Under God? - Week One
Today we are going to be launching two things: A new sermon series, and the beginning of an election year.
Did you know that we are in an election year? I know... just reminding you. Some of you are thinking, "But Leon... haven't we already been in an election year?" Touche'
But still, we are marking the beginning of the actual year-long festivities now... which is awesome.
Our sermon series is entitled "Under God?" And we are going to be spending the entire month of November exploring what it means for Christians to be peacemakers during seasons of division and contention.
Which in our culture seems to be one long, terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad season, am I right?
Speaking of horrible... I'd love it if you would do me a favor right now.
What are some words that you would use to describe our current political and social situation? Go ahead and share them. Just don't use the four letter ones, okay? At leasts out loud. This is a family moment.
Despite the fact that there are probably a lot of different points of view to be had in this gathering today, the one thing that we can all agree on is that things are not great.
Which is why those of us who claim to be Christians need to be doing more. In fact, this series will be focused on how those of us who call ourselves Christians or Jesus-followers can be peacemakers in a culture that seems hopelessly divided and at war with itself.
First, we need to be honest with ourselves. Christians aren't doing so hot when it comes to peacemaking. I only need to scroll through my Facebook feed to see just how poorly many of my Christian friends are doing.
But one of the many things that we can do as Jesus-followers to take the temperature of the heated discussions and debates that rage around us is to stop fixing people with labels.
Labelling has become one of the most insidious tools of people from all political persuasions, hasn't it? As soon as someone opens their mouth, typically there's someone listening who is waiting to place them in a category, and then affix them with a label, which essentially dismisses them.
Let me ask you... what are some of the labels you've been given in your life?
You can go all the way back to when you were a kid if you want.
Here's something that will sting a bit to think about. What are some of the labels you've used for others?
Do you remember when you were a kid and someone would call you a name, and you would say, "I know you are but what am I?"
You're ugly. I know you are, but what am I?
You're stupid. I know you are, but what am I?
The problem is that those kinds of comebacks don't work when the label that the other person is sticking you with is one that they believe to be derogatory, and that they don't claim for themselves... and honestly might even be one that you wear comfortably.
Conservative!! Liberal!! Progressive!! Traditionalist!!
Here's the truth about all of us. We are all complicated. There are no categories that any of us fit neatly into.
I had a guy in my last church who would wear his conservative Republican political shirts to church every Sunday. But he also loved the same kind of heavy metal music I listened to, and confidentially told me that he supported the legalization of weed.
And then there was the woman who bled Democrat blue, and posted post after post on Facebook about the evils of voting Republican. But she was completely and totally fiscally conservative and anti-union.
Labels don't work on us. And it's time we stopped using them on one another.
Today we're going to take a different approach. If we are going to learn how to be peacemakers, we are going to have to begin to see one another differently. And this is the one thing that I want us to hold on to for this sermon:
We become peacemakers when we learn to see Jesus in everyone.
Our conversation partner in this today is the Apostle Paul. Paul was the kind of guy who had lived on both sides of things. He had hated Christians--so much so that he tried to have Christians killed. But then he encountered Jesus and became a Christian.
Paul wrote like half of the New Testament in the form of letters to various churches in the ancient world. The one we are going to be studying today is the letter he wrote to the Colossians.
I'm not going to read the entire passage today, but we're going to be in chapter 3 of Colossians if you want to follow a long a bit.
1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Paul then goes on to give them some exhortations about what it looks like to walk away from bad behavior and to live better. Then he says:
11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
Paul is saying that when we begin to see ourselves differently, we also begin to see one another differently, too.
12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
What Paul is declaring in this passage is something incredibly radical. We are "in" Christ. So what does this mean for you and me? It's an odd thing to say isn't it? And I remember hearing that phrase all the time when I was growing up, and I never understood it. "In Christ?"
But here's what that means--according to Paul. It means that because of Jesus, God sees us as we will be. Let me say this another way.
