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Synopsis of Sawdust & Circus
Good and joyful morning to all Christian brothers and sisters on this the day the Lord has made. Pull up a chair, pour yourself a cup of coffee, or tea, or whatever is your favorite….. We’re about to slice a piece of the bread of life… the word of God.And today’s slice comes from….. Romans 11:33-34 Oh, what a wonderful god we have! How great are his wisdom and knowledge and riches! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his methods! For who among us can know the mind of the Lord? Who knows enough to be his counselor and guide?
I love the way the new version of the bible states this passage…. Have you ever come on anything quite like this extravagant generosity of god, this deep, deep wisdom? It’s way over our heads, we’ll never figure it out. Is there anyone around who can explain god? Anyone smart enough to tell him what to do? Anyone who has done him such a huge favor that god has to ask his advice?
But before I begin the message ….. And since it’s theme involves a circus….. Let me tell a story…. about a country boy who learned that a circus was coming to town. He saved what coins he could, until he had fifty cents to pay for admission. On the appointed day he mounted the family mule and rode into town. As he arrived, the parade was just getting under way from the railway station to the circus grounds.The boy stood at the curbside and watched it all go by – the clowns, the animals, and all the rest. As the last of it passed, he suddenly realized that he still had his half-dollar clutched in his hand. He dashed out to a dancing clown and said, “who do I pay?” the clown said, “I’ll take your money.” So the boy gave his money to the clown, remounted the mule and rode back home, believing he had seen the circus ……when all he had seen was just the parade.
Why do I tell this story? Because some folks, sadly, suppose they have gotten all there is from church simply because they have been there.There is more to worship than physical presence. As things are happening during the worship hour, one after another in scheduled order, there is another stream of happening which moves beneath it all. There is a deeper level to this Sunday morning event, a deeper current moving. At the same time that hymns are being sung, and prayers are being prayed, and sermons being preached, … hearts are reaching out to god and god is moving into lives.It is on this personal and deeper level that the experience of worship really take.
To some the expression, “walking down the sawdust trail” might conjure up visions of a tent revival where sinners were asked to come forward to make a decision for Christ. Since the floors of the temporary facility was just dirt covered with sawdust…. That trip up to the altar was so called. To others the term “sawdust trail” may bring back memories of the circus coming to town.The spectacular extravaganzas that play at Madison square gardens and the civic arena with the elephants, trapeze artists, and clowns of the big event, needless to say, is nostalgic. Needless to say, most of our thoughts about evangelism are nostalgic ones. For better or for worse, the very word “evangelism” suggests to us the revivalism of a by-gone era – ……..Billy Graham notwithstanding. The circus had, and still has, a real contribution to make to American entertainment. Likewise, evangelism may be the most vital force in our age. Evangelism is NOT a circus. Nevertheless, let’s look at circuses this morning. Because as we discover what they are like …we’ll learn that evangelism is surprisingly similar.
First.. Something one notices about a circus is that it is basically built upon illusion. To me the illusion is summed up in the cotton candy. Large fluffy masses of goo on a paper cone. But there is no substance. When you take a bite, it’s almost as if you’re biting on air. It gives the illusion of substance but there’s nothing there.
Or the circus acts themselves – the bareback rider looks like the most glamorous girl in the world – the top-hatted ringmaster sounds like the wisest – and surely the lion tamer is the bravest. But of course, if ever you really get to meet any of these performers, you discover that…….. It was all illusion – the bareback rider is just like anyone else – not at all glamorous after the performance – when she might be washing out diapers in a galvanized pail, and hanging them out on a clothesline strung from a trailer to a pole behind the tent – the ringmaster has his speech down pat about the greatest show on earth, but may well be unable to add 2 and 2. …..and the lion tamer ends up as a henpecked shadow of a man…….. afraid of his own wife!
