November 13, 2017 – The Threefold Cord, and Strength in Numbers- Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, Matthew 18:20

StrongerTogether

 

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.  For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help. Again, if two lie together, they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone?  And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one. A threefold cord is not quickly broken. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (NRSV)  

 (Jesus said) : “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Matthew 18:20 (NRSV)

Welcoming others carries an element of being willing to help carry another’s load- and to forgive others’ faults. That’s not always easy, and sometimes we resist that call to help because we are already so bogged down by our own baggage and burdens. We also resist forgiveness because we feel as if we are “punishing” someone by holding a grudge.  The mentality is, “So and so did _____, so he or she ‘deserves it’.”  Sadly, the fact is that there is nothing heavier to carry than a grudge, and the reality is forgiving others significantly lightens our own load.

The Teacher of Ecclesiastes has a good point in the value of standing together with others. We are stronger together.  A threefold cord is referring to a braid or braided rope- when multiple strands are woven together their strength is multiplied.  The Ecclesiastes reference can also be taken as a foreshadowing of the revelation of the Trinity- God as Three in One.

There is strength in numbers.

It is easy for us as Americans to get patriotism and theology confused. While there is nothing essentially wrong with being a patriotic American, one’s patriotism should not conflict with or be confused with our primary identity as followers of Jesus.  Being a good American isn’t necessarily the same as being a good Christian and vice versa.

As Americans we prize individualism and independence. To a degree both individualism and independence are positive traits, but when a healthy self-reliance turns into a know-it-all attitude, or independence turns to isolation, we make ourselves vulnerable. When predators hunt, they pick off the ones who are isolated from the herd. Those who have no connection to the rest of the community are more vulnerable to evil, to error, and to despair.  Solitude at times for meditation, study and prayer, can be restorative for many of us, but even the most introverted among us still need to connect with the greater community and have dialogue with others.

In some American churches the idea persists that following Jesus is just a “me-n-Jesus” sort of thing rather than a community endeavor. However, God’s plan that humans were meant to be in relationship with each other and to be active participants in the world begins clear back in the creation accounts in Genesis. (See Genesis 2:18-25 )

Relationships with others are not easy, as we learn in Scripture. The first murder didn’t take long- from the creation account of Genesis 2, to Cain murdering Abel in Genesis 4.  Jesus warned us of wars and rumors of wars in Matthew 24 which we see and hear evidence of every day.

Throughout the history of the church (meaning Christian churches in general) there has been much infighting, prejudice, injustices, hypocrisy and other un-Christlike behavior. No one tradition has been immune to the fact that Jesus followers are both saints and sinners at the same time.  Forgiveness is one of the major precepts that Jesus taught, and forgiveness is necessary first and foremost in the church.  We are forgiven, so it follows that we are called to forgive, and to see others through Jesus’ eyes.

The church is not a genealogical society, (because there is only one race: human,) and it is not a museum. The church is a living body, prone to mistakes and prone to weakness, but it is strengthened when its members stand together- keeping Christ at the center of all- even through disagreements and mistakes. God looks at the motive of our hearts more intently than He checks to see if our theology and doctrine is 100% correct.  Blindly following a tradition without questioning its purpose or validity, or going off to follow One Guy In Charge, even if it is one’s self (or any person who isn’t Jesus) was never God’s plan.

How can we truly welcome others to our own church as well as to the greater community of Jesus followers? God calls us to relationship, but as we learn from Scripture and from life, relationships are hard work. In relationships we will feel pain. Relationships can get messy and complicated. We will be offended. We will offend. Yet by the grace of God, we are forgiven, and likewise called to forgive as Jesus forgives us.

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

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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?

March 6, 2017- Looking for Specks, and the Heart of Jesus…Matthew 7:3-5

not enough sins

(Jesus said:)“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye, and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”-  Matthew 7:3-5 (NRSV)

Lent is a season for self-examination as well as for repentance (turning bad habits around.) Jesus didn’t often dwell upon the sins of others, even though he is sinless- and He is God, and therefore He has every right.  Perhaps He wanted to get the message across that we need to examine our own heart and motive before we delve into the lives of others.

I think that Jesus was teaching the disciples the importance of self examination because it is too easy to sit in judgment when we are on our high horses- when we go around thinking, “at least I am better than so and so who does… fill-in-the-blank.” And in our human nature and common hypocrisy (because every single human being alive is in some manner a hypocrite) we do it often, usually without even realizing it.

The apostle James, who could at times be a bit “ in your face,” said that if we are guilty of violating the law- even one little bit of it- then we are guilty of violating everything in the law. (James 2:8-13) So in the eyes of God everyone is just as guilty a sinner, whether your sin is something as seemingly inconsequential as taking a piece of gum, or as innocuous as giving someone a dirty look, or if it’s as serious as serial murder.

Obviously some sins have greater impact upon society, and therefore deserve greater earthly consequences, but in the eyes of God ALL sin is sin. All humans are equally sinful. We just have different habitual sins.

James’ insight into God’s law is telling and humbling for everyone. No person has the right to sit on a high horse and condemn others. Jesus alone has that right, but He also has the advantage of a full and thorough insight into our hearts, minds, motives and backgrounds, as well as His heart is one of mercy and grace.  He has the full and complete story.  We only have bits and pieces to go by.

Our motive in pointing out another’s sin should always be that we love them and we want for them what God wants for them. That’s why we have the obligation to examine ourselves first before we even try to help someone else.  This is where prayer, private confession to God, and sharing confession with other trusted believers comes in.  When we help others we must first ask to see them with God’s eyes, and love them with God’s heart. We must avoid putting ourselves on the judgment seat to condemn someone else, because we don’t have the whole story. We should offer a loving heart and a helping hand instead.

Confession is not some sort of long and drawn out formal process. It is as easy (or as hard!) as coming to God and saying, “Daddy, I screwed up,” or “Daddy, show me what I’m doing wrong, and help me fix it.” It is an act of surrender, much like the petition in the Lord’s Prayer where we pray, “thy will be done.”

Ultimately the heart of God is that ALL people would be reconciled, or made right, with Him. The heart of Jesus longs for us to willingly surrender those things that are planks in our eyes to Him, so that we may see clearly and better serve God and help those around us.