Series: Believe Week 7: Humanity
Date: October 25, 2015
When I was a little boy, one of my favorite children’s books was called - Fortunately and unfortunately. The book followed a young boy name Ned who fortunately received an invitation to come to a surprise birthday party. Unfortunately, the party would be held in Florida and Ned was in NY. Fortunately, a friend loaned him and airplane. Unfortunately, the motor exploded. You get the picture. Unfortunately, looking back on the book now, I can’t believe all of the harrowing circumstances Ned found himself in. Fortunately, for me – as a child – I loved each page.
[Here's the short book if you want to read it too. :)
This week as we have been reading our Believe scripture passages on building a biblical theology of Humanity – the back and forth rhythm of my favorite childhood book came back to me. Here’s why: I am stuck by discrepancy between how we see other people and how God sees people. We want God to see certain way and others differently. These discrepancies point a mirror into our lives and make confront today’s Key Question: How does God see us?
Join me for a few moments with a little back and forth between how we see people and how God sees people as we examine – poke and prod our theology of humanity.
We See: Evil, desperate, sinful people
We read the papers and watch the news and see stories of mass murder and school shootings. We are horrified by the actions of humans in war. We see people denying God’s existence, living sinful, damaging and corrupt lives and wonder what could God ever do with them. What value are they?
Fortunately, God Sees: all Humans created as in God’s image.
In every sinful, desperate, evil person – God sees a man or woman wonderfully knitted, formed and loved into God’s image. Genesis 1:26 says: Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image and likeness. And let them rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the tame animals, over all the earth, and over all the small crawling animals on the earth.”
Each person on this planet is created for a purpose, loved and valued by the Lord God.
On the opposite side:
We see: Good, hard-working neighbors.
You know, these are kind of people who don’t steal, don’t make loud noise, look after your dog when you are gone, vote regularly, bring casseroles when you are sick, work hard to make a living. We see these friends and think – they have done everything right. They are good people. Surely, they are the kind of people who God desires.
Unfortunately,God Sees: Sinners fallen short of the glory of God.
We want to make people’s outward appearances and actions take the place of their inward relationship with God. Yet, while God sees a person created and formed in God’s image – God also sees each person’s sin of betrayal and it separates them from the life God designs for them.
Romans 3:23 says: Everyone has sinned and fallen short of God’s glorious standard.
I love this phrase that has stuck with me most of my life: the ground at the cross is level. While we see good people and bad people – God just sees people, God’ creation. And while we want to set some people above others – God never does. It is only through the cross that we come into a relationship with the Lord.
When we are subdividing people – creating our own version of the caste system, we often base our theology of humanity on our own world view. For example:
We see: A broken world divided by barriers of language and borders.
As much as we hate it, we each carry our own prejudices about people in the world. We divide people by the languages they speak or don’t speak, the ways they dress, the color of their skin, the depth of their education, or the borders that they cross. We fear people who are different. We break people down by stereotypes and titles. We call other human people illegal and we loosen our tongues and forget that the words we use actually describe people loved by God. Our way of looking at the world becomes the only way to look at the world.
Fortunately, God Sees: A unified, wonderful world where all are loved.
Recently, I have been following the photographs of astronaut Scott Kelley who is living for a year on the International Space Station. Each day, Captain Kelly posts pictures to his Instagram of pictures of the earth – from North America, Europe, South America, Asia. Unlike our common maps, these pictures show no borders or countries. We see beautiful mountains and rivers and deltas, cities lighting up the night, and this week a monster hurricane. I imagine this is more like how God sees the world: a unified, wonderful creation full of his most prized creation – you and me.
The Gospel writer John puts it this way: “God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him may not be lost, but have eternal life.” This was our memory verse for this week. The verse demonstrates how God’s love breaks down the barriers of our broken, divided world.
Unfortunately, when we see a divided world, we cannot see beyond it. For example, often:
We see: Ornery, hard to love people who are against us.
