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Compassioned Boldness August 6, 2017

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Romans 9:1-5

Proper 13

August 6, 2017

 

Focus:  God gave everything in His love for us.

Function:  That the hearers share Christ’s bold compassion with their neighbors.

Structure:  Parallels.

 

Compassioned Boldness

 

Just how far are you willing to go?  How much are you willing to sacrifice for those people you hold dear?  The loved ones, those closest to you.  Your spouse, your children, your best friend, your parents.  How much would you give of yourself to ensure their wellbeing?

What if we change the person, to say, the person sitting a few pews either behind you or in front of you?  How much would give up of yourself for that person?  Would it be difficult to say that you’d give up just as much?

What if we change the person again, but this time, to the person who lives three doors down from you, whether that’s apartments in a hallway, homes on a block, or for you farmers, about a mile, how much would you be willing to give of yourself to care for that person?  For your neighbor?

And if you’ll allow, let me push this one more time.  How much would you be willing to lay down of yourself for the person you despise the most?  The person who has caused you the most harm, or the most embarrassment?  The person who has literally stolen from you, belittled you?  What would you be willing to give that person?

In America, we have a logical worldview on this subject.  What I mean by that is the way we look at others, the way we treat others, makes sense.  We understand.  We understand if you love a good friend who loves you.  We understand if you are angry with the person who’s been gossiping about you.  We understand if you want revenge when someone has done great harm to you.

But the problem is, this logical, American way of thinking isn’t Christian.  This isn’t what Jesus taught.  It isn’t how He instructed His disciples to live.

Instead we get a fascinating text today from the letter Paul wrote to the church in Rome.  “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.  For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.”

Many of you still remember The Titanic movie, but even more of you still remember the story.  This giant vessel crashing into an iceberg and plunging into the depths of the ocean.  The people flooded to the lifeboats, but there weren’t enough.  So what happened?  Well, in that time in our culture, men sacrificed themselves.  The women and children got the first seats.  The men offered their lives to save others.

That’s an extreme example from our history.  But it pales in comparison.  Paul just said that he would willingly trade places.  That if he could, he’d give up not just his life, but his everlasting life if it meant his Jewish brethren would come to know Christ, and receive everlasting life.

Now, you and I, and Paul, we know this isn’t how it works.  It’s not a seat on a boat, it’s not something Paul could trade, or even sacrifice.  But it’s a powerful statement and illustration.  The Apostle Paul was a Jew.  Born a Jew, raised a Jew.  Studied under the best teachers they had.  He was one of them, and he was in a position to be one of their leaders, if he wasn’t already.

And then it all changed.  On the Road to Damascus, when Christ appears to Paul and strikes him blind, and directs him to go on into the city where he will receive further instructions.  Paul, before losing his sight, saw the resurrected Christ.  Or, at the very least, heard His voice.  And upon reaching Damascus, the Lord sends Ananias, who heals Paul and baptizes him.  And Paul is saved.

Now, this didn’t sit well with his old Jewish friends, teachers, and well, any of them.  And Paul began to suffer at their hands.  His own list in 2 Corinthians 11 is astounding:

“with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.”

 

Beaten, and not just with fists.  The lashings, the stonings, the imprisonments and torture that Paul endured at their hands.  And yet, instead of wanting revenge, instead of wanting to see them get what was coming to them, which would have been a very natural reaction, what did Paul want for them?  He wanted nothing more than to see them know Christ and be forgiven for all the pain and all the wretchedness that they had caused.

There was no grudge to be found.  In fact, just the opposite, compassion.  Paul would give up his spot for them if it worked that way.  Praise be to God that it doesn’t work that way.

Because God’s plan is infinitely better.  God’s plan was that His own Son Jesus Christ would step down into this world, taking on flesh, becoming a man, born of the virgin Mary.  That this Jesus, this Son of God would then at the hands of God’s own people endure beatings, and lashings, and even a death by crucifixion.  And that as He hung there upon the cross, rather than free Himself or call down His Father’s wrath, Jesus called out, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34).

Even in His dying breaths, Jesus was accomplishing what He came to do.  To forgive all people.  To forgive every man of every time and every place.  To forgive every sin committed past, present, and future.  That Christ did not hold a grudge against the wickedness of mankind, but gave His life in our place.  Spilled His blood so that we would not have to.

This is the gospel!  That you and me, in spite of our sins, in spite of our brokenness, in spite of our open and obstinate rebellion against God: you are forgiven, you are saved!  The compassion that Jesus had for His people led Him to be so bold that He would even willingly die for us.

