Sunday, September 13, 2009

Not Afraid to Listen, Not Afraid to Learn, Not Afraid to Love

When was the last time you felt uncomfortable? I don't mean physically. I mean uncomfortable with another person... When was the last time? Maybe you're feeling that way right now.

Maybe someone has hurt you. Maybe you've suffered the "deadly poison" of people saying bad things about you. Or maybe you know you disagree about something and just don't want to get into a difficult conversation.

When God came to earth--when the creator of the universe came to live as one of us humans--Jesus didn't seem to worry too much about making things comfortable.

In fact, in Mark 8, Jesus is the one who makes things uncomfortable.

"Who do you say that I am?" he says.

A very personal question.

Through God's Word He looks right at you today and asks the same thing.

Who do YOU, personally, say that I am?

And then he goes on to talk about the suffering HE will face and the ways we will be called to suffer for him.

If we listen, if we learn, that will make us feel uncomfortable. More uncomfortable than a meeting about the church kitchen. More uncomfortable even than a meeting about the ELCA.

We will be having a meeting about that next Sunday evening (Sep. 20). Tentatively it's planned for 6:30 at church. I hope you will come. It will be a chance to express our feelings, to ask questions, and to listen to what others have to say.

It will probably be a bit uncomfortable, but I don't know of anywhere where Jesus commands us to be comfortable--not in this life--not until we arrive in the kingdom of God.

From our scriptures today we can learn some things about how to handle uncomfortable conversations.

First, God wants us to listen and learn from him.

That’s where God wants us to start.

It's good usually to listen to each other too, but people are inconsistent. Sometimes we're wise and sometimes we're not. Not every opinion is equal. There is truth and there is falsehood. There is good and there is evil. Sometimes, our words are filled with deadly poison.

So we don't start with talking. We start by having our ears tuned in the right direction--tuned into God's Word--especially toward Jesus Christ, to what he has to say to us, and to all the scriptures seen through his love.

Only then when we listen first to God—only then we won't go wrong. As we have our ears and our opinions tuned to Him, we will not avoid conflict, we won't always be comfortable, but we will learn what is right.

Second, God calls us not only to listen, not only to CONSIDER what God has to teach us, but to learn, to allow God to change our thinking.

Many times I think that's why we don't want to listen to what God has to say to us. It’s easier for us to stay in our own opinions, in our own prejudices.

But when we come to know the love of God through Jesus Christ, and when our lives are changed by knowing him, then we will know it's okay to be changed.

In fact, we will want him to change us.

When we come to know that God doesn't only SAY he loves us, but that he came to be one of us and that he would rather DIE than lose any of us, then we'll allow ourselves to really listen and be changed.

I was talking with someone the other day about our confirmation program. She was saying that it doesn't make sense to try to teach unless people really want to learn. And we only want to learn after we've been convinced that God's love us for us, personally, that we can confess our sins and receive forgiveness because of what Jesus has done on the cross.

If you do not know yet how much God loves you through Jesus Christ, I pray that you will seek that truth with all your heart. Come to Alpha or come to Bible study or Sunday school or our youth pgoram—ask someone who has come to know the Lord’s love to show you the way.

Third, God calls us to love, even when it hurts.

It’s not always easy to be part of a church family.

Sometimes we might think it’s better to just stay home. All these confused people!

But Jesus teaches us to love even those we think are completely wrong. Look at the conversation Jesus had with his disciples—after asking the personal question—who do YOU say that I am—Jesus got a variety of answers. One was a right answer—Jesus is the savior, the messiah, God living among us to save us!

Peter got it right, but he was totally wrong too. He thought Jesus was going to be the kind of savior who would come against the enemy and destroy them. Instead, Jesus says he is going to save us by suffering and dying in our place.

Peter was so wrong, thinking that Jesus was going to conquer his enemies by force—Peter was so wrong that Jesus calls him a devil.

But even so, if you will keep reading, keep learning, you will find that Jesus’ love extends way beyond those who get the answers right. For it’s just that very man, Peter, who Jesus gives special responsibility to as a leader.

Human beings don't understand that kind of love. When we find ourselves rejected, we reject in turn. We don't stand in there and keep loving. In fact, we think that's pretty dumb. How could it be that the kind of the world would give his life for the criminals and for those who turned against him and then forgiven them and make them his own?

But that's the way of the cross. And knowing that Jesus went that way, we can follow, with love, without fear.

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