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Legions of the Unjazzed

The Christian life is meant to be vibrant and exciting.

I'm deeply and personally convinced that the Christian life is to be an exciting and a joyous experience. That is what the Christian life is supposed to be. Not only in our dreams. We're all consecrated Walter Mittys in our dreams. I'm talking about in reality. We are to be living dynamic and exciting lives.

Jesus, on the same night on which he is going to be betrayed, knows what is ahead of him. What does he say to his disciples? Fearful meanings? Not at all. He says, "These things have I said to you, that my joy might be in you and that your joy might be full."

Look at Stephen, the first martyr. At the very moment when the stones are striking him and crushing the life out of him, he lifts up his eyes, he sees his risen and his regal Lord, and he cries out, "Hallelujah!" He dies praising Christ and praying for forgiveness of those who are taking his life away.

Or look at Paul and Silas. They're in prison. If you think prison conditions are bad today, believe me, there was no society for the improvement of penal conditions in Palestine 2,000 years ago. There they are in jail at midnight, and what do they do? It is recorded that they gave themselves to a hymn sing.

Look at John, the author of Revelation. He has a faith that's so incendiary that, to cut him off, they put him on a scrubby little island 60 miles off the coast of Asia Minor. A no place. Zip code 00000. But there on that island he sings a song of faith that is so full of hallelujahs and Lords that the very book vibrates when you read it, and it reaches down in your heart and shakes you to the center of your soul. That's New Testament living.

Or look at our text. The disciples are arrested for proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. They are brought before the supreme court of the Jews. There they are rebuked and told not to speak of him again, and what does it say? "They left the presence of the council rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for his name, and every day in the temple and at home they did not cease teaching and preaching that Jesus was the Christ."

Now that kind of living isn't cool. It's red hot. I can understand how Christians might not live that way, but I can't understand why that kind of life is not flowing through us. We are not supposed to be part of the legions of the unjazzed. I like that phrase. It's not original with me. It's from the writing of a man named Phil Edwards. "There is a need in all of us," he says, "for controlled danger. That is, there is a need for activity that puts us on the edge of life. There are uncounted millions of people right now who are going through life without any sort of real, vibrant kick. I call them 'the legions of the unjazzed.'"

Now Phil Edwards is not a theologian; he's not a philosopher; he is not given to writing; he's not a poet; he's not a lecturer or teacher. He happens to be one of the world's champion surfers. And he's writing here about surfboard riding. But as I read his article and as I thought about him, I became more and more convinced that that's what the Christian life is supposed to be like. I say this with all reverence: we are to be riding through life on a surfboard with God. I think if you'll give me a minute or two, I can convince you of that.

If you want to surf with God, get out to where the big waves are.

Look at the two basic principles of surfing. The first one is this: If you want to surf, you have to get out to where the big waves are. You can't spend your time paddling around the little pools up on the shore. You've got to get out to where the white water is.

Now that's what we see in the scene that's before us. The disciples had been out heralding the good news about Jesus. That's the word: "to herald." It's like blowing a trumpet. They're making a big noise for the sake of Jesus Christ, and they are arrested from out there in the white water of witness. They are arrested, and they are brought before the supreme court of the Jews.

Now that supreme court I would liken to the legions of the unjazzed. You have the people and the legions of the unjazzeda vivid contrast. These disciples have been witnessing. I would remind you that in the New Testament, the word for "witness" we translate "martyr." They were not only laying down their lips, they were laying down their very lives for the sake of Jesus Christ. And over here we have the company of the careful. So they begin to discuss the case. The man who stands to address them is a man named Gamaliel, who is distinguished for building the fanciest sand castles on the whole beach. He asks that the disciples be removed, and then he proceeds to give this counsel. He says, "If what these men are doing is not of God, then it will fail, and we need not oppose it. On the other hand, if what these men are doing is of God, then our opposing it is not going to stop it anyway. Therefore, the best thing we can do is," and this is invariably the counsel of the legions of the unjazzed, "the best thing we can do is ... nothing." That's their frequent answer. So they beat up the disciples a little bit on his recommendation and let them go.

