Monday, November 3, 2014

Neighborhood Relations Center

The people of Nazareth knew Jesus. When they heard Him preach for the first time in their synagogue, they asked one another, Isn't this the Carpenter's Son? They were referring to St. Joseph, of course, who was Jesus' legal father. Jesus studied the trade during His youth. This was natural, for in that time the oldest son was expected to follow in the father's steps. Jesus lived thirty-three years in our world, and spent the first thirty making things out of wood. It is inevitable, then, that in His preaching He would use a carpenter's illustration. When you work around a lot of sawdust, one of the hazards is that you get motes in your eyes, little bits of sawdust that fly around while you're working.  You can't see clearly until the mote is gone.  Jesus is telling us this morning about spiritual sawdust.  That's what the devil sets in motion to make Christians fight with one another.  Trifles become walls, and walls become fortresses.

As long as we live in this world, people are going to do things that make us unhappy. Church people are human, too. They are going to kick up sawdust. We are disciples of the Greatest Carpenter. And it gets worse. The devil isn't content to get dust in our eyes. He gets a whole one by eight in there. He wants to keep us confused, so he uses those boards to blind us. He even has custom made boards, so that we think we're making a choice. But there is a pattern. Most of the boards come down to these three.

I don't want to get involved. Right now that's the most popular. Everybody is so involved in the private life, that there isn't much done with neighbors, church people, or co-workers. When our brother errs, we look the other way and hope that everything will turn out. Look what happened to John the Baptist when he challenged a sinful king! We don't want that to happen to us. So we abandon our brother to his burden, and let the sawdust blind him.

Let me take the speck out of your eye. This beam is designed for the more courageous. When your neighbor's sins are different from your own, it is easy to condemn them. We might even consider it our duty to intervene. It's worse when you're the victim. That's when your neighbor's sin seems absolutely enormous. When you do the same thing to somebody else, you wonder what all the fuss was about. That attitude is universal in mankind. God made provision for that in Moses' time by giving the Law of Retaliation. Not that He likes retaliation. Hardly! But because people are so hard-hearted, so blind to their own faults and critical of others, God found it expedient to make the Law of Retaliation. He limits our responses to "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth." If it weren't for that, who knows how long the feuds would last. Christians do not need the Law of Retaliation. Our hearts are not hard, because Jesus has redeemed them. He has set us free from the Law, and paid for all of our evil with His blood.

The devil has another board: I'll suffer it all in silence. Christians get this board in their eye. The martyr complex is a perfect board for Christians, one that the devil will pick from his trick box whenever he finds anyone too humble to correct his neighbor, but too loving to just look away. What does the martyr think in his heart? Does he think that retaliating will, "put him down on his neighbor's level"? That is another way of saying that your neighbor isn't worthy of your correction. As difficult as that may be to live with, remember there is a big chapter two, a picture in your mind of the celestial pecking order in which whatever you suffer here gets turned around hereafter. Now, we must be sensible about this. The celestial pecking order is not within our control. Neither you nor I can guarantee anything about it. It is true that Jesus told us to bear abuses, but not in silence. He told us to praise God for our afflictions. The early martyrs did not go to the arena in silence. They went singing hymns. They went praying for the people who were killing them, even as the Lord prayed for those who killed Him. Satan might have gotten some satisfaction from seeing the martyrs die. He might have gotten more from the anger in the hearts of the pagans. But he did not get the satisfaction of seeing the martyrs die in self-righteous smugness.

So look to the One who had no sawdust in His eyes at all, look to the death of Jesus. You might say that all through His life He had a cross in His eye. That gave Him a different perspective. It works the same for us. Behold what the mercy of God will bear! Behold the Model of compassion! Listen to him say, "Father, forgive them." They were afflicting Him with every kind of insult, every kind of personal abuse. But He could see clearly. He wasn't the Carpenter now. He was the King of Kings. He had no sawdust in His eyes, only splinters in His back.

Today in our epistle we heard St. Paul tell us that we no longer consider anyone from a human point of view. The human view is the sinful view. One of the devil's boards will always be cramping our vision, but there was no board in the Apostle's eye as he thought of his brothers in Corinth. We know how much trouble he had with that congregation, but still he says, I am so sure of you; I am so proud of you. In all my troubles I take courage because of you. We can say the same thing to each other this morning, even if we disagree about some things, and need to work them out. I know how Jesus talks to me. There are things He and I have to work out still, but He does not condemn me. He knows how far from perfect my ministry is, and He should know because His was perfect, but He tells me that He is sure of me, proud of me, filled with joy for me. So as we face our neighbors now, as we see how far from perfect they are, remember that we didn't redeem them. The One who did still owns them. Instead of making ourselves obnoxious, we pass the cup of forgiveness. Once we drink of it ourselves, there is nothing more to fear. We are human; so was Jesus. His blood covers every weakness.

The Lord did not tell us this to make us turn from reforming the Church. He did it to warn us that reform must always begin with the reformers themselves. The Holy Spirit works constantly to take the boards out of our eyes, and replace them with the cross of Jesus, to give us the Lord's perspective. He hammers the dents out of our attitudes, so that in evil times, when we get in each other's way, we see it all through the perspective of the cross. The sawdust will keep flying until Judgment Day. We will see it more clearly in our neighbors' eyes than in our own, but the cross will also be around. Jesus bears burdens, and invites us to join Him in that activity. AMEN.

~Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

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