Down To Earth: Love Does
Down To Earth
November 29, 2015
1. We don’t have to agree to agree!
2. We don’t have to win to win!
3. Love Does.
– Luke 10:33-37
See this week’s REFOCUS questions for deeper reflection.
Questions to go Deeper
November 28 & 29, 2015
Down to Earth: Love Does
Pastor Rachel Billups
Philippians 2: 1-4
Who knew one of these (hold up a red cup from Starbucks) could start such an argument—it could have been a marketing scheme—but we fell for it.
A few weeks ago, Jon (my husband), the kids and I were waiting outside a movie theatre to watch Inside Out. As we were waiting, we did what every red-blooded American family does as they wait, get on our smartphone. It’s when I noticed that my Facebook fed was bombarded with articles about this red cup and how it was a slam on Christianity and how we, as followers of Jesus, celebrate Christmas, Confused and frustrated, I could feel the cynicism rising up inside of me—what does this have to do with Jesus? I wanted to set someone straight! To shout out loud, “Is Starbucks even a Christian company!?” But, I didn’t respond—and I didn’t need to, plenty of folk responded for me! There were arguments for the red cup, against the red cup and even folk who were criticizing people on both sides. I can imagine if I opened up the conversation we would have a HEATED DEBATE right here—right now!
Now, I am all for a passionate conversation, but I wonder—are we engaged in passionate conversation or do we allow things like red cups, sexual identity issues and where refugees are going to live to create dividing lines between us?
This is a devilish distraction! The devil wins when we think of each other, as the enemy and talk at each other with hate! At best it’s a distraction, and at worst it actually tears us apart. But out there—in world isn’t looking for more hate that divides—that darkness is everywhere, right? No we are a world that is looking for a love that is approachable, it’s accessible, a love that lives right where we are, that comes right DOWN TO EARTH.
So today—whatever has brought you this faith that we call Christianity—even if your momma has made you come to church, if you were driven by the guilt of bad decisions, even if you started having babies and thought, “I could use some holy help.” Whatever brought you to this place—we are in this—following a Jesus who was messy—love come down to earth-- hanging out with religious folk and non religious folk, saint and sinner, loving people we are hard to love—sacrificing his life for the whole lump of them. We are this—we are in this together.
We are stepping into Advent—a time in the life of the church that is as terrifying and beautiful as waiting for a child to be born. It is a spiritual gestation—waiting, preparing, anticipating and at the same time knowing that right here, right now there is life—REAL life growing inside of us. We are more than waiting for an event—we are experiencing a spiritual awakening that has changed, can change and will change the world forever!
Today I am NOT asking you to pretend—to pretend that you get all this (Christianity) or even to cover up the fact that you and I don’t always respond to life and one another in civil ways. BUT today, we are creating space—doing a heart check—and asking ourselves the question, how can we live into what it means to be a down to earth people?
Even the first followers of Jesus argued about red cups—okay they weren’t red cups—but they did argue about whether the inside or outside of the cup needed to be clean, when to wash their hands, and whether or not people were made for Sunday or Sunday made for people—they also tried to create dividing lines. So today, I invite you to open your Bibles and pull out your message maps and turn with me to Philippians 2. Philippians 2 is not typically what we talk about when it comes to Advent and Christmas—but this scripture is ALL about JESUS COMING DOWN TO EARTH.
This is a letter written by a follower of Jesus named Paul, and Paul is writing to this group of Jesus followers in Philippi (map) that he loves—he helped this group say yes to Jesus—but Paul has heard word that they are arguing and letting their difference divide them, and refuses to let that happen. Let’s look at Philippians 2: 1-4, “If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care—then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand” (Philippians 2: 1-4 The Message).
When Paul says, “If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Jesus, if his love has made any difference in your life...” Our first question might be—has it? Has following Jesus made a difference here? Sisters and brothers, I can tell you, it has—for 11 years you’ve poured out your sacrificial generosity to the people of Sudan. You understand generosity—the impact our dollars can make for God’s ministry throughout the world. We focused on financial generosity in November, but today we are going to look at what it means to love—a down to earth love that is raw and real. So let’s let God press in on our hearts and our motives. In this season of Advent, God wants to birth new miracles through us—not just you or me—but us.
You may have come to faith in a simple, but native way hearing folk say things like: God has a wonderful plan for your life; God thinks your special and he loves you very much; you are God’s beautiful masterpiece—all of that is true. It’s true, but it might have lead us into believing that faith is really all about me—like it’s ONLY about Jesus and me and getting my ticket into heaven, but it’s not. Is Jesus our Savior, yes, but faith is fundamentality about being community being the whole body. Take a closer look at verse 1, “If you’ve (plural you) gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor” (Philippians 2:1 The Message).
What follows, is more than good advice—it’s what we as a community need to be in order to understand love come down—So how do we press in and live out this down to earth kind of love?
First, we don’t have to agree to agree! In a world of debate and growing political divisions, the thought of agreement is almost laughable. But when Paul asks these followers of Jesus to agree with one another—he’s not asking them to think or even believe the same things—this is not some kind of call to Christian partisanship or even to compromise—no he’s really asking them to treat one another with love.
