Loving the World God Loves

Matthew 28:19-20 is often called the Great Commission, and most Baptists probably know it by heart.  As Jesus sends his followers into the world he says: “Go and make disiciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (NIV).  But there is another commission in the Gospels that is also pretty great.  In John 20:21 Jesus tells his disciples: “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

If that were the only commission we had we might spend more time asking, “How was Jesus sent?” and, “What was he sent to do?”  But as I thought about it recently I was reminded of the best known verse in the Bible, John 3:16, which says: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  The word gave is not exactly the same as the word sent, not even in Greek, but the ideas are closely related.  God loved the world.  He loved it so much he gave/sent his one and only son.  When Jesus tells his disciples that he is sending them as he was sent we can assume that it is for a similar purpose—to love the world God loves.

I was thinking about this recently as I walked around the block I’ve “adopted” in the church neighborhood.  I was praying for the people who live inside those houses and apartments, but not sure I was making much of a difference.  If only one of them would come outside so that I could make a disciple out of him, so that I could baptize him in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and teach him to obey all that Jesus commanded!  But no one did, leaving me with no alternative but to pray for those people.  As I passed a motorcycle parked outside an apartment I said, “Lord, bless whoever sits on that seat.”  As I passed a house with a porch swing I prayed, “And bless the one who swings on that swing.”  As I turned the corner and saw a half-open garage door I said, “And bless the one who comes in and out of that door.” 

As I made my way around the block I began to feel for those people I was praying for, those invisible people.  I wouldn’t say it was love I was feeling for them but it was something like it.  I was moving in the right direction.  And that’s when I began to think about John 3:16, and how God had given his one and only son because he loves the world, because he loves the person who sits on that motorcycle, and the one who swings on that porch swing, and the one who goes in and out of that garage door.  I made a connection in that moment, between John 3:16 and John 20:21, and it came out like this: “I’ve been sent as Christ was sent to love the world God loves!”

I got so excited about it that when I went back to my office a little later I typed it in as my screen saver.  Now if my computer is inactive for more than a few minutes these words begin to scroll across the screeen: “Sent as Christ was sent to Love the world God loves.” 

It’s not exactly the Great Commission, but it’s a good one, isn’t it?  Loving the world God loves?  If I keep it up I may eventually meet the person who sits on that motorcycle seat.  He may come out of his apartment one day with his helmet in his hand, just as I’m walking past, and I’ll say, “Oh, there you are!  I’ve been praying for you.”  And he’ll say, “What?”  And then I’ll have to explain.

It will be embarrassing, but when I’m finished telling him that I’ve been sent as Christ was sent to love the world God loves, and that I’ve been praying for whoever it was that sat on that motorcycle seat, he might get an odd little smile on his face, and strap on his helmet, and ride off thinking about it.  But that might be the first step in the twenty or thirty steps it would take to make a disciple out of him.  And it would be for the right reason: not because I’m trying to recruit church members, but because I’m trying to love the world God loves.  And if he parks his motorcycle in front of the sanctuary one Sunday morning, and comes inside to take a closer look at this strange church where they pray for people they don’t even know, well,

That would be for the right reason too.

Church on the Porch

 

On Sunday, August 24, the last day of my vacation, I attended worship at the “Church-on-the-Porch.” 

 

You may not have heard of it.

 

The porch belongs to my brother Gray, who lives in Summerville, South Carolina, not far from Charleston.  I had stayed overnight at his house on the way back from the beach and since I was still on vacation and not really in the mood to get up early, shake the sand out of my shoes, and go to someone else’s church I asked if we could have a family worship service instead.  That seemed like a good idea to almost everybody.

 

We gathered around the table on the screened back porch rather late on Sunday morning.  Some of us were still in our pajamas, several of us were having a second cup of coffee, all of us seemed to be enjoying the novelty of the experience.  I had located the lectionary readings earlier and my sister-in-law, Debby, volunteered to read Psalm 124.  When she finished, I asked the congregation to offer up silent prayers of adoration, which we did, distracted only slightly by a neighbor cranking up his lawnmower.

 

That’s how the service progressed: a reading from one of the four lectionary passages, followed by some time for reflection and discussion, and then a prayer.  I used the old acronym “ACTS” to guide us through prayers of Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.  The prayers of adoration and confession we did silently; the prayers of thanksgiving and supplication we offered aloud.  It was moving to hear what each member of our little congregation was thankful for, and tender to hear their requests for prayer. 

 

The time went by quickly and I was surprised to see, when I looked at my watch later, that we had been at it for more than an hour.  As we talked about it over lunch we agreed that although we wouldn’t want to do it that way every week the service had been perfect for the occasion.  The insights shared in our discussion of the Scriptures were as relevant and helpful as any we might have heard elsewhere.  The prayers made it a real worship experience and not just a Bible study.  Perhaps the only thing missing was a rousing hymn or a soaring soprano solo which my brother’s dog tried to make up for by barking at a passing motorcycle near the end of the service.  It wasn’t all that musical, but it came from the heart, and when it comes to worship…

 

…that’s what matters most.

Don’t Take It Personally

(Excerpted from a recent sermon with the same title)

 

Jesus once told his disciples, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me” (Matt. 10:40), as if it might actually happen, as if those disciples who go out to spread the good news of a coming kingdom might actually be welcomed by some. 

 

It happened to me not long ago. 

 

I walked over to “my” block here in the neighborhood, the one I’ve been trying to get to know and love.  I walked around the corner and saw a woman reclining on a wicker sofa on her front porch, reading a novel.  I started to walk by but then I stopped and said “Hey!” in a friendly way and scared her half to death.  She sat bolt upright, dropped her book, fumbled with her glasses.  When she recovered we began to talk and eventually she invited me to come up and sit on the porch for a while.  We talked for half an hour and by the time I stood up to leave we were old friends.

 

“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me,” Jesus says, and I thought about this woman.  I was walking around her block only because I thought it was the kind of thing he would want me to do, and I said hello to her because I thought he probably would, if he were walking by.  So although it was just me and not Jesus, when she invited me up on her porch it was as if she were inviting Jesus to come up and sit for a while.  She didn’t have to do it.  She could have told me to go away.  In fact, I was fully prepared for that.  In Luke chapter 10 Jesus tells his disciples, “Whoever rejects you rejects me.”  In other words, “Don’t take it personally.”  So I was ready.  If she had told me to go away I would have moved on down the sidewalk muttering, “Fine, then!  Be that way!  But it’s not me you’re rejecting: it’s Jesus.”  Instead she welcomed me, and I had to resist the temptation to take it personally.  It would be easy to think she invited me up on the porch just because I’m so friendly and affable.

 

“Nope,” Jesus says.  “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”  If Jesus is right (and I have a feeling he is), it wasn’t me this woman welcomed on her porch.  It wasn’t even Jesus.  It was God himself she welcomed.  And if I’m right about this (and let’s hope that I am), she welcomed him because God knows how difficult every human life is, and how much sin and death and sorrow each one of us has to face.  That’s why the Bible deals with those difficult problems and shows us the solution.  That’s why God sent his only son into a world desperate for salvation.  And that’s why his only son sends us to startle people on their front porches and strike up conversations.  Because he loves those people, and he wants them to know it.  So, if this woman should show up in church someday because I stopped by her house, and if she should hear the Bible speak to the very situation in which she finds herself, and if she should end up worshiping God with tears of joy streaming down her cheeks, I won’t be able to take it personally.  Because it won’t be me she’s welcoming into her life:

 

It will be Him.