The compassion that the Apostle Paul had for the people around him, even those we would consider his enemies, enabled him to be so bold that he would continue to preach the good news of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sins and the life everlasting in His name.  Paul didn’t cower, he didn’t step back and wait for God’s wrath.  He went to the people who needed forgiveness, who needed love, who needed a Savior, and He gave them the good news.

We are forever grateful that this good news has been proclaimed to us.  And to 2 billion other people alive today who have heard the good news and believed in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.  And it’s not just those living, but the countless men and women that heard and shared this same gospel proclamation in the generations from Paul to us.

And so it is that this same good news overflows in us.  We share the love of Christ with our neighbor.  We look upon them, no matter who they are or what they’ve done, with compassion.  And it is this compassion for them, as it did for Paul, that leads us to be bold.  To proclaim the truth, to proclaim forgiveness and life in the name of Christ.  To our spouses and children.  To our best friends and parents.  To the people in the pews around us or the neighbors down the way.  To the very people who have done us harm.  We give of ourselves, we sacrifice of ourselves to give these people the opportunity to hear the good news of Jesus Christ.  To hear of the forgiveness of their sins and our sins.  To hear of the gift of life that is for all people.

Humility and Compassion August 28, 2016

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Luke 14:1-14

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

August 28, 2016

 

Focus:  God humbled Himself, taking on flesh, to die for us.

Function:  That the hearers care for others.

Structure:  Walking through the text.

 

Humility and Compassion

 

Sometimes when you read a text from Scripture, it just doesn’t seem to go together.  And our text from the gospel according to Luke today is just like that.  You can read it through and hear Jesus teach things, but they seem disconnected.  We have a healing on the Sabbath, and then some teaching on being humble, and it closes with some advice about who we should invite into our homes and spend our time with.

So at first we wonder what Luke is doing.  Why did he put these three things right next to each other?  But as we reflect on the text, we can see that Luke didn’t actually put these things together, Jesus did.  They all happened at the same time, one right after the other.

So then we wonder why Jesus is all over the board here, bouncing from one topic to another so quickly.  And this is why it’s truly helpful to read, mark, and inwardly digest the Word of God.  Too many believe that once you’ve read it once, you never need to read it again.  This isn’t some awful movie that you watch once and never want to see again.  It’s more like your favorite film, something like a Sound of Music or a Star Wars, where you want to see it time and time again.  And I know there are probably several people here who could sing that musical soundtrack without any help at all.  And yet, you still enjoy them.

The depth of Scripture is unparalleled.  You can read the same text every day for the rest of your life and you’ll still be learning, still growing in your understanding of how God is saving His people.

And so we look at our text from Luke again today, and a little closer.   Look at each of the three paragraphs, the three sections, and notice how they begin.

In the first paragraph, the very start of this chapter, we see that Jesus has been invited into the home of a Pharisee to eat with him and his other guests.  This, as it turns out, is the same context for the rest of our reading.  He’s not going anywhere.  It’s the same people, the same meal.

Now we’re not given a time, but at some point early in Jesus’ time in the house, He sees a man who has dropsy, which according to Mayo, is intense swelling of the hands, feet, and other limbs.  This man is clearly sick, his life deeply impacted by this illness and the limitations it presents.  And Jesus sees Him, and does what?  What’s His response?

Notice it isn’t immediately healing him.  Which makes you wonder if this sick man was there of his own doing, or if this was all a set up by the Pharisees to trap Jesus into breaking the Sabbath again.  Because instead of just healing him, Jesus begins to question, to teach, those around Him.  “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?”

And they respond with silence.  Silence, so as to allow Jesus to continue on, to just do what they knew He would.  Heal the man so we can cast you out.  And so He does, He heals the sick man and sends him away, and then goes right back to teaching, to challenging these Pharisees and lawyers.  “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?”

It’s their trap, but Jesus spins it back on them, and traps them with it.  They don’t know how to respond.  In fact, they do know how to respond, but it proves them wrong, and so they keep their mouths shut once again.  We see a lot from Jesus here.  We see His compassion for the sick, but also His compassion for the misguided.  Because He’s teaching them, and He stays around.

You see the text continues.  Jesus remained in the house, and we watched others, He watched the guests take their place at the owner’s table.  And how each wanted the seats of honor, likely the seats right by the host.  Or maybe for you, the seat at the wedding reception table that gets to go get their food first!  But Jesus sees the pride of these people, how they seek after, covet the affections, the attention, the gifts of the guy throwing the party.

