Fellowship – 09.12.2021
[1 Peter 4:7-11 and John 17:20-24]
I’ve told this story in a number of places, because it’s one of my favorite moments of the last year – so if you’ve heard it before bear with me. On January10 of this year, the Sunday after the January 6th insurrection thing, something happened in this church. Now I don’t know if you remember the atmosphere around January 6 – it was a mess. When those people stormed the capital and the senators and congresspeople had to go into hiding and several police officers were killed – it was a horrible day. And it was unfolding on the news live, and on Wednesday we all were glued to our TV sets watching this horrible thing happen. And after that there was a shock, like kind of a scary moment because we never thought something like that would happen in our democratic process. And remember this was on the end of really ugly election season. Just very generally, people were so mean to one another. In this church we have Trump supporters who were telling me, “my whole family treats me like a monster,” and in this church we have Biden supporters who had thanksgiving or Christmas with a half empty table because they wouldn’t sit together – and this was on top of the COVID drama. And in those days following January 6, there was this weird pause. This moment of silence, a moment of shock where we all took a deep breath, and then started screaming at one another. Accusations were flying back and forth, and it was really ugly – practically felt like we were in the election season again. And that was the environment where January 10th happened, the Sunday after the 6th.
Now, I don’t know if you realize, this congregation is more diverse than people think. In this congregation we have staunch, ardent republicans – both never-Trumpers and big Trump supporters. But in the same congregation, sitting three seats over are staunch, ardent democrats. And then there’s a big chunk in the middle who kind of see merit in both sides. This is a church with a variety of beliefs – in politics and in everything else. And so as the Pastor, I get to do this nice tight-rope walk, because I love both people. And so January 10th came, and I’m just going to be honest with you – I was nervous. I didn’t know what the fallout was going to be, and to be honest I was still processing all this stuff myself. And so I arrive in the morning, doing all my normal stuff. If you’re are a regular at the first service you know I’m always rushing around making sure everything is ready for worship. And so it’s just a few minutes before worship, I’m already wearing the robe, and I’m on my way to the sound board, because I need to turn one more thing on before service. And I see, across the way, two older gentlemen speaking intensely to one another. Now I know these two gentlemen – one is an ardent Trump supporter, big time republican. And the other is a staunch democrat, convinced that Trump was like the worse thing that ever happened. And I see them speaking to one another and I literally had a moment when I thought, “aw man, am I going to have to break up an old man fight before worship?” [laugh]. So I start walking towards them, and I started to overhear what they were talking about, and I hear one of them say, “I’ve got a doctor’s appointment that I’m really worried about on Tuesday morning. I’m kind of scared” and the other fellow put his arm on his friend and said, “well, I’ll be praying for you, and give me a call after and let me know how it goes.” And I just kept on walking right past them, never letting them know what I was thinking, and we gathered and we worshipped Jesus that day. Now by the math that the rest of the world uses – that conversation should be impossible! You can’t love people on the OTHER side?!? Don’t you know that anybody who disagrees with you goes home and takes off their coat in their living room and sprouts horns because they are the devil? The other side is the enemy and if you disagree with them you cannot love them. And yet – this church is FULL of examples that defy the logic of the world.
I’m really excited about this sermon series. This series is called WE ARE CHURCH, and it’s four weeks long and we are pairing it with a Life Group curriculum. All the Life Groups in this church are using this study in the Life Groups that start next week – and so I wrote my sermons to go along with it. It’s a Francis Chan study that looks at what it means to be the church. If you haven’t already please check out the Life Group sign ups – I hope every single person in the church joins a life group, they are so, so valuable to your spiritual growth. Today we are kicking off by talking about Fellowship.
Now I want to take a look at two different scriptures, and to be honest one of them is harder to understand – so let’s look at that one first. John chapter 17. Now it’s just a couple verses, but to understand it we need to know that this is Jesus talking to God about his disciples. We’re kind of coming in right in the middle of a prayer. And he says, [read v.20-21]. Now it’s a little bit convoluted, Jesus does a lot of “you in me, and I in you, and they in me and everyone together” and I always get a little lost – but when you break it down, it’s actually pretty basic. Jesus is telling God, I want there to be unity in my followers, not just for their sake, but also for those who will believe in Jesus because of their work. This whole chapter is all about unity, but right from the beginning Jesus frames it as an outreach. You guys gotta be nice to one another, because the world is watching. The way we treat each other tells people what we believe about God’s love. And when Christians get to bickering, when Christians get to fighting, and back biting and attacking one another – the world watches and says “no thank you” to God’s love. Jesus says, “may they all be one, so that the world may believe.”
