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Introduction: This morning we are continuing in our study on “Values Vital to our Future”, specifically today I would like to challenge you (and me) with our calling to love our neighbor. When Dan started this series last month he began by reminding us that “Good enough is never an acceptable title for Christians” and he encouraged us to not fall into this category. To be real honest there are too many “good enough” Christians in the world and they are doing boundless harm to the effectiveness of God’s kingdom. You may end up feeling uncomfortable at the end of this message; if this is the case it may just mean that you have begun to accept your “good enoughness.” Craig Gross calls this “Born-Again Lazy”. It’s the kind of Christian who has done little to nothing of worth or value since they came under the reign of God. It’s when you want nothing more of Christ than his blood and not to join Him in His mission to redeem and to love. So how do we keep ourselves from being Christian Vampires, Born-Again Lazy or simply “Good enough”? To me it’s all about how I view myself and how I view God’s plan for the future. There are two ways these points can be viewed, either you feel that God is all about you and only you and that in the end everything will be ok because Jesus is on your side or you can take the view that God is indeed for you but also for your neighbor and that his plan involves letting you join with Him to reach out to the world. Now both views
have the potential to have very negative outcomes. The first though is just lazy, let’s throw that out right now and let’s focus on the second because I believe that is where we need to live and wrestle as a community. But before we do that I would like to spend the next 15 minutes or so worshipping God through scripture. I have one portion to read for you and I would invite any of you who have a section that they have been learning this week or have made their life verse, to come on up and form a line behind me and we will take turns reading. I would very much like to have different voices from the different generations represented here today. I do have back up portions if you would like or if no one comes up I will keep reading but I do have a whole message later this morning so please, come on up.
Called to Love: Recently while I was driving I saw this bumper sticker on a truck in front of me:
At first I laughed and tried to think if I could get away with having one on my car…than it sank in a little and left be pretty upset. It got me to think “what exactly was it that this guy experienced that had left him feeling that this was what he thought when thinking of the church.” What is it about the church today that has failed its mission to bring the love and beauty of God’s path into his life? Is the Church joining in
God’s mission or not? A few weeks back Dan gave us a sheet of paper with some quotes from Dwight Smith’s book “Invading Secular Pace”. I found one quote to be worth recalling if we want to find an answer to why people see the church as an annoyance rather than the place of rest and hope and love that it was created to be, it reads: “If the body of Christ is God’s chosen incarnation into the world for this time and place, then how people live their interpersonal relationships among each other cannot be relegated to secondary consideration.” For me it boils down to this: “God has put you here for a reason. Start living like it matters to you.” All of us here believe (or should believe) that God has given His people a mission; we saw it at the foot of Mt. Sinai, we saw it at the outpouring of Pentecost. What we have in a large part failed to do is link those events together along with the stories that trace a path down through to our actions in the church today, and by “church” here I mean Grace Church, I mean you and I mean me. We have taken the power of Jesus resurrection and made it into a holiday rather than a life transforming vehicle to renew and redeem our families, neighborhoods and our culture. We have taken the work of the Holy Spirit and shrunk it down to something manageable, something we can designate and sort. The Holy Spirit was vital to the early church; it is what sent them out to love their neighbor and what moved them to sell their possessions for those in need. We have designated the Holy Spirit into a box labeled safe and I’m afraid the Holy Spirit is anything but safe. He ruins lives
for the sake of the gospel, He spends our money for us, He talks to uncomfortable people through us and He signs us up for things that get in the way of our schedules. Torah, Mitzvot, Teshuvah Our mission is to help our neighbor respond to the covenant God has offered humanity. Three Hebrew words that God has used throughout the scriptures to describe this is: Torah, Mitzvot, and Teshuvah. In the Old Testament the Torah was God’s “teaching” and it was God’s way of leading humanity back onto the path of overflowing, abundant life. Mitzvot or “commands” were given to help keep you on God’s path and if you were to veer from the path you would use the word teshuvah which meant to “turn around and return to the path”. Unfortunately these words have changed over time becoming harsh and burdensome. Let me give you some examples, Torah is now called “The Books of the Law”, the mitzvot are now “Laws that we have to obey” and teshuvah is what we do “when we break the Law”. On the one hand a call to live in peace with God and with fellow man, on the other hand is a call to live in fear of judgment. Listen to how God speaks of the path and ask yourself: do I hear a God of judgment or a God who wants to lead me to a path of abundant, eternal, life? Deuteronomy 30:9-20
And the LORD your God will grant you abounding prosperity in all your undertakings, in the issue of your womb, the offspring of your cattle, and the produce of your soil. For the LORD will again delight in your well-being, as He did in that of your fathers, since you will be heeding the LORD your God and keeping His commandments and laws that are recorded in this book of the Teaching-once you return to the LORD your God with all your heart and soul. Surely, this Instruction which I enjoin upon you this day is not to baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach. It is not in the heavens, that you should say, “Who among us can go up
to the heavens and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who among us can cross to the other side of the sea and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?” No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it. See, I set before you this day life and prosperity, death and adversity. For I command you this day, to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His laws, and His rules, that you may thrive and increase, and that the LORD your God may bless you in the land that you are about to enter and possess. But if your heart turns away and you give no heed, and are lured into the worship and service of other gods, I declare to you this day that you shall certainly perish; you shall not long endure on the soil that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day: I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life—if you and your offspring would live—by loving the LORD your God, heeding His commands, and holding fast to Him. For thereby you shall have life and shall endure upon the soil that the LORD swore to your ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give to them.
