Wednesday, May 22, 2013

May 19, 2013 - Faith in the Modern Age: Relationships in the Modern Age

Romans 12:9-21

There are a lot of ancient books that did not make it into the Bible. 

One of them is called The Didache, which means the teaching.  Much of it sounds like the Sermon On the Mount.  There is one verse that probably kept the book from becoming a part of Scripture – 6:2 If then you are able to bear the Lord's yoke fully, you will be perfect, but if you can not, then do (the) best (you can).

There’s a lot of days I’ll take that last phrase – do the best you can. 

In Matthew 5:48 Jesus says to be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.  Jesus doesn’t add do the best you can.  Throughout the Scriptures we read of what seem to be impossibly high standards placed before us for our behavior and our attitudes.  And sometimes we feel like we just don’t have it in us – isn’t that true?  Aren’t there days when you would like to have a do the best you can?

This morning, as we continue our series Faith In the Modern Age, we come to Relationships In the Modern Age.  I did a message on relationships earlier this year, in the series The Harder I Go, the Behinder I Get, but this is a topic that is always worth revisiting on a regular basis, and this morning we’ll look at relationships from the perspective of how our complicated modern age adds so much stress to relationships.

Our Scripture passage for today comes from what I would call the other love chapter, even though it’s not a complete chapter.  It’s from Romans 12, where Paul runs through thirteen verses about love.  And they’re tough.  Listen to what he writes –

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.
10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.
11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need.  Practice hospitality.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.
16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.
18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
20 On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; 
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. 
 In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

I have to say, life would be a lot simpler if we weren’t called to such a high standard, wouldn’t it?  I wish Paul had given us a do the best you can phrase at the end of that passage.

As we consider relationships in this complicated, stressful, modern age, we’ll note that in this passage Paul gives us three types of relationships – three circles of relationships:  our relationships with those who are not a part of our circle of family and friends, our close relationships, and our relationship with God.

It’s Not Just the Relationships With Those Close to Us That Matter.

I was driving down Hurstbourne Parkway in Louisville the other afternoon.  Hurstbourne has, I believe, more traffic than any other road in the state of Kentucky, outside of the interstates.  I love driving that road, especially during the busy time of day.  To make things really interesting, the part of Hurstbourne where I was traveling was narrowed to one lane.  But thankfully, there were signs giving ample notice to merge to one lane.  Have you noticed when there are signs to merge to a single lane how many people decide to go as far as they can in the other lane before deciding to merge?  I love those people who wait until the last second.  That is one thing that really gets under my skin.

How do I live up to the call to feed my enemy when I want to run over the person who waits until the last minute to merge into a lane of traffic?

Here is what is so challenging about the gospel – all relationships matter.  Not just the relationships with our friends and our family.  Not just the relationships with the people we love, but even the relationships with our enemies and our relationships with the people who hate us.  Jesus says in Matthew 5:46 if you love those who love you, what reward will you get?

Paul says If your enemy is hungry, feed him; 
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.  Are you kidding me?  Unfortunately, no, and it is here where we really test our faith, and there is no do the best you can.

Be Grateful for Difficulty, As It Creates the Bond in Relationships.
That’s a really strange thing to say, isn’t it?  Be grateful for difficulty?  Are you kidding me?  Why should we be grateful for the difficulties that we experience in life?

Here’s why – because they deepen our relationships.  A relationship never really develops any true depth until two people walk together through suffering and difficulty.  Haven’t you found this to be true?  Once you walk with someone through a tough time in life you find a depth to the relationship that did not previously exist.

Paul says to mourn with those who mourn.  When you walk with someone through a time of difficulty that relationship becomes deeply bonded.  Some of you are probably thinking right now about such a time.  You connected with a friend when you shared a difficult time.  You connected with your spouse when you supported one another through a very difficult experience.

Can you have a deep love without walking through difficulty together?  When you share the experience of raising children, when you encourage someone through a job loss, or when you weep over a wayward child the relationship grows deeper.

Never Give Up.
I was never a great athlete, so I never made any of the teams in my high school.  Until my junior year.  That was the year the school added a rowing team.  The school is located on the Ohio River and it appeared I would have a good opportunity to earn a spot on the rowing team (probably because they were in desperate need of team members).  We spent six weeks in conditioning before we ever saw the boat or picked up an oar.  During those six weeks we did countless calisthenics, a lot of weight lifting, and miles and miles of running.  On a crew team, everyone has to be in perfect sync with one another, because once you are on the water it can be disastrous if one person if out of sync with the rest of the time.  As we did our calisthenics, we had to be in perfect sync with one another.  As we did pushups, if one person was not in perfect rhythm with everyone else we stayed on the same number.  Sometimes we stayed on the same number for a long time.  As the coach kept calling out we’re still on number 10 on the pushups I couldn’t help but look around to see who was out of sync.  When I looked around, it was me! 

When we finally got on the water we all thought we were in really great condition, but crew is a really physically demanding sport, and we found it to be incredibly difficult, and it was easy to give up.  There were eight of us rowing in the boat, and I was in seat seven, with one person behind me.  I can still hear him, as we practiced and when we raced, saying over and over, don’t give up, don’t give up.  Don’t quit, don’t quit.  There were a lot of times I needed to hear that.

Paul says cling to what is good, and Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  Life can be very difficult.  Don’t give up.  Life can be incredibly stressful.  Don’t give up.  Wrap your arms around someone who is struggling.  Pull them tight and tell them don’t give up.  Don’t quit.

Don’t be discouraged by the pressures of our day and age.  Don’t allow yourself to be worn down to the point where you throw up your hands and say I give up! 

This is what God is saying to us every moment of every day –don’t give up!  Don’t quit!  You may be stuck on pushup number ten, but don’t give up!  Relationships aren’t easy in our day and age, but faith will carry us through. 

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