Monday, August 31, 2020

JUSTICE: Harmony with All


Racial injustice, gender inequality, LGBTQ discrimination, are prevalent in our community, along with other injustices that continue to be persistent in our community, in our denomination, across our country -- certainly in other denominations and other communities as well. 

Live in harmony with one another.  Romans 12:16a (ESV)

 But we're responsible for influencing what goes on in our community. In our congregation, our community, our families, and in our church and denomination. So it's hard, then, always to feel like we're able to be in harmony, as the Bible invites us in so many ways to be in harmony. And yet in this passage really addresses... Paul addresses ways that we can do that. Ways that we can be in harmony, even with people who are on the other side of the issues that are so important to us. Without losing our stance or anything like that. It's important that we take a stand for what is right and for justice.

Transcript of sermon
Preached Extemporaneously [Video] on August 30, 2020  
for Briensburg UMC

So during this season after Pentecost, going up through Christ the King, we're focusing our lectionary readings on looking at our lectionary readings through this lens of justice. In doing so then I kind of... I don't know how I could ever stop doing that really... because it's always going to say that, it's throughout the whole Bible. That's what God calls us to. That's what Christ demonstrated: was fairness for all people, equality, and acceptance and love.

And so we have this challenge, that when we take a stand for an issue of justice, that automatically puts us in a discord with the people that are on the other side of that issue. And yet, so we're called to be in harmony with each other. But you know what? Here's the great thing, I think, is that whichever side of the issue we're on, we're going to be in discord with the ones on the other side. So we want to make sure we're on the right side of it. We're wanting to make sure we're on God's side of the issues. Because the way that this will all resolve, is that everybody that's on the wrong side will be converted, and get on the right side. So that's where we need to start out ourselves.

When we look at what Christ did, He went out with his ministry, and He stood on the side of the oppressed. He wasn't trying to pick a fight with the oppressors, but it automatically put Him at odds with those who wanted to continue their oppression. But little by little, some of those people were converted. And that conversion process is continuing to this day, and we're part of it. So when we stand with Christ, we stand with those who are being discriminated against, those who are experiencing inequalities, those who are experiencing injustice: we stand with them.

And then we are to love everybody else into that position. And the temptation is to fight fire with fire. Or as that... Christ brought out in the sermon on the mount and said, "You've heard it said", you heard it right in the Bible really, the Old Testament, "You heard it said, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth." But I say to you, "love even your enemies." I believe especially, because that's where the change will come from. From people being loved into the Kingdom of God. Loved into the law of love. And if we try to use those other tactics that they use, then we'll all have the same result. Everybody will just be mad at each other and nothing will be accomplished. That love will conquer all. So that's what caught me in this passage. I think that's maybe a little overview of that passage from it, from this view of justice.

Be reconciled with God and all who believe in universal love.

Live in harmony with one another. Vs 16a (ESV)

Going down to verse 16 the passage, you see that in English standard version, it translates, "Live in harmony with one another". That just really stood out to me enough to make that the title of our message today. Harmony with all. Because we're invited to be reconciled with God and with all who believe in universal love. And not everybody does. We're going to be reconciled with somebody. We're going to be on some side of every issue. Why not choose today, and every day, that when we're confronted with those choices to take our position and be in harmony and reconciliation with those who believe that God loves everybody and that he invites us to do the same thing. So that as God loves, to love as Christ loves, let's do that, amen? Let's love everybody the way Christ loves us. We can't go wrong. The worst that's going to happen is that they don't love us back. But this passage addresses that, too. I love everyone, even those who don't love everyone.

Love everyone, even those who don’t.

Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it.    Vs 9a (MSG)

And again I say,  maybe especially those. Extra love for those who don't love everyone. Who only love those who are like them, or who support them. Take extra effort. And I like how it's said in the Message on this verse, "love from the center of who you are, don't fake it." Love takes a lot of different forms. So we might not be able to love in every way, all the time. We're going to have some struggle with that. But then that comes back to our own self reflection and self examination and spiritual growth within our own lives. To learn how to love better. Like we sang at the beginning of the service, "Teach us how to love each other, lift us to the joy divine" (Ode to Joy). Be genuine, at least in your intention to love, intentionally love in every situation.

