We’ve been working through a list of questions the past few weeks. Often times, there is more than just “acceptance of God’s grace” when it comes to people. People have questions and they have doubts. They wrestle with mind and logic. Faith doesn’t necessarily come easily.
While some are able to accept blind faith, others need to work through a logical progression. Neither is the right, or wrong way. They are just a specific way people process faith. And at Trinity, we welcome people on both roads. After all, we are both travelers on the road of life (to use a tired cliche).
Today, we’re working through an extremely difficult topic. It’s one that can quickly build up walls and create hostility between people normally prone to civility and kindness.
I once had a speech teacher tell me that one should never begin a sermon by using a qualifier…but I’m going to go ahead and ignore him today.
I want to start by challenging you all to not instantly put up walls. The fact is that this is an incredibly difficult topic to discuss, and I hope to be as fair as I possibly can with it. In a highly politicized world of polarizing topics, we need to work extremely hard to not live in that black and white world. It’s not about one side being right and one side being wrong. As in many complicated issues, there is something true on both sides. There is truth that needs to be discovered. And I want to begin doing that today. You guys alright with that?
I think there’s really only one way today’s sermon, and that is by saying that Christians have a very big PR problem. According to the book, UnChristian, by Gabe Lyons and Dave Kinnamen, the research firm “The Barna Group” interviewed a group on non-Christians and asked them their views about what people believe about Christians. Here’s what they found:
- 91% Anti-homosexual
- 87% Judgmental
- 85 % Hypocritical
- 75% Too Political
- 72% Out of Touch with Reality
- 78% Old Fashioned
- 70% Insensitive to Others
- 68% Boring
It’s pretty sobering, huh? It’s a difficult think to begin to work through what it means to be a follower of Christ, and the radical life change that it brings about. But what if people look at the church, and see that they are not modeling the very things they’re promoting, the question needs to be asked; why should you want to be part of that?
We could spend all day working through issues, but this morning I want to spend a few moments working through 3 larger, or more general stumbling blocks in regards to how Christians act. There is this common belief, or experience in the way that Christians are Violent/abusive, Hypocritical, and are extremists (or fundamentalists).
Let’s take a couple of minutes and work through what each of them mean and the examples found:
-Westboro Baptist Church (Verbal)
-Sexual Abuse Scandals
-filled with “sin”
-doesn’t practice what they preach.
-Live one way on Sunday, but come Monday they are completely different.
Prone to Judgementalism:
-Are one way before “conversion” and change completely after
-They don’t “partake” in activities, and “tisk-tisk” you with their eyes when you do.
-Hardliners on everything: “Do as I do, or go to hell.”
– Insensitive: Torch you in love
Let’s get going:
One of the best ways to hear the heart of God in regards to our life and the way he desires for us to live is to read the words of his prophets, or messengers. God had chosen them to call out his nation, Israel, and to put an end to the hypocrisy in their own lives. Let’s take a moment and read from the prophet, Micah chapter 6.
“Stand up and state your case against me.
Let the mountains and hills be called to witness your complaints.
And now, O mountains,
listen to the Lord’s complaint!
He has a case against his people.
He will bring charges against Israel.
“O my people, what have I done to you?
What have I done to make you tired of me?
For I brought you out of Egypt
and redeemed you from slavery.
I sent Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to help you.
Don’t you remember, my people,
how King Balak of Moab tried to have you cursed
and how Balaam son of Beor blessed you instead?
And remember your journey from Acacia Grove to Gilgal,
when I, the Lord, did everything I could
to teach you about my faithfulness.”
Here is Israel’s response. This is a telling sign of where they are spiritually.
What can we bring to the Lord?
What kind of offerings should we give him?
Should we bow before God
with offerings of yearling calves?
Should we offer him thousands of rams
and ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Should we sacrifice our firstborn children
to pay for our sins?
Here is God’s heart, fully, and completely.
No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good,
and this is what he requires of you:
to live justly, to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with your God.
Let’s take a few moments and break a couple of things down here:
1: God is devastated. Read the language. “Remember when…” “Didn’t I…” This is a broken lover who gave everything to their love, and that love was trampled on. They followed him, only in the legal sense, but went around and disregarded him. They acknowledged that they were married, sure. But that didn’t stop them from visiting prostitutes and assaulting the poor.
2: The Law is not the point. When they tell God that they followed all the sacrifices and all the rules, God says that the laws weren’t the point. He said that it was the heart and it’s pursuit of him and of others that mattered. They made a priority of all the wrong things. In the New Testament, Jesus gets after the religious leaders of the day.
