Saturday, February 27, 2016

One in Christ

Let’s get some things in perspective before we go any farther.  God prepared a place and an inheritance for you long before there was a before.  He predestined you to be with him through Christ.  We need to understand that God wants a wonderful relationship with everyone he made.

Does God get the desire of his heart?  That’s a tough question.  We hope so.

We also must understand that God began explaining this relationship that he wants with all of us with just one people.  God chose a people to tell his story and show his love and benchmark what a holy life should be.

We need to understand that we were not and are not those people.  God chose the people of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—Israel if you will—to reveal himself to the world that he created.

God chose a people.

He gave them an identity as his chosen people.  That identity was symbolized by a sign in the flesh for all males.

He gave them the law as a guide to good living.

He gave them a land that he had promised long, long before the people would possess it.

He blessed them and charged them to bless the world.

He did all of this through the Hebrew people, a people later called the Jews once they had been delivered by God from their Babylonian captivity. 

Most of the story of God and man as we know it in the Bible involves God’s Chosen People.  I know, how could God not have chosen America for this special relationship?  What was he thinking?

He could have brought us on the scene sooner.  We could have waited.  The world wouldn’t have noticed if God didn’t pick a people until 1775.  I’m thinking that 10 November 1775 would have been perfect.

The Marines were being formed in Tun Tavern, Pennsylvania.  I can just see God saying, “Yes, Americans will be my chosen people and we will have Marines, and it will be good.”

What was he thinking picking a bunch of Hebrews to be his chosen people?  Did he not know how much they would gripe and complain and turn their backs on him?

Understand that my humor setting is always between dry and arid and my tongue is often stuck in my cheek, but so many Americans do not have a grip on or a grasp of the story that set the stage for the greatest story ever told.

That story that set the stage involved God’s Chosen People.  They have been closer to God ever since he chose them than any other people.  They never got it exactly right, but they were closer to God than the rest of the world.

Remember that I said God chose them to be his people, this gave them an identity, he gave them the law, he gave them a land full of houses they didn’t have to build and crops they didn’t have to plant, and he gave them a charge to bless the world—well, he also gave them one more gift.

He gave them the Messiah.  The Messiah—the Christ—was Abraham’s seed and the means by which God’s Chosen People would ultimately bless the world.

God’s Chosen People were distinct from all other peoples; yet, they were very much the same for they were dead in their sin.  God looked upon  an entire world of people.  For those who should have known him, tithes were being short changed.  Offerings were not the first or best of anything.  Rules replaced the response of love that the people should have known for God.  Yes, God’s Chosen People were closer to him than the rest of the world, but they too were so far from where God wanted them.

But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,  so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

God chose a people and they were closer to him than any other people on the earth but all of the earth—including these chosen people—was lost in sin.

So God in his mercy, in his grace, in his love that goes beyond our comprehension made us right with him through Christ; and none of this is our own doing.

What would happen if any of it was our part?  Human nature would surely kick in again.  What if it was 99% God’s grace and 1% our doing?

In a year, we would be telling the story like this.  God did 90% and I made my 10%.  It’s better than a 401K.   After a couple years it would be a 50-50 split and surely before we had logged in five years of salvation we would be the 99% part with God throwing in just a little to seal the deal.

So that none of us can boast, God did it all.  By grace alone you have been saved!

What about faith?  Is that not my 1%?

It is not.  It is faith that what God has done—this gift of God—is real and for you and for all who call upon the name of Jesus.  It is believing—just as if we could touch, feel, taste, and smell it—that God loved us enough to sacrifice his own Son.  It is knowing with absolute certainty that after this incredible sacrifice, God raised Jesus from the dead and will do the same for us.

That is faith.  It is not the gift but knowing that the gift is 100% from God and 100% true and 100% for me and all who call upon the name of the Lord.

Paul wrote that Jew and Gentile lived in separate relationship with God for ages but even still were both dead in their sin.  They were separate but both were still without life.

But in Christ both Jew and Gentile can come to life.  In this way we have become one people.

Now there are still many different nationalities and ethnicities and cultures and racial differences but in Christ we truly become one.

God’s Chosen People still have their uniqueness as this special people.  If you keep reading the story, they have more to accomplish before the end of the age, but in Christ it matters not if you began as a Jew or a Gentile; your life comes from him.

He took two and make them one but didn’t give them a new name.  God simply claimed all who come to him through Christ as his Chosen People.  We join those he chose long ago.

In Christ there is no more division.

We Americans who grew up thinking we were the center of the universe, realized that God chose a people other than us to reveal himself and his love (yes, that’s redundant) to the world, can take heart that we can be God’s people too.