We go back to 1 Corinthians 13, there's all these attributes given of what love is. These are the kinds of things that love does, love is, and activate those in our lives. And if we see a situation where we're having some trouble feeling the love, at least go to those attributes and show that love. Not from pretense, but from the intention of being able to love better. From an intentional purpose of bringing conversion to a situation, and to a person, to a problem and changing it, transforming it. Really, that's how the transformation of the world happens. One little tiny sliver, one tiny little moment in time. One relationship, one issue at a time. 

It would be nice to just think we can all just make a speech or, read a book or do something and everything in the whole world would all of a sudden be all right. But I think we have all been witnesses to the fact that's not going to happen. But what we can be witnesses of in our own lives are the times that we have just planted the seed, or watered, or given a word of encouragement. And we've seen that it's gone into a little river of likewise things that have been taking place in someone's life and came out to be transformative, contributed to the conversion, contributed to the happiness and the joy of someone and the change of someone's heart. One thing I have found, if I argue with somebody about something, they tend only to come up with more reasons to defend their position. In our congregation here, we took the path of standing up for what we believe in, but without arguing about it with everybody. We just say "this is fair." And we have the resources, a list of them on the website on why we think about that. You go there and read about that. We refer you to that. You can Google it or find out why we take the positions we take. We hope you'll change also. But we love you anyway, even if you don't and this is just where we are.

Hope and pray while working patiently to build harmony.

 Let your hope keep you joyful, 
be patient in your troubles, and pray at all times. 
Vs 12 (GNT)

 And we want to. We have found that to be helpful. To kind of diffuse situations. Not entirely, not for everybody. And neither did the disciples. They still ended up getting in trouble with people. Didn't like their positions. But we hope, and we pray and we work patiently to build harmony wherever we can. With whomever we can, and whatever ways we can build that harmony. And the good news translation verse 12 says, "letting you hope keep you joyful. Be patient in your travels and pray at all times." This is our hope. Hope is not just wishful thinking or just wishing something would happen. It's an anticipation, at least in a way that it's used here in this passage. It's anticipating what is going to be the result.

"Our hope is in the Lord, who made Heaven and Earth." Our hope is that His dream for humanity will come true. Our hope is that when He says, "every knee shall bow, every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord" that eventually that's going to happen. Our hope it has that when Jesus... When God said that His desire, as Peter's expression was, that no one would perish, but all people would come to this knowledge. Our hope is that God is able to meet His goals, and accomplish what He has set out to accomplish. And that dream of God's will come true, just like the dream that He had of pouring out His holy spirit on all flesh and all the people would prophecy and they would dream dreams and they would have visions. And it would be everybody equally. That was poured out on. That was expressed by Peter in a sermon at Pentecost and quoting the prophet Joel.

Stand up for what is right without trying to pick fights.

 Do everything possible on your part
to live in peace with everybody.  
Vs  18 (GNT)

And so we're invited to stand up for what is right. Not trying to pick fights over it. When we took our... When we made our inclusive statement a few years ago, then when we joined the Reconciling Ministries Network, well, we got some pushback on that. But all I saw the people from our church doing was loving people and trying to explain if it wasn't going to be causing trouble to do so. And pointing to the resources, inviting people into conversation about that. And some people got really mad. Some people unfriended us. But some people appreciated the honesty of it all and the ability to engage, even if they didn't agree. And so, we probably all have friends on both sides of some of those issues. And they're still our friends, some of them. Because they, like us, hear this word, inviting us to try to be at harmony with each other, even if we don't agree.

