All the driving is done over there.”

            Who is doing the driving in our lives?

            Not until we submit to the one who has lived the cross life can we live the cross life.

            And one final statement this morning: make sure we practice submission at least once a day.  It can be as simple as saying to someone, “You decide where we go to lunch, I don’t care.”  It may be as complicated as going with the majority when you were in the minority.  Wouldn’t our families, our churches, our communities be better if each of us, at the end of the day, could look back and identify a moment from the day when we did not insist on our own way?  Wouldn’t it be grand if people made it a daily practice to submitting to one another, just once a day?  I know it would.  I just know it would.  Before you go to sleep tonight ask yourself this question – “When today did I not insist on my own way?”  In fact, let’s get in the habit of asking ourselves that question every night.  Amen.




[1] James Dobson, Straight Talk to Men and Their Wives (Word: Irving, TX, 1980), 58-60.

[2] Philip Crosby, The Art of Getting Your Own Sweet Way (Multnomah Press: Portland, OR, 1983)