Sunday, August 24, 2008

Good News: What We Do Matters

(A sermon based on Matthew 16:13-20 & Romans 12:1-8 for Sunday, August 24, 2008)

Too many people think they don’t matter. They think that they’re insignificant, that they’re just one of the almost seven billion people who live on this planet and that they’re one of the ones that very few of those seven billion know or care about. Or they think that they’re not good enough to matter, that their sins, even if nobody else knows about them, and even if those sins are the kind that they would never dream of holding against someone else, render them ineffective in God’s eyes.

The truth of the gospel is that every last person who has ever lived, who lives now, and who ever will live matters—the truth of the gospel is that you matter! You matter because God loves you and because God shows that love for you in the fact that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died on the cross for you.

When you enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ, when you enter into the kingdom of God, you enter into an opportunity to matter even more because when you have a kingdom spirit and when you have a kingdom perspective and when you live a kingdom lifestyle you have the privilege of having a kingdom influence—and there is not a more meaningful way to live. It’s not that you come to matter more to God; it’s that you come to matter more to the people around you and to the world in which you live.

In Flannery O’Connor’s story “The River,” a young son of alcoholic parents is taken by his babysitter to a river baptism. Moved by what he sees, he throws himself into the river so he can be baptized, too. As he comes up out of the water, he hears the preacher say, “You count now.” “You count now”—what a marvelous revelation; what a marvelous reminder! It’s not that we didn’t count before—God loved us already—it’s that in our baptism, in our union with Christ, in our entry into the kingdom of God, we come to live lives that matter.

Peter and the disciples heard it; Paul’s Roman readers heard it; we need to hear it: in Christ, we matter, and if we matter, then what we do, what we say, and how we live matters.

First and foremost, Jesus matters. He is, as Peter said, the Christ, the Son of the living God. It is our affirmation of that truth that makes all the difference, an affirmation that goes beyond our words, an affirmation that goes down into our hearts and an affirmation that comes out in our actions. We need to remember that everything we are as Christians and as the Church, that everything we do as Christians and as the Church, all goes back to our confession of Jesus as Christ and to our living in light of his identity.

Our faith is not a faith just of the high moments, of the special thrill of moving worship, or of the retreat from the worldly to dwell in fellowship with Jesus. No, we have to live out our confession of Jesus in the daily grind of our ordinary lives. As Brennan Manning said, “True spirituality consists in living moment to moment by the grace of Jesus Christ” (Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel, p. 204, citing Francis Schaeffer). How we live in the moment to moment and in the day to day matters.

It matters how we relate to the world. Everything is different—better—more like God intends for it to be—because we trust and confess that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. It is vital that we live out that trust and confession in our daily lives, that our lives continue to grow and develop in light of our relationship with Christ. As Paul put it, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). We are in the world but not of it; we are citizens of heaven who sojourn on earth. It matters that our daily lives reflect the reality of our relationship with Christ. It matters that God’s grace, our faith, Jesus’ teachings, and Jesus’ example work in us and on us in ways that cause us more and more to do the will of God. It matters that we are growing into people who can change the world rather than remaining people who are being changed by the world.

It matters how we relate to people. We have the privilege and the responsibility to live out our confession of faith in Christ in ways that affect the lives of other people. When Jesus told Peter, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19), he was saying that Peter and those who followed Peter in confessing faith in Jesus would have access to heaven (cf. the translation of Eugene Peterson in The Message: “You will have complete and free access to God’s kingdom, keys to open any and every door: no more barriers between heaven and earth, earth and heaven. A yes on earth is yes in heaven. A no on earth is no in heaven.”) We have access to Jesus Christ himself; we have access to the teachings of Jesus that came from heaven itself; we have the privilege of, with the guidance of Scripture and the Holy Spirit, rightly discerning what God would have us to know and do.

If we live our lives in light of that remarkable, miraculous access to heaven, how can it not change the ways we relate to people? People will come into the kingdom through us; they will see the teachings and example of Jesus taking hold in our lives so that they will be led to the Savior who saved us. Here in the church we will relate to one another in humility, grace, and love; we will not think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think (Romans 12:3), we will not think that somehow we are more important than everyone else. At the same time, though, we will not underestimate or undervalue the gifts that God has given us.

Which leads to a final point.

It matters how we relate to the Church. Because we live in a relationship with Jesus who is the Christ, the Son of the living God and because we are being transformed by his grace and his Spirit and his word, we relate to the world and to people in ways that are positive and productive and helpful. One of the ways we do that is by how we relate to the Church—we gladly use the gifts that God has in his grace given us to carry out the privilege of ministry. We gladly embrace the fact that we are all members of the body of Christ, that we are connected through Christ to each other, and we joyfully use our gifts for the good of the Church, for the good of other people, and for the good of the world.
And it matters that we all do exactly that.

We are all on the same team. Last year a very accomplished major league baseball player who had retired decided that he wanted to unretire. Well into the season he signed a contract with a team. He was to be paid an astronomical amount of money to play part of a season. He had not gone through Spring Training with the team. He was given special considerations such as permission to go home to his family rather than to travel with the team on road trips when he was not scheduled to pitch. In my opinion, he was something less than a team player; he was a mercenary who was out to help only himself. Baseball is a team sport, not an individual sport, and a member of the team ought to be on the team all the way.

It’s like that in the Church. God has given us each gifts for the sake of the Church, for the sake of people, and for the sake of the world. We need to use them and we need to go all the way in using them. Why? Because Christ matters and in Christ we matter. Our calling and our mission are vital. What we say and what we do matters in the world, to people, and in the church. God needs us to carry out God’s mission.

What we do matters. Our lives have great meaning because God has saved us and because God needs us. Are we using our lives as God intends?

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