He is railing against them and all the ways they try to control people through legalism and religion. In this chapter, he’s saying they’re white washed tombs, or in one part, he says that they do everything possible to follow the law…even down to tithing the absolute smallest of their possessions…but Jesus comes right back and tells them that in their zeal to follow the law, they strained out a gnat, and swallowed a camel. Translated, they “succeeded in a small way, but failed in a massive way. And what did they fail to do?
3: The point is justice, mercy and humbleness. There’s no ten commandments, the 613 laws of the Torah don’t make it on the list. It all comes down to matters of the heart. It comes down to Loving the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength. And love your neighbor as yourself.
The prophet uses some powerful words when he describes what God desires. Let’s take a few moments to dive into these words:
Meaning: Judgement or justice. In it’s deepest part, justice means to make something that is broken right again. It’s almost always in reference to the poor. It’s why we become angry when someone abuses a child, or when the rich take advantage of the poor. The image is that everything in creation is a threat that has been woven together to make something beautiful. Each thread has a purpose and a design. It matters. But when injustice happens, when the threads begin to break and the way God intended for things to be is no longer the way they’re happening, then justice is the action of repairing those threads.
When people are being taken advantage of; justice is stepping in defense.
When a father or mother has been laid off of work, and they’re unable to pay for the basic necessities of life; justice is ensuring they’re able to live life. And it’s all tied together.
We talk about the Kingdom of God a lot here at Trinity. We talk about how our world is broken and it is operating in a way that God never intended.
This is our calling. The church is an extension of our Father. We are his people, sent on a mission, to begin to right the wrongs. To help the helpless, or defend those who have nobody to defend them.
We call this mercy, and it can be defined as this, but to just say it’s mercy is like that’s like saying the grand canyon is big; we miss the depth or 3 dimensions of the word. The original translation means persistent, unconditional tenderness or loving kindness, or an abundance of Kindness. It’s to be filled with a desire to love people, and to treat them with decency. To not just be kind to those who deserve it, or can pay us back in kind, but this sort of kindness comes out of the abundance in our heart through an understanding that we were shown a deep kindness when we didn’t deserve it.
It’s the kind of love that David wrote about in the 23rd Psalm when he said, “Surely your goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.” Think about that. A kindness that follows us throughout our entire life.
It’s not a thing we do to get a positive response back. It’s to be part of who we are, and what we do. It’s connected with the covenant made with God. It’s a care for others that will never cease. It’s been modeled by God throughout history, and it’s a love that we can’t only receive. God expects us to love others in the same way.
Tsana means to be lowly, submissive or humble. It means to be willing to admit that you don’t have everything figured out. Someone who lives out Tsana is their own life is a person who you would probably is fairly well-adjusted and easy to be around. They don’t prop themselves up, or need everyone to acknowledge their greatness.
Tsana lived out is also an attitude that God is rule of the heart. They are willing to follow God and his plan. They are willing to make blind leaps of faith, and willing to act out Christ’s Kingdom in scandalous ways.
So, we’ve decided that to be part of legalism means to be in control, to be able to check of moral boxes and to care about personal position.
We also see that to be a true follower of Christ, we must sacrifice self, be pro-active in helping the Kingdom come to earth through justice and love, and treat others with a deep and relentless devotion or love.
I’d say those are very different, would you say?
So where does this leave us? I mean, after all I have just said, that doesn’t change the fact that out those doors are people who are judgmental, manipulative, abusive, hurtful, and just generally not Christ-like.
But something to remember is that legalism isn’t exclusive to Christianity. I’m not excusing it, but I am saying that it’s very possible to be condescending, harsh, rigid and generally not fun about anything.
So where do we go from here?
NON CHRISTIANS: If you’re not a Christian, and you’ve been hurt by those within the church, I want to first apologize. In this room are a group of broken people. We have botched things up our whole lives. BUT, we’re a people dedicated to becoming the people God intended for us to be. We are committed to loving God, loving others and serving our community, and I can assure you that you’re safe here. Your questions, your doubts, and your fears are not going to be thrown back at you. We all have them, and God is big enough to carry them all.
CHRISTIANS: We all need to take a serious account for how we’re living our lives. Are we living lives that speak God’s truth? Are we living out Justice, kindness, mercy and humbleness? Are we really allowing our hearts and minds to be transformed?
As the band comes, I want you to reflect on something the great writer Brennan Manning wrote:
The gospel is absurd and the life of Jesus is meaningless unless we believe that He lived, died, and rose again with but one purpose in mind: to make brand-new creation. Not to make people with better morals but to create a community of prophets and professional lovers, men and women who would surrender to the mystery of the fire of the Spirit that burns within, who would live in ever greater fidelity to the omnipresent Word of God, who would enter into the center of it all, the very heart and mystery of Christ, into the center of the flame that consumes, purifies, and sets everything aglow with peace, joy, boldness, and extravagant, furious love. This, my friend, is what it really means to be a Christian.