This was the hardest sermon I’ve ever preached (noting, of course, my loooong career as a preacher). 😛 It was hard not because of the time it took to prepare; or because of the words used in the sermon.
It was hard because I have to live it.
I cannot read the words of Jesus to others if I am not willing – nay, if I do not try with every breath – to live them out in my personal life…
Following and obeying Jesus… hard things do to….Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.
Yesterday afternoon I was staring out of our upper window looking south across the green fields towards the Montour mountains…. Reagan’s Butte stood tall – a silent monument of a peaceful valley created by the Hands of God.
Dotted throughout this beautiful view were roofs – metal, tile, shingle – roofs of the houses of people. What is happening in these houses? Do they enough food? Are they lonely? Friendless? Are they fighting cancer? Disease? Perhaps a cold or flu?
Maybe they have a good family, some friends – maybe they are healthy….maybe they are searching for something bigger then themselves? Perhaps they feel empty and lack a purpose…
Each home – each person has a story… they have feelings, emotions, dreams…yet often we drive past these houses without thinking – without considering the pain, the happiness, the people inside.
Today we are going to talk about being a “Reconciling Community” – a community of healing and forgiveness. A community – a people – who realize the power of the cross to reconcile what has been separated by sin.
Jesus is reconciling us to God, each other, and to the entire creation – He is breaking down divisions and barriers between Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female – and may I add, blue collar and white collar, Republicans and Democrats, ranchers and environmentalists. Jesus is destroying ethnic divisions – no longer are we to be separated by race or nationality – Latino, Anglo Saxon, European, African, Asia, Arab or Native American.
Jesus has come to make us one.
“…the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God, persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” -Revelation 5:9-10
Unfortunately, we don’t act this way….instead we allow hurts, fears, pain, greed, power – in short, sin and evil – we allow this to stop us from becoming unified – from becoming the people of God.
A reconciling community…a healing community….a community known by its love.
On Jesus last evening on earth, he gathered the twelve disciples into an upper room to celebrate the Passover feast. Following this meal, Jesus took them outside to the garden of Gethsemane so that they could pray…on this journey, Jesus gave the twelve some last minute instructions…
Think about this…this is Jesus LAST evening with them before the cross…He had spent three years with them…what last minute instructions do you suppose Jesus would tell them? What parting words does He give them?
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” –Jesus, John 13:34-35
We – the followers of Jesus – are to be known by our LOVE!!
This is not a romantic love – this is a love that means:
“to welcome, to entertain, to be fond of, to love dearly.” Greek: ἀγαπάω (agapaō)
We are to be a community that is known for welcoming the unwelcomeable – entertaining those who all sane people would cast way. For did not Jesus say:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” –Jesus, Matthew 5:43-44
Ooch! These are hard words…tough words….words that CANNOT be lived out without the Blood of the Lamb and the Power of the Spirit.
This is the upside down kingdom.
We are called to be a healing community – a reconciling community…
Some of you may be wondering at my word choice. Why am I using the word “community” instead of “place”? or “church”?
This reason is this: we have been called to live a life of forgiveness, of love, of healing no matter where we are.
It is easy to be nice to people for an hour a day. Right? You can tough it up and not get into a fight here at church on Sunday morning…. You may even pray with someone you don’t like…someone who said something nasty, hurtful….after all, you want to be known as a good person.
No, it is easy to be nice in a place.
- It is hard to live a life of love. Of forgiveness. Of healing.
- It is hard to forgive your neighbor when their cows keep getting into your yard – eating your garden – messing up your lawn…
- It is hard to forgive that person whose joke went too far…to love them, to be fond of them, to welcome them when they are so hurtful…
- It is hard to love, to be fond of and welcome someone who voted against something you strongly believe in…something you think is crucial… how can could they think that way? I thought they were a Christian?!
It is hard to be a reconciling community – it is hard to be follower of Jesus. Yet, we are called – we were commissioned to love…. The red words of Jesus say,
“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.” –Jesus, John 15:16-17
Two weeks ago we talked about how it is not enough to simply believe – it is not enough to have good doctrine or right theology. We have to walk it out – we have to put it into practice….
