Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Hardest Sermon: Published

Luke 6: 32-38

32 ‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.  Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.  37 ‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.’

    I think perhaps, this is one of the most difficult sermons I have ever had to deliver.  You may wonder why.

    This may come as a shock to some.  Those closest to Chris know this; most of you probably do not.  Heather was raised as a Christian, but as time went on, she eventually renounced her Christian faith and became an atheist.  I hate to be the one who breaks this news to many of you today, but it is true.  This puts me in a rather difficult position considering the world we live in today–and considering the love and respect that you all had for Heather.  Because what we have happening here this evening is a collision of worldviews.  We have the Christian worldview which many of us embrace, and we have the atheistic worldview which Heather and her husband embraced.  Each have very different understandings about what happens after death–understandings which are seemingly incompatible.  So, how do we reconcile such things?  Is it even possible?

    To begin, please allow me to quote Christian author and speaker Ravi Zacharias who said the following in his Veritas Lecture on the campus of U.C.L.A. in January of this year.  He says, “Whatever our worldview...whatever our convictions, because a conviction is different to an opinion–an opinion is something you have a preference for sort of a hierarchy of options and you make a choice this way somebody else makes a choice another way.  But a conviction is that which is then in many ways rooted in your very soul; it is in your conscience.  And to change a conviction will involve a changing of who you are as a person...And so, when two worldviews collide, when two convictions collide, the best thing that one can hope for is at least the cordiality with which we can disagree and the civility with which we can interact in the midst of that disagreement.”

    The cordiality to disagree and the civility to interact in the midst of that disagreement.  Is such a thing possible?  Is it possible for a Christian worldview and an atheistic worldview to cordially disagree and civilly interact?  Historically, I believe those of us who are Christians have not done such a good job of handling such things.  There are usually two avenues which are chosen by most Christians, and one comes across as very self-righteous and the other comes across as both self-righteous and wishy-washy.

    On the one hand, you have those who almost gleefully proclaim that those who do not believe in Jesus Christ are eternally damned.  Usually, they are quick to quote all of those Bible verses and quotations of Jesus and Paul and others which paint the eternal destination of those who do not believe in a none too positive light.  They use these verses as fearful motivation–trying to convince others to avoid the same fate,  repent and believe in Jesus Christ.  They use those verses to fearfully get those gathered to “get our stuff together” so that we don’t end up in such a horrid place.  I honestly believe the folks who preach in this manner are trying to promote the Kingdom of God.  I believe they are trying to win souls for that Kingdom.  However, whether they know it or not, they usually come across as self-righteous and sanctimonious and do more harm to Christianity than good.  I do not want to go down that road this evening.

    Then, on the other hand, there are those who quite willingly and quickly pronounce that it doesn’t matter what one believes or does not believe–all enjoy a trip to heaven to be with God.  In their desire to promote comfort and  to ease peoples' consciences, they will ignore the words of Jesus; the words of Paul; and other such comments in scripture.  They do not honor the closest witnesses to Jesus as reported in the Bible and so water down what is revealed in Scripture.  Convictions get thrown out the window.  But that is not the least of it.  For in proclaiming this particular worldview, such folks fail to honor or respect the beliefs, convictions, and worldviews of those who believe differently.  In effect, they say, “I don’t care that you believe you will just cease to exist when you die.  It doesn’t matter what you say, what I say about God is more important than your beliefs and understandings.”  As I look at such things, it seems rather disingenuous, and I do not want to travel down that road tonight either.

    And so, what does one do?  How does one handle such situations?  There is no doubt that Scripture reveals to us some very troubling words about those who do not believe in Christ.  There is no doubt that Scripture reveals to us some very disturbing words about those who renounce their faith.  I am not going to sugar coat those this evening, but I am also not going to gleefully proclaim them.  Instead, I am going to hold up the dynamic tension Jesus asks us to hold.

    For, you see, the same Jesus who spoke words of exclusivity announcing that He is the way and the truth and the life and that no one comes to the Father except through Him also said, “Do not judge and you will not be judged for with the measure you give, the same measure you will receive.”