With Christ as the cornerstone, we are part of the same building as Moses and Elijah, Peter and Paul, Martin Luther and John Calvin, Mother Teresa and Corrie ten Boon, and unknown others who have by faith received the gift of life in Christ.

Together we are becoming a temple in which God dwells.  Elsewhere Paul will use the term body of Christ.  Here he reminds us that we are one in God’s Spirit because of our faith in Christ.

Today in western Oklahoma, we don’t see much hostility between Jew and Gentile.  In fact, there isn’t much of that going on in eastern Oklahoma or central Kansas or northern Missouri.  This is America and the beginning of a modern century or post modern if you will; and as such Jew and Gentile relationships in America are just not making headlines.

Black lives matter.

Police lives matter.

Gay lives matter.

Sadly, the rallying cry that unborn lives matter has faded significantly.

These are our headlines, well at least on page 3 or 4.  I guess Peyton Manning and Beyoncé who is or is not nominated for best actor gets page 1; but Jew-Gentile relations in America don’t get much attention.

That doesn’t mean that we don’t need to grasp that we are all one in the Spirit and one in the Lord.  Sometimes we don’t receive that message very well.

Sometimes we like to draw some boundaries around our congregation or denomination or our own personal little group that believes just our way.  Paul reminds us that we are one in the Lord.  We are one in Christ.

We who believe in Christ all have access to God the Father through the same Spirit.  The same Spirit that walks beside you and lives within you lives in the believer across the street and across the globe.

We pray to the same Father in heaven.  He grants us the same peace that goes beyond what we comprehend. 

In the body of Christ, there are no strangers, aliens, or foreigners.  We are one in Christ.

We are brothers and sisters in Christ—fellow citizens to use Paul’s verbiage in this part of his letter.  We come back to that Koinonia word again.  We come back to community again. 

We come back to being Americans again.  Do we truly have a Christian community in America?

We see Christians listed as a voting demographic amidst others of race and gender and income, but are we truly a community?

We need to get to community.

We need to truly be one in Christ.

If the people who call themselves Christians in this country would truly live in community, then we could sure shorten all of these presidential debates.  They would only have one topic:  national defense.  Everything else would be taken care of by the community.

We seem to be a long ways from that idyllic state, but that doesn’t mean we can get closer.  You have heard me proclaim a message of connecting the disconnected for some time now.
We need to work on connecting the sort-of connected as well.  Who am I talking about here?  How about the other families of faith that meet on Sunday morning and occasionally gather with for community service a couple times a year or in the middle of a drought.

How about we go out of our way this week to let our brothers and sisters in Christ that gather in another building on Sunday morning know that we just love the fact that we are one in the Spirit and one in the Lord.

That not because of our doctrine or statements of belief but because of Christ we are fellow citizens in the Kingdom of God.  We should be throwing them a few high fives just for that reason alone.

We are God’s workmanship, his masterpiece, and we have much to do.  We are to do it hand-in-hand with our brothers and sisters, our fellow citizens in Christ, and these are not just arbitrary things, but good works that God planned for us to do in advance.

Sometimes I grit my teeth when people say, “I wish I knew what God wanted me to do with my life.”  To many people frame their lives as career choices or educational tracks what to wear to Walmart.  Too many people are looking for the logistics of God’s will when he frequently tells us in very clear terms what we are to do.

What are we to do?  What is it that is so clear?

Break down the barriers in the body of Christ and do the good works that he planned for us from the beginning:  Love one another, feed the hungry, visit those in prison, liberate people from sin and death by delivering the gospel of truth and leading men and women to God’s peace.

Be God’s light in this world.

Be the God-seasoning of this planet.

Build a house of God with Christ as the cornerstone from all who call upon the name of Jesus.  I am not talking about brick and mortar but being of one accord in the Lord.

We don’t need to squabble over how we baptize, whether we have musical instruments or not, the color of the carpet, or how and when we partake of the Lord’s Supper.

We need to encourage each other as fellow citizens.  We don’t need to convince folks to take communion the same way that we do, but we do need to convince them that we are absolutely thrilled to the hilt that we are one in Christ.

We need to break down some barriers with other believers.  The home-based Bible study is one way.  Day to day affirmations with other believers is another.

It is not really the pastor’s job to devise a comprehensive plan on how to break down every barrier; but it is incumbent upon me to challenge you from time to time to connect with others who profess Jesus as Lord and Savior.

We are still connecting the disconnected, but this week I challenge each of us to connect just a little more with someone who is a brother or sister in Christ but worships in a different building.

Let’s just enjoy being one in Christ with a little bigger family.

Let’s break down a barrier or two.

Let’s move a little closer to community.


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