Someone has to break the cycle of retaliation…
Let that sink in. Read it again.
Someone has to break the cycle of retaliation.
A week doesn’t go by without stories of hatred, bigotry, violence, rape, atrocities committed against humanity. Stories bombard us from abroad and from our own communities.
One way to respond is to build bigger and better walls. Let’s protect what we can. Better alarm systems. Better lighting. More surveillance. Bigger walls. More guns. Keep the evil out.
That’s one way to respond.
And violence and atrocities continue to march on. Nothing changes.
Someone has to break the cycle of retaliation.
The cross of Jesus Christ is the ultimate breaking of the cycle of vengeance and retaliation. The cross is God saying, “I’ll take it all. Bring it! Bring the hatred. Bring the violence. Bring the evil. Bring the violence. Bring the frustration. Bring the pain. Bring it! I’ll take it all!”
On Good Friday, Jesus bore the brunt of sin and evil. Jesus bore it all.
And by rising from the grave on resurrection Sunday, Jesus crushed hatred, violence, frustration, pain, and evil.
What our world needs is not better ways to keep people out and apart. What we need, and what our world needs is a people called and a people who will answer the call the break the cycle of evil and retaliation with the hope and love of God in Jesus Christ.
May we be such people. May this be the generation that turns the cycle of violence and retaliation.
Penn Jillette of Penn and Teller is a self-avowed and vocal athiest. He tells of a time when he was given a Bible by someone after one of his shows and Penn says:
I’ve always said, you know, that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell, and people could be going to hell, or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that, well, it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward…How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? I mean, if I believed beyond a shadow of doubt that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe it, and that truck was bearing down on you, there is certain point where I tackle you. And is this more important than that…”
Every Sunday as part of our regular worship we take time to corporately and silently confess our sins before God.
Of all the things we do in worship, the highlight for me is always the Assurance of Pardon. I love that I show up to church as a sinner in need of grace and forgiveness and every time God offers mercy and forgiveness and makes me new.
Each week when I hear, “In Christ, you are forgiven!” I want to shout a shout “Woo hoo! Forgiven!!!”
But here’s the thing. Why do we even bother with the whole confessing thing?
I mean God already knows everything, right?
If God knows everything, if God already knows what’s on our hearts, if God already knows everything that’s been done and been left undone, if God already truly knows everything, what’s the point of confession?
Why confess stuff that God already knows? It kind of seems pointless.
One of the reasons why we confess our sins is to renew and heal our broken relationship with God. Confession is not only about acknowledging a bunch of stuff that we did or that we left undone. The main purpose is restoration. It’s about renewal. It’s about healthy relationships.
You see, sin always breaks relationships. Sin is always a violation of trust.
One of the things all healthy organizations and healthy relationships have in common is that they are able to recognize when a “foul” has occurred. It’s because folks can recognize that a foul has occurred that the offending party can ask for forgiveness and the offended party can offer forgiveness.
Without that mutual recognition, neither asking for nor receiving forgiveness is possible. Without that mutual recognition, all you are left with is the pain of broken relationships, hurt feelings, and offended souls.
One of the worst things that can happen in an organization or a relationship is when fouls are regularly committed and that foul is never recognized. When that happens, it kills relationships. It destroys trust.
The reason why we confess our sins corporately and silently is so that we can all acknowledge that a “foul” has occurred. That we were the offending party and that we are the ones who need grace, mercy, and forgiveness.
Prayers of Confession…Assurance of Pardon…It’s a beautiful thing!
Thank God for grace!
Thank God for mercy!
Thank God for forgiveness!
Woo hoo! We are forgiven!!!
I am the farthest thing from a gardener. When God was passing out the talent for gardening, I must have been in another line.
Even though I am not the gardening type, I am fascinated by the idea of composting.
Instead of throwing away vegetable scraps, coffee grinds, grass clippings, leaves, etc., put it all together with dirt, and, Presto! Compost! When all this garbage is mixed with dirt, it is turned into a beautiful, raunchy, smelly dark stew that becomes the food for plants and soil to give it life.
Again, just to be sure, I’ve never done this. I’ve only seen it done and read about it. I wouldn’t want you to think I’ve turned into “Farmer Brown” or anything like that.
