Sunday, August 2, 2009

This week's sermon: People as Priority III—Mind the Gap!

Micah 6:8 “He has shown you, oh man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

When we were in London, we had a long layover and decided to take the tubes—the subway—into the city and see London Tower. While we were riding the train, at every stop a voice would come on the PA and say, “Mind the gap!” No matter what the announcement was, no matter what stop, it would always say, “Mind the gap.” And they didn’t have that tacked on just to avoid lawsuits like they would here, getting on and off the train, you really did have to “Mind the gap.”

Sometimes it was a little gap. Sometimes it was a gap you could put your foot into. Sometimes it was big enough to step your whole leg into. Sometimes it didn’t look like there was a gap, but there was instead a step down. It really is mind-boggling to us in the states where everything is built or rebuilt to meet certain codes and standards, but some of those platforms looked like they were as old as the train system itself. Nothing was standardized. So I was glad of the reminders at every stop to “Mind the gap.” Because for us Americans—sleep-deprived and unused to having to watch every step—it could have been a really dangerous thing to step off the train and into the gap.

I think sometimes as Christians we need to hear the same warning. We need to be reminded that although our "Christian life" train-ride has been pretty smooth, when we go to interact with the people of the world, we may encounter a rather frightening gap between their standards and our own. We need to be aware that the gap exists. We need to see it for what it is. And we need to know how to bridge that gap so that we can reach people in the world with the message of Christ.

Two weeks ago, we started talking about this theme of making people a priority. We saw how Jesus chose to respond to people and make them a priority in his life and ministry. We looked last week at the idea of getting outside our comfort zone to interact with people who are different from us culturally. Today we are going to see what scripture has to say about how to reach those who are living by the world’s standards.

What are some of the world’s standards? You can answer: whatever works for you; do makes you feel good; look out for yourself; money is king; pleasure is the ultimate good… These are the messages we see broadcast all around us. And while we may be tempted sometimes to try out one of those philosophies, most of us don’t choose to live our lives there. Sometimes that makes it difficult to know what to do when we encounter those people who do.

The main verse I want to use to guide our thoughts this morning is Micah 6:8 “He has shown you, oh man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” This verse shows us three things that God has given mankind throughout history as his basic guidelines: act justly, love mercy, walk humbly with God. I believe this verse holds the key to unlocking the door on how to interact with those around us in a way that glorifies God and makes it possible to share the gospel with those in need.

The first thing the verse tells us is that we need to act justly. We need to focus on our own standard of living. We need to make sure that no matter who we are, no matter what our business is, no matter who we deal with, that our actions are just. What does that mean? That means if you are in business, don’t rip people off. If you are shopping and you get out of the store without paying for something, take it back in and pay for it. If you injure someone, or damage someone’s property, do the right thing in sticking around and helping to put things right. It is being a person of integrity. What business do we have going to those who live by the world’s standards and telling them that they are in the wrong, if our lives do not reflect the principles we are advocating.

Jesus addresses this very thing in the parable of the speck and the plank in Matthew 7:1-5 “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, "Let me take the speck out of your eye,' while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye.” People in the world can spot a fake a mile away. They see your plank in the eye, and they are not fooled when you try to help them with their speck. The first step in interacting with people in the world is to make sure your habits and behaviors match up to your own standards.

The second thing Micah 6:8 tells us to do is to love mercy. What is mercy? It is not receiving the deserved punishment for committing a crime. It is what we all have received from God, instead of death resulting from our sin, we have received a full pardon. To love mercy means to rejoice when someone gets off the hook. What? Yep. To love mercy means to rejoice when the unfaithful spouse is forgiven. To throw a party for the offender who gets a reduced sentence. To gladly choose to not seek to harm the person who has harmed you.

Paul says it this way in Romans 12:17-21, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. 20 On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” For us loving mercy means more than not seeking revenge. It means going beyond the call of duty to shower mercy and grace on those who live in a world where grace and mercy do not exist. These things only come from God. For many people, you are the only chance they have of knowing that God has mercy beyond their sin and grace to give them an abundant life. Practically that means loving those people in your life who are unlovely. It means seeking to build a friendship with those whose lives are a wreck because of their sin. It is embodying the person of Christ as you interact with those who, just like you, could never dig their way out of their own pit.

The final thing Micah 6:8 gives us is a command to walk humbly with our God. This is really the key to the first two things that God requires of us. We can’t act justly without knowing God’s standard for justice and allowing him to grow that in our lives. We can’t love mercy if we haven’t first received mercy from Christ. Walking humbly with God means to recognize who he is, and who we are in relation to him. It is knowing that he is the almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and we are dust, our days like the grass, a fleeting breeze. It means having the proper perspective on who is better equipped to handle the challenges we face, who is better able to plan our lives, who has better wisdom in making judgments in our lives and the lives of others.

If we have this perspective in place, it is easy to trust God to judge those living by other standards; it is easy to then offer mercy to those who are in sin. If we can see ourselves in relation to God’s perfect holiness, it is easy to see how far we fall short and how much we depend on him for our righteousness. When we see God for who he is, and we see ourselves for who we truly are, it is hard to be arrogant. It is hard to be holier-than-thou, because we know that it is not by our own power or goodness that we are in relationship with God. It is only by his grace and mercy that we can approach the throne.

Paul says this in 1 Corinthians 5:9-13a “I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people--not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside.”

Our job in interacting with people outside of a relationship with Christ who are living like the world is to offer them the mercy and grace of Christ. We are not to judge them or to condemn them, but to be to them what Christ has been to us, an extended hand of love that holds life and peace like they have never experienced. We hold a gift in our hands. We have the gift of salvation. We have the gift of peace with God. We have the gift of life eternal, starting now and going on forever. We can hold onto that gift and sit on the train, or we can “Mind the gap,” and step into the world offering to share that gift with others.

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