This post is an adapted version of my sermon preached at Christ Church of Oak Brook on Sunday, November 15, 2015 – the Sunday following the Paris attacks. The sermon may also be viewed here.
For many, it is difficult to make sense of what has unfolded in the last 48 hours. We have been so rudely reminded that the world is still not right – broken, in fact; decaying, really.
Somewhere in the ballpark of 129 + or – killed, 350+ injured.
It’s times like this that we hug our loved ones extra close and we begin to take an inventory of what is really important.
And it is also times like this that the gospel can help us make sense of all of the hurt, pain, and brokenness that surrounds us.
And so, we continue our series, “Getting the Gospel”, where we celebrate the good news of the Christian faith. The good news is that because of the LIFE, the DEATH, the FULFILLMENT, the RESURRECTION, and the ASCENSION of Jesus Christ, we are included into the great family of God. We have been freely forgiven, and we are propelled to live a life of freedom and sanctification – guided by the Word and the Spirit of the living God! Often I am overcome by the magnitude of what God has done.
Is this not GOOD NEWS?
Good news, yes, but we are still faced with the horrifying reality that we live in a broken and hurting world.
We don’t even need to look to Paris to inform us of this reality. To add to the list of current acts of violence, we add the following to the list: Kenya, and Lebanon, and Syria, and even in our own neighborhood – Chicago. In the last ten months, 396 have been killed in 2061 incidents. Turn on the news for just a few moments and we hear about the latest terror attack, or a bomb going off at a funeral in Baghdad, or the horrific refugee crisis where people are walking across countries for months with nothing but the clothes on their backs, with no place to go, and no place to lay their head. The devastating situations that surround us seem utterly hopeless.
To some, it may seem like the world is falling apart in all corners.
This is all bad news.
We lament. We lament for Paris. We lament because of violence. We lament for Chicago. We lament for the pain and brokenness in the world.
Many are lamenting, but others are throwing in the towel. What’s the point, they say? Where is the hope, they wonder? Is there light in the darkness?
The Apostle Paul has something to say about suffering in this broken and dark world in Romans 8 with a word of HOPE,
18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that[h] the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. (Romans 8:18-25)
Paul acknowledges the harsh reality that the world is broken and that life is full of suffering. But he reminds us that this suffering is absolutely nothing compared to what is to come! In fact, it is precisely in times like this that we allow the END to IMPINGE on the PRESENT. Scripture paints a glorious picture of what this end goal is. John paints a beautiful picture of what is to come in Revelation 21
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,”[a] for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’[b] or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-5)
That is good news. Someday, we will live in a world that is void of suffering; it will be void of pain; it will be void of evil; it will be void of tears; it will be void of darkness; it will be void of hate, violence, racism, murder, and brokenness. This is why the Apostle Paul says, this current suffering is nothing compared to the future that is ahead of us! Although we live in a world held captive by bondage and decay, bondage and decay wont get the last word!
So what do we do in the mean time?
Do we simply put up our feet, sit back, and say, well, the world has clearly gone awry, but this doesn’t impact me…so who cares!
Of course not! We allow the END to IMPINGE upon our Present.
The exciting news of the GOSPEL is we are called right now to participate in the redemption of the world! By the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit, you and I are called to participate in this renewing TOGETHER, as a REDEMPTIVE COMMUNITY.
I would like to close, then, by taking a look at FOUR distinctive characteristics of a redemptive community.
First, A Redemptive Community is Better Together. One of the distinctive characteristics of being a Christian is that we have a family. In fact, this is the prayer that Jesus prayed in the garden just moments before the cross,
20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20-21)
And not only was this the prayer of Jesus, but this was the defining characteristic of the early church:
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. (Acts 2:42-43)
The strength in a redemptive community I in how we do life together. It is precisely in how we do life together that we show the world what God looks like. By practicing presence, hospitality, generosity, care, compassion, celebration, and love, we – together – reflect the image of God.
Secondly, A Redemptive Community is Generous Beyond Measure. Once again, we see this as a defining characteristic of the early church:
45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:45-47)
A Redemptive Community that is generous beyond measure says,
You need land? The community will provide.
You need a home? The community will provide.
You need food? The community will provide?
You can’t pay your bill for this month? The community will provide.
You need family? God’s people will be your family.
You don’t have winter clothes? God’s people will provide.
