Tuesday, January 23, 2007

we are sent (a sermon)

Following is the text of a sermon I just gave last Saturday at Oasis Madrid's service. I hope it helps you in some way.

--Troy



We Are Sent
a sermon by Troy Cady

Oasis Madrid is a church based on certain core convictions.

For example, we are a church that believes the good news Jesus came to preach was that the kingdom of God is available to us now. In other words, as we choose to live in the present under God’s rule and reign, we believe liberation from sin, death and decay will result in the present. This theological truth has implications. Specifically, this tells us that being a Christian is more than just saying a prayer asking Jesus to forgive us our sin so that, when we die, we will go to heaven. No, this truth tells us that we need to trust Jesus with everything in the present, to allow Jesus to be our Lord, our ruler, right here and now. That’s one of our convictions.

Now, you may not be aware, but Oasis Madrid has a whole series of convictions concerning six different things of this nature. In addition to what I just mentioned, we have explicitly stated convictions about grace, the Bible, postmodernism, discipleship and disciple-making. This teaching begins a three part series looking more intently at one of our six conviction topics. This topic will deal specifically with the concept of God becoming Man in the person of Jesus Christ. Believe it or not, this theological truth and historical fact has profound implications. To look more deeply into how this truth affects us, we need to lay some groundwork.

First of all, you should know that this is what theologians call the Incarnation. The word “incarnation” comes from a Latin root. You know the Spanish word “carne” can mean “meat” or “flesh”. Well, the Incarnation talks about how God took on human flesh and became a man in the person of Jesus Christ. Think about that for a second: God took on human flesh. God sent his one and only Son to become a man. This has profound implications for Christians.

Here’s why: Just as God was embodied in the person of Jesus Christ, so Jesus is to be embodied by the church. There’s a pattern established in Jesus’ incarnation that continues in the life of the family of God.

In fact, the Scriptures call the people of God (those who have chosen to follow Jesus Christ) the Body of Christ for this very reason. We are the Body of Christ. We are the Body of Christ. Let that truth sink in: We are the Body of Christ.

So what? Why does this even matter?

Well…this means that what Christ did and what Christ wants done, we now do. Just as God the Father lived his life through the Son who became man, so Jesus lives his life through us by the work of the Spirit of Christ in our hearts. In other words, the Spirit of God enables us to be Jesus with skin on. This is why in the ancient church the Christian leader Athanasius said that Christians are “little christs”.

Now, this sounds like an outrageous claim: what Christ did and what Christ wants done, we now do. But there is indeed a pattern established in the Bible about this.

For example, Jesus tells us his purpose in coming when he says in Matthew 20:28, “…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve…” This tells us the incarnation (that is, Jesus’ coming) was for the purpose of serving.

Following that pattern, then, Jesus calls us to do the same: “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” John 13:14-15

See: there’s a pattern here. What God did in the person of Jesus Christ, so Jesus wants to do now through the church by the work of his Spirit.

Right now, I’d like to look more specifically into one other pattern that we see in the incarnation of Christ and in our calling as the family of God.

The pattern to which I am referring is this: the incarnation of Christ, generally speaking, involves “a sending”. That is, God sent his Son from heaven to earth. The Scriptures indicate this in numerous places. Just two are:

• Galatians 4:4 “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman…”

• I John 4:9 “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world…”

You can see here that the incarnation involved leaving one place and going to another. This happened because Jesus was sent.

Now: Just as Jesus was sent, he sends us. In John 20:21 Jesus says, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

See: our commission is patterned after Christ’s commission. Just as Christ was “sent” into the world by the Father, so we are “sent” into the world by Jesus.

Now, this may not mean a whole lot to us, but it should change the way we think about church and the work God has given us. Often, Christians think of church as a place to which they go. We say, “Are you going to church on Saturday night (or Sunday morning)?” But this is a misunderstanding of what it means to be church, what we are to be about as the Body of Christ.

In one sense, yes: church happens whenever the people of God gather to accomplish God’s purposes. But, sometimes we can emphasize the “gathering” part and forget about the “purposes” part. So, just what is God’s purpose for his church? To go! In fact, the very word the New Testament uses for “church” carries the idea that we are “the sent ones”. The word to which I refer is “ekklesia”. The prefix “ek” means “out of”. The church is to be called “out of” its holy little bubble and go into the world to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to all who need to hear it. By definition, then, we are called to go. We are “the sent ones”.

This means we should not wait and expect that the world will “come to us”; we must “go to them.” This is one reason why we’re sort of a weird church: we don’t have weekly services. Well, there’s a reason for that. It’s not because we’re lazy. It’s because we’re convinced that if we spend all our time as a Body inside the walls of a church building, we miss a piece of Christ’s commission to “Go”.

Having said that, I’d like to make two points of clarification on this. First of all, this “incarnational” kind of ministry (that is, this kind of “sending” ministry) is not merely an individual affair. Often, we think of our call as Christians to share the good news of Jesus Christ as something that we do personally, individually. And, while it is true that every individual Christian needs to understand that Jesus gives each of us the work of spreading the good news, it is not true that that need be a solo kind of effort. In fact, the ancient Christians understood that we are sent out to preach the good news and embody Christ together, as a group. Indeed, we cannot embody Christ unless we are together.