Now here’s where it gets a bit trippy, [read v.22-23]. My head hurts. But if you walk through it slowly, Jesus is actually saying something really simple. Jesus in this prayer, is actually inviting Christians to be a part of the holy huddle. So, we all know that Jesus is God. He is different from God the Father, but he is also united with God – one and the same, and then there’s the Holy Spirit in there too. We call it the Trinity. Three persons but only one God. And Jesus is saying to his disciples, you see how much I love God, and see how much God loves me, and he sends his spirit to be with me – we have this amazing unity, where we are on the same team, working together – and I want you guys to be a part of that. Not that we can be a part of the Trinity, but that we can reflect that unity in our lives. Jesus says, “I want you to have this level of love and unity.” And I look at this passage where Jesus says, “look at how much God and I love each other and there’s this intimacy in the trinity, now you guys do that.” And I think about this beautiful picture, this goal Jesus has given the church. And then I look at the modern church, especially the way we treat one another on social media, and I think… [pause] oops. That’s not quite what Jesus was asking us to do. Jesus says again [read v.24]. God has given Jesus glory, before the foundation of the world God gave that glory to Jesus – and it will be seen in the way the church loves.
So we hop over to 1 Peter, and it says, [read v.7]. Woah, end of the world? Be serious and discipline yourself – wow, so whatever he’s about to outline is prepping for the end of the world, pretty intense set up to whatever he’s about to say. [read v.8]. Wait a minute, what? Love each other? THAT’s the big difficult serious discipline that will prepare us for the end of the world? Love each other? But that’s easy. Right? Listen to it again though – [read v.8]. Love covers a multitude of sins. I wonder what that means. I mean – if love covers a multitude of sins – the question is, what does love DO in the face of sin. Well, let me give you three options. First, indulgence. If you love someone – you will indulge them. You will let them sin, let them do whatever it is and don’t say anything. Because you love them. If I can be honest, indulgence is often the easier option – and is often billed as the kinder choice. It’s the nice guy option – because nobody wants to be the rule-following party pooper. So sure – maybe you’re teen is out getting drunk every weekend, but I don’t want to be the lame parent who says something about it. Or sure, maybe my kid or grandkid moved in with their boyfriend or girlfriend – maybe I’ll just pretend that they have separate bedrooms, because we all know that college students are the pinnacle of self-control. Indulgence, turning a blind eye because we love them. Love covers a multitude of sins. That’s the first option.
Option number 2 – judgment. If you love someone – you will judge them. You will not let them sin, you will control them. Tighten the rules and bring it up all the time so that the only relationship you have is to make sure you’re forcing them to color within the lines. Because we all know how much teenagers love to be controlled – they just love it. [laugh] Love covers a multitude of sins and you will keep them in line and make sure they follow the rules and get into heaven – because rule following is all God ever asked for. Like indulgence, this option is also really easy, because all you have to do is build a wall and then sit on it – you don’t even have to listen to the person you’re loving. You draw the line and the conversation is over. How does love cover a multitude of sins? On the one hand – indulgence. On the other hand – judgment.
OR, option three – you convince them. You let your heart convince their heart. You remain gentle yet firm. You demonstrate with your life, that even if you ultimately end up disagreeing, your position comes from a place of support and love – and they believe that without a shadow of a doubt. I remember when I was in college I had a friend disagree with me on a deep, profound issue. He believed that women should not be pastors. Now, if you don’t know, I’m a strong supporter of women in ministry. And when I realized how deeply we disagreed, I went through this process. This internal struggle. We can’t be friends anymore – I had no idea he was sexist. I didn’t know he was a caveman. How dare he disagree with me? But this friend, who is now a pastor in a different denomination – was such an amazing, loving individual. I wanted to write him off. I wanted to judge him and push him away. But we had years of love, of building up that relationship – that I knew better. I wanted to write him off, and just assume he was the worse – but I couldn’t. For years he had loved and respected the women in his life, that his heart, his life convinced me that he came from a place of love. I still disagree with him, and I’ve done my best to convince him – but this friend of mine, he’s the one who taught me how to say, “I disagree with everything you just said, but I love you. Have a great night.”
Oooh, Ooh, let me give you another example. Alright this one is going to hurt. When I got to this church, there was some concern about what I might believe. I present as one of those young, progressive Christians. I have tattoos, my hair looks ridiculous. Most of the pastors my age are over on the left side of the theological spectrum. So I took the helm of this church in 2018, and there was excitement, but also unease, particularly around the issue of LGBTQ inclusion. Who is this kid and what does he think? And then the 2019 general conference happened. And the conversation about LGBTQ inclusion came screaming the front of everyone’s mind, and on Ash Wednesday 2019 we had a town hall meeting where I revealed that I am theologically conservative on that particular issue. And there was significant shock in this congregation – but, but you have tattoos! And so after that meeting I had a lot of little meetings with people in this congregation. And one of my favorite meetings was from someone who was inclusive, and they met with me to try and convince me of the error of my ways. And we had like an hour and a half conversation about it, and it was really wonderful – and my goal during that meeting was not to indulge them, nor to judge them but to convince them of my love. I’d only been here for like a year, and I wanted to make sure they knew I was coming from a place of love. And we ended that conversation, and the person stood up, and they ended the meeting by saying, “well, I love you. You and your stupid opinion.” And then we hugged and went back to our days. Love does not cover UP a multitude of sins – by indulging or judging – Love covers a multitude of sins, Love is the method, Love is the way we approach the multitude of sins. Convince them of your love, and you will find unity – even in the midst of deep disagreement. You may not agree with me on a particular teaching, on what I have found in the scriptures and tried to teach you – but I hope it is obvious from my life that I’m not coming from a place of indulgence or judgment – I am trying my very best to love you and show you God’s love. And no matter how we disagree on politics or theology – we must let love be the truth we use as our driving motivation. However you approach the sin in your brothers and sisters – you MUST show them you come from a place of love. Easy, right?