You’re a widow or widower and are lonely and broken? God’s people will surround you, love you, care for you, and tend to you.
Your car broke down, you had a terrible month financially, and you have no idea how you’ll get to work? God’s people will provide.
You need a place for your teenager to come and worship with peers, experience the word of God, and be mentored by loving adults? God’s people will provide.
You have a child with autism and you’re wondering if the church has a place for him? God’s people will find a place.
There are children of imprisoned parents who won’t get Christmas gifts this year? God’s people will shop with care and beautifully wrap the presents with love and care.
You want your child to hear the Word of God but you don’t know where to start? God’s people will teach your child AND you how to teach your child.
You have a teenager who has been bullied and is broken, hurt, and lost? God’s people will surround the teenager, love her, and point her to a loving – healing God.
You have an addiction, and you’ve lost all hope of even overcoming it? You’re even too embarrassed to talk about it? God’s people will respond with grace, love, and support and ways beyond measure.
You have a neighbor that you so desperately want them to know God? God’s people will provide a place for them to come, and experience the power of God through scriptures, teaching, music, and, of course, GREAT COFFEE.
A Redemptive Community is generous beyond measure.
Third, A Redemptive Community Seeks Justice
A redemptive community looks at the promises of the New Heaven and New Earth in Revelation 21, and the community looks at the Kingdom culture Jesus illustrates in the Sermon on the Mount, and says, “We are CITIZENS of THAT KINGDOM; therefore, we will live into that New World HERE and NOW and we will be a culture that is marked with the justice of God. It’s a community that says,
If the New Heaven and New Earth (Rev. 21) is a place where love will prevail – then why wouldn’t we let love prevail here on earth – in our relationships, families, marriages, work relationships?
If it will be a place where there is no pain, then wouldn’t we avoid causing pain on the people around us – by the words we say, actions we make, and things we do?
If it is a place void of violence, then why aren’t we taking a stand against violence all around us?
If it is a place with no racism or divisions, then shouldn’t we be breaking down barriers of racism now?
If it is a place where there is no more tears, then wouldn’t we work to care the orphan; the widow; the grieving; the hurting, and the broken?
If it is a place full of justice – then shouldn’t we be taking a stand against injustice here on earth?
A Redemptive Community Seeks Justice
Finally, A Redemptive Community is Missional.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus stood before His followers and said,
21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (John 20:21)
A redemptive community is a community on mission. It is a community of ordinary Christians who enter into the world displaying the love of God by laying down their very lives.
Following Jesus means boldly and humbly entering into culture displaying the love of God by serving our neighbor, loving our neighbor, listening to our neighbor, and showing reckless acts generosity and hospitality.
As Christians, we are called and sent on mission to participate in the redemption of the world because God believes in us. He is with us and has given us the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit to be on mission.
Allow me to illustrate: Before there was Michael Phelps there was Tom Jager, “the Bullet.” In his day, Tom was the fastest swimmer in the world and held the record for the 50-meter freestyle.
When I was fifteen years old, I was accepted into the Tom Jager International Swim Camp in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This swim camp was only for the fastest emerging swimmers; I wasn’t one of them. I was accepted into the camp because of my brother, a swimmer on the Olympic training swim team.
When the day came to hike a local mountain with all one hundred campers, I was, of course, the last in line. Dead last.
The altitude and intensity of the climb was more than my lungs could handle, and I found myself hyperventilating every ten minutes and consequently holding up the rest of the campers. Nearing the end of the climb, thinking I was about at the end of my rope, I collapsed on a rock with nothing left to give. Ready to throw in the towel, I looked up to a line of about a hundred frustrated campers and saw the six-foot-six Tom Jager making his way down the mountain to the end of the line.
With his hand held out, he said, “Come on, Tara Beth, I believe in you; I’m with you; THE END IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER, WE’VE got this.”
Friends, God believes in us.
Let me say that again: God believes in us.
God believes in us; God is with us; the end is just around the corner; we’ve got this.
Participating in the redemption of the world might seem like a daunting task. Especially when we look at all of the pain, all of the darkness, and all of the brokenness in the world.
But we don’t have to throw in the towel.
God believes in us; God is with us; in Christ, we’ve got this.
May we – the church, who is in Christ and lives in the empowering presence of the Spirit – participate in the redemption of the world, by displaying the love of God – together – with reckless generosity, by taking a stand for justice, and living life on mission.