Thursday, January 9, 2014

Reach - A Love That Reaches

Why are we here? I mean here on this earth…why do we exist?

I remember having to wrestle with that question in a high school English course. By reading classical literature, we had to answer some of those pressing questions of life. “What is the meaning of life? Why are we here?” In reality, these are questions that have been pondered for centuries. And the numbers of answers given to these questions are as numerous as the stars in the sky. The answer most readily offered in our world comes from scientists. We are here, they say, by chance. Billions of years ago, at some point in time, all of this happened. In an instant, a bang, everything was hurled into its place. In fact, we are still moving.

I had a friend once who used a pretty good analogy to at least challenge that notion—that all of this was created by chance. He said suppose you were in college and had a roommate. You were out for a while and came home to find the apartment empty. On the floor of the apartment, however, were the Scrabble game pieces. You know the game Scrabble? The game pieces are tiny, wooden squares with letters on them. He said suppose there were 100 Scrabble pieces. If you arrived to find all 100 pieces faced up, where you could see the letters, is there a greater chance that they just landed that way, or, that your roommate, before he left, turned them all face up? Or, better yet, suppose you arrived home to see the Scrabble pieces on the floor all faced up, and they spelled out a sentence: “I borrowed your blue sweater. Thanks.” Is there a greater chance that they just landed that way, or, that your roommate, before he left, turned them to spell out the message?

We are not here by chance. There is too much detail and precision in this world. We are the perfect distance from the sun—any closer we’d burn up; any further away we’d freeze. Doctors in this room could describe for us the multiple systems in our bodies that work just right together. The sun and the rain work perfectly together to bring us food and beauty, the sun gives light in the day; the moon and stars give light in the night. We arrived in a world with the Scrabble pieces all faced up, spelling out a specific, distinct message to the world. We are not here by chance. God created this world. God created you.

But back to my original question: Why?

Have you ever read the creation stories in Genesis closely? I won’t read all of Genesis 1-2 to you. But I think you know most of the high points of those stories by heart. Remember in Genesis 1? God made the light…and it was good. God made the earth and the seas…and it was good. God made plants and trees…and it was good. God made the sun and moon...and it was good. God made animals and humans…and it was good. God was very pleased with all of creation.

Here is some trivia for you. Do you know the first thing in this world that was not good? It doesn’t take too long to find it. Chapter one, everything is good. Chapter two, God puts man in the garden…everything is good. Genesis 2:18 says…

Then God said, “It is not god that the man should be alone. I will make him a helper as his partner.” (Genesis 2:18, NRSV)

The first thing in creation that declared “not good” was man’s aloneness, because in our being, we were created to be relational beings. Genesis 1:27 says,

So God created humankind in His image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them. (Genesis 1:27, NRSV)

We were made in the image of a relational, communal God. God is Father, Son, and Spirit, and those made in His image are relational, communal beings as well. We were not made to be alone. We were made to be in community with each other.

But there is more to God’s image than community…

In one of his pastoral letters to the church, John said something very interesting about God.

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.
I John 4:7-12 (NRSV)

I believe this short passage answers the question “Why are we here” better than any textbook, college seminar, or science theory could ever do. We are here because God is love. God created this world because God is love. It is in the very nature of love to reciprocate itself. Love breeds love! When you feel the love of your children, do you not feel the impulse to love? When your spouse kisses you in the evening, do your spirits not lift, do you not have a desire to help and love those around you?

Because God’s nature is love, God created this world as a blessing. Here it is, here is our mission, here is why we exist…

Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also out to love one another. Not one has seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us, and His love is perfected in us.

We are God’s image bearers. The reason we live is to reflect God’s love into this world and in case you haven’t noticed, our world is desperately in need of God’s love.

This aspect of our identity is one of the values of this church. The Glenwood family has 5 core values that really are the passion of this church. We value A Truth that Challenges—Scripture. We value A Faith that Transforms—Spiritual Formation. We value A Grace that Embraces. We value A Life that Connects. The other value of this church really makes sense in our conversation this morning. We value A Love that Reaches! We desire to share Christ’s love with all people as we experience His grace. We are not content to simply sit back and receive the love of God, from this church, from our brothers and sisters when our train goes off the tracks, from our worship as God’s love pours over us—giving us strength to go on, from the ministries of this church to shape us and our families. We are not content to simply sit back and soak up God all for ourselves. We long to share God’s love with the world. Because we believe that God’s love was meant to REACH.

I like that word for God’s love, REACH. God’s love is ever reaching, it always has been. When God first created the world, God’s love reached into us. Even after the Fall, God’s love was not finished. We will see in coming weeks that God’s love persisted. It reached out to an individual named Abraham, then, it reached out to a nation called Israel, and finally, through Jesus, God’s love reached out to the world. God’s love REACHES. It is like a light that shines further and further all the time and one of the ways God’s love reaches out is through you.

If you remember, I talked to you a few months ago about this value of ours and I called it our aspirational value. Do you remember that? I called it our aspirational value, because I think we have room to grow in this area. We aspire to embody this “Love that Reaches” but we do not always Reach out as far as we are able. That is natural for a church like Glenwood. I’ve told so many people over the last couple of years about the way this church loves each other. I mean it. I’ve never met a church that loves each other like Glenwood. We love to be together. We genuinely care about each other. We are part of each other’s lives, not just on Sunday. I love that about this church.

But a byproduct, sometimes, of a church like ours, is that we spend less time reaching out. Can I share with you one of my greatest concerns and passions? It scares me to death that the church is not growing. Not just Glenwood, but the CHURCH! In fact, the church hasn’t grown in some time. The so-called growth that some congregations experience comes from one Christian or a Christian family moving from this congregation to that one. Very few non-Christians are suddenly joining the family of faith. Now we could talk about the reasons for that all day long. Some are turned off by the scandals of the church. Some are not interested in the institutional church. Others are turned off by the hypocrisy of Christians. There is certainly truth in all of these, but I still think there is another more pervasive reason for the church’s stagnation. Christians are less concerned about people outside these walls than we used to be. We just are. Not only are we not growing…but it doesn’t really bother us. We are content to bask in the glow of God’s love, unconcerned that so many others out there need it just as much as we do

Church, this year, I want us to make a concerted effort to REACH out with God’s love. By this time next year, I want us to say that A Love that Reaches is not an aspirational value. I want us to say that this value defines us every bit as much as grace and scripture and connectedness. I want us to get serious about forming relationships with non-Christians. I want us to make an effort to bring non-Christians here, to Glenwood. Introduce them to your brothers and sisters here. Allow them to encounter God in our worship.
Get them connected through one of our connection groups, let’s show them God’s love together, and when they come here, we must be ready to receive them well. We must reorient our vision away from our comfort toward others. Be on the look out for guests. Welcome them. Invite them to sit with you. Invite them to lunch with you. Invite them into your home. In doing these things, you are showing them the kind of love that has been shown to you.

I want to make a challenge to you. Over the next calendar year, I want you to commit yourself to sharing God’s love with at least one person…intentionally. Now I know you share God’s love with many people every day. But I want you to think of one person in your life who does not know God, or who has rejected God. I want you to commit to pray for that person. I want you to commit to finding ways to introduce (or reintroduce) that person to God. I want you to commit to helping that person find a Christian community in which he/she can grow; all of us—adults, teenagers, kids.

Why are we here? We are here to extend the REACH of God’s love. That is why this church exists. Period. And I cannot wait to see what God has in store for us this year!

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