If you are reading this site. I hope that you have paid attention to the exchange between myself and the Heal the Land blog. I think it opens up an important issue for the church– how are we to live in this land. Here is a sermon that I have prepared on this topic and will be preaching tommorrow 3/25.
Editor’s Note– Follow this link to hear the sermon.
1. Why does the world hate us?
2. How did Jesus handle the situation?
3. How are we expected to handle the situation?
II. Why does the world hate us?
The passages state the world hates Christ and by extension His Church. Why is this? Let us allow scripture to interpret scripture. Paul said in his second letter to the Corinthians,
“Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life.”
Likewise Paul when discussing Christ states,
“For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”
The “world” is not mad at us per se (although we take the brunt of it).They are mad because of the message of the cross, and that message is this “come and die.” In their natural minds they cannot understand that the only way to truly live is to die.
They hate the fact that we have something (hopefully it is a peace and joy) that they do not. They hate the insinuation that they must come to the cross and die. They hate us for the weakness and strength that flows from our lives. ONCE AGAIN I WLL SAY THAT THEY DO NOT HATE US PER SE, BUT THE LIFE WE LEAD. This is not much of a comfort, but we must understand it. They hated Christ and will always hate Him, and we as his representatives take the brunt of that hatred. This realization begs the point then, if Christ was and is hated, how did he respond, and what does that tell us about our own situation.
III. How Did Christ Respond to this hatred?
Listen again to the words of Paul (this time to the Church of Rome)- “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.”
God responded our hatred and animosity to Him in this way—HE LOVED US, AND SENT HIS SON TO DIE FOR OUR SINS. God’s reaction to our hate was self-less love and sacrifice.
There is a song that I really like that has this line and I’m paraphrasing here- “it’s really hard to argue with you when you keep making sense…” Have you ever tried to pick a fight with someone and they wouldn’t fight back? Isn’t that frustrating? Yet that is what Christ has done. And if this is how Jesus has responded, then what does that say about us?
IV. How Should We Respond:
Listen once again to the words of Paul- “For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living. But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written: “As I live, says the LORD, Every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall confess to God.” So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.”
God put it this way when speaking through the prophets: “what is it that I require of you, O’ man, but to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly before your God.” What does all this mean? It means that God expects us to be merciful to our enemies, to love those around us, to walk with humility, and be known for our loving demeanors. In other words we are to love sinners, pray for our enemies.
But wait you might be saying, “this is all well and good, but is only how we are to be living as individuals. This says nothing of our responsibility to the collective world.” What about John 15 which states that we are not to be of this world? Or what about the passages that talk about our being strangers or aliens in this world? Doesn’t that mean that we to love our lives in opposition to this world. We are to live as enemies of this world.
Paul is also instrumental in understanding the point at which I am getting. He describes the characteristics of elders and deacons to both Titus and Timothy, he mentions that both should have a “good reputation” and be well-thought of in the community. Furthermore he tells the church of Corinth “to seek the welfare of the city.” That means to be involved in making the communities better, and to be proactive in taking a stand for justice. Another interesting study here would be to study the responsibilities and qualifications God lays out about resident aliens in the Mosiac covenant and then again in the Davidic kingdom. In short God allowed for aliens to be involved in the membership of the local community. Of course this full access was limited in the case of the Gentiles (some of this based on the Mosiac law, most of this based on the torah law development within the exile period. I would argue that the midrash and other developments of this period are closely akin to the sharaii law within the Muslim community. But that is another argument for another day. The important point here is that this separation was never meant for the long-term, a closer reading of the prophets along with an understanding of how the works of Acts 10, Acts 15, Romans 11, Galatians, Hebrews, and Ephesians play into this concepts.
