Sunday, March 12, 2017

Rainbow Man

John 3: 13-17
Lent 2
March 12, 2017

“For God so loved the world
that he sent his only son
so that everyone who believes
in him may not perish but have eternal life.”

It’s a wonderful message to remember.
This is one of the few lines from the bible
that people might be able to cite
the chapter and verse of: John 3:16.
A lot of people know what you’re talking
about just by saying that.

I believe that for many of us, that credit is not due
to our Pastors or Sunday School teachers,
that credit is due to Rainbow Man.
You remember Rainbow Man?
Rainbow Man, Rollen Stewart

If you’re not old enough to remember,
Rainbow man was at almost every sporting
 event in the late 70’s and early 80’s.
He would wear a rainbow wig and
wear a shirt or hold up a sign that
Just said “John 3:16” on it.

He has found himself in the lexicon
of American pop culture parodied on the
Simpsons and Saturday Night Live and others.

Rainbow Man’s real name was Rollen Stewart
Even though he didn’t like sports,
he found that he could get on TV at sporting events
and thought that would be a good way to
get the message of Jesus out to the public.
His first major appearance was at the 1977 NBA Finals;
and by the time of the 1979 All-Star Game,
he had been at so many major games, that
broadcasters were actively trying to avoid showing him.
He appeared behind NFL goal posts, behind home plate,
near Olympic medal stands, and behind the final putt
at major golf tournaments,  
he would strategically position himself for key shots of plays or athletes,
by carrying a portable television with him to games.

Rainbow man made me look up John 3:16
when I was a teenager
in our dusty not well used family bible.
I had seen him on the news and I didn’t know
what John 3:16 said.
And I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by what I found.

It’s a beautiful message,
“God so loved the world.”
it is the Gospel in a nutshell as Luther called it.
The good news for everyone.

What a great message for Rainbow Man to
share over and over again on TV.
The story of God’s faithfulness,
God’s ever present love for this world.

And if the Rainbow Man story ended there,
it would be a great testimony, but it doesn’t end there.

After the  1986 at the World Series, Rainbow Man’s
wife left him, she said, because he tried to choke her
 because she held up one of the John 3:16 cards wrong
at a World Series Game.

Then in the later 80’s, Rainbow man was angry with what he thought
was the spreading of a false gospel message,
So, he began a string of stink bomb attacks.
His targets included Robert Schuller's Crystal Cathedral,
the Orange County Register and the Trinity Broadcasting Network.

Finally, in 1992, his popularity was waning and he was not seen on TV as much and
he was angry about the country’s
rejection of the message of Jesus that he brought,
so Rainbow Man tried to get his name back in the news .
Posing as a contractor, he brought two
day-laborers into a vacant hotel room
and attempted to hold them at gunpoint.
He surprised a cleaning lady and
he drew the gun on her and she locked herself in the bathroom.
Eventually a SWAT team was called in and there was a standoff.
During the standoff, he threatened to shoot at airplanes
taking off from the nearby Los Angeles Airport,
and he covered the hotel room windows with "John 3:16" placards.
Everyone eventually got out alive, but now
Rainbow Man is serving three consecutive
life sentences in prison on kidnapping charges.

Later, in 2008, still in prison, he said he doesn’t regret it.
It was a crime that he was called by God to do
to prevent greater harm:
The harm of America rejecting Jesus.

Why am I telling you this story?
It’s true and interesting, that’s for sure.But I also want to tell you this story because
it shows that a person can vehemently believe
in the doctrine and follow Jesus and still not understand.

You don’t need a pastor to tell you that something
is wrong with Rollen Stewart’s interpretation of the message of Jesus.
he got the words right, but the point was completely wrong.

And this has been the problem with the church’s interpretation of Christianity for almost the full 2000 years of its existence.
The church has believed that it’s most important job is conversion.
Believe in things and doctrine about Jesus and call yourself Christian.
The most important part about Christianity is having more Christians.

The more subtle question of Christianity has been,
“are you on our side or not?”
Are you now one of us, or are you still one of them?
Christianity has become a religion of “them and us”.
Which is the opposite of what Jesus intended.

Being “born again” has become only about
Confessing Jesus Christ as your lord and savior
and going to the right church, subscribing
to the right doctrine, and then going out
to convert other people.

“Love your neighbor, and love your enemy”
has turned into little cartoon pamphlets that tell you
how you’re going to burn with the devil,
and billboards with threats of Hell on them.

There’s not too far to go for Rainbow Man to go
to be convinced that he had to set off stink bombs
and kidnap a couple of people and shoot down planes
to achieve the goals of Christianity.
As he saw it, he was saving people’s souls.

I was watching a documentary about
a family tracing it’s heritage as slave traders in
Rhode Island. They went to Ghana to see
where the trade originated.
The trade was begun and run by Christian Missionaries.
There was a five room dungeon where they kept
thousands of captured people that they were
preparing to ship to the West.

And on top of the dungeon was a church,
and the first thing they did to these soon to be slaves,
before they put them in the dungeon
was to baptize them and give them Christian names.
They convinced themselves that they were doing these
African people a favor by making them Christian,
slavery was just a by-product of the gift of saving their souls by force
You don’t need a pastor to tell you what’s wrong with that either.

Jesus tells Nicodemus that to really understand,
that he must be born again, of the water and the Spirit.
Nicodemus doesn’t comprehend.
He was trying to understand Jesus
in a systematic way, a logical way.

But to be born again is not just a confession,
not just a thing you say or do, it’s not just a set of facts.
To be born again is to truly understand God’s love
and have it work through you and in your life.
To be changed by it. To be born again is to
let God’s love transform us.
And that doesn’t leave room for threats or coercion, or even exclusion.
God’s love doesn’t leave room for “Them and Us”.

Jesus objective was not to make more
converts to his religion.
Jesus objective was not to make
more of us so that we can overpower them.
 If that was the objective, then kidnapping people
would be a perfectly fine method.

Jesus objective was to reconcile the world,
to bring “them and us” together
so that we can all be us.
God so loved the world.
The whole world.

The Spirit goes where the Spirit wants to go
The wind goes where it will.
and works through whoever the spirit wants to work through.
Christians and non Christians,
believers and non believers.
It’s not contained by our religion, or our doctrine, or rules
or our specifications.

And to be “born again” is to know just that,
and to be united with God’s unfailing love for this world

To be “born again” is to have every
part of our lives changed by God’s love.
I believe we are all still on that journey
with Nicodemus, waiting to be born again,
and to fully live into that love that Jesus revealed.

“God so loved the world that he gave his only son,
so that we would not perish, but have eternal life.”
God loves all, and there is room in that love for everyone,
no matter where we’ve been or we’ve done.

There’s even room in that love for Rainbow Man
and for every other soul who has lost their way,
and broken the law, and sinned and hurt other people.
There is room in that love
 for every single one of us together.

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