2 Samuel 7, Covenants, Deuteronomy 29, Exodus 19, Exodus 20, Genesis 17, Genesis 2, Genesis 6, Great Commission, John 20:21, John 3:16, Love One Another, Luke 22:20, Matthew 22:37-40, New Covenant, Romans 3:23, Ten Commandments, walk the walk
It is a Pastor’s responsibility in each week’s message to address everyday issues of faith in the context of our daily lives. However, there are times when an issue – or a combination of issues – demands a response from the pulpit, even at the point of interrupting a series in progress. This week’s message falls into that scenario. In the past few weeks, there have been events and corresponding headlines that have prompted me to share what God has laid upon my heart, with the guidance of His Holy Spirit. With that in mind, I offer these thoughts on the subject of . . .
“As the Father Has Sent Me . . . .”
The World Today
Anyone who has ears to hear and eyes to see or read has encountered in the past few weeks some very interesting, oftentimes disturbing, headlines about events in the world in which we live. In today’s message, I am intentionally not mentioning nor targeting any specific issue, but rather focusing upon a far bigger issue, the “Big Picture” of recent events. In that context, this morning I want to address how we, as individuals and the Church, should respond to the events and headlines that portray what’s happening in the society in which we live.
This is not a subject that lends itself to the typical “introduction – three points – conclusion” format of preaching. Rather, it lends itself to a series of broad brushstrokes or bullet points that separately have merit in our consideration, but cumulatively point us to an understanding of how we, as individuals and the Church, should respond to the issues of the day.
The Word Revealed
• I can think of no more appropriate place to begin than Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning, God created. . . .” These opening words of virtually every translation of Scripture you might read recognize God as the creator of everything, the One who has set into motion the natural order of what we experience as the world in which we live.
• Starting in Genesis 2, the story of the Garden of Eden, God established successive covenants with Adam, with Noah (Genesis 6), with Abraham (Genesis 17), with Moses (Exodus 19), with the Israelites through Moses before they entered the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 29), and with David (2 Samuel 7). There were multiple covenants made by God because, while He was faithful to the promises made in each of them, all of them were broken by the people.
• Humanity’s relationship with God seemed to be on some treacherous grounds – with six successive broken covenants – until we read the first hint of a final covenant, the New Covenant, in Jeremiah 31:31-34. While we often think of the beginning of this New Covenant in the birth of Christ, it is actually in His words to the Disciples in the Upper Room that marks its establishment: “After supper he took another cup of wine and said, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you” (Luke 22:20). A side note of interest in regards to this New Covenant – in the list of God’s covenants with His people, is that it is seventh one. The biblical significance of the number 7 is that it is the number of completeness and perfection (both physical and spiritual). The New Covenant is the final covenant because it represents the completeness and perfection of the means by which one can come to a right relationship with God.
• After Christ’s resurrection, not all was well with the world or the Church; God created humanity with a unique characteristic – which would come to be known as Free Will – the ability for every individual to make their own choices.
o In Exodus 20, God gives His people the Ten Commandments. They are far more than what some describe as the “Ten Suggestions” for they represent the governing principles of life. They are divided into two parts: the first five commandments address one’s relationship with God while the remaining five focus on one’s relationship with others.
o When Jesus was asked which was the most important of the Commandments, He replied, “You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39). We almost always stop the reading of His reply at that point; but the next verse is equally, if not more, important: “The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:40). Jesus is driving home the fact that not only are those two commandments the most important, they are the summation of the laws and teachings of the entire Old Testament.
• In spite of the clarity of Jesus’ words, all of us today still struggle in establishing and maintaining a right relationship with God. Paul summarizes our reality in proclaiming, “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (Romans 3:23). What is that glorious standard? It is God’s expectations of each of us. Our time on earth is for the purpose of fulfilling God’s purposes for our lives, utilizing the abilities and talents with which He has gifted us. To use our giftedness to anything less than our fullest potential, for anything less than God’s purposes, is to fall short of his glorious standard. However, His glorious standard includes a foundation of something far more important – a right relationship with Him, based upon an appreciation of the words that are equally clear, found in John 3:16: “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” Alongside the truths of Romans 3:23 and John 3:16 is the reality of the Free Will and the ability it affords to believe or not believe and to live our lives accordingly.
