Milli Vanilli Christianity: Mouthing The Words Isn’t Good Enough
July 25, 1993 | First Presbyterian Church Orlando | I Corinthians 9:24-27
Even if you are not into contemporary music, you will remember it…
In the late 1980’s, a new pop duo called Milli Vanilli rocketed to the top of the popular music scene. They were mobbed by young admirers wherever they appeared. Their song, “Girl, You Know It’s True” hit Number One on the charts. It sold over seven million copies–and won a prestigious Grammy Award for Milli Vanilli. Then came the shocker! The entertainment world was jolted when the word leaked out that Milli Vanilli had not sung a single note on their best-selling album. The singing had been done by someone else. The songs had all been dubbed in. Milli Vanilli had “lip-synched” their way to the top of the charts. They had not sung the songs at all—they just mouthed the words.
That episode from the world of music raises a pertinent question in the world of faith—it is this: “Are you a Milli Vanilli Christian?” In other words, are you just lip-synching the Gospel message? Are you just going through the motions? Are you merely mouthing the words or are you really singing the song?
The question calls to mind some images from the pages of Scripture. I think of the prophets like Amos and Micah and Hosea and Isaiah who became so upset with the religious people of their time because they saw the people saying what they believed but not living what they said. The prophets cried out so dramatically because they felt that unless our religion changes the way we live, it is a farce, a meaningless charade, just so much hypocritical play-acting. Or I think of the words of Jesus delivered in the Sermon on the Mount: “Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom… but only those who do the will of my Father in heaven.” Jesus is reminding us that just mouthing the words is not enough. If our faith is not lived out, if we don’t practice what we preach, if our Christian profession doesn’t burst forth into Christian expression, then our religion is nothing more than “sound and fury signifying nothing.” It’s not enough to lip-synch, we have to sing the song!
That’s what Paul is driving at here in I Corinthians 9. Listen again to his words: “I do not run aimlessly nor do I box as though beating the air.” Do you get the point? Don’t be a shadow-boxing Christian! Don’t be a Milli Vanilli Christian! Don’t sit on the sidelines of the faith! Christianity is not a spectator sport. If you want to win the fight you’ve got to get in the ring. If you want to run the race you’ve got to get on the track. If you want to experience the lifting, lilting melodies of the faith, you’ve got to sing the song. Not pantomime. Not lip-synch it. Not just mouth the words. Not let someone else sing for you. No, to experience all the glory, joy and power of the Christian faith, you’ve got to sing the song yourself. Let me show you what I mean…
We need to sing the song of commitment to Jesus Christ.
This commitment is an intensely personal one. No one else can do it for us, because Christianity is not just mouthing a creed, it’s knowing a person! Do you remember that when Paul wrote his letter to Timothy, he did not say: “I know what I have believed.” Rather he said: “I know whom I have believed.” The Christian faith is not a matter of what we know–it’s a matter of whom we know. And our victory in Jesus Christ is not something we do—it’s something we are.
Catch the difference, please, between victory in faith and victory in the world. Victors in the world rejoice over the things they do—swimming the English Channel, climbing Mount Everest, winning a gold medal, hitting a hole-in-one, making a million dollars. But believers in Christ rejoice in who they are—children of God, forgiven sinners, heirs of salvation. You see, the person who is committed to Jesus Christ understands that our ultimate victory in life is based not upon our accomplishments but upon God’s gift, not upon our perfection but upon God’s forgiveness.
A friend of mine recently lost his father to death. The faith of his father had been an inspiration not only to this man but to many others as well. After his father had breathed his last and before the funeral home people arrived to take the body, my friend sat for a few moments with the body of his father. He said that as he looked at his father’s now lifeless face this thought kept pounding in his mind: “Dad, you won! You won! You won!” It’s like Joan of Arc said when she was abandoned by those who should have stood by her–she said: “It is better to be alone with Christ. His friendship will not fail me nor His counsel, nor His love. In His strength I will dare and dare and dare until I die.”
My beloved, our victory in Jesus Christ is not something we do; it’s something we are. And that’s why no one else can make a commitment to Christ for you. People can tell you about Christ and His power. They can give you convincing materials. They can beg you and plead with you and reason with you. But in the final analysis, a commitment to Jesus Christ is so intensely personal that no one else can do it for you. Lip-service won’t work. Lip-synching won’t get it. Mouthing the words is not enough. That’s why every single Sunday I preach I call you to make a bold, life-changing death-defeating commitment to Jesus Christ. I call you to sing His song in your life.
