A couple of weeks ago, on November 1, I preached on Romans 12:1-2. The sermon, part of our series on evangelism, was a call for us to experience deep transformation in Jesus Christ and then to live into the perfect will of God. The sermon led directly into sharing the Lord’s Supper together, an experience of deep transformation in which we encounter the crucified and living Christ in a mysterious, powerful way.
In the sermon’s conclusion, I spoke these two sentences:
The world’s way of living is to ignore the mercy of God and to live for our own comfort and preservation. When we separate ourselves from those who are not like us, we are simply accommodating to the pattern of the world.
I would like to expand on those thoughts with you now. Especially now, in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris.
Really, my thoughts here are not about our response to terrorism. This discussion, honestly, is about how we live as Christians in our world today (which includes a response to terrorism but is much broader than that). In the context of the November 1 sermon, the above sentences are a comment on our practice of Christian faith: we segregate ourselves from the world by “coming to church” on a Sunday morning, and we call that a good thing. We pat ourselves on the back for our spirituality and faithfulness. (All well and good – I am happy to see you in church on Sundays!)
But the phrase “coming to church” is a misnomer. We do not “come to church.” We are the church. We gather as the church. We worship God as the church. We serve our community as the church. We go about our daily lives as the church. We go to work and to school and to the hospital and to the grocery store as the church. We have our private family lives as the church. We are the church.
For far too long, Christians have associated “the church” with “the church building,” or, at best, with “the Sunday morning gathering.” And what has been the consequence of this practice over the past several decades? We have developed a culture of Christianity (at least here in the USA) of consumerism, self-help, and comfort. We go to the churches that feed us. We go to the churches where our friends are. We go to the churches that make us feel at home. We go to the churches where we get along with everyone else. We go the churches where we feel we belong.
Again, these are all good things. I am happy – deeply happy – for the many of you who have found Mt. Haley Church of God to be your home and who trust me as your pastor.
But (you knew there was a “but” coming!)…
But the way American Christians live is the way of the world. We are doing nothing radically different than any other club or organization, Christian or otherwise, when we segregate ourselves from those unlike us during the Sunday morning worship hour. To be sure, we are worshiping Jesus Christ as the Lord of the universe, and that is a meaningful characteristic of our gatherings. But we worship in ways that serve our own comfort and stability and preservation.
God’s mercy is not like that.
God’s mercy draws God directly into relationship with people – people who sin against him, people who betray him, people who wander away from him. God’s mercy, expressed perfectly in Jesus Christ, is directly opposed to the notion of separation from those who are unlike God. God experiences eternal life and eternal love because God chooses to be in relationship with people who are unlike him – namely, us. God pours himself out at great risk to himself to be in relationship with us. And he does this all the time, not just on Sunday mornings.
What does this have to do with our church life? Everything. We have to learn to walk with God at all moments of the week. And this may require us to rethink the purpose and outcomes of our Sunday morning meetings.
What does this have to do with evangelism? Everything. Imitating God rather than the world will lead us straight into the lives of people who are not like us, so that we can learn to love and sacrifice and listen and pray and change and grow and share and live.
What does this have to do with the terrorist attacks in Paris last weekend? Everything. It is the pattern of the world to separate from those unlike ourselves. It grieves me to see Americans draw lines in the sand as we refuse to help those who are fleeing their homeland in hope of a peaceful life in another place.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2 NIV)
What is God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will in the present Syrian refugee crisis, anyway? Have we paused to ask him?