• Some of the most challenging words of Scripture, if we take them seriously, might possibly be the words of Jesus before his departure, those known as ‘the Great Commission”: “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you” (Matthew 28:19-20a). When we think of “all the nations,” it’s easy to rationalize Jesus’ words were for those who would serve as missionaries in foreign countries, among “all the nations.” However, His words are intended for all of us as we accept the fact that our part of “all the nations” is in our own back yard, our own community.
• This brings us to our consideration of “How-to:” how do we do that? What does it look like to carry out the challenges of this message? Before we consider the “How-to,” I want to introduce you to a unique, but ever-growing segment of our population. When I was in seminary, we spoke of these folks as “the lost generation” – the Baby-Boomers – the generation of Vietnam, Watergate, and the Sexual Revolution. They were the first generation of young adults in modern history that, after leaving the church at the age of majority, never came back to the church. With their absence from the Church, each successive generation has grown farther from the teachings of the Church and the experiences of Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, and corporate worship as a part of childhood faith development. Their apathy towards the established Church is described by countless articles and books and characterized by the title of Dan Kimball’s They Like Jesus, But Not the Church. At a certain level, they know of the historical Jesus, His life, and His teachings; however, their rationale for distancing themselves from the established Church is they see nothing of the Jesus they know in the teachings and practices of the Church. It’s logical to expect that from that mindset, they might be asking where – in the midst of the chaos of the news media and social media – can be found the voice of reason that comes from the perspective of faith in God evidenced in the life and teachings of Jesus? Will they find it in you and me? Will they find it in our Church?
• All of these considerations lead us to the question of how do we live our lives, claiming the promise of John 3:16 and the calling upon our lives of the Great Commission of Matthew 28, in the context of the issues and the headlines of the world in which we live? I would propose that we focus our response in three essential ways:
o Talk the talk and walk the walk: it is crucial, realizing that an unchurched society is watching, that our teachings and our lives are consistent. I’m reminded of a pair of principles that I shared a few weeks ago. I didn’t have a name for them at that time, but would like for us to recall them this morning as the “Three-Finger Principles.” They are [Raising the first three fingers of the left hand, repeating the three words] “God – Is – Love” and [Raising the first three fingers of the right hand, repeating the three words] “Love – One – Another.” If our lives are truly an expression of these Three Finger Principles, as we talk the talk and walk the walk, others will recognize our faith and our teachings as consistent with those of Christ.
o Express your concerns about the issues of the day only out of love for all involved: an unchurched society fully expects the Church to embrace a particular side of an issue while zealously pointing out the error of the opposite viewpoint. However, a consistency of faith and life demands that individuals and the Church exhibit an unconditional love for all involved while remaining true to the example and teachings of Christ. A classic example of such love was recently demonstrated by the survivors and families of the victims of the recent Charlotte, South Carolina disaster which saw 9 of 12 church members at a Wednesday Night Bible indiscriminately killed by a lone gunman. When given the opportunity to speak to him via closed-circuit TV during a recent hearing, they understandably spoke of their loss and sorrow and then one-by-one offered their forgiveness of him for his actions. In an unexpected move, the presiding judge then asked all in attendance to keep the survivors, the victims’ families, and the gunman and his family in their prayers. What a powerful witness to the unchurched – who are always attentive to Christians, the Church, and their reaction to controversial issues – to witness a response that is couched in the unconditional love of all the parties involved as it shares its perspective of faith and practice in regards to the issue at hand.
o Pray for those on both sides of the issue, especially those who disagree with our response and freely express their opposition (oftentimes with speech and actions devoid of any semblance of love) both privately and publicly. If we talk the talk and walk the walk and if we express our concerns about an issue out of love for all involved – even if there remains a contingency of anger and hate expressed by others – we will have modeled a consistency of faith and practice while remaining true to the example and teachings of Christ.
Applying the Word to the World
Even in the midst of the chaos of the news media and social media in regards to whatever the issue or the headlines of the day might be, there is Good News for you and me as we consider how we, as individuals and the Church, respond to the events and headlines that portray what’s happening in the society in which we live. The Good News comes in two parts – a blessing and a challenge. The blessing is found in the words of John 3:16: “For God so loved the world . . . .” That blessing logically includes you and me, but it also includes those who agree with us on a given issue, as well as those who disagree with us on that issue, even if their disagreement is expressed in the total absence of love.
The challenge that drives our response to the issues, headlines, and controversies of the day can be found in the words of John 20:21. As John’s version of the Great Commission, as it is addressed to you and me as well as the Disciples who heard His words so long ago, Jesus clearly challenges us in our daily faith and practice: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.”