Monday, June 1, 2009

Hope Matters on the Edge Romans 8:12-25, John 3:1-17

The church is at its very best when we live on the edge. God can use us the most when we are living, together in hope and faith, beyond the certainty of individual resources, at the edges where faith and hope in God meet providing us all the strength needed to follow God into the world.

Many worry about the church's relevance in our culture. George Barna, and other sociologists of religion, report of huge generational shifts in religious identity happening right now. Strong church connections are being replaced by a new more "Casual Christianity" in the United States.

As pastor I hear elders in the church asking out loud, "What can we do about this, 'Younger generation' to get them back." Most of the elders are stunned to learn in conversation that it's not just 1 generation but 2 and sometimes 3 generations in one family who are disconnected to the church. We will not invite a 3rd generation non-Christian back; the youngest unchurched folks live way on the edges of the church. We are called to go to them and tell them about the love of God revealed in Jesus. We aren't inviting them to come back; instead we are called to go to them and tell them about Jesus in hope that they will become first generation followers of Jesus Christ.

The church is at its very best not when we wring our hands over missing generations; instead God can use us the most when we reach out in hope to the edges where the church is most distant from people's lives. It takes hope to live on the edge. We humans expect to run our own power and stength. We look inside our ownselves to solve problems; but in the body of Christ we are carried, by the Spirit of God, in hope to the very edges where God needs us to spread His Good News.

Paul's first hand experience living on the edge in hope: Romans 8:12-25
In Romans 8 Paul wrote about hope from firsthand experience.

For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:24-25 ESV)
God's Spirit moved Paul and he gave up his whole life to be part of something new. Paul changed dramatically when God adopted him into the Body of Christ. He was was not born into the body, none of us are. We are reborn in water and the power of the Spirit. God made Paul new again as one distinct part of a new and even greater body.

As one person Paul did everything he could to destroy the church. But God had a different purpose for Paul's life. As a reborn man he didn't he rely on his own strength, instead he found new strength as the spirit grafted him into a much larger new body. He left his old life behind. He gave up everything and the Spirit gave him so much more than he ever gave up in return.

Learning from Jesus example of reaching out:
John 3 Jesus lead a man beyond his own strength and understand to see God acting in ways that were well beyond anything he expected or even conceived of happening. The story happens like this: Late one night a man called Nicodemus came searching for the Rabbi. It's interesting to read this story intentionally, without Jesus name. There's a mysterious quality to the title Rabbi. It's a title of honor; but it's not the proper name of the Son of God. Nicodemus, a teacher himself, came with a strong sense that God was up to something through this particular Rabbi; but he didn't grasp entirely what God was doing in the person of Jesus. He greeted him,

Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do
these signs that you do apart from the presence of God. John 3:2
The Rabbi told Nicodemus,

Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” (John 3:3 NRSV)
This reply lead Nicodemus to ask a question. Nicodemus may have had an answer in mind when he asked the Rabbi the question. But God was on the move in an unexpected direction.

How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:4)
The Rabbi who Nicodemus sought out responded with an unexpected reply. Nicodemus asked how and the Rabbi told him,

Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:5-8)

We look for God to act in places and way where we think God can and should work. This Rabbi taught of a God who moves freely and boldly in our lives.

Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” (John 3:9)

We will hear from Nicodemus in John's Gospel again: when he stood up for Jesus in John 7:45-52 and when he showed up again to help bury Jesus, in John 19.

There's a gray area in our culture between a life changing faith in Christ and a state of total disbelief. Nicodemus came in the night and Jesus didn't change in order to move him to faith. Instead God changed him.

1 comment:

Ivy said...

You're absolutely right. We have to revision what it means to be the church today. I am finding this reality in CPE working with those needing memory support--how to have a Bible study with them. I've had to rethink what Bible study really is.