Let’s take a deeper look at the text, “Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends” (Philippians 2:2, The Message). When we read the Bible, we discover folk were in some pretty intense debate—about things like food sacrificed to idols, circumcision and even if non-Jews could really follow Jesus. Even though they argued about that stuff; the sum of their identity didn’t from what they thought or even believed. No, it came from how they acted; how they treated one another.
One of our grandpas-in-the-faith was a guy by the name of Tertullian. He was writing about Jesus’ followers at the end of the second century. Listen to what he says about their love for one another, “But it is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us. See, they say, how they love one another, for they themselves are animated by mutual hatred. See, they say about us, how they are ready even to die for one another” (Apology, Tertullian).
Christians were labeled—branded because of how well they loved one another. What happened? So what is the difference 2,000 years later? I think one of the differences was their commitment to God and to each other. It’s kind of like marriage—you talk about DOWN TO EARTH! Marriage is messy! My husband, Jon and I certainly don’t always agree—you get two opinionate extroverts in a marriage—there is bound to be disagreement but we know we’ve agreed to love one another despite of our differing opinions. We agree that we are committed for life; we agree we are in this for the long haul and we agree that we are NOT going to let our differing opinions to divide the love we have for one another. These are the things we AGREE on—we don’t always have to agree to agree.
But that it more than that—Paul takes that a step further—we don’t have to win to win!
Look at verse 3, “Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage” (Philippians 2: 3 The Message).
Let me tell you what I mean. At the end of the day, we want to know that our needs are going to be taken care of. Many of us have this inner need to know that we are right, we are important, we are significant, and some of us even suffering from the need to know we are the best—we are the winner. Just ask Best Buy—they are telling us we can “win the holidays.” That competitiveness can start to affect our relationships. It blinds us to the amazing gift of one another, and that God created uniqueness and contribution of those around us.
Let me tell you I can make nearly anything a competition—but when we say yes to Jesus—we are saying I’m okay with being second; putting myself aside and looking out for others above myself. I am not pretending that is at all easy—it’s not. So what does putting self aside look like? Maybe it means confessing that our competition is rooted in pride or selfish ambition? Even people of faith want to win, to be right, to be on top, to have all the answers, have all the power, but DOWN TO EARTH means let go of pride and of power. What would it look like in these next four weeks to make yourself second, not only to God, but also to those around you? Maybe it means using “yes, and” far more often than “no, but” in the debates we find ourselves in. Whatever your personal soapbox—we all have them—maybe you and I reach out to a brother or sister in the faith with a different point of view not because we are interested in converting them to our point of view, but because we want to get to know who they are and how to best love them—that’s hard—but that’s a glimpse of heaven come down to earth.
You know one of the things that love about Ginghamsburg Church is that there are all kinds of folk here—many with VERY different beliefs about Jesus—but united in love because we know that it’s Jesus that saves—not our right beliefs, not even our right actions—but the gift of grace that each and everyone of us received through Jesus’ death and resurrection. It’s it okay to debate? Absolutely—we have to engage in passionate, fierce debate—but not for the sake of “winning” of tearing down the competition—but for the purposed of building up, iron sharpening iron, helping one another figure out how to love each other through our differences. We don’t have to win to win.
Finally Paul encouraged the Jesus followers at Philippi to lend a helping hand—what he is really getting to the heart of here is love does. LOVE DOES! Look at verse 4, “Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand” (Philippians 2: 4 The Message). With the Spirit of Christmas—thinking helping is easier than ever—but I wonder if what Paul is talking about here is different than the concept of charity. I wonder if Paul’s not directing us to think about the Biblical concept of compassion and mercy—there’s a story that Jesus tells in Luke—and we know that story as the story of the Good Samaritan. A man was traveling and got mugged, beaten pretty badly and two people pass him by—priest and a Levite all known to be pretty religious folk—but then an outsider, a foreigner, a enemy, a Samaritan passes by and not only does he help but Jesus says, “Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt COMPASSION for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here. “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked. The man replied, “The one who showed him MERCY.” Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.” (Luke 10:33-37 NLT).
Jesus asks us to DO LOVE. Sisters and brothers—we don’t always have an opportunity to pick up a beaten person on the side of the road. So, what would it look like for us to be a down to earth people? What does it look like for us to DO LOVE? Well maybe it looks like this. (Video).
Sometimes we think that we have to do something HUGE to change the world. But that’s not what we saw in the video or even in Jesus’ story. What we saw were people who had compassion; who showed mercy and who were willing to lend a helping hand. How can you lend a hand?
We’ll maybe it’s as simple as: taking the grocery list to the grocery store and buying more food than you are used to for New Path or even paying the grocery the bill of a stranger—it might mean offering to move some furniture for someone or raking the neighbors leaves down the street? Maybe it’s reach out to say, “I was wrong. Will you forgive me?” Or even, “Hey you look stressed is there anything I can do?” Maybe your family can caroling at the local nursing home or even invite someone over for a home cooked meal. How can you lend a hand—fix a car, knit a hat, or even create a piece of beautiful art that will bring someone joy.
What is in your hand? Today I invite you to open your hands—hold them out this—and let’s invite God to help us to do love—to be a down to earth people. Let’s pray.
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