Standing up for love and light

Scriptures: Psalm 23; 1 John 3:16-24; Acts 4:5-12

Many times, when we talk about standing up for love and light and truth and goodness, and for our faith, we think of it in terms of controversy with the outside world. We try to find ways to do it that still allow us to live our lives with faith.

There is, of course, constant controversy these days, it seems, between those who are for gay marriage and are taking on businesses of Christians that belong to faiths and denominations that do not accept gay marriage as legitimate. I’m not going to talk politically. But what I want to talk about is their faith, that they stand up for their faith and they see it as standing for Jesus Christ for the outside world.

Somebody put up a blog post that I found fascinating. Now, he’s a Catholic priest. He said that his opinion is that even if your church does not believe in gay marriage, if someone comes in and says that they want to have a gay marriage, you don’t say no. What you do is say yes and you have stipulations in your contract.

You say that you’ll be happy to cater their wedding, or make their cake, or take their pictures. But the stipulations would be, for instance in the terms of catering, “I’ll be bringing my people, and every one of them will be wearing a cross, and there will be a sign on the vans as they come in that lets people know that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation, and that they will be greeting each person that they see in the name of Jesus Christ.”

You can fulfill, then, what they have asked in terms of making the product, and you still get to have an opportunity to witness. His suggestion is that first of all, they can’t sue you for anything then, which is what happening, being sued for denial of service. And then, how many of them would actually agree to those terms, and allow you the same witness that they want to force on you?

But John isn’t dealing with the outside world here, really. He starts, in verse 13, with saying “Do not be surprised if the world hates you,” because they hate Jesus. As Peter noted, when they were talking to the Sanhedrin, Jesus is the cornerstone that the builders – that is, the builders of the temple – rejected.

Because Jesus died and was raised again, and we too have died in our baptism and were raised again, as we came out of the water, as we professed our faith. Born of the Spirit, we too were resurrected, given new life, made new creatures in Him. We have a sort of a dual nature, and the world can’t understand that.

Then he just leaves that, for the moment, because he’s far more concerned with what’s going on in the church, at this point in his letter. You see, the problem is that within the church, there is strife and discord. People may be all smiles to each other, but then they’re turning around and talking smack behind people’s backs.

My father used to say – and he was a good man, and a very strong believer – but he used to say that the two things you don’t discuss when you’re visiting someone, because they’re sure to cause an argument, are politics and religion. He also said that the worst conflicts are conflicts within the church. The politicking that goes on within the church is incredible.

Some of you, I’m sure, are aware of it. Some of you aren’t, perhaps – though I doubt it – everyone, I think, has an awareness at some level. For some reason, we think that within the body of Christ, we have this sense of self-righteousness, I suppose, that whatever we think is right, it’s worth cutting down, stabbing in the back, and “tossing under the bus” as they like to say these days, anyone who disagrees.

People walk out over the smallest things, and hold a grudge for years. This is not the way resurrection-bodied, Spirit-minded people are supposed to be acting. This is what John is addressing. He says if you have anger, “anyone who does not love remains in death, and anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.”

He talked earlier about Cain, and Cain had anger before he killed. He had already killed Abel in his heart. Jesus himself refers to that. He says whoever angers murders in his heart, during his Sermon on the Mount. John wants to remind the church, “this is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.

Now, this doesn’t mean necessarily death, as Jesus did for us. He goes on to qualify it. He says, whoever has material possessions, and sees one of the brethren – that means somebody within the church – who is in need, and lets him go, has no pity on him… We don’t like that word “pity.” I would say he who has no mercy for him, no empathy with him, how can the love of God be in that person?

“Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth.” Now, this doesn’t mean that we don’t share the Gospel, that we don’t tell one another how we love each other, but we need to act out that love.

It’s wonderful that you’re here in worship. I hope to see more people here in worship. I’d like to see the pews full. But if all you do is come and sit in a pew for roughly an hour here, then you go home and you’re unchanged and you live your life in an unchanged manner, then you pretty much just wasted an hour.

Now, my message may not reach you on any given day, and that’s fine, but the act of worship itself, the whole service, should be something that you can look forward to, something that lifts you up. It should be something that changes you each and every week, as the Spirit moves you and leads you in a new direction.

You should be looking for opportunities, not just to help those who are in need, although John talks about that. I want to talk about reconciliation. To reach out to people that you know have had problems with you or with others within this body. Reach out to them and seek reconciliation. Show them the love of God. Not just by saying, “I wish you were there,” but by formulating a relationship with them, which takes time and energy and courage and love.

Form a relationship, so that when you then broach the subject and reach out to them, you can try to achieve healing. Until they have had some healing, they won’t come back. It’s just the way we are, and we tend to hold on to and nurse our grudges. That’s human nature. As I said, we saw it all the way back to Cain.

We want to have reconciliation. We need to not just have words, but actions and truth. “This, then, is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence, whenever our hearts condemn us.” This is how we know, by our actions. Because I guarantee you that our adversary, that Satan is going to be waiting.

