BLVD - Week Two: "Why Our Vision Matters To Our Message"

Today we are continuing the sermon series BLVD - becoming roads that connect people to Jesus.

I have to confess something to all of you.  I completely lose my cool when I get lost.  I hate being lost.  I can't stand not knowing where I am going.  And as my wife can attest, when I start feeling lost the thing I want most of all is control. 

And the thing that gives me the sense of the most control in those situations is to have a good GPS system that I can follow.

But as we all know, sometimes following your GPS isn't all that it's cracked up to be.  One of my many favorite moments in the now classic TV Show "The Office" is when two of the main characters, Michael and Dwight, follow their GPS at all costs:

My wife Merideth and I had a moment almost like that a few years ago when we were trying to get to a friend's house we'd never been to before.  Their instructions sort of spelled out the intricacies of how to get there, including some landmarks and tell-tale signs that you'd gone the wrong way.

I ignored all of those and simply put their address into the GPS on my phone.  After a long, convoluted journey we found ourselves at a dead end near a pasture, and a mobile home with several dirty children playing with a burning tire in the front yard.

I can't remember if it was a burning tire, come to think of it.  Let's just say it was burning.  I backed out of there in a hurry, though.  I half expected the cast from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre to emerge from that trailer.

It was only when we actually read the instructions, retraced our steps and saw the landmarks, and signs that pointed in the right way that we were actually able to find our friend's house--much later than we would have if we'd followed them in the first place.

Interestingly enough, the same kind of mishap occurs to those of us who call ourselves Christians when we are trying to navigate our way through a life of following Jesus.

Far too many Christians lose sight of the landmarks--the things that are constant and true about following Jesus--and become enamored with following directions that may or may not be all that accurate.

More specifically, this happens when Christians become far too concerned with doctrine as opposed to devotion---when they care way too much about rules, regulations and being right than they do about actually living like Jesus.

The other day, I was wearing one of our church shirts at the H-E-B when a young woman asked me what it meant.  I told her it meant "Love God, Love Everybody."  I went on to explain that it was a shirt from my church and it was kind of our vision... to love God and love everybody because Jesus told us to.

"That's refreshing," she said.

I wondered later what she actually meant by that.  I took it to mean that she thought it was refreshing to hear about a church who was talking about loving everybody, as opposed to loving a few select people who agree with us. 

Because far too many Christians struggle to look for the landmarks on the road in the journey of their faith and opt instead to keep their heads down, trying to follow directions that don't often lead them where they want to go.

But God means for us to be so much more...

We are called to be connectors--as we learned last week.  Connectors that help create a way for people to find Jesus more easily.  And what I want us to hold on to today--the one thing I want us to know above all else is this:

Connectors are devoted to Loving God and Loving Everybody.  

If you think this sounds a bit familiar (and I hope it does) then you would be right.  "Love God Love Everybody" is the vision of our church.  And today we're going to learn about where our vision comes from, and why it is so important to us as a church, and to all of us as followers of Jesus.

In Matthew 22:34-40 we find an interesting moment where Jesus is having a debate with a group of people who are part of a sect of ancient Judaism known as the Pharisees.

You have to understand a little something about the state of ancient Judaism during the time of Jesus.  First, there wasn't a monolithic Judaism, it was more like Judaisms.  There were a bunch of different sects, much like Protestants have all kinds of denominations.

The main two groups that struggled for ideological supremacy during the first century were the Pharisees and the Sadducees.  And, among other things, these guys were always arguing about which of the 613 commandments in the Torah was the most important.

Jesus was always getting dragged into this debate as one side of the other ried to figure out where he stood.  Some of them wanted to pigeon-hole him so they could dismiss him, and others so they could discredit him.

Let's read what happened to some Pharisees when they made a run at him after a group of Sadducees had failed to stump him:
34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
What Jesus does here is masterful. The Pharisees are trying to pigeon-hole him, to box him in to a position on the directions that they thought people should take when it came to their journey of faith.

Instead, he points them back to their own tradition--their own landmarks.  He points them back to something that they seem to have forgotten.  You see, in their zeal to live rightly, to make sure that their doctrine was correct and that they would win all of the deep theological arguments, they had forgotten the very foundation of their faith.