In the late Middle Ages, Christian philosopher Peter Abelard created no small controversy when he put forth an idea that the most important aspect of Christ’s salvific work was that by his life, and death Christ presented a model that we are called to emulate. This was not a new idea, the Eastern Orthodox Church has always placed more emphasis on understanding and emulating the life of Christ, than the Western church has. Likewise many of the so-called mystics have emphasized these points as well. I would argue that this idea is what set(s) John Wesley apart from the other reformers. In the past 100 years, many important scholars and writers (first in Latin America and then in the continental U.S.) have taken to emphasizing the sacrificial nature of Christ’s work and its importance in understanding the church’s relationship to the world. As Christ lowered Himself, even to death, so we, too are called to lower ourselves (even to death). Our relationship to this world is not one of entimy, hatred, and opposition; but one of humility, and self-less love. We are called to the great and awesome task of reconciliation. To quote Paul, “For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.
Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”
That does not mean that we are not in a battle; even the battle of our lives. However to quote Paul again “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, and rulers of darkness.” Our enemies are not presidents, politicians, teachers, and Hollywood suits. We are not called to seek their downfall, but seek their welfare. At this point I think that we need to discuss what this love looks like, but this is a point of misunderstanding for many good and honest people.
Illustration– Brian Stanley Lecture—1910 World Conference on Missions
— Problem was that Church Missions had spent the past hundred years forcing the world to believe—Quote from African Bishop (Bible and Land)—
This is not the way to go, so they began to talk about how to draw out the similarities of the cultures that might lead them to Christianity. Yet when you read the notes and papers put out at this conference you find something just as troubling. The conference tried so hard to fit things into this new scheme that their analysis got stupid. And yes that is the technical term for the situation. What happened was that they so focused on attempting to fit the world into a Christian perspective that they minimized sin and religious thought. This actually was even more insulting to the world at large.
So what is the answer. We are called to love, but in loving the world we cannot overlook the issues and problems within our communities and cultures. Yet we are responsible to interact (and I mean that word) with the world in humility and in love. I believe that like everything we are to be supremely ethical about our practice of speaking the truth. Here is my understanding of our ethical responsibilities: we are to do the right thing, at the right time, for the right reasons in the right way. To just do one of these is not enough. To do two of these either. A truly ethical act is meant only when all 4 of these categories are met. How does that apply to our dicussion. For speaking the truth to another person to be right, then we must speak truth (real truth) at the right time for the right reasons in a kind and loving manner. That means that if we speak the truth in love, but the time is not right for our outburst then it was not done appropriately. If we speak the truth at the right time but do not do it in love then we have not acted rightly. If we speak the truth at the right time in love, but we speak up out of anger, hatred, or frustration then we have not acted appropriately. Now we are imperfect people and we do imperfect things. I have actually found that the times in which I am acting perfectly are very rare. I speak falsely. I speak when I ought to be listening, and / or acting. I speak out of anger, bitterness, and frustration. I do not speak with sympathy and empathy. Yet that is the goal. That is what I am striving to achieve (with God’s help and only God’s help).
Christian author and scholar James Houston has said to me that you cannot know God without knowing yourself; nor can you know yourself with knowing God. Methodist theologian Fuschia Pickett would add that you cannot do either with knowing others. “God is like a jigsaw puzzle,” she writes, “and each of us is a piece.” Likewise you cannot love God without loving yourself, and loving others; nor can you love yourself or others without loving God. This has been the journey of my lifetime and will continue to be my journey. I hope to grow in grace and the knowledge of God that I may also grow in knowledge of myself. That means several things for me. I have learned (but do not always practice) to listen first. To seek to understand first. To seek God’s timing. To examine my heart and mind to determine what my motivations for speaking are. To examine how I am not only speaking, but coming across. It has meant allowing God to bring healing to my hurts, and required me to forgive an enormous amount of people. People who did not mean to hurt me, and some that did. People who did not realize what they were doing, and those that did. People who are just like me. People who are feeling their way out of the dark corners of their lives, and those content to stumble blindly in the dark.
Closing— As Nathan comes up here to lead us in one last song, let me tell you why I am here today, my hope and prayer for this sermon. My hope is that you will join me on this journey. That you will find peace and joy in Christ’s redemption of your life. That you will seek to join in laying down your life for this world. That you will seek to listen first, and act second. That you will join me in the very hard task of seeking true righteousness- doing the right thing for the right reasons in the right ways at the right time.