Picking a Side (2 Corinthians 5:11-21)Pastor Jon Truax, June 18, 2017
Part of the General series, preached at a Sunday Morning service
Picking A Side
II Corinthians 5:11-21
We’re going to start with a little pop quiz this morning to see how well you know your Bible. Which of these quotes do you think was said by Jesus?
A: “He who is not with me is against me.” (Matthew 12:30)
B: “Whoever is not against us is for us.” (Mark 9:40)
How many think Jesus said, “He who is not with me is against me?” How many think he said, “Whoever is not against us is for us?”
How many answered “A”? You’re right! How many answered “B”? You’re right, too! The answer is actually C, all of the above. If you raised your hand both times, you’re right! (reveal citations)
I don’t believe the Bible contradicts itself. These statements differ in the context of which Jesus was speaking. In the first case, Jesus was talking about the Pharisees – the spiritual leaders of Israel who should have been on his side, but were hanging back and refusing to commit, questioning him in their hearts. By their silence, they opposed him. In the second case, Jesus was referring to someone who was going around doing good works in His name but wasn’t one of the twelve disciples, wasn’t officially “in the club.” That one, Jesus said, was alright.
The common thread to both statements is that there is no middle ground when it comes to Jesus. You’re either with Him, or you’re not.
I’ve always found it difficult to pick a side. Maybe that’s because, coming from Northeast Ohio, picking a side has often meant rooting for the Browns, the Indians, the Cavs. Heartache and misery lie that way. They should just hang a big sign above Cleveland: “Abandon all hope, ye sports fans who enter here.” Still, we hope for tomorrow, don’t we?
The world will demand that you pick a side. Republican or Democrat. For Trump or against him. Coke or Pepsi. Apple or Android. Cat person or dog person. White or black. Rich or poor.
Maybe it’s not so much that I have trouble picking a side, but that I have trouble with what comes next. Because, once you pick a side, you then – in a way - become responsible for that side. You own it. You represent it. You have to defend it. That was one of the problems I had in the United Methodist Church. Whenever the denomination would make a pronouncement, whether about homosexuality or gun rights or moving the pastor, it always caused trouble for me. Because even when I disagreed with it, I still had to defend it. I had chosen my side.
Whatever else it means, being a Christian means picking a side. Let me tell you about my life goal. What I want to see happen - more than anything else - is for the people in my church, and in my community, and in my world, to make that choice of picking the side of Christ, of saying, “I am on the Lord’s side.” But an immediate consequence or byproduct involved is paying a price for choosing that side. Jesus encouraged us to “count the cost.” When you become a Christian, you stand up and identify with the God of the Bible, with Jesus Christ, with the Church.
And identifying with the Church can come with a lot of baggage in today’s world. You know that the Church has a real capacity to hurt people – sometimes physically like in the Crusades, or the Inquisition, or the abuse scandals of recent decades, but more often spiritually and emotionally. People can feel rejected at church, or judged, or excluded, and those wounds can run very deep and be very real. In every church I’ve pastored, and there have been five now, there have been hurt and injured people, wounded in church. Mike Berube just got hurt Tuesday night in a ministry of the church. That tears me up.
When people are angry at the Church for being hurt, or angry at God for suffering loss they blame him for, they often turn against those on God’s side, God’s team, the Church. When you deliberately choose to be on God’s side, you become his spokesmen. His ambassadors.
George Shultz was our nation’s Secretary of State under President Ronald Reagan. That means that he was in charge of all of our country’s ambassadors. Shultz had a tradition of inviting every new ambassador to his office before they were sent abroad. He would reportedly say, “OK, Mr. Ambassador or Madame Ambassador, you’ve passed all the tests. You’ve been confirmed by the Senate and you’ve passed your security investigation. But you still have to pass my test. I have one more for you.” And he’d take them over to this massive globe in his office, and he’d say, “I’m going to spin the globe and I want you to put your hand on your country.” Shultz would later say, “Every single one of them failed.” Because whenever he spun the globe and say, “Put your hand on your country,” they’d always put their hand on the country that they were going out to. But his point was that their country is the United States. Their side was always going to be the U.S.
According to Paul, our citizenship is in heaven, if we have chosen God’s side. Our country may be heaven, but we have to live on earth. As Paul said in today’s scripture, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” Representing God, being His ambassador, means that if people have a problem with God, they’ll have a problem with you. Jesus knew this to be true and warned his disciples about it at the Last Supper. He said, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first…If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also…In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
I sometimes wonder if the Church asks too little or too much of its members? What do you think? If our expectations of disciples are too low, we see low commitment and poor fruit. If we have impossibly high expectations, we may discourage and demoralize believers. Consider what other faiths ask. If you were a Muslim, in addition to the PR problem they have going on now with so much of the world’s terrorism, you would be expected to fast during a month’s daylight hours, give alms, pray publicly five times a day, and make a pilgrimage to Mecca.
We may not have a checklist of behaviors like that, because we are not in a works-based religion, but the question remains: How are you representing God? Are you a CHINO – Christian In Name Only? Being a Christian doesn’t mean you blindly support other Christians or the church if you see wrongdoing. In those cases, it means speaking out and standing up for the truth and grace of the Gospel. But that’s the point – your loyalty is to the Lord – first, last, and always.
I have a friend who is hopelessly agnostic, but I haven’t given up hope on persuading her to Christianity. Every time we discuss the subject of faith, she states that she feels that there is no way to choose, there is no way to pick a side. She believes that you can neither prove nor disprove God, and you can neither prove nor disprove atheism, so the only alternative is to shrug your shoulders and say you don’t know, to decide not to decide. But to not pick a side is to really pick a side, don’t you think? With Jesus, there is no middle ground.
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