Sermon for September 18th, 2022
John 3:16 has often been called a summary of gospels, or sometimes the very heart of the gospel message. Today's sermon--the heart of our sermon series featuring the gospel music of Johnny cash--focuses on the story of Jesus, which is summarized so succinctly in this one verse. But I've also included the next verse, John 3:17 because that verse talks about condemnation--and how that was NOT what Jesus came to do. Johnny Cash (you know, the other JC), in his own life and his music, was always careful to focus on God's salvation, and never on judgement or condemnation.
John 3:16-17 (NT p.94)
16“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through him.
Music & Message: The Gospel According to Johnny Cash, Part II
For those of you who weren't with us last week, Patrick Kell is an El Paso native, a member of First Presbyterian Church and a lifelong Johnny Cash fan. He has released two albums which are available on Apple Music, Spotify, and pretty much anywhere else you can purchase or stream music. Please welcome Patrick Kell...
When I was in seminary, I had a professor who would always tell his students that the very best thing a preacher could do is to get out of the way and just let the scriptures speak for themselves. That's kind of my plan for today. I'm going to introduce the songs, maybe throw in a comment or two, but Johnny Cash knew his bible well, especially when it came to the life and ministry of Jesus. So I'm going to let his songs tell the story.
We begin that story NOT with the birth of Jesus or his childhood, but with his miracles. Because that's how the people in Jesus' own time would have first heard about him--through some of the amazing things he did, that spread by word of mouth throughout the land of Galilee. And the very first miracle of Jesus was turning water into wine...
Speaking of where things begin, I was thinking last week about where this idea for a sermon series based on the gospel music of Johnny Cash came from. Patrick and I have talked about this for a long time, but probably the real origins go right back to the very beginning of our friendship--and some long conversations about God. Patrick knew that I was a pastor, and would ask me questions about the Bible or about what Presbyterians believed. And every time I said the name "Jesus" he would start singing a Johnny Cash song: "Jesus was a carpenter and he worked with a saw and a hammer." I would usually say something like, "Well, actually Jesus was more of a stone mason than than a carpenter" and Patrick would happily change the words to the song. Whenever I mentioned the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, Patrick would also break out in to song: "Matthew, Mark and Luke and John told about Jesus on that gospel highway." I would then say, "Well, those probably weren't really the names of the actual gospel writers..." And then Patrick would make up his own names. As you can imagine, we had some pretty fun, pretty interesting, and pretty musical conversations. Even way back then, Johnny Cash was part of them. I'm going to let Patrick sing those songs for you now, staring with "Jesus was a Carpenter."
The first time I heard that last song, I always thought Johnny Cash was saying that Jesus "put aside his tools and walked the burning highways to build a house FOR folks like you and me. But if you listen closely, he actually says "to build a house FROM folks like you and me." That's an important distinction--the house of God is the church, and Jesus didn't build the church as some kind of gift for us. He built his church out of us (folks like you and me) as a gift for the world. The church is not for us. It's for them. It's our job not to "lock the doors against his kind" but rather to throw them open, and walk those burning highways that take us into the world as we share his message of love and redemption.
The next song is about that highway, that gospel road. It starts with episodes from the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. But then the road takes us past calvary, past the crucifixion and resurrection and on the road to Emmaus, to Paul and Silas, and the saints and martyrs of the early church. Pay attention to the way that the song ends, not in the Bible or the early church, but with an invitation for us to walk that gospel road today.
If you've paid attention to the words of today's songs, then you've heard the entire gospel message presented to you, and you've even received a personal invitation to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. Next week, our final week in the series, we're going to take a look at just how exactly we can do that--or at least how Johnny Cash thought we ought to live out our Christian faith, in good times as well as when we find ourselves in troublesome waters. So I hope you'll join us again next week for the conclusion to our series. In the meantime, let us pray...