This may be cynicism, but it’s close to the truth. Because the circus stock in trade is that it is based upon an illusion. There is no real substance to its acts. It takes you into a dream world for an hour or two – a world of elephants and trapeeze and things foreign to our everyday living – and creates the illusion for us that these things are a way of life – and then the act is over. Isn’t it true that much of our evangelism, In fact of our religion is based on this same kind of illusion. We come to church on a Sunday morning – repeat a creed whose very words seem archaic – repeat and listen to prayers to a god whom we cannot see – sing hymns from another era – and listen to a minister who may sound as wise as the ringmaster at the time. And then we go home having the opinion that it was all an illusion – a little island of unreality in the middle of a very real world. Because there seems to be no carry-over.
Now, the reason that the circus succeeds so well, is that we like to be fooled. We like to be amazed at the little car out of which come a hundred clowns and a giant. By the same token, we like to come to church, or talk religion, because it’s different from the hostile world around us – the world of dog-eat-dog – the world of the fight for success or the fight for survival. For an hour or so we have peace of mind, or an illusion of it, and then we go back to business as usual. The fact of the matter is – evangelism (which is by definition, the proclaiming of the good news of Jesus Christ) is NOT an illusion. Jesus Christ is NOT a pretense. He is vitally and uniquely real! The creeds may be archaic, the hymns may be flat, the sermon may be dull, but Christ is real! ….god exists – and he exists in such a way that we might come to know him. Not simply as the subject of a sermon or the object of a prayer – but as a being!
Now there’s a second thing that is immediately apparent about circuses that I’m sure all of you have noticed. This is the confusion that seems to surround our activities. In the old Barnum and Bailey outfits, it was understood that the circus would be a three-ring affair. Things were happening in all three rings at the same time. If you looked here, you missed what was going on over there. And so, its audiences was one of extreme confusion. This, of course, is not only a picture of our world today, but of our religion as well. For we live in a confusing world – a world where so many things happen at the same time that it’s impossible to keep up with them all. And beneath it all, there seems to be too little purpose and too many activities.For you see, evangelism – or the proclamation of the good news – becomes a confusing thing like our world. We develop a multiplicity of programs within a church until the cry seems to well up within us – “not another night at the church tonight!”
The 21st century church has developed programs to the point of exhaustion, but has not developed purpose to the same degree. At this point I am reminded that as a young salesman…. That was a few years ago….. I was trained to “don’t sell the features of the product without selling the benefits of those features. Otherwise you will leave the customer totally confused with a lot of information that allows him no reason to purchase. We, as church members, must have an understanding of why we are participating in programs. The programs are for training….. not entertainment, not gratification, not to give us a good and warm and fuzzy feelings.Through the programs of the church we should learn to continue church after we leave the building. And I’m not just speaking of witnessing. I’m talking about bringing Jesus home with you. I believe we’ve been oversold on the church building being the “house of God.” We’ve come to think that he can only reside in that box we’ve built for him. Take him home with you. Get him involved with breakfast, lunch and dinner. Allow him in your conversations…. with each other… with the children. Take him to work, to school, to the bowling alley, the a party. Ask his financial advice. When someone makes you angry… share that feeling with him. Let him in on why you’re laughing… or even more so… why you are crying. Let him laugh and cry with you. How in the world can we expect to share Jesus with others…. That’s witnessing….. If we don’t share Jesus with each other in our homes, how can we share Him with others. Church is everywhere!
Third In the midst of a crisis the circus has only one purpose. I don’t know if you know this . The disaster march for the circus orchestra is John Philip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever.” by that I mean, a circus band plays many marches and a wide variety of music, but it never strikes up the sounds of “stars and stripes forever” unless there is a disaster. And when they do play it, it is a signal to every member of the circus family to move in a certain prescribed way to perform a certain task that each of them have already been assigned. In case of fire, like that big one in Hartford, Connecticut, twenty years ago, the band struck up the disaster march, and immediately the performers began leading the elephants and other animals to safety and attempted to get the crowd safely outside. The circus employees did not panic because they had a purpose, and their purpose was to preserve life. Now we Christian s have no disaster march. But we do have….
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