Sunday, January 22, 2012

Three Simple Questions: Who Are We Together? – Galatians 3:26 & Ephesians 4:1b-4

Today we are going to conclude our preaching series focusing on three simple questions, “Who is God?”, “Who am I?”, and “Who Are We Together?”. Over these last several weeks we tried to flesh out not only why we worship God, but what our role in this world should be as children of God.

Two weeks ago, we looked at the first question, “Who is God?” as we sought to realize what our understanding of God means for our lives today. Last week, we shifted our attention inward, as we sought to answer the question, “Who am I?”, as we looked at the dangers of labels and what our response should be to God's love for us. Today we will attempt to put this all together as we answer the question, “Who are we together?” as we seek to understand what community is, who makes up our community, and the strength we can draw from this knowledge.

I Love My Grannie
Have you ever been told someone was coming for a visit, and your immediate response was aaahhh! Really?!? Well at five years old that was my response when I was told that my great-grandmother, my dad's grandmother, was coming to live with us. I could just imagine that I was now going to have to share a room, that Grannie was always going to be around, and how uncomfortable was this going to be for me. I was not excited at all about this proposition.

But mom and dad explained to me that dad was going to build a suite attached to the side of the house and Grannie would have her own dining room, kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, living room, and front door. But looking back in hindsight my initial perception could not have been more wrong.

Grannie lived with us for about twenty years and the experiences that we shared together have played a tremendous role in shaping who I am today. One of the conditions she set to come and live with us, was dad had to give her a part of the backyard for a garden. He did, and she used it grow all sorts of stuff. I remember going out in the garden with her and picking what she grew. I also remember sitting on her porch shucking corn, stringing and snapping beans, and shelling peas. I remember standing in her kitchen and washing carrots, tomatoes, and eggplant. And these events themselves, while very memorable, were not what impacted me the most. It was the stories and life lessons that I was taught during those times. It was the Bible stories, the genealogy shared, and it was the tears and the laughter, that I treasure the most. I look back over those episodes and I am so grateful of what Grannie shared with me and what this woman taught me. Together we were so much better, that I would have been without her.

Love is the Key
Grannie and I shared this little sense of community together, a community that would not have lasted if it were not for the love we had for one another. For us as disciples of Jesus Christ we are called to live our lives in much the same way. We are called to first and foremost to worship the One, True, Living God, the God of Abraham and Isaac, the God of Mary and Elizabeth, the God of the Gospels, and “the God made known most clearly in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.”1 The love that was shown in Christ is the love that God is by his very nature. The love that God used to create us is the same love that God uses to sustain us. And that love will provide us the confidence and trust to not only live our lives with and for God, but with and for each other, in this community and with our neighbors outside of it.

However, there is a reality we live in. A reality that Tilden Edwards expressed very well when he said, “community is what everybody wants, but almost no one is able to sustain well for long.”2 Therefore, today I want us to look at who we are together in the hopes that we can overcome the barriers of this dysfunctional world and be beacons of light for this community.

First, We are Humans
A great place to start in this endeavor is to understand that we are all part of the same human family. At the most basic level, we need to acknowledge the scientific evidence that has confirmed that our ancestors all came from the same part of the world. Therefore, we are all part of one human family.

And because we are all part of the same human family, and because God created all of humanity, we are able to be a part of God's family. And as we stated last week, because we are all created by God, we are all loved by God. Loved as if we are the only person in existence. We know this because of this book. I have often referred to Scripture as God's love story to humanity. Cover to cover, story to story, we are given the picture of God's love, of Jesus' sacrifice, and of the Spirit's movement. Through this book we are shown God's love, moving us closer to the one that loved us first. For us to turn away from each other, is tantamount to us turning away from God. We are so interconnected to our Creator, his Spirit is so involved with humanity, that for us to abandon one another is to abandon God. Jesus understands this relationship because in his time here he told us, “'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31, NIV). We need to stay involved in this human family because this is where God is, this is where the Spirit is as work.