Now I think it's important to notice that they beat up the disciples a little bit. When you're going to get out into the white water, where the big waves are, you can expect to be beaten up a little bit. If one of those waves grabs you, it lifts you up and then it throws you down, and you find yourself against the floor of the sea, and you cannot lift your arms, and you cannot lift your legs. At first you cannot even open your eyes. When you do open your eyes, you see long, bubbly fingers of turbulence reaching down for you and you roll into a ball and the water picks you up and turns you over and over until you do not know where the sky is or where the land is. It's a rough and a tough experience. But it locks you into life, and that's what happens to these disciples. They're people, locked into life.

I had a man come to me once and say, "I will give you a thousand dollars if you will help me solve my problems. If you will help me get over my anxieties and my fears, my doubts and my challenges that I would like to avoid, I'll give you a thousand dollars."

I'm enough of a Presbyterian to have been immediately interested. I said, "Would you like to be rid of all the difficulties you face? All of the problems that are yours? All of the traumas that confront you? Would you like to be beyond all of those things?"


"Here's what you do. Get into your car; drive five blocks straight ahead to Glendale Avenue. Turn right, and go eleven blocks south. When you get about eleven blocks down, you'll notice on the side of the road some very high fences. Drive through the gate in those fences. You will now be in Forest Lawn Cemetery. There are 52,000 people there, and none of them have any problems. None of them have any fears. To be alive is to have problems. To be breathing is to confront difficulties."

The question becomes then, "On what are we going to spend our lives? What kind of problems are we going to spend our months upon? What kind of issues are we going to involve ourselves in? Are we going to play around on the shore, or are we going to get out where the white water is?" That's the question that confronts us. The disciples count themselves blessed because they are out where the big issues are being dealt with.

There was a French existentialist philosopher, Jean Paul Sartre, and he was one of my most unfavorite people, not only because he is a member of the legions of the unjazzed, but because he tried to convert other people to that same point of view. Here's a man who writes his life story and titles it Nausea. In the midst of this document, he writes this sentence: "I have discovered that I am alive, and it sickens me."

Now I can understand how he would be sick. If I could see no more point and purpose in life than he saw, then I would be sick, too. He tried to defend the thesis that there are no issues in life that are significant enough to risk ourselves on. I can't understand that. We live in an age when outer space is calling to us, and when, because of developments in parapsychology, inner space is calling to us. Look at what calls to us: generations to be brought together, the poor to be brought to a standard of living that is really living, races to be brought together in peace and harmony, nations to be brought together in brotherhood for the good of the whole world, people to be brought to Jesus Christ, old and young and . There are so many things into which we can throw ourselves.

A few months ago they interviewed a fellow by the name of Southworth Swede, who's a kind of unreformed hippie up in San Francisco. He has a black, scraggly beard. He wears the boots, the leather, and the flower behind his ear. He has a little store he calls a "." And he lives over the store. He has a one room apartment; it's decorated with 14 candles and some cushions. And there's a table in the middle that is two inches high. You sit on the cushions around the table. Time magazine asked him what he thought about his style of life. He said, "Oh, man, I'm happy. Why, I'm as happy as a little puppy. I just feel like I'm playing hooky from life."

Well, I suppose if you can get turned on by 12 candles, or if it really excites you to sit on a cushion and eat from a table two inches high, that's all right. I think there are more exciting ways to live than that. I don't think we ought to go through life like puppies. I think we're supposed to go through life like Great Danes with a bark and a bite that are significant, wrestling with the issues of this day to the glory and honor of Jesus Christ. We are not supposed to be like filled ashtrays or bowls of soggy Rice Krispies, or chairs, one leg of which is shorter than the other three. We are supposed to get excited about more important issues than how our steak happens to come from the restaurant kitchen and should it be sent back again. I don't understand people that get excited about those things when there are issues in our time.

A lady was going through the Philadelphia Zoo, and she saw the monkeys playing with dice. She went and told the keepers that somebody had thrown some dice into the monkey cage. The keepers didn't believe her. She said, "It's true; come and see." They went and saw, and it was so.

