Welcome to the Future: We are one in Jesus

Posted: June 23, 2010 in Uncategorized

They were just having a little fun.

It was just a group of college students staying in a hotel room and a chaperone who was letting them drink. And things got out of hand.

Let’s do something. Let’s mess with some people down there.

They looked out their fifth-story hotel room and they saw two people on the street below. Those two looked to be having a good time, laughing and joking with other.

Quick. Get some cups! They’re still there!

And a shower of beer rained down on the two standing on the street. The indignity of being covered in alcohol was bad enough to bear, but this group wasn’t finished yet.

This prank turned into something else.

And then they shouted some racial slurs.

And they laughed at their prank, thinking it was just some harmless fun.

  • It’s just a little beer
  • It’s just a few words said in fun.
  • No harm, no foul.

And below on the street two people were left to deal with the aftermath of what had just happened. Two friends who had been leaving the hotel to go out and explore the city now faced something they had not dreamed of.

For one of them, it was the first time in his life that he had encountered racism to this extreme. For the other, there was a pain in the eyes that seemed to say, “I thought this was behind me. I thought I’d never have to go there again.”

Simple words. A harmful prank. A little fun.

And two lives that were altered because of it.

This feeling that it is okay to separate ourselves from another through our words and actions without even caring about the consequences — is not a new phenomenon. It has been around since creation. It flows through the Bible and we see it played out over and over again in just about every facet of modern society.

Paul’s situation bears some resemblances to most of our encounters with the bad “isms” of our day – racism, sexism, genderism, classism.

Paul, if you remember, was a devout Pharisee. The Pharisees were lay persons who worked jobs during the day and, at night, devoted themselves to studying the Jewish Law. They knew the law backwards and forward and they believed in living it out and following the steps. And there was a separation that started to happen. Pharisees viewed themselves as more holy than the unclean and common people that they came in contact with. And, of course, Jews were “God’s people” and the Gentiles were just outsiders.

Paul’s life changed on the way to Damascus when he encountered Jesus. Paul, who was still a Jew, devoted his life to helping Gentiles – non-Jews. So maybe you can see some of the beginnings of the problem here – A Jew helping Gentiles and not his own people.

Paul establishes the churches at Galatia and he preaches them the Gospel, the Good News, of Jesus. Their lives are changed because they have faith in Jesus.

But Paul moves on to the next town to establish another church and this clash of cultures hits again. Some good, upstanding Jewish religious folks rolled into the churches at Galatia and they started telling everyone that Paul is completely wrong.

He’s teaching you a bad version of the Gospel.

What you Gentiles really need to do is to become Jewish like us.

  • You need to obey our laws.
  • You need to observe our rituals.
  • You need to look and to act and to be like us.
  • We are really God’s people. You aren’t.

We weren’t there when Paul was writing or dictating this letter to the Galatians. But the way it is written, the fact that he leaves out one of his standard sections his letter (the part that says how thankful he is for them) indicates that he’s NOT HAPPY.

And when I read this passage in Galatians 3, I get a sense of frustration and anger and an impassioned plea to just believe and have faith. It’s the image of two ways – one is a way imprisoned to the rules and the regulations and the other is the way that is free that is through faith in Christ.

But hidden in this message is something that Paul gets. He understands human nature and the desire for things to be comfortable. We want to be in control and in charge. We want to possess things.

And rules provide us a way to do that.

To truly know Jesus is to step out into an unpredictable and sometimes uncomfortable world that takes us places we might not want to go.

But the problem is that instead of taking Christ into the “rule-driven world,” we’d rather bring the rule-driven world into our experience with Christ.

I had a conversation earlier with someone this week about a situation at a church. Someone had used the church oven to bake a cake and one of the members found the evidence of this cake-baking incident in the trashcan. She was convinced that someone was breaking into the church and using “our” equipment. She pressed church council and the trustees until they decided to get new locks for the church and new keys. And the end result of all of this was that someone who was leader for the Girl Scout group meeting at the church was shut out because they didn’t attend church enough to get a key.

And I laughed as I talked to him and said, “it would be amazing if we could put as much energy into getting people into God’s church as we do at trying to keep someone out of our church.”

That church situation, the issues Paul addresses in Galatia and many of the problems that we are encountering today in the Christian church when it comes to attendance and membership dropoffs comes back to a single issue.

We just don’t get it when it comes to grace.

Grace is our way of saying that Jesus’ resurrection opens the kingdom to all of those who make the choice to believe in faith. And if we as a group of Christians believe in grace, if we as a church believe in grace, then it has to completely alter the way we see ourselves and others.

Paul states it so much more eloquently than I ever could. Through faith in Christ, we are all sons and daughters of God. We have the ultimate “Father” and are part of the ultimate family.

