Wednesday, October 19, 2011

God Calls; We Obey

George Fox University Chapel Oct 19 2011

As I was thinking and praying about chapel today, I heard that there are students who are so opposed to a woman speaking from this podium that they will not attend, and that on occasion, students will walk out if someone says they believe God calls women to do just what I’m doing today—preaching. I wanted to be able to construct the chapel address that would convince everyone once and for all that this belief limits God’s sovereignty and hurts the church. Then I realized that these folks are probably not even here today, and even if they are, one chapel address by a woman will not be convincing.

This realization clarified my understanding of God’s purpose for me today. I want to speak to those who have a sense that God may be calling them to publicly witness to who Jesus Christ is, and what he came to do for human beings and the entire planet. I want to speak to the group that is unsure of how to answer God’s call. You may be unsure because you are shy, because you are into math, because you don’t feel particularly charismatic, because you’re afraid, or because you’re a woman. I also want to speak to the group that feels so sure of a call that the possibility you will not be allowed to fulfill it is a slow poison in your relationship with God and the church.

The good news, the Gospel, is this: we are all called to share what we have witnessed about who Jesus is and what Jesus came to do, and the sure sign we are set free to share in public is that the spirit of God, the spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit lives in us and we live, as Jesus did, in obedience to God every day.

Humans are in love with status. We cannot get over wanting to be singled out to have a higher status than other people. It is hard for us to disentangle our need to be obedient to the Holy Spirit’s call from a desire to be recognized by other human beings as called. We want some calls to be more special than the ordinary person’s call. And if there’s an in-group, we want to be in it and wear its sign of specialness.

In our story for today, this special sign was male circumcision, the sign God gave the patriarchs. The question being debated was this: Would it be necessary for Gentile men to cut themselves and obey the Jewish law in order to be completely “in”? The answer the Jerusalem church came up with, after a long time of talking and listening and being silent was this: NO.

Peter says, we Jews ourselves have been unable to keep the Law. Besides this, God showed me in a special vision that Gentiles are no longer unclean, and then God gave the signs of the Holy Spirit to Gentiles without any such induction into Judaism. So it is pretty clear that we will anger God if we set up extra barriers before we acknowledge that Gentiles are equally acceptable to God.

James, the brother of Jesus, agreed with Peter: the Jewish did not apply to Gentile believers, so he and the Jerusalem church asked instead that Gentiles refrain from the behaviors that would most sicken and alienate Jewish Christians: eating blood, and scandalous sexual misconduct, and being involved with worship of idols, including the sexual rituals. Avoid these things.

Today the rule about eating blood has disappeared from Christian worries, as we eat gravy, rare steaks, and, in some parts of the Christian world, blood pudding and blood sausage. We still are trying to conduct our sexuality in obedience to God and to avoid scandal, and we don’t pay enough attention to how idolatry pervades the surrounding culture and infiltrates our own lives.

But back to the story; I want to direct your attention to one verse that describes how important this was to the Gentiles. Verse 31: When the Gentiles read this and heard the message, they were consoled.

What this means is that the debate had hurt them, had made them question the universal love of God for humanity, had made them feel like second-class Christians. They didn’t become Christians in order to become Jews but because of their convincement that Jesus made a way for all human beings to know God directly and hear from God directly. By becoming Christians, they had already signaled their intention of obeying the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus did. They were humble enough to wait for the older part of the church to come to a decision, but their hearts were sore as they waited.

Women’s hearts are sometimes sore. On the one hand, we read that we are God’s children, just like our brothers, and that the Holy Spirit dwells in us, just like our brothers, and our hearts rise to the challenge and joy of bearing public witness to the love of God, and then we find that we are not allowed by the traditions of the church. We suffer in between the “yes” of God and the “no” of our religious culture.

Women have coped with this for centuries, following God’s call as they can within the culture. Some have entered convents, some have written books, some have written hymns, some have become teachers, some have gone to other countries as missionaries, some have taught children’s Sunday School or Women’s Bible Study. Some have been stealth leaders, governing the church from behind the scenes. Some have been so hurt they have left the church., even though they still love Jesus.

When we look at the life of Jesus, we do not find anywhere that he limited women’s role. Women were among his followers and the Gospels tell us some of their names. Jesus commissioned women to carry the gospel to others. He affirmed women’s faith, and he held them accountable for their actions.

We believers customarily take the words of Jesus as applying to all of us. If one wants to argue that Jesus said these things only to his first named male disciples, all of us are outside. Probably the most important thing he said that turns upside down his own religious culture and ours is this: Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother (Mark 3:31).

As I read you what Jesus said, I will ask you, “Is Jesus talking to you?” If you are comfortable participating, say this: “Jesus is talking to me.”

Hear the words of Jesus. No one can come to me unless the Father permits it. You did not choose me, but I chose you, and I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness because I am the light of the world.

Is Jesus talking to you?