You know what I mean. These are the people in our families that drive us nuts. The employee that continues to complain to the boss about us. The neighbor who called the police on our kids. The girl at school who we thought was our friend who told our most private secret to people at school. The friend who has bi-polar disease or the addict who has burned all of his bridges. We don’t have to go too far to see people by what they do and how they treat other people.
Fortunately, God sees: God’s children.
As prickly and ornery and spiteful as some people can be in our lives – God still sees them as his children. God’s creation. And God still calls us to treat them in the same way we would treat the people who are kinder and friendlier and easier to be around. Jesus says this in the Sermon on the Mount: “But I say to you who are listening, love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you,”
God’s Way in the world takes our ways of looking at the other people and turns us on our heads. Here’s one more example.
We see: Brilliant and gifted people who have achieved success in politics, business, and entertainment.
If you are like me – these people stand out in the world for all that they have achieved. We gawk at and look up to these people. We get giddy when we come into their presence. I’ve not been in the room with too many celebrities, but when I have I know that the intensity in the room changes. We say – “hey, do you know who is here?” We might ask for an autograph or a selfie these days. We increase our standing by being close to one of these brilliant, successful people as we tell our stories of encounter.
Fortunately, God sees people differently.
God Sees: Little children with crusty faces, active bodies and curious minds.
In a lesson on greatness, Jesus brings a first century, child into the middle of his teaching circle and uses the child as an object lesson for greatness in the kingdom of God. He says in Matthew 18:3:
Then he said, “I tell you the truth, you must change and become like litt le children. Otherwise, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
This is how Jesus views humanity – not by what we can achieve or provide or the extra ability of giftedness that we have – but through our humble ability to trust completely in the Lord of Creation.
How does God see us? God sees us his wonderful creation formed in God’s image who have sinned and need Jesus. God sees us as one humanity, loved deeply in spite of our ornery natures. And God values us not by what we accomplish but by the faith we exhibit. This is theology preaches and changes lives and churches and communities.
A practical theology of humanity can be found in one of the shortest books in the Bible – Paul’s letter to Philemon. In this short book, Paul challenges all of us to see each other – not as we see – but as God sees.
The simple story is this. Paul is in prison in Rome. In prison he meets a runaway slave name Onesimus. Through the friendship of Paul and the grace of God, Onesimus commits to follow Jesus. Paul loves Onesimus and wants him to serve as an associate with him in the service of the gospel, but he had neither a moral nor a legal right to retain him.
Legally, Onesimus belongs to a Christian man named Philemon in Colossae. Philemon is an active believer and spiritual leader. He hosts a church in his home. Paul knows Philemon – most likely because Philemon heard Paul preach in Ephesus.
The theological question that faces us faces these three men: How does God see us?
To Philemon - Onesimus is a runaway slave, a piece of property who most likely stole from his master when he left.
To Paul, Onesimus is a brother in Christ. The barriers between slave and Roman citizen have been broken by the love of Jesus. So – Paul sends Onesimus back to Colossae with this letter for Philemon.
I, Paul, an old man now and also a prisoner for Christ Jesus, 10 am pleading with you for my child Onesimus, who became my child while I was in prison. 11 In the past he was useless to you, but now he has become useful for both you and me.
Paul is challenging Philemon to see Onesimus no longer through his human eyes – as a slave – but through God eyes, as a useful child of God.
[he is]16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a loved brother. I love him very much, but you will love him even more, both as a person and as a believer in the Lord.
When Onesimus shows back up at Philemon’s door with this letter from Paul - Unfortunately, from the human perspective, nothing has changed. Onesimus is still a runaway piece of property and a thief.
Fortunately, from God’s perspective everything has changed. Onesimus is no longer a slave, he is a brother in Christ.
When we begin to release our way of seeing and receive God’s eyesight, today’s key idea becomes a bold experience of God’s grace and glory.
Key Idea: I believe all people are loved by God and need Jesus Christ as their Savior.
I am convinced when we allow this belief to settle from our heads to hearts – it will have the greatest impact in how we live our lives as any of these beliefs. The virtue of gentleness will no longer exist in patches around our lives – but will settle into a new way of existence on our daily living. What a glorious and marvelous day that will be. Thanks be to God. Amen.