sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 06/12/2012
a video recording of this message is available at http://www.sundaystreams.com/go/MilanVineyard/ondemand
This is our chalkboard assignment from Jesus, and we’ve talked about the importance of together we, and what following the way of Jesus is all about, and what it means to create breathing room. This week, and through the rest of June, we will unpack how to Favor, Count, and Connect people.
Favor is where we begin today. Jesus calls us to create breathing room for the disfavored to find favor. Unfortunately, churches have a reputation not for showing the favor of God to people, but rather for communicating judgment and displeasure.
Unchristian research results:
87% of outsiders said that the word “judgmental” described present day Christianity.
When asked whether Christian Churches accept and love people unconditionally, regardless of how people look or what they do, 76% of pastors and 47% of born-again Christians said that they do. Only 20% of outsiders agreed. Which means 80% disagreed.
[Dana Carvey’s Church lady…3:20-5:45]
So I want to look at this task of creating breathing room for the disfavored to find favor from a fresh angle, in hopes that it will inspire us, the Vineyard Church of Milan, at least, to do better. And we are going to begin by talk about how important the way we look at the future is to human beings. Because when it comes down to it, creating breathing room to experience the favor of God is all about surprising people with a new vision of the future, and in light of that, a new vision of the past and the present as well. A vision that arrests our anxiety and frees us to new kinds of faith-filled actions.
Harvard psychology professor Daniel Gilbert writes in Stumbling on Happiness about 2 different ways we think about the future.
The first is what he calls “Nexting.” Past + Present = immediate future.
Stomp stomp clap, stomp stomp clap, stomp stomp ________
[Toss something to people…]
It was a dark and stormy ______
Surprise is what we feel when our nexting is wrong, even when we weren’t conscious of the fact that we were asparagus.
Which is how we know monkeys do it. Babies do it. Slugs even do it.
Nexting is important, but it’s not what makes human beings especially special.
Later is where it’s really at. Human beings, unique it seems among all the rest of the animals, think about later. We think about the future. We imagine what might happen at some point in the future, we imagine how life might be like, what we might be like, and it changes how we feel now, it changes what we decide to do now.
(different than squirrels who bury nuts, for example. Pure instinct. When the amount of sunlight that enters their eyes decreases by a critical amount, burying behavior is triggered…)
As Daniel Gilbert writes,
“Until a chimp weeps at the thought of growing old alone, or smiles as it contemplates its summer vacation, or turns down a fudgsicle because it already looks too fat in shorts, I will stand by my version of The Sentence. We think about the future in a way no other animal can, does, or ever has, and this simple, ubiquitous, ordinary act is a defining feature of our humanity.”
This capacity to think about the future is surely part of what it means to be made in the image of God. God’s first act in scriptures is to speak something new into being that was not there before – “let there be light!” To create and to order and organize, to tend the garden and exercise creative and faithful dominion of and care over it requires the capacity to think about the future.
Have you ever made a to do list? You are an image-bearer of God.
Later happens in the frontal lobe of our brains, which is one of the distinguishing anatomical characteristics of human beings. The frontal lobe is the part of our brain we use for worrying and for planning. Which is why lobotomies were both so effective and so damaging. Anxiety is gone because you can’t think about the future. But you also can’t think about the future – which means you can’t plan.
So what does all of this have to do with our mission to create breathing room for the disfavored to find favor?
When Jesus arrives to create breathing room for humanity, the first thing he does is announce good news about the kingdom of God. (Mark 1:14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news.”) Saying that it’s near. That it’s here. That it’s on its way. Good news that shapes our understanding of a present and a future drenched in the favor of God. Good news. News that’s meant to speak directly to our anxieties, to our misperception that we are out of God’s favor. News of grace and favor. That blessing is available even to those who are poor in spirit, who mourn, who hunger and thirst for righteousness, who are meek, and on and on. Good news. News that speaks directly to the actions we take now in light of it. News that invites us to trust and follow Jesus in living in light of the invisible world he sees in spreading out in front of us, or maybe advancing towards us like a wave, one in which love wins over fear, in in which grace and forgiveness defeat sin and death, in which humility and mercy triumph over pride and judgment.
It’s why the most common command in the bible is do not be afraid.
It’s why Jesus’ first miracle is changing water into wine. God is taking humanity’s party to the next level – just when we think the party is winding down, God is bringing out the best.
It’s why the first thing Jesus says when he creates breathing room for his fearful disciples after his resurrection is “Peace be with you.” It’s why the second thing he says to them is, “as the father has sent me, now I am sending you.”
The favor of God is what restores us to the wholeness of image-bearing human beings.