And because of that, because of our realization that we did nothing to earn this grace, we have to walk away realizing that it is open to everyone, to ALL people. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Or how about in modern terms?

  • There is no Methodist or Baptist or Presbyterian or Catholic.
  • There is no white, no black, no brown…
  • There is no male or female.
  • There is no upper class, middle class, lower class or poor.
  • There is simply a family of believers who have faith in Jesus.

That is to be our present reality. That is our future blessing.

We are all one in grace through Jesus

Welcome to our future.

I admit that I’m not much of a listener to country music, but I am a Brad Paisley fan and the song “Welcome to the future” really captures this idea that Paul is reminding us of in Galatians.

If you don’t know the story about the song, it’s really written to try to encompass three generations. There’s the reference to his grandfather who fought in the war – all of those who came before the writer. There’s the writer’s generation where life had been wrapped up in the things of the moment – like standing in line to play video games. But so much has changed from that generation of the past to the generations of the present.

But, it’s the future where now everything is up in the air.

And yes, it is a song that he penned while he was watching the inauguration of President Obama. It was a moment that many people thought they would never see in their lifetime.

And Brad Paisley’s view is that because of what his children have witnessed in their lives, and because they now aren’t chained to the past that those who came before us were chained to, they are freed to see a new world, a new future.

Welcome to the future.

The Bible is our ongoing conversation with God. And yes, we believe that God still is speaking to us through it. But that conversation centers us and focuses us on Jesus.

And what did Jesus do in his life that demonstrates to us what Paul is saying in these verses:

  • Jesus’ ministry begins with the statement that he is preaching Good News to the poor.
  • He reaches across racial and ethnic lines in his life – He talked to Samaritans.
  • His ministry brought him in contact with the most undesirable of people – the poor, the lepers, the sick and the hurting.
  • One of the biggest criticisms of Jesus from the Pharisees was that he spent too much time hanging out with those unclean sinners.
  • Even in the cross, the Son of God is treated as a common servant and is executed between two criminals.
  • Jesus lived the life that he has called us to live and he showed us that it will work – and it will change the world.

If you haven’t figured out from the story that I opened with today, I was a part of what happened. I wasn’t one of those students in the room. I was standing outside the hotel with my friend who happened to be African American. That day, I had an upclose and personal encounter with hate.

And I’ve struggled many times over my life with the events of that day. I really didn’t want to forgive those students for being so stupid and hateful and hurtful. But as a Christian, I realized that I had to let go of the pain and the anger that I carried from that event. I had to practice what I’m preaching and realize that grace is just as available to those kids who did something stupid, to those who are bigots and racists, to those who hold others back, to those who put down people because of their sex or gender. Grace makes it difficult to hold something against them because I realize that we are just as valuable in the eyes of God.

This week as I was thinking through this sermon, I sent a note to my friend who now lives in Alabama.

He shared something with me about that situation and others that he had encountered in his life – in those times when we have not lived out of the idea that we are one in Christ.

After experiencing some of those hurts and pains from comments and actions of others, simply because he has a dark color to his skin, my friend would go home to his parents. He would spill out to them the pain that he was experiencing. And after he had finished his father’s words for him were simple.

“Son, the only thing you can do is to pray for them.”

And as he describes it, to this day, he’s come to realize that the only thing that will ever change it, the only thing that will ever bring us this present reality and future promise that Jesus offers, is to pray for those who hurt us just as much as we pray for those who love us.

So what do we do today?

I often use two phrases in sermons that can sound overpowering – those phrases are “share with others” and “transform the world.”

What about this thought of sharing? I don’t expect that when you walk out of here today that you’re going to go out and start preaching a sermon to everyone that you come in contact with. I think that if you built some relationships in your life where you felt comfortable sharing your story of faith, you would find it to be a great blessing. But I know that you may not be there yet.

One of the greatest ways you could share what you believe is to live it and let others see you living it out. What a powerful sermon we preach when we say hello to someone that everyone else ignores or when we help someone who needs it. We share the Gospel when we take time to listen to others and to let them share their burdens with us.

And what about transform the world? That seems like a big task doesn’t it?

Well, we follow the example of Jesus and we start to change the world and build the future one person at a time. A transformation in this world comes when a daughter or son refocus on loving their parents. Or when a husband recommits himself to his wife and his family. Or when a father reprioritizes his life and spends more time with his children.

And the world is changed when people start to notice that something is different about you. Maybe you seem to be a little more upbeat and happy. Maybe you smile and speak kindly more often to others.

And they want to know what has happened to you.

And it is through those moments that we realize that the Future is now. Grace abounds and we love others passionately and radically.

That is when we can proclaim, “Welcome to the future where we are all one with Jesus.”

  1. narciejeter says:

    Powerful words Dean and a really powerful sermon. Thanks for sharing it with us! It’s a challenge to us all. =0)

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