A couple key phrases: The LORD will again take delight in your well-being Once you return to the Lord your God with all your heart and soul This Instruction…is not beyond reach No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart Love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments I set before you this day Life and Death I command you this day to keep His commandments…that you may thieve But if your heart turns away…you shall certainly perish I have put before you life and death – Choose Life
Love the Lord your God, Heed His Commands, Hold Fast to Him Chesed In the Bible, God uses the word "hesed" nearly two hundred times in relation to His people, and although the English translation uses words such as love, loving-kindness, mercy and loyalty, there is a deeper meaning worth exploring. Hesed is the product or work that comes out of a relationship, like trust comes out of a friendship or love comes out of a Mother. It is used primarily in cases where there is some recognized tie between two parties and describes the action that comes out of that tie. In the case of God, His people, and hesed, we have two parties that are tied together by a covenant. The action that comes out of that covenant relationship is the word hesed. For the Israelites, it was the action of loving God with all their hearts, minds and strength, for God it was keeping His promise to protect and keep them. But God also called His people to be a holy priesthood designed to offer humanity a way toward restoration. These redemptive actions performed by the priesthood were a natural product that was worked by the people. We see that when there is no love, God refuses to accept their sacrifice, Israel's actions are supposed to be worked out of their hesed (love, loyalty) of God. You could use the word love or loyalty but you would miss the point of its direct relation to the tie of the covenant. The theological importance of the word hesed is that, more than any other word, it stands for the attitude which brings both parties to a covenant and describes the attitude that ought to be than maintained toward each other, mainly on the part of the people, that would be a love of God and love toward man.
Through the work of Jesus' death and resurrection God has now extended to all men the covenant which than extends further into a calling into His holy priesthood. We are called to live out our response to the Covenant, which is hesed. It is a word that, I believe, can be given as a job description for the holy priesthood; it is a word that describes our responsibility to love God and our responsibility to join with Him in His reach to fallen creation offering redemption. Joining with God in His redemptive work should not be confused as a generic love of everyone, it is not generic but very intentional. Hesed creates in us our ability to offer forgiveness and encourages in us a desire to see past what is fallen and toward what God can do to redeem any situation. Hesed does not allow us to look past injustice, it births in us a response to attempt to repair and restore. Hesed is in the title of this resource page because it provides a purpose beyond what you find here. This site should act both as a place to learn how God is working in the broken places as well as a springboard into the work He is doing (or going to do with your help) in our community. Remember, if we are called to be priests in God's kingdom than we have been invited to work with God to restore broken humanity. God has been calling men and women since the beginning to take part in His mission of redemption; you have been placed here at this time to continue this mission. God has asked His people all throughout the OT to join with Him in His mission to redeem the broken places. That is why He called His people into covenant with Him, to redeem them. And now He has given us the privilege to extend this covenant to all people and next I would like to show you one of those specific Old Testament places where God calls an individual but it did not turn out as God would have hoped. I
want to use this story because if you let it, it will start to sound real familiar, because it’s our story. Watch the heart of God and watch the heart of Jonah. We’ll look into the story a little deeper at the end. This is a story about our heart represented by a man who walked the streets of his enemies in the year 760 bc. He walked the streets speaking on behalf of his God to a people known for cruelty and wickedness. In his heart he did not want to be there, he would rather stand to the side and watch as God wrought judgment and condemnation. But God taught him a lesson he would not soon forget. Some time earlier God spoke to Jonah and said “Go to Nineveh, that great city and cry out against it because its wickedness has grieved me.” Jonah however decided that what God wanted was a bad idea and he fled from God’s service to Tarshish. To get there Jonah was forced to sail across the Great Sea, while on the boat God decided to make a point and had Jonah thrown overboard and swallowed by a fish. While in the heart of the sea in the belly of the fish Jonah prayed: From the belly of Sheol I cried! And you heard. You cast me into the depths, into the heart of the Sea! I thought I was driven away, Out of your sight! Would I ever behold your glory again? The waters closed in on me! The deep engulfed me! Yet you brought my life up from the pit My life was ebbing away but I called to the Lord
I, with loud thanksgiving, will sacrifice to You What I have vowed I will make good Deliverance is from God!