They said, "Yes, Ma'am, you're right," and turned around and started to walk away.

She said, "Aren't you going to do anything about it?"

They said, "No, they're just playing for peanuts." That's the trouble with most people's living: they're playing for peanuts. And the only place you discover the thrill and the power of faith is when you get out into the white water where the deep issues are. That's the first thing you have to do to surf.

To ride the wave with God, you must lean into it.

Now the second thing you have to do to surf is this: when you get out into the white water where the big issues are, you have to lean into the wave. That is what the disciples did. It wasn't just getting out there; it was doing the job when they were there. It was becoming involved. It was leaning into the thing. You see the water that flows around the base of the cross never needs chlorine. It moves so fast that it is . And what you have to do is be willing to lean into that current, to lean into what the surfer would call the curl. The wave builds up, you ride behind it, and then just as it begins to crest, you climb to the top of that crest and you ride the current. And you hear the whole Pacific Ocean roaring behind you, because it understands itself to be in a race with you and you are winning. And your surfboard trembles at your feet. And it sounds like 10,000 yards of tearing silkthat tremendous hiss that surges up under you. It's a magnificent experience to be riding the curl of the wave. But to do it you've got to be impulsive enough to lean into the wave.

Of course, there are some people who are against being impulsive. If Mary had not been impulsive, she never would have broken that alabaster box and with that ointment anointed the feet of Jesus. If those four men had not been impulsive, they would never have torn a hole in the roof to bring their friend to the healing hands of Jesus. Matthew would not have gotten up from that table and left his tax ledgers and his coins behind. Luther would never have stood at Worms and said, "I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen." Livingston would not have lost himself in the wilds of Africa. Damien would not have served the lepers until he himself became a leper. Schweitzer would not have opened medical treatment in Lambarene. Cramer and Niemoller and Bonhoeffer would have bowed to Hitler. It was impulsive not to, and yet that's what they did.

The hundreds of young people on our campuses who are thinking today about the ministry or other forms of church occupation, or the mission field, would back off from that because, you see, that's too impulsive. A pox on those who say it's too impulsive. If that's thinking, I don't call it ; I call it flat.

The Christian faith is supposed to be a mixture of burning enthusiasm and quixotic extravagance. That's what I find in the New Testament, and that's what is to be found in us. If I may bring a very brief word of personal witness, in those moments in my life when because of the Holy Spirit dwelling in me I have been enabled to risk myself in something, I have found excitement and drama and that which makes life worth living. And in those moments in my life, when I, because of my own cowardice, have backed away from opportunities to take stands or to risk myself in adventures for my Savior, in the moments when because of my own cowardice I have retreated, I have not only felt shame in that moment, but I have wondered from that day to this how far I might have been carried had I ever managed to lean into that wave.

Tennyson wrote it a long time ago, and it's been quoted so often we ofttimes miss the sense of it. But let me say it again so slowly that you cannot miss the sense of it: "It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all."

I don't understand how it is that we can involve ourselves in faithful undertakings in so many different dimensions of our life and then when it comes to the great social issues of the day, back off. Every time you step on your brakes, that's an act of faith. When you meet a young girl, when you meet a young man, and the two of you become one in God's house before God's people, that's an act of faith. What's that relationship going to be like in ten years? You don't know. It's an act of trust. When you bring a child into the world, that's an act of faith. No one can guarantee to you that that child is going to be perfect and beautiful in every way, as you want that child to be.

If we, then, are involved in faith in every dimension of our lives, why when it comes to the big and the most significant issues of our time, do we back off? What we ought to be doing is riding the curl. That takes commitment. Sidelines very quickly become slidelines. It takes loyalty. The faith would never have gotten out of Galilee without loyalty to Jesus Christ. That takes discipline. There are no exceptions, no evasions, no excuses. It is commitment, loyalty, and discipline, but the result is 10,000 yards of tearing silk.

