Framed - "Accepted"
From last Sunday there are pictures online of families who posed together behind the picture frames we provided. Our family posed for a picture but one of our kids was away so we held up a photo in the frame with us. In life, we all put stuff in our frames, so to speak. There are two things we all want in our frames. First, we want security on many levels, for example, finances. Second, we want significance; not to be famous, but so that we matter. Christ puts both in the frame of the life he gives us.
2 Corinthians 5:17 says, "This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!"
The "new life" is the key. Here's what he is doing: when we are "in Christ," he provides security and significance. Here's how he does it: he does it by acceptance. The frame he has for us is the frame of acceptance and when it is properly in place, he is able to paint security and significance into the picture. Before we take a closer look at what it looks like to be accepted, we need to deal with something that gets in the way: it is the problem of people, all people.
Isaiah 51:12-13 says, "I, yes I, am the one who comforts you. So why are you afraid of mere humans, who wither like the grass and disappear? Yet you have forgotten the Lord, your Creator, the one who stretched out the sky like a canopy and laid the foundations of the earth. Will you remain in constant dread of human oppressors? Will you continue to fear the anger of your enemies? Where is their fury and anger now? It is gone!"
God is saying that his being the one who comforts and our fearing people do not go together. We have forgotten him in our search for acceptance. The problem with people is that we can't pursue acceptance of people and God at the same time. We get wrapped up and obsessed with our children, spouses, and others. But people cannot fill the spot within us created just for God. First, people are not shaped and sized to fill this spot in our soul. When we count on people to fill this spot, which they can't fill, we are disappointed. Second, the burden to do so is too great for them. The burden of expectation we put on others for unconditional acceptance causes them to be disappointed in us.
We throw our hands in the air. We just need unconditional acceptance. This is where God steps in to give us the frame of unconditional acceptance. We know about it, but we wonder about it and so we have three questions to explore today in regard to God's acceptance of us.
The Three Questions of Acceptance
1 - Will God Love Me?
We turn to a story (to answer these questions) often referred to as the story of the woman caught in adultery. After catching her in the act, the Pharisees bring her before Jesus to be used like a pawn in a scheme against him.
John 8:4-6 says, “Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?” They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him."
The Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus. They know his MO is that of love and forgiveness and they figure they can undo him publicly.
John 8:7-8 says, "But Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust."
They totally did not expect Jesus to validate the requirement of the law by saying, "All right." Jesus then tells them that the one who is perfect should go first. Jesus stoops and writes again in the dust and is likely revealing their sins. It could be that before this the woman wondered whether Jesus would help her or get in line with her accusers. We wonder whether God will love us or accuse us. And so we love what Jesus does here. Jesus helps the woman. He looks past her junk. Jesus looks past our junk, too. We are tempted to think, though, that he is blind to our junk or that he is saying that our junk is no big deal. It so much more beautiful than that. Our junk magnifies his love for us.
There is a story about our daughter Brittany that happened many years ago (so it's alright to tell). She set out to ride her bike all caught up in the independence of it. We soon got a call from a neighbor saying they had found Brittany on the ground, knocked out cold. It seems she had been thrown over the handle bars, hit her head when she landed, and was knocked out. So off we went and gathered up our daughter. Brittany "came to" on the way home but couldn't remember anything. So, off to the hospital we went to have her checked out. At the hospital the question was asked, "Was she wearing a helmet?" I remember calling out to her when she left to ride her bike, "helmet?" But no she was not wearing her helmet. When your child is broken and bleeding and left her helmet off, do you love them more or less? You just want them to be okay. You leave the helmet for the next time.
God looks at us in the middle of our junk. He knows all about it - every detail - and he loves us. There is nothing we can do to stop it.
2 - Will God Leave Me?
Some of you are here and you know that the response to Christ that makes sense at this point is to accept him and embrace him. But you are wondering what happens after that. If I mess up will God leave me?
John 8:9-10 says, "When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”
Evidently there were no perfect people here. The woman was no longer of any value to them. They slipped to the back. They don't want their junk on display so they disappear from view. It is a beautiful picture. Just Jesus and the woman in the middle of the crowd. There are no longer any accusers but Jesus is still with her. Does God have limits? Because we have limits we think God does too. There are limits with store specials, like only three rolls of toilet paper to protect against running out because of those who stock up in excess. But God does not run out. He has not limits to his love. Romans 8 says that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. The passage lists everything imaginable and there is nothing found that can separate us from the gift of grace in Christ and his love - that's acceptance.
3 - Will God Ask Me to Change?
This leaves us with one last question. Some of you are processing through this whole thing of God's unlimited and unconditional love and acceptance. Perhaps at this point your asking this: "Does this mean I can do whatever I want to do? As you continue processing and you conclude that it is not likely to be that you can do anything you want, you come to this question: Will God ask me to change? The tension and answer is - yes! Our story ends this way:
John 8:11 says, “No, Lord,” she said. And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”
Despite having a life that reaped the consequences of wandering away from God and his plan for the best kind of life, the woman is helped by Jesus. In answer to Jesus questioning her about where her accusers are and if any of them condemned her, the woman says, "No, Lord." Jesus tells her that he does not condemn her either and that she should go and sin no more. In other words, he releases her from the past and tells her to go forward as a changed person because he wants the best for her going forward and he wants her to flourish.
Perhaps the Pharisees are in the background somewhere objecting.
John 8:12 says, "Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life."
Yes, Jesus wants the woman and us to flourish. He gives us grace to release us from our past and light for the future. Jesus is saying that his light will lead us away from some things and toward other things. We all have junk. We are under construction. He is always working on us. There are always things to fix. Like on our Cape Cod bridges, the repairs never seem to end. We complain, "Stop the renovations and end the inconvenience." But of course we must remember that rust is more of an issue on a bridge than inconvenience. After awhile avoiding renovation becomes more of a problem than the inconvenience of renovations.
In this story of a lost and broken woman, Jesus does not drop the hammer on her. When your daughter is broken and bleeding from a fall off a bike, you do not come down on her for not using a helmet. With grace comes the expectation of change. There is a tension between what I want and want God wants. It is the tension of love. It is as if God says, "I will always love you. I will never leave you. I will always pursue the best for you that comes through change.
Bow with me. Some of you are wrestling. You thought because God said no to you that he didn't love and accept you. But in fact, his saying no to certain things, is a reminder of his love and acceptance of you. For those who struggle to find love and acceptance, God offers it to you. He wants to change us because he loves us. He brings light into our lives so he can bring us to the very best. For those are caught up in the dilemma of "problem people," where they try to fill that spot in their souls (that only God can fill) by gaining the love and acceptance of other people - (Lord) help them to let you fill that spot with your love and acceptance. Help us to see it all clearly. Thank you for framing our lives in acceptance through Jesus Christ our Savior. In Jesus' Name, Amen! (Saying "In Jesus Name" is a reminder that the name of Christ is our center. This is what our closing song is all about).
Posted on Sun, May 17, 2015
by Alan Porter