Peter continues his super easy list of ways to love each other and be united in community by saying in verse 9, [read v.9]. Be hospitable to one another WITHOUT COMPLAINING. I’m gonna say it again, WITHOUT complaining. Nope, I need it one more time, “WITHOUT COMPLAINING.” If you’ve got your personal bible with you, circle that, underline, draw a big arrow to it. There’s no grumbles that go with your good deeds. If you want to find unity in community, be hospitable without complaining. [read v.10-11]. Peter finishes up with the most important piece. We serve each other, we are hospitable to one another we love each other – ALL – for the glory of God. Our goal, like Jesus taught us in John, is to reflect God’s love to the world. Our love for one another is a witness for the eyes of the watching world.
The good news for us today is that God models unity. The way that God loves Jesus and supports him, and the way Jesus loves God and obeys God and serves God – the Trinity is a model for fellowship. God in all the pieces – the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit – gives us an example for what it’s supposed to look like. God models unity for us. Now, think how different that is from the world. Do you remember when the pandemic first started? And all those big companies put out those super feel good commercials? And then a couple months go by and we realize – oh, no they weren’t, they were just using a cultural moment to sell a product. Right? Like, we stand with our nurses who are on the front lines. We stand with our teachers and educators – Oh are you going to give them pay raises? Are you going to love them, be hospitable without complaining, and serve them? No, but look at this feel-good commercial we put out. This past year has tested the authenticity of community. As time as gone by, and the problems have stretched longer than many thought they would – we are discovering where the real community is. And in the church we have an opportunity to be authentic where the rest of the world has been revealed to be phony. God models unity for us, and if we can reflect that love – we have a chance to give people something real that all of us desperately need.
I have three quick challenges coming from this and then we’re done. The first challenge coming from the topic of fellowship is Don’t Isolate. It is so much easier to go it alone. There is a temptation to try and do it all ourselves. Every time there’s friction with one group or another group – we just want to cut them off – cancel culture, I’m out. When we bump heads, the temptation is to run away. There’s an old saying, “If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together.” In our spiritual lives, there are so many devotional tools and so many of think we can just have this personal faith. An individualistic picture of the spiritual life. My faith is just me and God, just the two of us – But God, in his very essence, models community and that tells us that this fellowship thing? This community thing? This Church thing we do – it’s not optional. We need to be in community. We need this family. And yes – they will drive you crazy, and they will make you angry and they will disagree with you and they will help you grow. So the first challenge is “don’t isolate,” don’t try to do this spiritual thing all by yourself.
The second challenge is SHOW don’t tell. The difference between an authentic church community and those phony feel good commercials is that you cannot tell someone you support them. You can’t tell someone you love them. You have to show them. Do everything Peter talks about – let love cover a multitude of sins, be hospitable without complaining, and serve one another. SHOW the love of God. If the church did all that and nothing else. If the church got busy loving, and serving and being hospitable at every level of our community, the only problem we would ever have is running out of seats. Show your love, don’t just tell. Third and finally, let everything you do in community be for the glory of Jesus’ name. Not for personal benefit, not for indulgence or judgment, not because it’s the easiest way – but we do what we do only ever to bring glory to Jesus. Why do you love people the way you do? Why do you serve people like that? Why are you so hospitable, and you never complain? Because of Jesus. This kind of goes with the Show Don’t Tell. Don’t tell God you love him – show him, by obeying him. Everything we do in this community should be so that we can point to Jesus and give him all the glory.
If you and I sat down to have a beer, or grab a cup of coffee – if we talked long enough I bet we could find a reason to hate one another. A reason to write each other off. But in this place, we worship a God who models something different, who shows us another way. And even if the entire rest of the world wants to spend every waking moment ripping each other into tiny pieces – let’s do something different in God’s house. And so I’ll leave you with this. If you love Jesus, and you want to follow him with your life – that makes you my brother, that makes you my sister. And together, you and I, all of us – we could show the world something different and bring glory to God’s name, Amen.