I think of a Presbyterian elder in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who got a call one night. It was not an ordinary night. Pittsburgh had undergone an ice storm, that is, it had rained and then everything had frozen. The whole city and everything in it were covered with ice. Police wagons and fire wagons were not moving. Ambulances from hospitals were not on the road. This man got a call from the pastor of his church. There was a family in the church that had a little boy who had leukemia. The youngster had suddenly taken a turn for the worse. They called the hospital and the hospital said, "Bring him in." They were unwilling to send an ambulance to bring him. These people didn't have a car. They called the minister of their church asking if he would help. His car was in the repair shop some ten miles from his home, no way for him to get it. But this elder happened to live near this family, and so the minister called him.

He was a person. He was willing to lean into the wave. He got into his car. He had three accidents before he got to the house of these people to pick up the boy. You couldn't stop for stop signs; you couldn't stop for traffic lights. You could stop only when the momentum of your car was stopped by natural things about you. They brought the little boy down, wrapped in a blanket. The mother and the child got into the front seat, the father in the back seat, and they started off.

They had several minor scrapes as they went along the road. They were going just a foot at a time. They came to the bottom of a hill, and as they managed to skid to a stop, he tried to decide whether he should try to make the grade on the other side, or whether he should go to the right and down the valley to the hospital. And as he was thinking about this, he chanced to look to the right and he saw the face of the little boy. The youngster's face was hushed, and his eyes wide with fever and with fear. To comfort the child, he reached over and tousled his hair. Then it was that the little boy said to him, "Mister, are you Jesus?" Do you know, in that moment he could have said yes. For him to live was Jesus Christ.

People who piddle around with life never know moments like that. Safety first instead of Savior first. Thrift first instead of tithing first. Business first instead of blessing first. Family first instead of faith first. They never recognize that we have to do with a big, rough God who reaches down in the midst of life and takes hold of things and wants to move them around for the good of his children. And sometimes that gets very black and blue, being moved around. But out of the bruises come the beauty and the blessing.

It's like the greatest moment that you can know in surfing. When you get into one of the truly big waves in the islands of the Pacific, there is a time when, if you ride the wave properly, you can crest the curl and coming down the other side, turn into the wave so that the wave curls over your head. In that moment, you find yourself in a tunnel of water. It swirls all about you. It's like a whirling, green cathedral. The water above is most thin, and the sunlight coming down spangles it, so that it looks like green diamonds. And it's absolutely silent in there. You cannot hear a sound. And if you want to, you can lean back against the wall of water behind you, and it lifts you and carries you like a pillow.

Now you can never know what it's like to be carried, what it's like to be in a whirling, green cathedral, what it's like to have life spangled with diamondsyou can never know thatuntil you move into the midst of the wave, until you say yes to God's dares. And at the end of the day you drag yourself and your surfboard up onto the beach. You ram the board down into the sand, and you fall down in front of it and lean up against it. And the roar of the sea is very soft now, as if to acknowledge the fact that you have defeated it. The sun, setting, cuts itself on the tops of the waves and bleeds across the water right to your feet. And you're utterly exhausted. Every filling in your teeth is loose. It's not that you're weary of what you've been doing. It's that you're weary in it.

Any Christian in the white water knows what I mean. You never weary of Christ's service, oh, but sometimes you're bone weary in it. But it's a very magic time. It's the time that it seems to me makes the whole ride we call life, worth living.

There are a lot of folks who have planned their lives out very carefully. Nice little job. Nice little marriage. Two nice little kids: a nice little boy and a nice little girl. Nice little retirement plan. Nice little house with a nice little garage with a nice little car in each half of it. Nice little place to go to in the summer or, if you prefer, a nice little place to go to in the winter. You know what the end of that story is? It's a nice little hill with a nice little mound upon it and a nice little stone at the top of the mound with your nice little name on it and a few nice little dates underneath. You know what will have happened? You will have pampered yourself into mediocrity when you could have forgotten yourself into immortality Don't do that. Instead, be a part of the legions of the jazzed.

The late Bruce Thielemann was pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and a frequent speaker on college, university, and seminary campuses.

Bruce Thielemann

Preaching Today Tape # 36


A resource of Christianity Today International

Bruce Thielemann is the former pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, PA.

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Sermon Outline:


I. If you want to surf with God, get out to where the big waves are

II. To ride this wave with God, you must lean into it