December 6, 2017 Emmanuel, God With Us- Matthew 1:22-23, John 11, Isaiah 53:1-5

real Jesus

 

All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,”which means, “God is with us.” Matthew 1:22-23 (NRSV)

Today doing business from a distance is quite a normal concept. Most of us use the Internet to order items from all over the world, setting events in motion in different states or even on different continents that are not under our direct control.

Sometimes it’s easy to envision God as doing the same thing we do when we order things or pay our bills online, pulling strings from a distance, never having to get dirty or even (metaphorically speaking) having to get up off the couch.

God chose to “get dirty.” He did not have to enter the world of humanity with its suffering, pathos and drama (not to mention dirt and pain and bad smells) but He chose to enter our world, to become part of it, to embrace humanity by becoming fully human.

Jesus could have skipped the 33 years of having to smell the odors of dirty people and livestock, of having to put up with heat, cold, pain, filth and screaming brats and having to hand-hold and spoon-feed clueless disciples. He embraced the hard realities of being human- even that stuff we really don’t like such as physical illness, discomfort and grief.  He made friends.  He lived with and loved flesh and blood humans in a flesh and blood body just like ours.  When His friend Lazarus died, He wept. (John 11)

As Jesus followers we don’t always talk about the humanity of Jesus, or we get stuck on concepts such as the virgin birth, as if God Who created the universe and everything in it couldn’t manage an immaculate conception. If God had wanted to, He could have just dropped Jesus on the earth as a full grown man and sat Him on a throne with a flaming light saber, but in coming to us as an infant, born of a human woman, He became human, approachable, one of us.

More than that, God took the route of the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53:1-5) to save humanity from its own sin and death.  He could have simply remained detached, viewing the world and its flawed humans from afar, but His love was too great to leave His creatures- His friends, His beloved, to their own devices.

God With Us- Emmanuel, Jesus, is with us.

 

August 29, 2017 – We Hypocrites, (but for the Grace of God) Romans 2:1-11

hypocrites-room-for-more

Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things. You say, “We know that God’s judgment on those who do such things is in accordance with truth.” Do you imagine, whoever you are, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. For he will repay according to each one’s deeds: to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be anguish and distress for everyone who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality. Romans 2:1-11 (NRSV)

Many of my atheist friends- and I have had many atheist friends and acquaintances in the past- say that their number one problem with those who claim to be Christian or claim to follow Jesus are “such hypocrites.”

It is true that the same problems exist in Christian communities that exist in non-religious communities. Divorce happens. Poverty happens. Substance abuse, alcoholism and addiction happen. Promiscuity and unwed pregnancy happen. Apathy and indifference happen.

So how is following Jesus supposed to make a difference if all the same social ills go on in Christian homes? As one of my atheist friends put it, “What good does following God do me if I am no better for it?”

The response to that is that we are all hypocrites. There’s a saying that, “I wish I were as good a person as my dog thinks I am.” If only we could be. The problem is that we can’t. It is only by the grace of God that anything good at all can come from any of us.

We can choose how we respond when bad things happen to people though. Putting our heads in the sand and ignoring these things is not an option. Pointing the finger of blame isn’t helpful either. Those responses are what the world does. The world accepts broken homes, addiction and immoral behavior as being “normal.” The God-honoring response is not one of judgment or exclusion, because we know how human and fallible we all can be.

let love guide you

The God-honoring response is a proactive response, a loving response that comes from a heart set on God. That response is color blind. That response forgives and understands. That is a response that is merciful and kind no matter how the other person has failed or is failing. The response that honors God seeks healing and wholeness and restoration.

Yes, we are hypocrites. We fail daily at loving God with our whole hearts and loving others as we love ourselves. But God’s mercy and love show no partiality.

How does our response to our own failings and the failings of others further the cause of the Kingdom of God?