    Jesus makes it quite clear to you and to me how we are to act toward anyone who does not share our particular beliefs.  He makes it quite clear how we are to proceed with those who have a different worldview.  “Do not judge for with the judgment you give, you will receive.”  In my estimation, this call is a call to humility as we interact with those who do not believe as we believe.  How?

    Well, it goes back to the core convictions and beliefs at the foundation of Christianity.  It goes back to the fact that we all deserve judgment.  We all deserve God’s anger at us for we do not live according to His commands.  Take a read of Matthew chapter 5 through 7 and see how well you do at following Christ’s commands. Be honest as we look at our own lives and realize how we do not live as though we depend only on God for our sustenance and livelihood–we work and slave to store up wealth and property for our future instead of depending on God for our daily bread.  In doing so, we break a basic command of Christ.  All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God; we cannot earn any sort of salvation through our own actions.  It is only by His grace that we are saved through faith. 

    And that is not the half of it.  We cannot even believe in God without His help.  You may shake your head at that one, but if you do, take a moment to read 1 Corinthians chapter 12 and see that wonderful little snippet by St. Paul who says, “No one says Jesus is Lord except by the power of the Holy Spirit.”  You cannot even come to believe in Jesus on your own!  You can walk away on your own, but you certainly cannot believe in God through your own reason or strength.  You and I are totally dependent upon God not only for our salvation but for our very belief in Jesus Christ.

    So what does that mean?  I don’t know exactly what it means to you, but for me, it means that I am humbled.  I am totally dependent upon God, and I honor Him by following Him and the teachings of His Son who died for me.  And that Son was absolutely clear in His teachings: “Those who want to be first in the Kingdom of God must be last of all and servant of all.”  All, mind you.  Not just those who share the same belief, but we are called to love and serve all no matter what they believe–even if it is vastly different than what we believe.  We are to love others as God loved us.  Now, how is this possible?

    This was the exact same question Chris and I talked about as Heather’s life was coming to a close.  She and I had several conversations about this as she struggled with the question, “What should I do?”  The answer: love her.  Plain and simple.  Of course, Chris also witnessed to Heather.  Of course, she wanted her daughter to believe, but it was not her job to arm twist.  It was not her job to use her love or the revocation of her love as a tool of manipulation.  This is not what a parent does.  A parent never stops loving his or her children.  A parent never withdraws that kind of support.  But a parent also respects a child enough to allow that child to go his or her own way. 

    I’ve got three kids, 8, 7, and 5.  Do you think they do everything I tell them to do?  Of course not.  Does that mean I stop loving them?  Never.  You see at a certain point and time, a good parent realizes his or her children are independent.  They make their own decisions.  They blaze their own paths.  They choose to go their own ways.  Those ways may be very different than our own, but a good parent respects his or her children enough to allow them to go their own way.  And even though there may be disagreement, a parent loves and supports his or her child until death claims one or the other.  Chris showed that kind of love to Heather until the very end.  It’s what good parents do.

    It is what God does as well.  He loves us so much that He respects our choices–even if those choices take us away from Him; even if those choices lead us to cease believing in Him.  But that doesn’t mean He stops seeking us out.  That doesn’t mean He ever stops loving us.  He loves us to the very end.  Period.

    And now, we arrive at that crucial moment–that time where you may wish for me to announce Heather’s eternal resting place.  I must apologize for I am afraid I must disappoint you.  I am afraid the best answer I can tell you is that such a proclamation does not rest on me or in my hands.  It rests in the hands of One and One alone.  Such matters are now in God’s hands.  And thankfully, those are very good hands to rest such matters in.  Amen.


Anonymous said...

This post has enriched my heart. Although my adult daughter has declared to me her belief in quantum physics apart from creationism, and has turned from God, she and I have thankfully not had to deal with the finality Heather's family has had to. Your words are surely from God when you can offer comfort along with the hard truth.

Kevin Haug said...

Thank you for your comment. I'm glad it touched you.