Excerpt of the sermon on Sunday March 1, 2009
What does it mean to be the family of God? What does it look like for us to live in community? I think the first thing is: A commitment to the hard work of relationships.
It is very frustrating for us as a church when someone says, "I just don't feel like I fit in. It is hard to get to know people here and feel like I am a part of the group."
Most often these are people who never join a small group, become a part of a Sunday School class or come to the ministry opportunities - the things that would help them make friends and be a part.
Richard Wafford says, "Life is a series of giving's that we might gain. Only where there is input can we expect an output. Only when we deposit, can we expect return. Don't participate, don't expect. Nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could."
I am often amazed and saddened at how little people are committed to relationships and how easily we let go of them.
How little the people of God practice forgiveness and follow the scripture that says, "Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you" (Colossians 3:13).
What about the love chapter of the Bible that says that love "is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs" (1 Corinthians 13:5). Many people cannot let go of their grievances; they keep a list of them in their head.
A disagreement or disappointment comes and we are more than ready to let go of our friendship with other people. We just set off and look for new friendships which will last only as long as it takes for us to see that they are imperfect as well. Relationships are hard work, but people are often not willing to do the hard work.
...Relationships are difficult, but that’s what makes them interesting. They can also be very rewarding. What makes them rewarding is working through the difficulties and coming out at a new place.
It is difficult for me to understand why some people are so unwilling to work at making a relationship right. They write people off. They criticize them and see them as hopeless. “They will never change,” they say.
A disagreement becomes a permanent barrier. It does not matter that Christ has called us to peace and commanded that we forgive and love one another, we refuse to give up our grievance and resentment.
Here is the problem as I see it. People are more interested in being right than having right relationships.
Let me ask a few questions. Is it more important to Jesus that you are right about doctrine, politics, and cultural and moral issues, or is it more important to him that you have right relationships? (I’m not discounting sound doctrine).
Is it more important to Jesus that you are right in your squabble with another person, or is it more important that you remain in love with that other person? Did Jesus say, “By this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you know how to argue and win a debate”?
Did he say, “By this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you have perfect doctrine”?
Did he say, “By this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you are more righteous than anyone else”? No.
He said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).
If I read the New Testament correctly, you can get into heaven with less than perfect doctrine, but you cannot get in with bad relationships. The reason is that heaven is all about relationships. People are the priority with God.
Isn’t the church to be a foretaste of heaven on earth? Shouldn’t our primary goal be our relationships with each other? Our rational arguments will never convince an unbelieving world, but our relationships with each other will.
How is it that the church, after two thousand years of the teachings of Jesus, still has so little interest in loving each other? I believe it is because it takes hard work. It takes commitment that will see us through difficulties, misunderstandings and disappointments.
When there is a tear in relationships, we have to seek healing. Healing takes place when we seek to be restored with another person.
But so often here is how it really comes down: Someone is hurt or wounded, and instead of going to the other person and telling them how they have been hurt by what has been said or done, the hurt is nursed and a grudge begins to grow.
You begin to avoid the other person. You become quiet around them or even refuse to speak. You expect them to guess why you are upset without ever telling them. You rehearse what the person has done with other people. You recruit people for your side.
Then, other people take up your offense and they too reject the other person and begin to treat them differently. Even if the person apologizes, the wounded person is not willing to let them off the hook that easily.
They hang onto their resentment, they nurse their wound, they wallow in the wrong that was done to them. They want to be right more than they want a right relationship.