Yes, I believe in Satan. I don’t believe he’s this cosmic equal to God, because God is sovereign over all, and Satan is a created being, but he is the prince of this earth until Christ comes again. And one of the ways that he works within us Christians is he tries to make us feel unworthy of God’s love and grace, to feel separated from God’s presence.

Let’s say you go and you try to seek reconciliation with someone, and they refuse it. The first thing that’s going to happen is Satan is going to hit you, because you’re already stinging. You’re already hurting from having made yourself vulnerable and then being rejected. He’s going to tell you that you aren’t worth it anyways. “Well, that was a total waste of time,” or “you really screwed that one up.”

But if you look at what you did, and you know that you did it out of God’s love, if you know you spoke the truth to that person, then regardless of the outcome, you can know in your heart that it honored God, and that you are still one of His children.

You can have confidence before God. You can go before Him, then, asking for another opportunity, asking for a stronger heart, asking to know what His will is with this person with whom you seek to reconcile.

Even if our own hearts try to condemn us, God is greater than our hearts. He knows why we did it. He knows what we did. And He is pleased. So you can hold on to that, to give you strength for the next time.

For if we believe, we obey His commandments. “And his commandment is to believe in the name of the Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them.” And we know it because of the Spirit He gave us.

God is with us all the time. It said so in the psalm that we had today. He is with us in the darkest of times and in the brightest of times. He sees all that we do. And if anywhere is, the church and its family should be a place of safety. The church and its family should be a place of renewal and restoration, not retribution and revenge. It shouldn’t be a place of conflict.

Not that we can’t have disagreements. Jesus had plenty of disagreements with a lot of people, eve n some of his disciples. And you know what? That’s OK. The issue is not the conflict. It’s how we resolve it. Can we continue to love one another even when we disagree, and can we continue to keep our eyes focused on the goal, which is to share the good news of Jesus Christ, so that we can still pull together, despite our disagreements, to reach out to a world that is so badly hurting and in need?

And can we set aside our differences when we see a fellow member in need, and care for them, side by side, whether it be physical need, or just simply that they’re really depressed and they’re hurting? Can we give them that love, regardless of our disagreements? How do we model the Spirit that has been given to us?

Now, everybody will have their good days and their bad days. Nobody is perfect in this world. Nobody has been but Jesus Christ. Nobody will be but Jesus Christ. That’s why Paul likes to talk about it in terms of a marathon race. We run the race, the long race.

Now, I’ve never run a marathon. I doubt I’d get five hundred yards, currently. But even when I was wrestling and I was in really great shape, I hated running and I never ran more than a couple of miles. My brother’s wife has run marathons and half marathons, and it’s amazing.

There’s a point where you want to just give up. They call it “the wall.” You run, and everything starts to hurt. You can’t hardly breathe. Every muscle is screaming. You hit the wall. You push through it. And then you get what’s called your second wind. All of a sudden, your breathing regulates, your heart slows down some, the muscle pain recedes. Some people even say it’s euphoric. They get almost giddy. They live for that moment of euphoria.

Now, there’s still stress being put on your body, as anyone who’s seen any of these Boston Marathoners, when they finish their race. All of a sudden, their focus spreads out again, because they’re done. And they’re like [gasping].

But you see, they stayed focused in order to complete that race. They overcame obstacles. They overcame pain. They overcame doubt. They overcame the desire to simply quit. One or two of them might have even snapped at their water handlers, I don’t know. I know that I tend to get cranky when I hurt. But they kept going.

And so should we, in our life as a family of God, and brothers and sisters to one another. We listen to the Spirit. We push through the pain. We forgive, as God has forgiven us. And we remember one thing, as we deal with each other. Whatever we do as to God. That’s why John said, if you let this person go by without reaching out to them, then the Spirit of God is not within you.

Let me give you an illustration that I found this week. I’ll close with this. I read of a teacher once who was known for his elaborate object lessons. One day when his students came to class, they saw a big target hanging on the wall, and a number of darts at a nearby table.

The teacher told the students to draw a picture of someone that they disliked or someone who made them angry, and he would allow them to throw darts at the person’s picture. One girl drew a picture of a girl who had stolen her boyfriend. Another student drew a picture of his little brother. Still another student drew a picture of the teacher, putting a great deal of detail into her drawing.

When they were all finished, the teacher hung their pictures, one at a time, over the target, and the class lined up and began to laugh and enjoy themselves as they threw their darts at a particular picture. Some of the students threw their darts with such force that their targets were ripping apart.

At last, as the class was nearing its end, the teacher had the students take their seats. Then he began to remove the underlying target, that they had stuck their targets to, from the wall. And underneath that target was a picture of Jesus.

A complete hush fell over the room, as each student viewed the mangled picture of Jesus. Holes and jagged marks covered his face, and his eyes were pierced out. Then the teacher said only these words: “Inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.”

The Bible tells us that because you and I are Christians, we must love as Jesus loved us. We must forgive as Jesus forgives us. And John reminds us about how we should love, because that’s how we are now called to live.

The world will never understand it. The world doesn’t have to. You do. May this understanding be upon your heart, and may you seek to emulate the Spirit of God that is within you, sharing the love of Christ with everyone, in this church and this family, as well as the world.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

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