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Truth Project #12: Community and Involvement - “God Cares, Do I?”

June 10, 2012 1Sam.2:1-10

THERE GOES THE NEIGHBOURHOOD

We have always enjoyed living in Blyth; it seemed a safe, caring community. But then something happened a couple of months ago, during a weeknight Youth Group meeting. An individual stole several items from vehicles in the church parking lot while the young people were inside. And this wasn’t even that late in the evening! Since then, we’ve been locking our car doors at that location. Something inside me resists doing that; deep down, I WANT to live in a community where one doesn’t have to worry about locking doors, whether of vehicles or buildings. Perhaps it’s a throwback to pioneer days, or the wilds of northern Ontario – the consensus was that one could leave the cabin unlocked in case some traveller in need happened by; the expectation was that you could TRUST the stranger to leave things in as good a condition as they found it. But one person committing thievery changes all that. “There goes the neighbourhood!”
    What makes for a truly ‘neighbourly’ community? Not pride, or arrogance, or selfishness, or thievery, or jealousy. Instead, what makes for community are the qualities we find in God’s own heart: self-giving love, concern, compassion, and mercy.

THE SHORT ANSWER TO “WHAT’S MOST IMPORTANT?”

If we could sum up the core of Jesus’ teaching in a nutshell, what would that look like? In Matthew 22(35f) we find Jesus being challenged by the religious elite in Jerusalem. An expert in the law, a religious ‘legal beagle’, tested Him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” [SLIDE 53] “Jesus replied: "‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.”[SLIDE 54] (BUT JESUS DIDN’T STOP THERE! HE WENT ON...) “And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."” (Mt 22:37-40) He added the ‘second’ part as if one couldn’t answer the question about the ‘greatest’ commandment solely in the vertical dimension, between a person and God; one has to add the horizontal dimension, relationship to other people.
    Loving other people follows along with loving God, because if you really love someone, what matters to them becomes important to you, too. God has people on His heart! So if we love Him, we must of necessity be concerned about other people, too – those He loves.
    Several Old Testament Scriptures demonstrate God’s concern for the poor. We read in 1Samuel 2(1-10) Hannah’s prayer praising God for His deliverance; she said, [SLIDE 36] “He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap...” (1Sam 2:8) God commanded the Israelites in Deut 24(14), “Do not take advantage of a hired man who is poor and needy...” [SLIDE 37] Job 5(15), “He saves the needy from the sword in their mouth; He saves them from the clutches of the powerful.” And Psalm 72(4), referring to the godly ruler who seems to be identified with the Messiah, “He will defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy; He will crush the oppressor.” [SLIDE 38] Other verses reveal more about God’s heart for the lowly: “The lowly He sets on high, and those who mourn are lifted to safety.” (Job 5:11) “Though the Lord is on high, He looks upon the lowly, but the proud He knows from afar.” (Psalm 138:6) As if - God ‘keeps His distance’ from the proud person, but He’s ‘there for’ the lowly.
    Coming to the New Testament, we find the apostles consider love to be the distilled essence of the Torah, the Old Testament instruction or ‘law’. Paul tells the Romans (13:8-10), “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no harm to its neighbor.Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” Similarly, James (2:8) writes, “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, "Love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing right.” And Paul again, to the Galatians (5:13-14), “You, my brothers, were called to be free.But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself."”
    So, regarding God’s instruction, if you could ‘sum it all up’ in one sentence, give the ‘short answer’ to the question of what’s most important, it would be: ‘love your neighbour as yourself.’ Because if you really are making it a priority to love God, and hurting people are what’s on God’s heart, then we’ll come to share God’s concern for our hurting neighbour.
    [SLIDE 34] Dr Del Tackett illustrates this sphere of “Community” this way: Christ is at the top, Lord of all; submitting to Him are Neighbours; and both of those are concerned for what’s lower on the diagram, the Needy. Christ’s aim then is to help and love the needy through us, whom He calls to acts as caring neighbours.

