Luke 15:20-24, Romans 12:10-16
The Right Kind of Christian [fill in the blank]
Think about these answers for the blank as we look in on New Christian and the answers offered to her…
Skit The New Christian by Hicks and Cohagen
Well, was there a right answer given to New Christian?
Maybe, maybe not.
Two passages from the Bible, previously read, form the base for this morning’s message and I want to read them again, back to back:
So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
As I conclude our series A Resurrection Faith is an Emotionally Healthy Faith, I take us back for a moment to the image of an iceberg that I presented in the first message in this series as I said this:
We are like icebergs, most of the time people only see what is visible, above the surface. But just as there is more to the iceberg below the surface (something that the Titanic discovered over a century ago), there is more to us just below the surface.
There is far more going on within us, deep within us, than what people are aware of, and sometimes we are even aware of. But God is aware of what is going on and He cares about that part of us – the deep, deep part.
Jesus made that clear when He said in Matthew 15 verses 18 through 20:
the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person;
Please hear me this morning church
God cares about ALL of us! The surface parts and below the surface parts, especially the deep parts.
The parts where we wrestle with temptation, habits that cause us pain and cause us to sin, the conflicts and resentments that we struggle to let go of or that drive us to put up walls, the fears which drive us to not trust others, the Lord, and even ourselves because we fear failure more than anything or these fears drive us to do crazy things which do not make sense and drive us away from God and others and even ourselves so that we are numb on the inside.
God cares about it ALL!
And this brings me to this question for reflection this morning:
What sometimes distracts you from seeing the people you are with as they really are?
Now it might sound like a question out of left-field, but I AM going somewhere with it this morning.
Let’s begin with the familiar story of the Prodigal Son and his father.
Jesus tells this story to his audience as the concluding story in a group of three about the passionate pursuit of something that has been lost. The first story is about a lost sheep, the second story is about a lost coin, and then this final story is about a lost son.
All three stories are about something of value to someone and the passionate pursuit of finding that thing or person of value.
And it is also about the passionate pursuit of God for us to find us and bring us home.
Two of the items are ones that cannot come home by themselves. Both the sheep and the coin have to be found. Does not the Lord seek out those who are lost?
This third story is about someone who comes to his senses and goes home with the expectation that the relationship will not be the same. Perhaps, the young man saw it happen with others.
But the father, did not see it that way.
He saw HIS son coming home! Finally, after all this time!
But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
How did the father see his son? With compassion. He saw him for who he really was.
The late Stephen Covey shared in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective people the story of how he and his wife had an ‘ah-ha’ moment with one of their sons in his early years when they began to see him for who he was and not what they were trying to make him out to be. It was a turning point for all three.
I often want to be seen by people in a certain way. Correction, I want to be seen by people in a certain way. Do you?
In some situations, I want to be seen as competent. In others, I want to be seen as compassionate. In others, fun and hip. Do you?
The father saw the son as he needed to see him at that point. With compassion as his son.
I think that he was able to have a below the surface view of his son because he had seen other sons come home in the same condition and maybe he had once been a prodigal.
(Uh, pastor, this is a parable and God is the father here, he’s perfect.)
Well, you’re right.
But I wonder how often Jesus saw this scene played out as he walked the roads of Israel in that day. And I wonder if all of the reunions were as joyous as this one was?
In getting some deeper background on this passage, I read of one commenter suggesting that grown men did not run in that culture and that perhaps in closing the gap, the father stopped the scolding and shaming that the son would encounter as he walked into the town or village. The walk of shame as someone has called it.
The father saw his son as needed to be seen.
God sees us as we need to be seen and also as we can be.
Now we move to the Romans passage
Be devoted to one another in love.
Honor one another above yourselves.
keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.
Live in harmony with one another.
Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.
Do not be conceited.
(Anyone feel convicted yet?)
There is an entire sermon series in this passage but I am going to focus on only two of them.
The first one is mourn with those who mourn.
I think that we have forgotten how to mourn in our culture. It is something that we don’t have time for. In many ways, I think, we are shamed or made to feel guilty for mourning.
But as I wrote these words, I recall a statement made by a Bishop in a sister Wesleyan denomination who said, nearly 40 years ago now, that he had not had time to grieve the passing of someone until perhaps, from what I recall, about a month after their death.
Maybe we forgot how to grieve a long time ago. We cannot wait on ourselves or others to grieve. We don’t have time. We can’t waste time. Too much to do.
“Is there something or someone in your past that you have not adequately grieved or mourned?”
It could be the death of someone, grief does not operate in a straight line and sequential manner.
But what about the death of a dream? You wanted to achieve something. A college degree, perhaps? Or a business venture in a field you loved, maybe still love? Or having a child and you couldn’t conceive or you lost one? Or the death of a relationship because of unresolved conflict, infidelity or domestic violence?
