- The Unstoppable Community of Love
- Matthew 22:37-40; John 13:34-35
- Lyndol Loyd September 30, 2018
For the past few weeks, here at LakeRidge, we have been focusing our attention around the theme of “The Me I Want to Be.” When most of us think about it, most of us would like to be more kind and generous, patient and loving, but there is a gap between the me I am and the me I want to be.
Oftentimes we find it easy to trust God to bridge the gap between us and Him, but we struggle to really live by grace and trust God to close the gap between the me I am and the me I want to be.
Becoming God’s best version of you is both God’s desire and the greatest task of your life. Here’s the good news: God is already working on it. Your life is God’s project, not yours.
God wants to see you become the unique, fully alive, flourishing person He intended for you to be from the moment He created you. This morning we are going to spend some time talking about the role of community in helping each of us become the person we want to be.
An academic journal called “The Journal of Happiness Studies” uses the tools of research to identify what makes a human life flourish. When researchers look at what distinguishes quite happy people from less happy people, one factor consistently separates those two groups.
It is not how much money they have; it is not their health, security, attractiveness, IQ, or career success. What distinguishes consistently happier people from less happy people is the presence of rich, deep, joy-producing, life-changing, meaningful relationships. Spending meaningful time with people who care about us is indispensable for human flourishing.
Social researcher, Robert Putnam, writes, “The single most common finding from a half-century’s research on life satisfaction, not only from the U.S.A. but around the world, is that happiness is best predicted by the breadth and depths of one’s social connections.” (TMIWTB, 179-180).
We will only become “the me I want to me” as we are deeply connected to the loving community of Jesus-followers called the church. We flourish through a commitment to community.
At the core of everything Jesus was about was one word: love. Matthew 22:37-40 says, “37Jesus replied, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”
Jesus chose the rag-tag, dull, unruly twelve disciples in order to have someone to love. He trained those same twelve to become the most loving group in the world. In John 13:34-35 Jesus says, “34So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. 35Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”
Jesus’ life of love was like three giant signs that cry out to us about the unstoppable community of love.
Tony Campolo tells the story of a trip which he took to Hawaii. Jet lag kept him awake late into night and he went for a walk on the streets of Honolulu. At 2:00 a.m., he found himself in a doughnut shop. Sitting at the counter, he overheard several prostitutes who were sharing a booth. One of the girls whose name was Agnes mentioned that it was her birthday.
After she had left, Tony turned to the cook and the other prostitutes and said, “Let’s throw a party for Agnes.” The other girls agreed to bring decorations and the cook said that he would bake a cake.
The next night, they all gathered at the shop and when Agnes walked in, they brought out the cake and began to sing, “Happy Birthday.” Tears streamed down Agnes’s face and, when it came time to cut the cake, she just stood there. Finally, she said, “Could I buy another cake and we eat that one? I want to take this one home and show it to my mother.”
With that, she took the cake and left. In the sudden silence that filled the shop after she left, Tony bowed his head and began to pray. “Lord, we thank you for Agnes and for your love for her. You loved her enough to send Your Son to die for her on the cross. We thank you for the best present of all – the present of your own Son. Amen.” When he raised his head, he saw that all of the prostitutes had their heads bowed and had been praying with him.
The cook looked at him and said, “You’re a preacher!” When Tony admitted that he was, the cook asked, “What kind of church do you have?” In a sudden flash of insight, Tony replied, “The kind that throws parties for prostitutes and gives invitations to sinners.” To which the cook responded, “No you don’t, because I would join a church like that.”
To truly be the church is to live our lives without excuses. It is to live our lives with a sense of true priority about Jesus.
Luke 15:1-2, “1Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. 2This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!”
Jesus’ welcome of “sinners” to his table scandalized people as He loved them, embraced them, and included anyone who came to Him. After Jesus died and rose again an amazing life of love erupted in His community.
Consider this, in the Roman world, slaves were worthless, tortured, used for sex, degraded, and killed for growing old, but the church showed love, welcoming slaves and giving them positions of honor.
In the Roman world, the poor were despised and rejected, but the church showed love and welcomed and cared for the poor. In the Roman world, children were often abandoned, violated, and killed, but the church showed love, rescuing and blessing children.
In the Roman world, the diseased and dying were discarded as the church showed love and cared for the sick and dying even during times of plagues. Love literally kept the church healthy!
The model of the church that Jesus established for us is one that says, “Everyone is welcome.”
Matthew 7:1 says, “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged.”
In the book, The Me I Want to Be, John Ortberg tells the story about the derivation of the word “sincere.” The ancient Romans used to prize Greek sculptures for their aesthetic excellence. The statues were already a few centuries old, however, and some of them had cracks or gaps where marble was missing.
