US AGAINST THEM

Division in our society is more marked today than ever before. Christians should not be a part of this division, but we are. What can be done about this?

A DIVIDED SOCIETY

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I believe everyone would agree that our society has become more divided than ever before in our lifetime.

We have always had divisions, differences in beliefs, party lines and denominations.

Fortunately, over the past three decades there has been a decline in the animosity once felt between denominations.

However, in the realm of political thinking about issues within society, there has been an increase in the acrimony expressed by opposing groups.

We have witnessed physical attacks on people for wearing a certain kind of ball cap.

We have also seen physical attacks on those who have been found without a piece of cloth over their face.

People who have been lifelong friends suddenly find themselves in a persona non grata status with their friend.

Being ostracized from the family—something that was formerly limited to the Amish and the Muslims—has now become commonplace in our society.

The current dividing line is your opinion about Mr. Putin, the leader of Russia who has chosen to invade Ukraine.

Almost everyone has experienced this divisive attitude at one level or another over any one of these issues.

Certainly we cannot be happy with this!

Is this the way it is supposed to be?

Will it always be this way?

It will continue to be this way for as long as we as a society continue to view anyone as “the other.”

We seem to have grown comfortable with an “US vs THEM” mentality.

Paul encountered this same divisive attitude in his day.

Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
Col 3:11

Paul is pointing to the things that people used to divide themselves back in his time.

If he were writing today, he would say there is neither black nor white, conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican.

We would probably look at that and say he was out of touch with reality. For, of course those groups exist.

The groups he spoke of from his day also existed.

There definitely were then, and there definitely are now, people from different religions, different economic classes, and different parts of the world.

So what was Paul getting at?

Let’s look at this verse from a different translation.

In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.
Col 3:11 NLT

He is talking about how we should view things from a new and different perspective, because we should have a different worldview.

As a believer, we should not be subject to the world’s way of doing things.

We are not of those who make distinctions between one another.

Paul also said this in a different way in another passage.

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 2Co 5:16

Regarding Christ or anyone according to the flesh causes us to make distinctions in our thinking.

Those distinctions are based on our own fleshly value judgments.

Those value judgments will inevitably lead to separation.

Separation leads to division.

And division leads to war.

While it may not be a major war between countries, any animosity between two people is a war.

And war is what we are seeing in our society today.

Politically and sociologically, we know this sharp divisive attitude is caused by a lack of understanding.

It is up to you and me and any other believer who may read and understand this, that we are to stem the tide of division in our society.

I know that sounds like a tall order when you consider yourself and the vastness of society.

But, it is not so overwhelming if you apply the principle of elephant-eating.

How do you eat an elephant?

You remember how to eat an elephant, right?

One bite at a time.

And that is what Paul was saying in the context of our verse.

But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.
Col 3:8

Notice that anger, wrath, malice, and slander are each directed at others.

These are each the result of a separation and division from the other, at least in the moment.

Paul then goes on with how we can slow that divisiveness between us as far as we are concerned.

Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices
Col 3:9

Have you put off the old self?

Have you put away that part of who you were that made distinctions and judged others as being something “less than?”

In another place, Paul tells us to put off the old man, the old life; but here he says that we already have done that.

It is a statement of fact—you have put off the old.

and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.
Col 3:10

He says this as a matter of fact—you have put on the new self.

And that new self is being constantly renewed in knowledge after the image of that new self’s creator.

Growth comes from the constant renewal in knowledge.

What we know changes as we grow.

We also find that some things we knew before have changed from what we were told.

For instance, I graduated high school in 1965 when there were only 98 elements on the Periodic Table in chemistry.

Today there are 118—20 more than when I graduated.

Fortunately, the ones I recall are still there—not like the planets which has added to, taken away and put back again.

The point, though, is that if we are being renewed in knowledge which is bringing us to be more like Christ, then we should also be changing.

We should be always changing in the things we say, do, and think about others until we have the full mind of Christ.

Jesus said something that pertains to this idea of division and what we can do about it.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.  
Matt 5:9

A pistol known as the Colt 45 was known for a time as the “peacemaker,” but that is not what Jesus meant.

He did not talk so much about those who could stop a fight through an intervention—whether lethal or otherwise.

He was talking about those, who by the very presence of their being, are peacemakers.

Peacemakers are those who do not get entangled in the divisive nature of our world.

They are able to remain aloof from all the propaganda and news stories and fear predictions of the preachers of doom.

They are able to help calm the fears of those who do tend to get distracted by all the noise.