It means that because God is outside of time, God sees all times as one time, and that because Jesus came and became one of us to save all of us, wherever we happen to be in the future when all things are filled with God's glory, when we are finally raised to new life, resurrected, restored what ever you want to say here... God sees you as you are then.
Sure--you are not any where near what you will be then. Because now you might be a complete and total mess. But God looks at you, and sees clearly what you will be.
And so Paul---your mind is blown now right?---Paul simply says: "Hey. Start living that way NOW. Because that's who you are. You are that person that God sees, whole, fully alive, enlightened, one with the Universe, at peace, joy-filled, healed, restored... that's who you are. Now live like it."
Listen, listen... all of the old divisions are null and void in this scenario. And Paul acknowledges this. All of the old ways of seeing people that are filtered by class lenses, race lenses, status, gender, sexuality... all of those old divisions fall away.
You have a new identity, a new way of seeing and of being seen.
So what do we take away from this passage? Simply this:
If God sees you like this---then you need to see one another like this.
Or to put it another way...
If God sees you, and sees Jesus... then you need to see Jesus in one another.
At this point some of you might be wondering, how can I make this a reality? How can I practice this so that I can be a peacemaker? If you weren't asking that, I'm going to ask it for you... because you need to be asking that question. All of us do.
And here's how we do this.
First, Begin with this simple mantra: What I See In You, I See In Me.
Here's how this works. When you find yourself beginning to be irritated by someone because of the way they are acting, speaking... their beliefs... the ways that they present themselves...
BEFORE YOU SPEAK, simply say to yourself. "What I See In You, I See In Me." Because most likely the reason you are getting a charge off of that person is because you recognize something within them that you don't necessarily love about yourself.
How does this change the way we interact with people? Well, it makes you pause for a moment before you say something you'll regret for starters. But more than that, it gives you the opportunity to connect with the other person at a very personal and sometimes vulnerable level.
If you are interacting with someone who seems to have an insatiable desire to be right, you might pause and say "What I See In You, I See in Me." And what might come to mind at that moment is the fact that you couldn't wait for them to stop talking because you wanted to share with them how you were unequivocally right and they were wrong.
Second, We need to learn to Deal With Our Own Darkness.
Listen, it is so much easier to demonize someone you disagree with, rather than look into the mirror and face the real reasons why you are reacting so negatively to them.
There was a time in my past when I decided the best thing that I could possibly do to combat what I perceived as ignorance was to go online and personally attack certain authors and speakers who I disagreed with. Some of them ended up responding to my attacks, and in one case the guy was so gracious it made me ashamed, but I never admitted it.
All along, though... all along I had all of these doubts and fears that I was holding on to and had no idea why. These doubts and fears were transmitted in anger, and directed at these people who I demonized to make myself feel better.
Years later, I systematically went back and made amends to every single one of them. When I finally looked in the mirror I saw my own darkness. Jesus himself told his followers: "Hey, don't walk around pointing out the specks of sawdust in other people's eyes when you have a huge wooden plank in yours."
Finally, Ask: Where Do I See Jesus In This Person? And in Me?
This is your common ground here. Where is Christ present in your conversation? Where is Christ breaking down the barriers between you? Where do you see your common humanity? Where do you see the people you could be together?
World Series illustration.
But it's deeper than that. What are the things that you share? What common goals do you have?
People serving together in mission. AA. Grief counseling.
Here's your homework for this week because there has to be homework if we are going to become the change we long to see.
Read---something that challenges you. If you have a particular newspaper, periodical or author that you like---give it up for a week. Read something else. Trusted news source? Try a different one this week. Get out of your echo chamber.
Engage---in finding common ground. Think about the ways that you can find commonality with what you are hearing and reading. Where do you resonate with it? What about the areas of divergence is more about you and less about what is being said?
Listen---to people who have different views. And by listen, I mean really listen. Don't listen just to develop an argument. Listen so you can hear the humanity underneath the things you disagree with.
We have to make this work. It's our calling. Our mission as the hands and feet of Christ, and our vision to Love God and Love Everybody.
Because we become peacemakers when we learn to see Jesus in everyone.