These deaths can be as painful as the death of someone we love.
In the context of a reflection on the life of Job and how he dealt with his tragic loss and the pain of those losses, listen to what Peter Scazzero writes:
“In our culture, addiction has become the most common way to deal with pain. We watch television incessantly. We keep busy, running from one activity to another. We work seventy hours a week, indulge in pornography, overeat, drink, take pills-anything to help us avoid the pain. Some of us demand that someone or something (a marriage, sexual partner, an ideal family, children, an achievement, a career, or a church) take our loneliness away.
Sadly, the result of denying and minimizing our wounds over many years is that we become less and less human, empty Christian shells with painted smiley faces. For some, a dull, low-level depression descends upon us, making us nearly unresponsive to all reality.
Much of contemporary Christian culture has added to this inhuman and unbiblical avoidance of pain and loss. We feel guilty for not obeying Scripture’s commands to “rejoice in the Lord always”…
Deep down, he concludes, many of us feel ashamed like Joe, a visitor to New Life who said to me recently, “Feeling sad or depressed or anxious about the future has got to be due to my unbelief. This is not God. It has to be related to my sins. I just figured it was better I stay away from church and Christians for a while until I get over it.”
I would ask, “Maybe Joe, maybe your depression has nothing to do with your sin but everything to do with unresolved grief?”
Have we forgotten, or never learned, how to grieve, how to mourn, well?
We’re stuck in a rut, an inner rut. Our iceberg contains unresolved loss.
Part of a resurrection faith is that we grieve, we mourn, not alone but in community with others who walk alongside us as they listen, not judge, not give advice, but listen to our mourning and pray for us.
Such appropriate grieving allows the Lord to help us move on and not stay stuck in the past.
The second thing we need to do is rejoice with those who rejoice.
We rejoice without jealousy, without envy.
We celebrate the successes of others without comparing our situation to theirs.
We pray God’s blessing on them.
We thank God for their success, their achievement, their joy…even if our hearts are breaking.
We acknowledge the goodness of God.
And the joy of life.
As the evening sun set that day in the village, Joshua and Ezekiel sat by the village wall, cooling in the shade that it made.
“Well, well,” said Joshua, “I never thought that I would see our dear friend Moses run like that this morning!”
Both chuckled as they recalled the moment when Moses saw his youngest son, Aaron, dirty, smelly, and ragged, coming into the village after his two year absence. His undignified run to and his embrace of the young man that many had hoped would never return (“he was so much trouble to Moses especially after Ruth died;” “that young man needs a rabbinic intervention!”) was the talk of the village.
Even as they sat, the party Moses had thrown, was still going on and they could hear the joy as the light breeze blew the sounds across the roofs and walls.
“Well, I don’t Nathan is too pleased with what happened today.”
“Why? What did he say to you?”
“Nothing. It was the look on his face which said it all as Aaron was brought to their house. He was angry. He was mad.”
“I heard him in a shouting match with Moses.”
“What did he say?”
“Something about, wasting it all on someone who did not appreciate it then and won’t now…How long before he leaves again?…Look what I have done for you all these years especially since…”
The conversation stopped for a moment as if the revered leaders had to gather their strength for what came next…
“Since…Ruth and Jonathon died…”
“Yes, said Ezekiel, “there was no time to grieve for the family, especially Nathan.”
“You’re right,” Joshua replied, “Moses could not stop working long enough to pay attention to his sons. Nathan kept it all in. Aaron acted out his grief.”
“One of them still needs to grieve.” © Jim Kane
God wastes nothing in our lives… our failures as well as our successes. Even our un-resolved losses and grief.
The right kind of Christian grieves with those who grieve and rejoices with those who rejoices because all of life matters to God – the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Two questions to consider in closing before we hear from Tenth Avenue North about a hope that is for us. One is an internal question and the other is an external one:
What do you need to grieve to live more fully and at peace?
How can you begin to see Jesus in the people you meet this week?
The questions sound perhaps diametrically opposed to one another, but they are not.
They are part of our lives, everyday life.
We get blinded, even embittered by our unresolved grief and loss.
It colors everything we do.
Jesus saw people with a clarity that was liberating for many.
But pastor, I am not Jesus and you are not either!
You’re right, we are not Jesus.
But I think that when we begin to resolve our losses and their pain, we begin to see people with greater understanding and compassion. That’s is what Jesus would have us do.
I close this morning with a word about hope. Actually, several words about hope
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.
We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.
We can live victoriously! In spite of and through all of the pain and sorrow and grief and disappointments of life. They do not have to have the last word!
Let us be people of hope… in the Lord Jesus Christ!
Let us be people of the resurrection who live confidently in the hope, power and peace that is ours through Jesus Christ!
Thanks be to God!