I was listening to a chaplain recount an experience he had in Iraq.

He was in the back of one of those transports—I don’t know what they are called—and they were heading out into the battle area.

The soldier sitting next to him said, “Chaplain I am glad you are here today.”

Of course, the chaplain appreciated the comment, because he knew that he was there to bring comfort to the soldiers.

He asked the soldier, though, “Why are you glad that I am here?”

The soldier said, “I just feel safer having you present with us.”

That is a peacemaker. His presence made a difference.

Let’s return to our original verse to see one last thing about getting rid of an “Us vs Them” mentality.

Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but
Christ is all, and in all.
Col 3:11

It is not until we are able to see the truth of this statement that we will then be able to get rid of our divisive thinking.

Christ is all and in all.

We do not truly believe that as a society.

Just consider all the struggles we have gone through in our own country since Jefferson penned the words.

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

The black man has had to struggle to even be recognized as human, let alone equal.

Women have had to struggle to even be recognized as human, let alone equal.

But this truth—that Christ is all and in all—has so penetrated my heart and consciousness that I can no longer view anyone as worse or better than I.

The result, for me, has been that I am grieved when I hear conversations that degenerate into an Us vs Them.

I hear it among fellow pastors talking about other churches.

I hear it among my friends concerning the political landscape.

Yes. We are going to have differences of opinions about all manner of things; but there is no reason to view the other side as stupid, out-of-touch, mean, ignorant or any other negative type.

When we do, we are not able to love as Jesus loved, which we are called to do by the grace of God.

Let us make love our aim, our goal.

Ask the Lord to increase the size of your love-bucket, and go pour some love out on people.

There is more than enough to go around, but not enough is being shared these days.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
1Co 13:13

It is good that you have faith.

It is good that you have hope.

But, most importantly, you should have love.

Let this week provide you an opportunity to love in a way that you have never experienced before.

May your heart be enlarged to a place of resistance against any Us vs Them thinking.

DEAD AND ALIVE

How wide, how deep, how high, how far does the love of God reach for His creation? Many have tried to plumb the depths of His love and have come up with answers that seem to keep many people out of God’s reach. How can a finite being such as a human possibly know the full expanse of the infinite? Maybe God is not the ogre many have portrayed Him to be.

GOD

IS

LOVE

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Today’s readings from the Psalms (Ps. 32:1-2), the epistles (2 Cor. 5:16-21) and the gospels (Lk. 15:11-32) all blend together to form a beautiful tapestry.

The psalm said that the one whose sin is forgiven is blessed. The scripture lesson said the one whose sin is forgiven is a new creature. The gospel reading said we didn’t even get a chance to ask for forgiveness.

Because there is so much in each of these readings, all I can do at this time is to give you a brief overview of the expansive love and mercy of God for us.

His love and mercy shown in these passages is so grand, so expansive, so far-reaching that I could not come up with a decent title for this message.

So, it is simply DEAD AND ALIVE; but it is all about God’s love.

I have spent time on this concept in weeks past, but it is something that continues to show up in the passages suggested in the Lectionary.

Maybe that’s because that is what the Bible is all about—God’s love for His creation.

Let’s begin with the first reading from Psalm 32.

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
Psa 32:1-2

Notice the three words used for sin in this passage—transgression, sin and iniquity.

While we usually just associate them as synonyms for sin, they each have a slightly different meaning.

SIN = missing the mark  

INIQUITY = bending the line  

TRANSGRESSION = stepping over the line

What we see here is that in any way you want to define sin, it is covered in this passage.

AND, it is covered by the Lord in the grace and mercy of His forgiveness.

David is saying here that the one for whom this is true is blessed and happy.

I always preached this verse as something you must do to gain this blessing; but I don’t see it that way any longer.

David later wrote

If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?
Psa 130:3

That is a rhetorical question which has an obvious answer—NO ONE COULD STAND.

NO ONE COULD STAND.

Let’s consider the gospel reading

And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.
Luk 15:20-22

You know the basic story of how the boy took his inheritance before he was supposed to and then squandered it all on easy and fast living.

When he realized what he had done and what it was costing him, he began to feel sorry for himself.

He decided to try his luck back home to see if maybe he could do better.

He had a speech all planned out that he thought sure would cause his dad to feel sorry for him.

But, before he could get the first words out of his mouth, the father was already hugging and kissing him. He had seen the boy from a long way off.

That can only mean one thing—the father was continually expecting the boy’s return.