A HEAVENLY CALL TO HUMILITY

If you want to look more closely at what God’s heart is like, you might be surprised. Deists would like us to suppose God has wound up the universe like a clock and wandered off somewhere else. The Greek pantheon of gods and goddesses seem mostly concerned about having a good time themselves, unhampered by moral considerations. For Darwin, the award for supremacy would go to that race (in Hitler’s scheme, the Aryan race) which triumphs over all weaker tribes in ‘survival of the fittest’, red in tooth and claw. But the Christian God is not at all like these.
    Paul said, “Serve one another in love.” That requires a servant posture, it requires humility, dependence, waiting on someone. To serve someone means you have to consider their needs ahead of your own (quite unlike the parking lot thief who put HIS or her needs above everybody else’s). The testimony of the apostles is that Jesus Christ came among us as One who serves. It was He, no one else, who washed the disciples’ feet at the Last Supper (John 13). When James and John asked to sit at His right and left in glory, He replied that a disciple who wants to become ‘great’ must be servant to the others; Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
    Paul described Jesus’ attitude this way to the Philippians (2:6ff), “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!”
    Loving others and serving others necessarily involves a call to humility, placing yourself where you can help them. Humility is at the core of God’s own heart. If you’re the one who loves to hold the remote control, or ‘call the shots’ in the boardroom or at the steering wheel, maybe this sermon’s for you! [SLIDE 44] Hear how Jesus describes His attitude in Matthew 11(28f), “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
    We know this also reflects the heart of God the Father, for Jesus told His disciples, [SLIDE 50] “From now on, you do know Him (the Father) and have seen Him...Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father.”
    When Jesus said, “I am gentle and humble in heart,” the Greek word used to describe the God’s heart is ‘tapeinos’, no different from the kind of humility seen among humans. [SLIDE 47] Mary sang in of God’s saving action in Luke 1(51f), “He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble (tapeinos).” Similarly, James teaches, [SLIDE 48] “But he gives us more grace.That is why Scripture says: "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."...Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” (Jas 4:6,10)
    Have you been feeling shortchanged on ‘grace’ lately? How’s your ‘pride quotient’? If you’re insisting on being the one to run your own life, if you like to throw your weight around and play the heavy with others, God can’t support you in that, you’re ‘bullying’ Him out of the way. He scatters, opposes the proud, knows them ‘from afar’. His grace is for those who humble themselves and wait upon Him.
    We have a heavenly call to humility, to ‘other-awareness’, to forget our own self-interests long enough to truly ‘be there’ for another person and genuinely SEE their need, their situation. Del Tackett talked about one girl in his class who others made fun of for her square chin that jutted out and her somewhat ‘ratty’ hair; they called her ‘the Foo’ and when she came by would call, “OOO! The Foo!” and move away.
    Another time, Del came come from his first school dance or “sock-hop” as they were called back then. His dad asked if everybody had had a good time; Del thought so, but then his dad asked if there were any girls who hadn’t been asked to dance, whether THEY had had a good time as well. Del hadn’t really thought about how they might be feeling. So his dad was teaching him about humility, to have some other-awareness, to be the one who asked even the less popular girls for a dance.

THE COST OF COMPASSION

God’s heart of love and compassion for the poor and needy invites Christians into culture to transform it, to improve the lot of those who hurt. [SLIDE 35] Who are the needy? The poor, orphans, widows, the sick, prisoners, outcasts, the unpopular, neglected, left out, homely, the last, and - others. Through the centuries, Christians have creatively addressed needs they saw around them. There is an ancient document, a letter from a Roman soldier stationed at Antioch, telling his commanding officer how everyone had moved out of town because of the plague that had struck; all except the followers of one peculiar religious sect, who worshipped some “Chrestus” and stayed behind to care for the dying.
    [SLIDE 62] This slide lists some of the ways Christianity has changed the world through getting involved: people transformed by Christ (for instance, Chuck Colson); sanctification of human life; elevation of sexual morality; charity and compassion; dignity of women (my fellow youth group leader, currently on sabbatical and touring in Jordan, related how in that country women aren’t seen in businesses, they don’t even drive because the feeling among the men is that they would be such bad drivers if they were allowed!); continuing our list - hospitals and health care; in fields of education, labour, science; liberty, justice, slavery; art, music, and literature.
    The newspaper ChristianWeek reports that World Vision Canada is launching a 3-year campaign focussed on putting an end to child slavery. Today, June 10, is being marked as “Abolitionist Sunday” in some churches. The International Labour Organization estimates that half of all human trafficking victims are children. For each one that is forced into prostitution, 9 others are trafficked into places like factories, boats, mines, and farms. The campaign highlighted at endchildslavery.ca points to specific actions Canadians can take to influence the lives of children. We can learn and pray about trafficking; and churches can ensure we’re not supporting exploitative labour in the coffee and tea we provide after services. The Abolitionist Sunday guide suggests a first step for churches is to buy ethically certified tea and coffee. Carleen McGuinty at World Vision Canada says, “As consumers, we’re actually driving the demand for kids to be pushed into these 3D jobs.” (Dirty, dangerous, degrading) “We have the power to change that if we just ask for diffeent kinds of products, different kinds of consumer goods.” (Remember my dilemma last week spending MORE for half the amount of fair-trade coffee?)
    Christians have been active on behalf of the lowly and enslaved for a long time. William Wilberforce was a British politician in the 1800s largely responsible for the abolition of the slave trade, after a political battle of some 40 years (think of the movie Amazing Grace). Douglas Holliday notes 5 factors characterizing this famous freedom fighter: [SLIDE 65] “1) His whole life was animated by a deeply held, personal faith in Jesus Christ.2) He had a deep sense of calling that grew into conviction that he was to exercise his spiritual purpose in the realms of his secular responsibility. [SLIDE 66] 3) He was committed to the strategic importance of a band of like-minded friends devoted to working together in chosen ventures.(perhaps some HUMILITY there - not ‘going it alone’ as a lone ranger, but relying on a team?) 4) He believed deeply in the power of ideas and moral beliefs to change culture through sustained public persuasion. [SLIDE 67] 5) He was willing to pay a steep cost for his courageous public stands and was persistent in pursuing his life task.”
    How about you? Is your religion ‘cheap’, inexpensive – or are you, like Wilberforce, like Jesus, willing to ‘pay a steep cost’? Loving God means loving our neighbour means laying down our life where needed.

MANY MORE MILLIES

I’d like to close with a 2.5 minute clip from the Truth Project featuring “Flash”, a tattoo artist who had a difficult childhood. You can get a sense for some of the trauma he endured. But a certain woman named Millie showed some genuine caring for him. Listen for what he has to say about ‘religion’ and ‘true Christianity’...
    What’s most important, according to Jesus and the apostles? Loving God, but also loving our neighbour, ‘being there’ for them even when others reject them. Millie showed she was a ‘true Christian’, at least as Flash experienced it. May the Lord transform us and flood our hearts with His genuine humility, caring, and compassion. Let’s pray.