That means that if we really want to follow Jesus – if we have bowed our knees to Jesus and asked Him to forgive us…well, that means that we must walk out – obey – what He says….
We cannot do it on our own. It is impossible… This is why we must be filled with the Holy Spirit. This is why we need to spend time with Jesus on a daily, weekly, – nay, hourly bases… we need HIM to fill us up.
We NEED JESUS!!
We must recognize our weakness….
Let us meet each other in our weakness…let us help each other… let us hold each other hands and tell each other that we love them. We love them not because of what they have done, not because of what they will do or who they will become.
We love them for themselves. We love them because they are made in the image of God.
Yes, they not look like Jesus; they may not act like Jesus; but they have been made in His image.
“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” Romans 5:6-11
We love – we welcome – we are fond of – we hold dearly each other – our enemies – our neighbors – our families because of what Jesus did for us. Not because of what they have or have not done – not because of what they may do – We love them – we love each other for who they are.
….healing community…a community of forgiveness…a reconciling community
Do you want to know something? As much we try – as much as I try, I will do something, say something that will hurt you…
You know something else? I will get hurt. I will want to get mad….I will want to get even…
We live in a fallen world. We are works in-progress – cracked vessels – walking war zones in which two worlds, two ages fight. We have both been made new through the cross and we are still being made new…
The question becomes, what do we do when we get hurt? What do we do? Do we hold it inside? Try to forget it? Brush it off as nothing? Do we dwell on it? Think about it? Try to get even – to hurt that person more? Maybe we leave. If we don’t talk to that person – if we go to church somewhere else, then we won’t have to see that person….
….healing community…a community of forgiveness…a reconciling community
We are called to walk through hurts. To walk through pain. To see Jesus destroy sin, evil, fear, pain, sadness, hurts… We are to be a people known by our love. Known by our welcoming arms to all who are searching, all who are broken…
In a little read verse following the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus tells his disciples the following:
“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” –Jesus, Matthew 6:15-16
- This means that we must seek forgiveness. Jesus has given us the authority to forgive – to release His power into this world.
- This means that we must not be afraid to talk to each other. We must not let pride or fear stop us from going up to each other and talking through our hurts.
- This means that we must react out of pain – that we must be a people who are willing to let people come up to us and be honest with us…
Do I know how to do this?
Not really…. I’m trying… I really am…. I want to be that person. I want to be a person who is not afraid. I don’t want to get defensive when folks talk to me….I want to… I really do… but I don’t always do so…
“What are we to do then? If you don’t know the answer – why are you bringing this up?”
I’m talking about this because I know someone. Someone who knows how you – how I feel. Someone who can help us all walk through the hurts and pain…someone who can guide us…
He is alive. He is here. He is always with us. He is the only person I know who can help us.
I’m not talking about doctrine. I’m not talking about theory. I’m talking about a real person. Realer then me….yes, I understand that it is hard to realize on someone you can not see, touch…but He is real nonetheless. He can change our hearts. He can help guide us. He can help us to become a community of healers. A people of love.
Today I feel that Jesus is calling us to repentance… He is calling us to forgiveness. If we are to be a healing community – a reconciling community – it must start with us. We must cry out to God. We must forgive each other and let Jesus’ blood cover us.
Today is communion Sunday… this means things are going to get messy… that’s the problem when you really believe Jesus. When you obey His word….
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” – Matthew 5:23-24
The communion elements are on a table… if you have anything against someone here – or if you know that someone has something against you…. This is the time to go up to them.
Go out into the hall. Go outside… deal with it. Asking for forgiveness… you may not agree with them…but there should be forgiveness and love there. If the person is not here today, come forward and let us pray. Let us release that hurt to God – let us ask Him to help us forgive.
Please note that forgiveness does not mean that the other person was right. It is releasing the hurt and the bitterness to God.
Maybe you will never be able to personally talk to this person….again, come forward and let us pray. Let us give it to God.
When you are ready, then go to the communion table and take the bread and wine. Seeing that this is a very personal Sunday, you do not have to wait for everyone as is our custom. Pick up the bread and wine and sit down and take it – just you and Jesus.
Update (April 5th): I’ve had several folks ask for more information about the connection between forgiveness and Communion..as such, please check out the following post on this topic.