And so He counters them, again, teaching.  He tells them the parable of the wedding feast.  If you seat yourself in a seat of honor, what will happen if someone else arrives that the master of the banquet wants to give that honor?  He will ask you to move, and you will walk away embarrassed, ashamed, to the lowest place as most of the other seats are already filled.  But if you humble yourself, shed that ego, think less of yourself, and sit at the lowest place, what will happen?  Maybe nothing, you just end up sitting there, enjoy the party, meet some new people.  Or maybe, the master of the banquet singles you out, and raises you up, asking you to sit near him.  Rather than being embarrassed, you’ll be built up, encouraged, your relationship with the master grows all the more.

So He’s spoken to the religious leaders, and then to the guests at large at this party, and then the third paragraph here we come back to see Him address the man who invited Him, presumably, the owner of the house.

And again, He teaches.  He teaches this man who to invite.  He tells him not to invite friends, family, or wealthy neighbors.  Why?  Because they’ll pay him back.  They’ll return the favor.  Instead, he’s encouraged to invite those who can’t invite him back, those who can’t return the favor.  The poor, crippled, lame, and blind.   These people can’t give him anything because they don’t have anything.  He’s encouraging him to spend his time with the least of these.

And so as we dig deeper into this context, we do start to see how these three teachings all fit together.  It’s not three unconnected events.  It’s not even just three teachable moments for the Christ.  It is a series on compassion and humility in a place where compassion and humility were gravely absent.

We see a man in need of compassion, and the leaders refuse to give it to him.  They remain in their ego-filled high place, while this man with dropsy is looked down upon.  Christ comes along, has compassion upon him, heals his sickness, and sends him off back into his life.

We see this same message of humility then shared with the guests.  That rather than thinking too highly of themselves, they should be as servants, taking the lowest place, that they might receive honor and be lifted up.

And then to the host himself, Christ again speaks of compassion and humility.  The host’s home is filled with egos.  It’s filled with people seeking to glorify themselves and who look down on others.  So Jesus encourages this man to have compassion on the ones they look down on.  To care for the sick.  To befriend the lame.  To feed the poor.  This may not glorify you in the eyes of the world, certainly not the Pharisees, but it brings glory to God in heaven.  And maybe, just maybe, that repayment at the resurrection has something to do with seeing the least of these at the heavenly feast.

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”  This is Christ.  Let’s recall your catechetical instruction.   We talk about Christ as having two states.  What are they?  The state of humiliation and the state of exaltation.  And which came first?  As we plow through the creed, “came down from heaven…incarnate….made man…crucified also for us…suffered and was buried.”  These things, that Christ took on flesh, came into this world to conquer sin, death, and the devil.  Not a champion rider on a horse bringing destruction, but as a humble servant willing to lay down His life for His friends.

And that’s precisely what He did.  He laid down His life for all of us.  Christ died upon that cross that we might live.  He died that we wouldn’t have to die.  God died for you.  That’s humble.  And in the most embarrassing of ways, asphyxiated to death in front of the world to see.

But then out of this humility the Father in heaven exalted His Son: “rose again according to the Scriptures and ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father.  And He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end.”  Whoever humbles himself will be exalted.  Christ was exalted, all the way to the right hand of the Father in heaven.

And so Christ comes to teach, to share what compassion and humility look like.  Many times I hear that sermons need to always spell out the application.  What does this text look like in my life?  Why should it matter to me?  I admit, I don’t often do that.  And I know it.  It’s intentional that I leave it out.  I want you to be able to hear the Word of God and to be able to figure out how it applies on your own.  That’s part of maturity in our faith.

With that said, it’s still good for me to give you the applications from time to time, as a guide, as an example, to help you in your ability to see how the Spirit works through His Word today.  And this text is quite simple.  It’s the same message Christ was teaching to the people then.

Have compassion on others.  Don’t look down upon them because they’re not like you.  For example, don’t look down upon an entirely different generation because they don’t seem to have life figured out like you do.  Have compassion, get to know them, walk alongside them, teach them.  But also be humble and realize there’s much they can teach you as well.

It’s also a good reminder for us to care for the least of these.  This isn’t just helping with charity events like Channel One or Feed My Starving Children.  Those are good things, helpful things.  But in your daily life, finding ways to invite others into your home who are hungry, or lonely, or grieving.

A great example of this is major holidays, times like Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Easter.   Go around your neighborhood and invite your neighbors to celebrate those days at your table.  Most will turn you down, having a place to go already.  But you may find someone who doesn’t, a widow marking her first Christmas alone.  A young couple a thousand miles away from home and the only family they know.  A man who looks so rich but is actually poor because of all the debt he has taken on trying to be something he’s not.  And you don’t have to wait for the holidays.  Invite someone over this weekend.

That’s just a couple of an endless number of examples you could come up with about compassion and humility.  But we also remember that it’s not by our compassion or our humility that we earn our salvation.  Christ has already done that for us.