We are also a Faith Family
Just as we are all a member of the human family, once we agree to become a disciple of Jesus Christ, we become part of a faith family. However, we still seek to divide ourselves by race, status, age, and other qualifiers. And it is these qualifiers that we place in God's path, divisions that beg the same questions Jesus' apostles asked during the Last Supper. When Jesus explained that one of them was going to betray Him, they asked Jesus, “is it I?”.

And as a member of this faith family we have to be willing to place ourselves under examination. We must be willing to allow God to see us as we are, heal the brokenness that is found, and understand that just as we are all redeemed from that state, so to are all of God's children. There is no division in who is able to receive this grace and experience this redemption. It is for all humanity. It is for all of this faith family. It, very simply, is for all. So for us, that means we seek to remove the divisions amongst ourselves. We cease looking at each other and condemning one another for past actions, for outward attributes, and for previous assumptions. We look at each other, not as what we have failed to be, but for what we are, beloved, redeemed, grace bathed, children of God.

Jesus > World's Dysfunction
Now it is very easy for me to stand up here and use all of these words to tell you that Jesus loves you, that God created you, and that our Triune God loves each and every member of the human family. It is another thing for us to work through the dysfunction of the human family and show that love to each other. But we must do that, not only because we are called as believers to do it, but that is best way for the reign of God to cover this earth, us working as one.

So how do we do it? Bishop Job believes that, “if we will review and renew our relationship with God through serious study and reflection on who God is, and if we will discover for ourselves the God revealed by and in Jesus, then we will be more likely to see others as God's children, remembering that God is Creator and we are always creatures of God's creative desire to form us in God's image.”3

The answer is right there. We begin with serious study and reflection. If we are going to follow God, if we are going to know God, then we must spend time with God. Find that daily time to read the love story God has given us. Reflect on what it means for you, pray for what God wants it to mean to you, and give God the chance to answer back. Use our Bible Challenge or any other reading plan, but the one way to know who we are together is to know who God created you to be.

Next, go and live what you learn. Try out these ideals revealed in Scripture, with co-workers, next door neighbors, family, church folks, strangers. Learn what God teaches, then live it, share it, and give the knowledge away. That is where we can be a part of transforming others. That is where we can work to fulfill the Great Commission. My Grannie, sitting on her porch, shucking corn, stringing and snapping beans, and shelling peas taught me about God, taught me about God's love, and taught me that no matter what I was dealing with God would always be there. Foundational lessons I learned over vegetables. Life lessons I learned tending to God's creation.

There are many reasons why we struggle in this world. Reasons of our own creation, conditions that exist only in our imagination, and situations that through no deed of our own decimate us. But in all of these things, there is one truth; God is here, God loves you, and together we can change this world.

I invite you to spend time this year, living with God, through Scripture, through community, and through quiet prayer. Open yourself up to the power of God's transforming love, the life changing working of his Spirit. Allow your views of each other to be shaped, not by our own misgivings, but by the lens of God's love. And it is through these practices, it is through this giving of ourselves over to God, that we will realize the power of his love. It is then that we will speak to each other always in love, and not out of anger or bitterness. It is then that we will not cause strife in our community, but rather all be beacons of peace.

Listen again to these words of Paul, “I encourage you to live as people worthy of the call you received from God. Conduct yourselves with all humility, gentleness, and patience. Accept each other with love, and make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties you together. You are one body and one spirit just as God also called you in one hope.” Let the love of God be your guide, let the life of Christ be your model, and let the Holy Spirit be your strength.

1. Job, Rueben P. Three Simple Questions. (Abingdon Press, Nashville, 2011). p.55.
2. Living in the Presence (HarperOne, 1995), p. 61.
3. Job, Rueben P. Three Simple Questions. (Abingdon Press, Nashville, 2011). p.62.

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