Repent, and believe the good news. I forgive your sins. I choose to make you clean. Do not fear, only believe. Be reborn in the Spirit. You do not know where the wind comes from, nor where it goes; it blows where it chooses; so it is with those born of the Spirit.

Is Jesus talking to you?

Take up your cross and follow me. Give everything you have to God. It’s not enough to avoid actively harming others, you must take steps to do active good to others also. Go tell your friends how much the Lord has done for you and what mercy he has shown you. I give more to those who share the good news, but those who hoard the good news will lose it. Go into the world and proclaim the good news to the whole world. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor. Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do and in fact will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.

Is Jesus talking to you?

Do not be afraid; take heart. Set your mind on divine things, not human things. All things can be done for the one who believes. Whoever wants to be first must be last of all. Whoever wishes to be great must be the servant of all. Whoever welcomes a child in my name welcomes me and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Let the children come to me—in fact you yourselves must receive God’s kingdom as a little child. When you pray, do not doubt God.

Is Jesus talking to you?

God loved the world and gave his only son to make it possible for those who believe to have eternal life. God sent his son not to condemn, but to save the world. The greatest command is to love God wholly, and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself. Also, when you pray, forgive whatever you have against anyone else. Whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. I give you a new commandment, that you love one another Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. If you love me, you will keep my commandments. Let God do the refining work and be at peace with each other. Trust what I say; it is eternal. I am giving my body and my blood to seal this new covenant with you. Stay awake and watch for me.

Is Jesus talking to you?

The Father seeks people who will worship in spirit and truth. If you continue to obey me, you are truly my disciples and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free. If the Son makes you free, you are free indeed.

Is Jesus talking to you?

I will ask my Father and he will give you the Spirit of truth, who will abide with you and be in you. The Holy Spirit will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you.

Is Jesus talking to you?

Jesus left warnings, too.
Don’t be led astray by people who play on your fears. Don’t let politics distract you from God. Don’t waste your time with people who refuse to hear you. Don’t copy those who like lots of attention for being religious. Remember that your enemies may be family. If you entice another to sin or make it hard for someone to trust me, you would be better off drowned. If you have parts of yourself that cause you to sin or mistrust me, cut them off, hand, foot, eye or whatever. Nothing you eat defiles you, but the evil you think and do defiles you. How can you tell what is right and wrong when you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God? Whoever attributes the work of the Holy Spirit to the devil is a blasphemer. God chooses the stone that the builders rejected to be the cornerstone. Do not reject the commandment of God in order to preserve tradition.

Is Jesus talking to you?

Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother (Mark 3:31).

Peter, who stood up for the Gentiles in this meeting, also stood up for women at Pentecost. When God’s Holy Spirit rushed over believers and entered their hearts, they were moved and empowered to speak in the languages of those around them. These believers included both men and women.

Peter said, this is exactly what the prophet Joel foresaw: a day when men and women would be filled with God’s spirit and prophesy: I will pour out my spirit even upon slaves, both men and women, in those days; and they shall prophesy (Acts 2: 17-18). (In the Old Testament, women were prophets: Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, Isaiah’s wife.) The word prophesy means to speak what God inspires; to declare something which God has revealed; to speak praise of God; to teach, refute, reprove, admonish, comfort others (Strong’s Concordance).

Women have been carrying the Gospel, the good news, to others since Anna prophesied over the baby Jesus. Paul himself identified women as co-builders of the church.
[SLIDE] So when we read what Paul wrote restricting women’s actions in some 1st century congregations, we have to ask— are these words equivalent to the prohibition against “eating blood”; are these words to help prevent us from scandalous sexual behavior? Or are they to help us avoid idolatry in our times? Are we substituting law for the grace of God, for justification by faith, for the presence of the guiding Holy Spirit in the hearts of committed believers?

Today, if you accept that God sent Jesus to save the world, that the price was Jesus’s death and the seal of victory his resurrection, and you have given your whole self to following Jesus, Jesus promises to give you the Spirit of truth, the Spirit that guides you into truth. Trust the massively inclusive love of God. Obey what the Spirit tells you in everyday things and in life-changing things. Be Jesus’s brother or sister.

Lord, speak to me that I may speak In living echoes of Thy tone;
As Thou hast sought, so let me seek Thy erring children lost and lone.
O lead me, Lord, that I may lead The wandering and the wavering feet;
O feed me, Lord, that I may feed The hungering ones with manna sweet.
O teach me, Lord, that I may teach The precious things Thou dost impart;
And wing my words that they may reach The hidden depths of many a heart.
O fill me with Thy fullness, Lord, Until my very heart o'erflow
In kindling thought and glowing word, Thy love to tell, Thy praise to show.
O use me, Lord, use even me, Just as Thou wilt, and when, and where,
Until Thy blessed face I see--Thy rest, Thy joy, Thy glory share.

Frances Ridley Havergal, 1836-1879.