When he reminds them to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind..."  Jesus is reminding them of a prayer that faithful Jews pray each and every day--even now:  The Shema.  

The Shema  in Hebrew begins like this:

Sh'ma Yisra'eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad. V'ahav'ta eit Adonai Elohekha b'khol l'vav'kha uv'khol naf'sh'kha uv'khol m'odekha. 

Hear O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord your God is One. And you shall love the Lord Your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.

This prayer surrounded the Jewish people.  It was to be placed in the doorposts of every home with a mezuzah and to be worn on the forehead in phylacteries to remind them of what was most important.

Jesus is essentially saying here---why are you so obsessed with directions when you have all of the landmarks and signposts that you need to know the way forward?

And then he cheats a little by including the second commandment in the Greatest Commandment.  He adds, "and love your neighbor as your self."

Basically, he says you can't have one without the other.  If you say love God, but don't love your neighbor--then you aren't really showing your love for God.  To love God is to love your neighbor.

And then Jesus says, "All of the Law and Prophets hang on this."

Which essentially means that you can wander around trying to figure out all of the details, following directions, doing everything you can to find your way on your own by using what seems good, seems trustworthy... and still find yourself completely missing the point.

Everything is suspended from these two things:  Love God and Love Everybody.  Everything.  And the funny thing is that Jesus reframed the entire conversation by providing them with an answer they already knew... or at least should have known. 

So what do we do with this?  How do we figure this out for our own journey of following Jesus?
How do we keep from becoming more concerned about following directions rather than keeping devotion?

I think it all comes down to Landmark Salience.

Do me a favor.  I'm going to put some names of places on the screen, and I want you to think about a landmark or two that you associate with that place:

New York
Black Hills South Dakota
Agra, India
Sydney Australia

Now, I want you to think about your own hometown, your own place.  What are the landmarks that have meaning to you?  What are the things that you look for that provide you with a sense of direction and belonging?

The connection between us and landmarks is described with the term "salience."  There's an aspect of urban planning that takes landmark salience into consideration when changes are being made.  In other words, what are the connections that people have to certain landmarks and even intersections that govern their sense of direction and belonging?

What are the landmarks and signs that give people their sense of direction--apart from GPS, directions and so forth?  How do we learn our way around when we don't have step by step instructions?

We use landmarks--ones that we've built deep connections with through memory, association and the like.  Landmarks mean something to us--they help us remember where we are going without needing a turn-by-turn set of directions that might not always be accurate.

Because GPS doesn't always include all the nuances of the path you are taking, and doesn't always get you where you want to go as easily as you would think.  And sometimes takes you into a lake, or a dead end.

So the question that we need to ask ourselves as followers of Jesus is this:

Have we become so obsessed with the letter of the law that we have begun to ignore the Spirit?

Have we become so focused on following the GPS that we have begun to ignore the true landmarks of what it means to be a follower of Jesus--the things that matter the most?

And here's what matters most. Here are the great landmarks of our faith:

We need to remember WHO we are.  We are the recipients of Amazing Grace.  You know how that song goes, don't you?  Amazing grace/how sweet the sound/that saved a wretch like me/I once was lost/but now I'm found/was blind but now I see.

This is who we are.  The broken, the mistake-prone, the not good enough, the ones who feel left out, forgotten, used up... All of whom are covered in grace, made new, made right and made whole.

We also need to remember WHOSE we are.  The Apostle Paul wrote about how you and I and all those who embrace the journey of following Jesus are adopted into the family of God.  we are chosen, we belong.  We don't ever have to fell less than ever again. 

We need to remember WHY we are.  We are given the great, amaxing grace of God so that we can show that amazing grace to others.  Our calling, our purpose is to be the light of the world, to embody the kingdom of God, to show people what it looks like when God gets what God wants and the peace or the shalom of God permeates everything.  We bring the shalom. We show our friends and neighbors what it looks like to love God and love everybody.

And in the end, this is what will win the day... Not keeping rules and regulations... Not having the right set of answers to questions no one is really asking... Not worrying about who is "in" or "out"...

What wins the day is when we remember our landmarks... and become true connectors who help people find Jesus.

Because connectors are devoted to loving God and loving everybody.


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