And than God called the fish to spew Jonah back onto dry ground and He said to Jonah again, “Go to Nineveh and proclaim to it what I tell you.” Jonah went at once. Jonah walked the streets of his enemies speaking on behalf of his God to a people known for cruelty and for wickedness. In his heart he did not want to be there, he would rather stand to the side and watch as God wrought judgment and condemnation. But the lesson God taught him was still with him and he walked for one day into the center of the city and proclaimed: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown!” The people and their king heard Jonah and believed God; they proclaimed a fast and put on sackcloth. The king called for everyone to turn back from his evil ways and from injustice, for “who knows” the king said, “God may turn and relent.” God saw that the people were turning from their evil ways and he renounced the punishment that was approaching the city. Jonah was angry. “See! This is why I fled! This is why I wanted no part of it. I knew you to be a God of mercy, a God slow to anger, a God who renounces punishment! These people abuse and ravage your people; they mock you by their very existence! Please, take my life; I’d rather die than watch this. God replied, “Are you really that deeply
grieved?” and left him alone. Jonah made a spot to sit and watch the city, to see what God would do but God wasn’t over there so to speak, He was orchestrating another lesson for Jonah. God caused a plant to grow and provide shade from the hot sun; this made Jonah happy. God than provided a worm, which attacked the plant and it withered and Jonah was miserable and wanted to die. God asked Jonah, “Are you so deeply grieved about the plant?” So deeply that I want to die!” Jonah replied. God said, “You cared about the plant even though you did nothing to make it grow? It appeared overnight and perished overnight. Should I not care about Nineveh? Where there are more than 120,000 people who do not yet know their right from their left?” Two points form the story
The Lessons for Jonah God’s heart for humanity
The Lessons for Jonah God provided two lessons for Jonah, the first came with the big fish and the heart of the sea. The Jewish people viewed the heart of the sea as the gates of Sheol (Hades in Greek), Hell is what we would call it. They saw the sea as chaos and chaos to the Jew was the opposite of God. So when God sent Jonah to the heart of the sea he felt that God had sent him to the bowls of hell. Maybe what God was doing though, was giving Jonah a picture of what was in Nineveh’s future if they (Jonah and God) didn’t intervene and provide them with a way off of the path they were on. It was important for Jonah to understand what was at stake. The other lesson God provided for Jonah was while Jonah was waiting to see how God would respond to the city. God provided shade with a “ricinus” plant (this is an actual picture of the plant by the way)
and after some time he “provided” a worm to destroy the plant. God wanted to see how Jonah would react, if we graded Jonah’s reaction it would probably be an F. God was showing Jonah the difference between their perspectives, to Jonah the people of Nineveh where here today and gone tomorrow, he had no say in how they were created or how they would perish, just like the plant. But God did create the people, just like the plant, and He had a hand in how their future would be decided, He could either do nothing, letting their path destroy them or He could act on their behalf and show them how to choose life rather than death, to allow them a chance at Teshuvah. God asked one of His covenant people, someone He shared hesed with, to join Him in this mission and we just saw how that plan unfolded. It didn’t seem very successful but when it’s all said and done, Jonah becomes one of the most successful prophets helping to turn the hearts of 120,000 people. God’s heart for humanity We learn from the beginning of this story that God was aware of the wickedness of Nineveh. Although He was aware, His first reaction was not to destroy the city but to save it. And not only did He want to save it but He wanted to enlist the help of Jonah to do it. He was giving Jonah the opportunity to partner with Him to bring redemption, to bring teshuvah to the people. After convincing Jonah that this was what he should do, after the deed was done and the people repented, Jonah is still unhappy about having to do what they did. Kind of like when a father asks his son to eat his vegetables, the boy may not want to do it but he will be better and healthier if he starts to get in the habit of eating vegetables. It is during this “I didn’t want to” fit that God shows Jonah through picture that He is the creator of the Ninevites and that He
has the right to care about them. Using the plant that withers, He teaches Jonah that his priorities are self-centered and if he wants to be a part of what God is doing in the world, he would have to change, a teshuvah of his own.
The story of Jonah has a lot to say to us today. It is a story of God’s love for humanity and it is a story of how God invites us into the game. We sometimes have to take a look at our priorities and return to the path God laid out for us to follow. It’s easy to get side tracked by our own wants, this is (when outside God’s wants) a way of sin and needs to be abandoned if we are ever to become the people God has called us to be, if we ever want to follow our calling to love. The Blessing of Failure- What makes the church ineffective is in how words are abundant and actions are few. May God Bless you with failure because is you are failing, at least it means you are doing something! You may stumble as you learn this new way to live outside of yourself but God will provide you with the strength to keep trying IF you are trying, loving, with all you heart and soul. Keep working out this calling to love, it is what you were meant to do and become.
Called to Love – Bibliography
List Compiled by Paul Ikonen
Where God Happens -Rowin Williams George
Serve God Save the Planet -J. Sleeth
The Secret The Relevant Message of Jesus Nation -Brian McLaren -Heather Zydek
The Mark Jesus -T.
Living Jesus -Luke T. Johnson Wright
The Kingdom Just Generosity of God is a Party -Ron Sider -Tony Campolo
The Gutter -Craig Gross
The Challenge of Jesus Gross -N.T. Wright
The Call to Conversion -Jim Wallis
Be A Hero -W. Campbell S. Court
Beyond Charity -John Perkins
Starving J -Cra
The Irresistible Everything Must Rich Christians in an Revolution Change Hunger -Shane Claibourne -Brian McLaren Sider
Renovation of the Heart -Dallas Willard
This Beautiful Mess
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