But still, I’m fascinated by how you can take garbage and dirt and transform it to this life-giving, life-generating, health-promoting, nutrient-rich soil that plants and shrubs go nuts over.
I can’t think of a better image for the church than the compost heap.
You see, the church is made up of people with all kinds of garbage and dirt. What the world calls garbage, junk, dirt, the church calls it the yummiest ingredients for transformation. In the midst of the pile of death and junk, death comes alive – breeding, simmering, cooking up a ripe soil of new life.
All this is possible because that’s the work of the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
So here’s the thing. The church may stink sometimes. But that’s good. That means we’ve got exactly the right ingredients to start the process of turning death to life. Christ is the Master of turning death to life.
Welcome to our stinky church!
Luke 2 records the story when Mary and Joseph lost Jesus at the Temple in Jerusalem.
I find it interesting that the place where they lost Jesus was at the Temple.
Mary and Joseph aren’t the only ones who’ve lost Jesus at church.
When the church focuses more on the color of the carpet or the drapery, whether people should be bringing in their Starbucks into the sanctuary, what kind of music is appropriate for worship, or anything else that isn’t the mission of Jesus Christ to go and make new disciples and make faithful disciples (Matthew 28:19-20), people will continue to lose Jesus at church.
It’s not that things like carpet, sanctuary decorum, music, etc., are not important. It’s just that these things are not the main thing. When we get overly caught up in discussions over secondary things, when we fail to demonstrate love, grace, hospitality, mutuality, submission, cooperation while disagreeing, that’s when people start losing faith in Jesus and his church.
But here’s the good news. Not only are people losing Jesus in church, but many are finding Jesus in church.
Mary and Joseph lost Jesus at the Temple, but that is also where they find Jesus.
When the church functions and behaves as the church of Jesus Christ – where truth and right teaching is accompanied by grace and love, where people are received for who they are so that everyone might become who God has created them to be – that’s where people find Jesus.
That’s our hope. That’s our purpose.
May we work towards becoming the church where people are re-discovering Jesus.
“Evangelism works best in the context where it’s an answer to a question” – Graham Tomlin.
Richard Froth, a seminary president, shares the following story in JR Woodward’s book, “Creating a Missional Culture”:
When he was in Romania he sat down with some members of a church who told him about a young Protestant who went up to Moldova to begin a church. The people – the city fathers, the elders, the ruling people – didn’t want him in town. They said if you come to this town and build anything, a church or anything, we will tear it down.
The young man felt God calling him to begin a work, and he went to Moldova and started by building a house for his family. He built the house, and he and his family moved in. The next morning, early in the morning they heard a knock. They went to the gate, opened it up and there stood eight men. They said, “We are here to tear down your house.” The young pastor stepped back and said, “Do what you need to do.”
The men proceeded to climb on the roof and they started tearing the roof off, one piece at a time. They worked all morning. About 11:30 the pastor said to his wife, “Honey, we need to fix some lunch.” The wife agreed. “You probably should fix it for, oh, twelve people.” She said, “What?” He said, “Yes, twelve people.” “What for?” she asked. “Well, for the people up on the roof.” She said, “What? They’re our enemies. They hate us. They’re tearing down our house.” He said, “But Jesus said we are to love our enemies and to do good to those who hate us. They have been working hard. I’m sure they are hungry.”
So she made them lunch, and the pastor invited them into the house. The weary men came down from the roof, entered the house and started to eat. They said, “Why are you doing this?” He said, “Because we are followers of Jesus. Jesus said to love your enemies; you’re our enemies, at least you feel like you are. We don’t know why you’re doing this, but you think you’re doing something that is good and right. We don’t understand that, but we love you anyway and we forgive you for doing this.”
After lunch they thanked the woman for the food, climbed back on the roof and started putting the roof back on, one piece at a time. And when the young pastor and his wife opened a church in that village, those eight men were the first eight converts.
Evangelism is most effective when it’s an answer to the question to which Jesus is the only right answer:
- Why do you love us?
- Why do you suffer with us?
- Why do you serve?
- Why do you care?