Beyond Disaster Management

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Sunday, September 24, 2017
Week 2 of The Divine Conspiracy
Scripture: Romans 3:21-26 & John 15:1-17
Rev. Jill VanderWal

Last week we began our series on the Divine Conspiracy, a book by Dallas Willard. The main text we will study is the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew chapters 5-7.  Willard first lays out a framework for our study. Last week the premise was that we are “flying upside down” and may not even know it. We were introduced the questions of: What is the kingdom of God? What must we do to enter the Kingdom of Heaven?  What does it mean to live the good life? These are the questions that will shape our discussion in the coming week.

Ideas matter, our starting point matters.Where you begin a story sets a course for the entire storyline. In religion, specifically Christianity, do we start with the garden paradise or do we start with the fall and sin entering the world?

Do we start with perfection or brokenness?
Do we start with friendship with God or hiding in the bushes?

Many Christian groups start their story with the fall, paradise lost and humans hiding naked in the bushes. Thus the story of faith begins with disaster management and asks, “how do we begin to clean this up?” The “mess” being sin. Willard points out two realms of sin management. One is the personal, individual realm of sin “how do I get mine forgiven?” And the other realm is structural and societal evil where we can become fixated on social action. I grew up with an awareness of personal sin and later in life grew into a greater understanding of systemic sin.

There are at least 2 issues with these outlooks. First they are destination focused, with the main question being, “how do I get to heaven?”  This comes up in evangelism with groups who initiate faith conversations with the question, “If you died tonight, where would you go?” So “being saved” is relegated to an event. However Jesus’ ministry modeled an invitation to discipleship…which is a process. Key words are formed, conformed, transformed into a new life in Christ.

The second issue with these outlooks is that each group of Christians seems to have their own set of rules and expectations for you to get to heaven. Willard calls this the barcode type of “scan and earn” criteria for getting there. Thus religion starts to feel like an institution that is all about the do’s and the don’ts. Maybe you can relate to this in your own life, but let me tell you this barcode, rules-oriented religion is why millions have walked away from the church and why many have opted out. So if we reject this as missing the mark….what is the target we are aiming towards?

John 15 introduces this word – ABIDE. Abide….you have have been thinking you are supposed to “abide by” which implies a set of rules. But I invite you to “abide in.

Abide…to be connected and to bear fruit. It is impossible to bear fruit if you are not connected. You will bear the fruit of the vine you are connected to. My cucumber vine is not going to produce blackberries. I wonder if this is why Jesus moves from the vine discussion into love. Jesus is the vine that produces the fruit of love…we can not love our neighbor, let alone our enemy unless we are connected to him as the vine.

My favorite image of living connected to the vine is the Joyful Noise kids who gather around the grape vine. They love them! When I went out to pick they said, “don’t take our grapes!”

It is worth considering what it means to abide in Christ Jesus who is the vine.To be connected to, to know personally, to be dependent on. It is the lives of the saints…Francis, Theresa of Avila and so many other saints who show us what it is to look to Jesus as the teacher in all things, to wait, listen, observe and relish living in the presence of God.

Willard has these three reminders for us from this passage

  • We are invited to be called a friend of God. (“I do not call you servants….)
  • I can be involved in God’s work – you will bear fruit.
  • Jesus will teach you what he has learned from the source of life.

Jesus will teach us everything we need to know. However, Willard fears Jesus is “the forgotten teacher.” He says, “how is it possible that one can rely on Christ for the next life without doing so for this one?” How can we come to place Jesus as a teacher, back in the center of our lives? Jesus knows more about marriage than you do or your therapist.

Exercise: Look at a picture of yourself when you were a child in school. Who were the teachers who affected you most? How did you feel about them? What does it mean and how does it feel to say today, “Jesus wants to be your teacher.”