Stop Going To Church - Week Two
Today we are going to be concluding the short two-part sermon series on the vision of our church, and what it means to us.
If you missed last week, you missed a golden opportunity to hear a pastor tell a congregation, "Stop Going to Church!"
There was more to it, obviously. Because I do want you to come here, and worship with us, and get involved and support your church family...
So the statement went something like this: "Stop going to church, BE the Church." Because the church isn't a destination, it's not somewhere you go, it's not a building. It's who we are.
And at Shepherd of the Hills, we believe that the best way that we can be the Church right here in our own context is when we are guided by our vision.
And what is our vision exactly? Love God, Love Everybody.
This is not some touchy-feely, politically correct statement. It's one of the most challenging things that Jesus ever said.
And it is Jesus who said this, to be clear. We didn't pull this out of thin air. Because---and let's be honest here. The idea of loving everybody... yeah, it's not an easy thing.
There are some people I really don't want to have included in the "everybody" column if you know what I mean. I'm thinking of a couple of them right now.
Yeah. That got my blood boiling a bit. And it kind of makes me feel a bit helpless, you know? Like how am I ever going to love everybody?
Here's what I want us to focus on today--our one big idea as we dig once again into the text that is guiding us:
You can't truly love God without loving everybody God loves.
Let's return once again to Matthew 22:36-40. This is a moment when an expert in Jewish law comes to Jesus to try to stump him on behalf of the religious sect called the Pharisees.
He asks Jesus to weigh in on a topic---which law out of all of the laws is the greatest law.
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.’[a] 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.”I mentioned last week that there was a huge debate that was raging in first-century Judaism about which was the greatest commandment. The idea behind this debate was that your theology sort of hinged on which way you went with it.
If you believed that the greatest commandment was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind, then you probably were aligned with a particular rabbi named Shammai. Shammai was a Sadducee and he had a more strict, legalistic view of the Torah, or the Law. His view was God-focused, above all else, including others.
If you believed the greatest commandment was to love others as you love yourself, then you were probably aligned with Hillel, who was a Pharisee, and who (believe it or not) had a more lenient view of the Torah, believing that it was everyone.
The problem with both of these views was that they'd been distorted by their adherents to one or the other rabbis over the years, and both were completely focused on effort, and despite the more lenient view of the Hillel tribe, they still believed that God would love them more if they were just better at keeping the law than everyone else.
So when Jesus hits them with this response, it lets the air out of both camps. Because Jesus is saying to them---when it all comes down to it if you don't love the people God loves, than you probably aren't fully loving God.
There is one version of this story in the Gospel of Luke where the lawyer asks a follow-up question, trying to pin Jesus down even more. "Who is my neighbor?" he asks. Because if you can determine who your neighbor is, then you can determine if this is even possible. And what he's doing when hea asks that question is assuming that there is a pretty finite subgroup of people called "neighbor," because surely you can't love everybody, right?
So Jesus creates a story, the story of the Good Samaritan, where the guy is forced to identify with a person in the story who he despises---a Samaritan who acts as a true neighbor when all of the good Jews in the story didn't.
Why did Jesus do this? Why would he want them to expand their thinking like this?
Because what he wanted them to know is that your neighborly list includes "Everybody." Every single person you meet has the potential to be your true neighbor, your sister or brother.
Jesus wanted them to know that you show your love for God in the way that you love everybody.
And Jesus taught his followers this in a really interesting way. Let's think through it a bit with Jesus, you with me?
In Matthew 6:22 Jesus is delivering the Sermon on the Mount to his followers and all of the people who have gathered together to receive a new word from him. He says to them:
"The eye is the lamp of the body, if your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light."
What Jesus was saying is as simple as this: How you see the world... how you see people, it matters. It matters how you look out into the world. Do you look out into the world and see enemies? Opponents? Do you see people who don't ascribe to your particular way of coming to God as "Unsaved?" "Lost?"
Or do you see them as sisters and brothers... as your neighbor... as your own...
So, how do we pull this off? We need some divine intervention, don't we? How do we see neighbors everywhere we go?
First, you need to realize that every person you meet is beloved...
Yes... even the nasty ones are loved by God... even them.
That person that cut you off on Mopac, and then inexplicably flipped you off afterward... even them.
The person who is in front of you at the HEB, with three carts filled with canned goods, and pop tarts, a duffel bag full of coupons and who pays with a check... even them.
The person who is already putting up signs in their yard for that candidate that you can't stand...
Or the person who lied about you at work or school--costing you friendships or a promotion...
Or the person who betrayed you spitefully used you, made a fool out of you, wounded you...
Or the person who abused you, stole your childhood, your adulthood, your life...
Everyone is beloved by God. Everyone has the potential to be made new. Everyone who is broken is not forgotten. They are all beloved. Even you.
Second, we need to assume the best rather than expecting the worst.
Everyone has a back story--try to learn it. Because what most of us do is we develop assumptions, and dismiss people based on what we see or what we hear about them.
Seriously, this happens to me all of the time.
I had this church member once who was super difficult to deal with. She was one of those people who would show up late to a meeting, and then raise controversial issues to muck things up.
She took to sending me emails late at night---lots of emails, incoherent, ranting, filled with meanness emails. I couldn't stand this woman. She made my first years at that church a nightmare.
And then one day I actually talked to her. I asked her about her family, her husband, her life. I don't know why I did this, but in the end, I was so glad I did.
I heard about her son, who had a severely disabled baby daughter, and who had gone through a nasty divorce, leaving him with custody. I heard about her husband's terrible battles with poor health and impending blindness.
I heard about how this woman basically had to put her entire family on her back and care for them.
And it changed the way I felt about her... and I found reserves of grace I never knew I had to deal with her dysfunction.
Has that happened to you before? You didn't take the time to get to know someone, you didn't listen to their story, and then you discovered that they were fighting battles that you couldn't possibly imagine them fighting.
Finally, you need to suspend your need to be right for a while.
The need to be right is an obsession in our society. In fact, being right is so much a part of our culture that we have entire TV news networks dedicated to their version of rightness.
But more often than not, being right gets in the way of a real relationship.
Here's the truth...
Those people who drive you crazy... The ones whose political beliefs make you want to scream and break stuff... The ones who constantly cause you grief... The ones who go around saying, "Well the Bible says..." The ones who are part of that group of people over there who are just... not loveable... The ones who actively try to make your life hell...
It's a long stinking list, isn't it?
Those people might have something to teach you... about yourself... about your faith...
Maybe what you need to learn is patience.
Or the ability to show mercy.
Or how not to act. Because generally what we see in others that drives us crazy is usually something we either struggle with or fear in our selves.
This is how we see neighbors everywhere. All around us. In our community, in our work, in our schools, in our neighborhoods, and beyond to the wider world. And when we begin to see people as God sees them, as Jesus taught us to see them, it changes the way we see them forever.
And then you can be open to loving them... loving everybody.
You can't truly love God without loving everybody God loves. Love God, Love Everybody. This is who we are. This is how we will live as a community of faith.