Harmony is not a matter of every note being the same. What it is a matter of, every note being played in ways that are... that work together to make beautiful music. Then let the Lord strike the right note at the right times to make the song. If we look at harmony and other setting like with a machinery --aAnything that has gotten more than one part has got to have harmony between those parts for that machine to work. And then it only takes one little tiny part in your automobile, for example, to go out and you're stranded on the side of the road. And it might not be, seem like a very important part, but if it goes out, then you find out it was. Because you want all parts of the machine to work together, to do the task that the machine is supposed to be doing. So likewise, all of us work together. We all have different things, different places we're coming from, things that are important to us - priorities, beliefs, everything else.

We're not any different than these people back there when these words were written in that regard. But yet, Christ still calls us into that same harmony. The one expressed on the day of Pentecost when they were all in one place in one accord and the Holy ghost descended on them - empowered them - beyond any amount of imagination. So we stand up for what we believe in, but we do everything possible on our part to (this is how it is translated in the Good News Translation), "do everything possible on your part to live in peace with everybody."

Paul maybe wrote this. Now they also have in mind some of the ways that he had tried to do that and it didn't work; there were still people who wanted to get him and who punished him in many ways throughout his ministry. And yet he still worked at that. And out of that came a whole lot more people who joined into this cause of love and harmony, than those who were against it.

And in Christ, the message has always met similar resistance. Sometimes most of the resistance has been from other people in their church. Because the people outside the church probably didn't hear the message so much. But the people inside the church, (not our church, of course), we have some churches, inside the body of Christ. And that's where the pushback comes a lot of times. Because we all come together, hear the word of the Lord and we all hear that. Then not everybody likes it. Not everybody responds the same way. Well maybe everybody could hear this message to do it as much as we can to be at peace with one another, regardless of how we feel about these issues. But yet still just stand for them.

When we left off our live services for awhile because of the virus, we had been doing meant a special series on putting on the full armor of God. We made about halfway through that. So I'm thinking maybe next week we finished this time of emphasis on justice that maybe we'll finish up that series. But the whole purpose of putting on that armor, is so we can stand. Put on the full armor of God, so you can stand. Then, "having done all to stand, stand." We take our position, we take our stand. We stand for what is right, but we also don't try to cause trouble doing it. It's going to cause enough trouble on its own.

And so we try to be reconciled with one another. That's one thing I like about being a part of the Reconciling Ministries Network is that we're part of a group that is taking the position that we need to be reconciled with one another, that everybody needs to be brought into harmony. And that's the work that Christ was doing on Calvary. We talked about that Wednesday in Colossians in our Bible study, that Christ was at work on the cross reconciling all things to himself. Everybody, everything in heaven and in earth, and we might be one tiny part that we might think that we're not so significant, but that's where the whole thing breaks down if our part fails.

Change the world by doing good.

Do not be overcome by evil, but be overcoming evil with good.   Vs 21 (DLNT)

And so we're invited to change the world. Our mission statement for the United Methodist church is to make disciples, to transform the world by making disciples for Jesus Christ. "Making disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world" is how it's actually said... We're invited to change the world. And we do so by putting these teachings of Jesus into practices on our personal lives, in our relationships, in our community, our choices and doing that as a church. Verse 21, the disciples little new Testament that said, "Do not be overcome by evil, but be overcoming evil with good." And that stood out to me, that particular translation of the verse, instead of just like overcoming with good, be overcoming. Because it kind of gives us a little bit of a sense that this isn't all going to be over in one day.

The world's not going to be set right in just a short moment. But we're doing our part to be overcoming, we're in that process. We're a part of that process. Each of us. Even here, even in our congregation, even in our relationships, in our friendships, we are in the process of overcoming the world. Not by lording anything over people, not by force. But by the power of love. By loving one another as Christ has loved us. Not meeting evil with evil, but meeting evil with good. And knowing and hoping and trusting and praying that that good will overcome the evil. 

That's our invitation to be that kind of a disciple of Jesus that believes in love. We believe in the power of love to conquer and overcome whatever else may come against it. In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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