We also need to sing the song of loyalty to the church.
After every service of worship here when people make the decision to join this church, we ask them this question: “Will you support and participate in the work and worship of the church to the best of your ability?” Why do we do that? Because it’s so important not just to say it but to do it.
Several centuries ago, in a mountain village in Europe, a wealthy nobleman wondered what legacy he should leave to his townspeople. He made a good decision. He decided to build them a church. No one was permitted to see the plans or view the construction until it was finished. When at last the church was completed and ready to be opened, the people crowded in. They marveled at the beauty and the completeness of their new church. Everything was included. It was a masterpiece. But then someone said: “Wait a minute! Where are the lamps? It’s rather dark in here. How will the church be lighted?” It was then that the nobleman gave to each family a lamp which they were to bring with them each time they came to worship. The nobleman said: “Each time you are here the place where you are seated will be lighted. Each time you are not here that place will be dark. This is to remind you that whenever you fail to come to church, some part of God’s house will be dark.”
Let me ask you something: What if every member of our church supported this church just like you do. What kind of church would we have? What if every member of this church served the church, attended the church, loved the church, gave to the church and shared the church with others just the way you do—what kind of church would we be? You see, we are called to be God’s church. It’s not enough just to “play” church or pantomime church or to come to church if and when it’s convenient or when we can’t find something else we would rather do. That is “Milli Vanilli-Christianity!” Our calling is not to get over in the corner all by ourselves and “shadow box”. Our calling is to get in the ring with the church and fight the good fight of faith—to be the light of the world, to sing the song of commitment to Christ and loyalty to His church.
Then we need to sing the song of caring for other people.
As Christians we are called to be the sons and daughters of encouragement, not discouragement. Our task is to build people up, not tear them down.
On the evening of April 14, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln attended a performance of the play “Our American Cousin” at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D. C. A few minutes after 10:00 p.m., a gunshot rang out through the crowded theater. John Wilkes Booth, one of the best-known actors of the day, had shot the President. Lincoln was carried unconscious to a nearby house. His family, his doctors, and high government officials surrounded him. At 7:22 the next morning, President Lincoln died.
At some point during that horrible night, the secret service agent had emptied President Lincoln’s pockets. He had put the contents in a box and he had written across the top of the box the words “Do not open.” The box was set aside and forgotten. Many years later the box was found and was given to the Library of Congress for safe-keeping. It wasn’t until a public broadcasting television special on the Library of Congress a few years ago that the box was opened and the contents revealed. The box contained a monogrammed handkerchief, a pair of glasses, a pen knife, a purse containing a $5.00 bill (confederate money of all things!), and some old worn newspaper clippings. All eight of the clippings were articles favorable and complimentary towards President Lincoln. The point is clear. Even a giant of a man like Abraham Lincoln who was so strong, so solid, so single-minded in his convictions—even Lincoln needed to hear lots of words of encouragement. Don’t we all, yes, don’t we all?
Leo Buscaglia tells an ancient legend about a young girl who was walking through the woods one day and saw a butterfly impaled upon a thorn. Very carefully and lovingly, the girl released the butterfly and it began to fly away. But then it flew back and before the girl’s eyes the butterfly was transformed into an angel. The angel then said to this young girl: “Because you have been kind to me, I will grant you your fondest wish?” The girl thought for a moment and then she said: “I want to be happy.” The angel leaned toward her, whispered something in her ear and then vanished. As time passed and the girl grew older she became happier and happier. Whenever anyone asked the secret of her happiness she would always smile and say: “I listened to the angel.” As she neared the end of her life, her friends and neighbors feared that her fabulous secret for happiness might die with her. They begged her to share with them what the angel had said. The young girl now quite old and in the throws of death smiled warmly and said: “The angel whispered into my ear these words: “Everyone, no matter how secure they may seem, everyone has need of you!”
This is indeed the key to happiness in life—reaching out with love and compassion and caring and encouragement to others—and seeing everyone we meet as someone who needs to be lifted up by us.
One day, Charlie Brown asked Linus what he wanted to be when he grew up. And Linus answered: “Outrageously happy!”
I can’t promise you outrageous happiness today. But what I can promise you is this: Meaningful happiness, abiding happiness, Christian happiness. And that happiness will come to you not from mouthing idle words or lip-synching your way through life, but from singing the song of unshakable commitment to Jesus Christ, unwavering loyalty to the church, and untiring compassion and caring and encouragement toward others.
Please, my beloved, don’t just mouth the words of our faith. Instead live for Jesus Christ every single day of your life…