It’s why the first words of the Father to Jesus are, “This is my son whom I love, with whom I am well pleased.”
Jesus is the new humanity, and we who receive his favor and follow him into the favor of the Father are those whom he invites to carry out the image-bearing work of humanity in the new creation wrought by his resurrection.
We are a church called to carry on the work of Christ in the world. And it begins by creating breathing room for the disfavored to find favor. It begins with us announcing the favor of God – in all sorts of ways – to people who have experienced the opposite of that in their lives.
The poor, the less thans, the down and outs, the sick, the hurting, the haven’t made its, the trapped in sin, the wanderers, the lost and the losing, the judged and condemned. Truth is, it doesn’t matter how great someone’s life can look from the outside, anyone can have the experience of being disfavored. A miscarriage, a failed relationship, an unapplauded talent or passion, a broken dream, a debilitating illness, a dysfunctional family, getting stuck in the line behind the person paying their highway toll with quarters. Until you know the favor of the unconditional love of the God of the good news kingdom, the weight of the uncertain future and the discouragement of the confusing present can be crippling to any human being.
Why? Because when a person thinks they are disfavored by God (or any other person or system, for that matter) they don’t come to him (or them or it) seeking life, because they expect more condemnation. So they look elsewhere or they stop looking and start going through the motions. This always leads to death, because the only true source of life in the universe is God, and the life he has for us is one of anticipating and creatively cooperating with his good future.
So how do we create breathing room for the disfavored to find favor?
It begins with finding ways to communicate surprising favor.
This is what Jesus did all the time.
Healing the centurion’s son.
Touching the leper.
Eating with the tax collector.
Talking to the Samaritan woman.
Refusing to condemn the adulteress.
Receiving the worship of the prostitute.
It’s what the beatitudes are all about.
Blessed are the poor in spirit? Say what?
Blessed are those who mourn? Say what?
It’s what forgiveness says, everytime. It says relationship with you is more important than anything you might have done to me. Which is always a surprise when we’ve done something to someone. You are willing to cancel that debt? For the sake of restored relationship with me? Say what?
It’s why Jesus says what he says on the cross: “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.”
Uh, yes we did know what we were doing, we maybe want to say.
No, no you really didn’t, says Jesus. Because you don’t see the present clearly enough, nor what the past means, nor what the future holds. And if you did – if you knew the good news of the kingdom of God, his favor for you, the plans he has for rescue and redemption – you’re anxieties would fall away, and you would change everything about your current course of action.
We interrupt people’s nexting with surprise, and it creates breathing room to see a now and later drenched with favor and good news.
Quarters on newspaper stands and car wash coin slots. Surprise. Popcorn on redbox kiosks. Surprise. Fresh baked bread on the doorstep. Surprise. A drive through order paid for. Surprise. Garbage cans delivered to the top of the driveway. Surprise. A toilet cleaned for free. Surprise. A windshield washed in a gas station. A foot massaged after a long walk. Surprise. A cold drink on a hot day. Surprise. Food that you get to choose yourself at compassion ministry. Surprise. No requirement to show evidence of your income, we just take you at your word that you have need of what we have to offer. Surprise. An adult spending time with a teenager whom they are not getting a tax write off to be with. Surprise.
Not what anyone was expecting next. Surprise! Which opens our eyes to see what we couldn’t see before, wakes us up, gives us breathing room. Breathing room to receive the favor of a God who has been longing for us to know his favor, like a father longs for his kids to know that he loves them, that he would lay down his life for them.
The ways we communicate the unconditional favor of God to people are, by and large, so small. So simple. So ordinary. They can seem unglamorous, insignificant, a waste of time. But if we see them in the light of the gospel, that God is restoring and redeeming and recreating humanity in his image, starting with our very basic capacity to think about the future, we can see that in those simple actions we are participating with the Risen Lord of the Universe in the very work of salvation.
Let’s be a church where everyone who walks in the door experiences the favor of God. A parking space available. A friendly greeting. A seat offered. An embrace. A child cared for with love and enthusiasm. A kind word of encouragement. An offer of help. Or prayer. And let’s be a church that expresses that same favor in our small groups, and through our ministries, and in our outreaches, and in our daily lives at workplaces and schools and neighborhoods and grocery stores.
1. Participate in a servant evangelism / kindness outreach activity once a week this summer. Like toilet cleaning next week. Or invent your own. Take the money out of your tithe this summer to pay for it if you don’t have enough faith or money to spend any extra money on surprising favor J
2. Imagine a future where you thought you were out of God’s favor. What might surprise you enough to get you to reconsider? Ask God to help you be a part of his surprise to someone who needed that kind of breathing room.
3. Commit to participating in the Compassion Ministry twice a year.