Then, when the kid tried to offer his speech, the father cut him off and said, “Let’s have a party to celebrate his coming home!”

QUESTION—

Where’s the reproof?

Where is the
‘I told you so?’

Where is the
“I hope you learned your lesson?”

Where is the
“Well, we will just have to wait and see how sorry you really are.”?

It is not there, is it?

It is not there because this is not the parable of the prodigal son. It is the parable of the loving father. It is more about the goodness of God than it is about the wickedness of man.

The parable of the Loving Father

The father was not looking for anything other than the return of the one who had wandered off.

That was enough repentance for him.

He wasn’t looking for any apologies. He didn’t need any expression of sorrow. He wasn’t looking for any tears.

He was only looking for his son.

The only thing God is looking for from anyone is for them to awaken to whose they are and return to where they belong.

That is the only repentance that is required of anyone.

He will take care of everything else that is needed after we get home.

We can see that plainly as we consider the passage from the scripture lesson.

in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 2Co 5:19

God is not counting our trespasses against us. He is not counting anyone’s trespasses against them.

That is not what we have believed for decades, is it? We have been taught to believe that we needed to be sorry for our sins in order for God to accept us.

The word ‘reconciling’ is the word we use for balancing the books. We need to make sure that all our debits and credits are applied for our balance to be correct.

In this case, the books are balanced by the blood of Jesus. There is no sin too great or too many for His blood to cover.

If there is or was one for whom His blood was not efficient, then it was ineffective for all.

But that is not what we learn from the scriptures.

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
1Co 15:22

This is a verse which is often preached in evangelistic meetings where the goal is to get people saved, to have them accept Jesus.

The preacher hammers home the idea that because of Adam’s sin, we all sinned. And because we all sinned we will all die a spiritual death.

The only remedy for that spiritual death is to accept Jesus. And if you don’t, then you will die a spiritual death, which means you will go to hell.

Therefore, you need to make sure that you get yourself into Christ.

Sounds perfectly logical, doesn’t it?

If we do not pay attention to what Paul is saying here, we will go along with that line of thinking.

So, let’s look a little more closely.

How many die in Adam? ALL.

How many are in Adam? ALL.

How did they get there? By being born. It was not a choice made by their free will.

But, when it comes to the “all in Christ” of the verse, we change it to making a choice.

If you don’t make the right choice, then you can’t be in Christ.

Can you see the lack of logic in such a conclusion?

If we only had this verse, and the teachings about how you must accept Jesus—which, by the way, is not found anywhere in scripture—then it would seem to be a correct understanding.

However, we are not left with only this one verse which may appear somewhat ambiguous if left by itself.

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.
Rom 5:18

This is about as plain as it gets.

One person, Adam, committed one sin, and that one sin led to condemnation for the entire human race.

One person, Jesus, did His one act of righteousness, which led to justification and life for the entire human race.

That word ‘justification’ is the idea of justice being completed. The demands of justice have been met in Christ.

Let’s continue. It gets better.

For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.
Rom. 5:19

This is another verse like the one in Corinthians we just looked at, where people exercise their mental gymnastics in order to make it say something to fit their paradigm of choosing Jesus.

They focus on the ‘many being made righteous’ to prove that it is not everyone.

QUESTION—why is the second many in the verse different from the first many?

THE MANY were made sinners by one man’s disobedience.

Who are we talking about? Adam.

How many were made sinners because of his disobedience? ALL.

Therefore, is it at all logical to assume that the second “many”—which is the same word—is any different from the first?

Can we with a straight face say that the second many is not as inclusive as the first?

I’m sure we can as far as ability goes, but it defies and denies any sense of rationality.

So.

What have we said?

We have shown that any and all who have their sins covered or forgiven are blessed.

We have seen that the Father is only concerned with our coming to our senses and realizing that we already belong to Him.

We have also seen that He does not keep a record of wrongs. He does not count anyone’s sins, trespasses, or iniquities against them.

This truth about God’s love should completely eliminate any fear someone may have about sinning in such a way as to doom them to hell.

There are far too many Christians who are continually afraid that their sins might outweigh their good deeds and they will wind up in hell.

That is not the Father’s love, because perfect love casts out fear.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.
1Jo 4:18

Brothers and sisters, the reality is that you are loved with a perfect love which has no conditions for your acceptance.

You are loved with a love that has no boundaries.

There is nothing you can do to defeat this love.

His love will find you regardless of where you may choose to wander.

Maybe it is time we all just simply learned to bask in the reality of that love.