Remember: we are not in it alone. Therefore, if we are to be truly “incarnational”, we need to spend regular time together in the world, so the world can truly see (visibly) the whole Body of Christ active and alive.

Now, I’ll conclude with some thoughts on one more principle as it relates to the incarnation. This principle has to do with “space”. What I’m getting at here is that the incarnation not only tells us that Jesus was sent and Jesus sends us, but it also tells us something about the nature of the space into which we are sent. John 1 says, “The Word [that is, God in Jesus Christ] became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.”

In regard to this, it is important for us to keep in mind two ideas which stand in tension.

The first idea is this: God is active everywhere. There is no place we can go where God is not. The Psalmist declares this when he says, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.” (Psa 139)

Since God is active everywhere, our vocation (that is, our work) is merely to join in his work. Because of that we should keep in mind that as we share the good news with people we need not do so forcefully. We can expect that God has already been speaking to their hearts. It is our job to merely try to find out how God has been speaking to their hearts and then help them make the connection so that they will see God at work in their life and then be encouraged to believe in God even more.

This is because, the first idea says, God is active everywhere. But, remember…

The second idea, which stands in tension to this first idea is that, even though God is active everywhere, we have not voluntarily allowed him to have his way with us, as he desires. And this is the problem we encounter.

This happens because when God created humans he gave us authority to rule over certain sections of his creation. For example, in Genesis we read that God gave to the first human the task of naming the animals and taking care of the garden. Did God need to give this responsibility to Adam? No. So, why did God do this? Well, this is part of what it means to be made in the image of God. In the same way that God “spoke” and “it came to be”, God gives us authority to have a say over what happens in our lives and in our world. In other words, to a certain extent, humans have the ability and the authority to do the same as God: to “speak” and have it come to pass.

In order to do this, though, God limits the exercise of his authority to give us room to exercise ours. Now, that sounds risky, on God’s part, but the reason he does this is because God wants us to take the areas of our lives in which we hold sway, and place them once again voluntarily under his rule and authority. We won’t get into why God wants it that way, but suffice to say that depending on the decision we make, the space in which we live is changed for better or for worse.

For example, like the first humans, we have a choice as to how we will treat the world, since God has given us dominion over the world. Unfortunately, some people who have a lot of influence mistake the idea of “dominion” and think that means they have license to treat the world as an object of exploitation. So, as humans, we have raped our environment, stripping the world of its resources. But, God doesn’t want it to be this way. He wants us to govern the world as he would govern it: with care and pleasure and respect. He would have us be truly godly stewards of that which he has given us. You can see that, depending on what we do with the authority God gives us, the literal space of this world changes for the good or for the worse.

This applies not just in the universal space of creation but even in the particular space of our individual lives. For example, in my home, I have a certain amount of authority granted me by nature. As I am a father, I inherently bear some authority over my children. It is God’s will that I place my authority as a parent under his authority. That is, God wants me to parent my kids the way he parents me: with love, gentleness, joy, patience, and faith. But, he will not force me to do that. If I want, I could try to parent my kids the way I think best, never even asking what God would have.

Let’s say, for example, that I felt the best way to parent my children boiled down to merely controlling my children. And let’s say, for example, that I felt the best way to control them was to beat them. (There are people like this, you know). You can see that, based on what I decide to do with the authority God has given me, the literal space (the very environment) of my home would change.

This could be one reason why, once, when Heather and I invited a friend from work and her husband over to dinner, he later told me that the first time he was at our home it made an impression on him. He said that when he came into our home he felt something different. He felt a kind of life there that he didn’t have in his own home. Perhaps this is because we had regularly endeavored that God would have his way in our home and marriage.

This is what we are called to do: first of all, to realize that God is active everywhere, in every space. And then, in light of that, as far as we are able, to enter into the spaces of this world that are not set aside for God’s use and to set them aside for his use. When we do this, the spaces of this world become sacred spaces, places where people can encounter God’s rule and reign (and thus, his love, joy, peace, grace and healing). And, when that happens, the spaces of this world become incarnations of Jesus. In other words, we are able to enter into those spaces and encounter the life of Jesus.

The wonder is: every space has this potential, since God is active in every space. But, God will not force his will to be done in our space. This is why Christians pray, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” In praying that, we are voluntarily placing our authority under God’s perfect, good, and loving will.

I often hear Christians say, “All of life is sacred.” Well, if by “sacred” you mean that God is present and active everywhere, then, yes, all of life is sacred. But, the word “sacred” carries with it a more specific meaning, also: “That which is set apart for God and his use.” And, in that sense, of course, all of life has yet to become sacred.

And that is what we are given to do as followers of Jesus Christ. Really, when you think about it, this is the essence of our vocation, our work in the world: to create sacred space. Space where people can encounter the life of God unleashed.

This is why it is important for us as Christians, that, each and every day, we look for ways God is working in every part of our world: on the street, in the metro, at work, at school, at home, in a café, in the museum. And then, as far as we are able, we seek to place that space under God’s rule and reign, allowing him to govern it as he wants. For then, the world will become more truly loving and life-giving. Then, forgiveness will reign. Then, enemies will become friends and joy will be our theme. Then, the world will be changed and people will see the life of Jesus.

This is the incarnation. This is the life of Jesus. This is our identity. And this is our task.

Amen.

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