Vendors discovered that if they put wax in the sculptures these figures looked great–for a season that is. The wax looked like real marble, but over time, the wax would turn yellow and harden until it became apparent that the statue was not really authentic.
If vendors wanted to sell a statue and it was all marble–the real deal through and through–they would mark it “sine,” the Latin word for without, and then “cera,” the Latin word for wax. “Sine cera,” meant without wax.
When the Christian church started, people met together in their homes, Scripture says, “With glad and sincere hearts”– without wax–because now there was a circle of connectedness where everyone could come on in just as they were. Where hearts are sincere, they will also be glad.
Romans 15:7 says, “7Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory.”
Acceptance is more than just being liked by someone. Jesus doesn’t ask any of us to go get our lives together first and then come to follow Him. Jesus asks us to come to Him just as we are, to hear the Spirit’s call and come follow Him.
Jesus knows all of the embarrassing, humiliating things about me. He knows that I act in a grumpy manner with my wife and daughters from time to time, and that when I’m in my car I talk out loud to people who don’t drive the way I think they should. He also knows worse things than that about me and He accepts me just as I am.
The good news is that He knows all of the same sorts of things about you as well. He accepts you just the same.
One of the current television phenomenons involves a niche in the reality television market devoted to makeover shows. Whether it is a fashion challenged woman who has her mom jeans trashed and her frizzy hair flat ironed, colored and cut taking ten years off of her appearance; or the television personality who shows up to renovate someone’s basement with furnishings stuck in the 80’s into an ultra-chic, modern home theater; we find ourselves putting down the remote to watch.
With the numbers of people who watch these types of shows the only conclusion that you can draw is that there is something intriguing to the American public about radical transformation.
- We like to see something most of us could have never conceived on our own come into being.
- We think it’s cool to see, but doubt we would ever have the necessary skills to bring that sort of cosmetic change to our own appearance or interior of our own home.
How much more is that feeling true when it comes to our human condition, our spirits, our minds?
Acts 1:8 records these words of Jesus, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Jesus embraces people, puts His Spirit in them, and transforms their lives. He is a spiritual makeover specialist. He sees the potential deep within us when no one else can see it or when we fail to see it ourselves.
The Spirit gives spiritual gifts beyond human abilities. Think about some of the notable examples we find of Jesus doing this sort of thing in scripture:
- Shaky Simon Peter becomes a solid rock. Peter, who was impulsive, brash and quick to bail when it wasn’t convenient for him to be a follower of Christ, is transformed into the one upon whom Jesus said He would use to build the church.
- A wealthy man named Joseph is obsessed with his money, becomes known as Barnabas, “son of encouragement”.
- Zealous, violent Saul who was known for the way in which he persecuted followers of Christ, becomes known as Paul, the sacrificial apostle who authored many of the letters we find in the New Testament.
How did these amazing transformations take place? They happened as the Holy Spirit worked in the lives of these people in the midst of Christian community.
God uses people to form people. That is why what happens between you and another person is never merely human-to-human interaction–the Spirit longs to be powerfully at work in every encounter.
A few years ago, when I was still living in Orlando, I had the honor of attending my college, Wesley Foundation campus ministry reunion here at Texas Tech. It was the first time I had been back to Lubbock in over seventeen years. Over 300 of us who had been part of Wesley over the years got together for two days and it was an awesome experience.
Some of the people there I had seen over the years, here or there, but the vast majority of these folks I had not seen since 1990, but the moment we all got back together the years all faded away. We picked right back up where we had left off.
The best way for me to describe my experience is the word, surreal. Here I was in a room with some of the people who were most influential in my spiritual development. I was with the people who had poured themselves into me relationally. I was with the people whom God had used to shape and mold me. I was with the people who helped me discern my calling to be a pastor. Without these folks there is no way I would be a pastor.
At the very same time, I had the opportunity to reconnect with three different guys for whom I had been their youth director when they were in junior high or high school. The wild thing was that each of them is a pastor now. Amazing to me that God allowed me to be part of the community that helped shape and mold these men back when they were still teenagers. I had the honor of being a small link of the chain God had put together to help make them who they are today.
We become “the me I want to be” as we commit to and get connected in the community of love. We are loved into personal transformation. Anything’s possible.
Who knows? Maybe God is up to something like that here at LakeRidge?
Maybe there will be a day when you look back and tell the story of how God changed your life by connecting you to the people in your small group or Sunday school class? Maybe there will be a day when you look back and reflect upon how the children you helped teach in Sunday school or youth group drew you closer to Jesus? Maybe there will be a day when you point to a conversation you had with someone following the women’s Bible study or the men’s discipleship group?
Maybe, just maybe, God would like to use LakeRidge United Methodist Church as the kind of community that helps each of us become more of the “me I want to be” because we have been transformed by the love of Christ made real in the presence of community.