Sweetwater Presbyterian

Small in size, Big in Faith and Love

Oct 2016

Living in the World

Living in the World

I think one of the most often asked questions is, what do I do as a Christian? What is it I am suppose to be doing? I come to worship; I participate in other activities of the church; I pray. Is that enough? Is that what God wants me to do? Is there anything else? And the answer is yes - there is more. Being a Christian is not about doing things so much as it is living life as God wants you to live. It is a complete transformation of how you see things and how you react to things and how you live the ordinary moments of your life. God is more about the ordinary than he is anything else. Being a Christian is not about big celebrations at Christmas and Easter, but about living for God in the boring days of getting up in the morning and going to do whatever you do during the day and coming home and eating dinner and watching some TV and going to bed and getting up the next morning and doing it all over again. What God wants is for you to live for him even when everything is just routine.
Listen to these words written by the Apostle Paul in the book of Romans. The Christians in Rome were asking the same question - how do we live as Christians? What does it mean for our lives to say we are followers of Christ - is it more than just saying we believe in Jesus? Same questions we still ask. Here is Paul’s answer - and I am reading from The Message - the paraphrase of the scripture by Eugene Peterson - a Presbyterian pastor - who paraphrased the whole Bible with a more modern tone. Listen (Read Romans 12:1-2) Here what he says. In your everyday, ordinary life, live for God. Don’t look at the world - at other people - like everyone else does - live for God.
To help us understand more how the Apostle Paul is telling us we are to live, let’s go back to the story of God’s people in exile in Babylon.
Babylon and other countries that surrounded God’s people in Israel, had always hated God’s people and were determined to destroy them - mainly because God’s people were different than any other culture in the middle east. Most of the cultures around the nation of Israel all lived the same and God’s people stood out like a sore thumb in the way they lived. What made them so different was their lifestyle determined by the 613 Daily Living laws God had given the Hebrews which dictated how they dressed; how they ate; how they cleaned their homes; their practices of cleanliness. These laws or rules were not meant by God to restrict their lives or to make their lives more difficult, but to make God’s people a healthier and more robust people. The idea of personal cleanliness which is really important to us today, is a relatively recent practice - we would not consider not washing our hands or taking a regular bath or cleaning mildew out of our homes. No one in the days of the Hebrews in the Old Testament did these things except for the Hebrews and they did it not because they understood germs but because God told them to. And as a result, they were a more healthy and productive people and the product of envy for the nations around them.
The plan of the Babylonians was to go and capture God’s people, take them to Babylon and to settle them among the Babylonians and the Babylonians figured that within a couple years, God’s people would just assimilate into the Babylonian culture and be like everyone else!
So God’s people are brought to Babylon and initially all put together in an area like a camp - maybe put them all into Camp Greer - and there they waited. The Hebrew leaders told the people as they were dumped there not to worry - they would probably only be there a short time; that God would never make them live among the heathen Babylonians.
But then God sends his people in exile a letter through the prophet Jeremiah. And the letter said three things that were absolutely shocking to the Hebrews in exile in Babylon.
The first thing the letter said was that God wanted his people to move into the communities in Babylon and settle there and live there and not to withdraw or separate themselves from the Babylonian people. They were going to be there a while and they were to become model citizens of Babylon.
Second, they were to respectfully resist assimilating into the culture. Hear that - respectfully resist assimilating into the culture. In other words they were not to be a big show about it; they weren’t to try and force others to live like them; they weren’t to make the Babylonians pass laws; they were to just live as God had told them to within the culture they lived in.
Third, and maybe the hardest, they were to sacrificially love the Babylonians and not be selfish or disdainful in any way. Love the people who forced you out of your homeland, who as we read in Psalm 137 were obviously not kind in this transition from Israel to Babylon where there must have been a good number of casualties.
This is how God told his people to live in this foreign land - a land they did not choose to be in; brought here by people who despise them. Sacrificially love them, God says.
This is the message God gives us today. How we are suppose to live as the people of God; the followers of

Christ. Live among the people of the world but live as God has directed you, not like everyone around you. And sacrificially love all people.
This is what God told his people in Babylon. You are living in a place where you are in the minority. All of the
people around you are polytheistic pagans and nothing around you will be like you think it should be. The
people around you are not going to live as God wants you to. Everyday you will be surrounded by things that are not of God - in most cases the things around you will be the opposite of what God wants. But hold fast to what you know is right and God’s direction and be willing to be different in what you do.
The message is not just for the Hebrew people back in Babylon. It is for us today. This story is a story for us and how we are to understand who we are and how we are to live our lives.
The Hebrews in this story were exiles in Babylon. But not just exiles they are to be ‘resident exiles’. What is a ‘resident exile’? That term sounds like it contradicts itself - and it does sort of. A resident is some who lives in an area and contributes to the local economic and social environment. Resident means you are invested in the area you are living in. Not a tourist who comes and looks at stuff and buys stuff and then leaves. God says to be a resident - live in ‘the world’ and be a productive part of that ‘world’. But then we are to be an exile. The New Testament is clear that Christians will always be exiles in the world. An exile is someone who comes from a different background; a different perspective; different customs and different ways of looking at the world. As Christians, we should never look at the world like everyone else does. We do not assimilate into the culture; we cannot adopt the ways and the values of the world - but retain the values of God. We are to live peacefully with those around us while at the same time living as God teaches us and not as the people around us live.
But it is hard. Why is it so hard to live as God wants you to live? How is it possible to live and not absorb the values of those around us?
From the directions of God we learn that living as God’s people and not as ‘the world’ boils down to the concept of selfishness. All you have to do is watch a small child grow up and you quickly learn that selfishness is inborn in us from birth and it begins to come out as soon as the child starts to make decisions. “Mine, mine, mine!” is the mantra of every small child and if we are honest, in ourselves and certainly in our culture. “What can I get out of it” is usually our first thought when presented with an opportunity.
God says that if we just want the basics of living like Jesus Christ models for us is giving that up - giving up self. What God says is that the basis for all he wants for us is simply putting the needs of others and the needs of the community before ourselves.
Just as Jesus did - Jesus put us first as he allowed himself to excruciatingly die on a cross. That is our example.
God was telling his people in Babylon - love all the people around you in Babylon. Even these people who despise you for your values, even those people who think you are crazy for the choices you make.
God tells us the same thing. Love the people in the world around you - even the people who think that you are unintelligent and uninformed to give up your Sunday mornings to spend time with a bunch of hypocrites; that think it is not financially sound to give your hard earned money to help the church and to help others; who think it is just dumb to give of your time to serve meals or to spend Sunday evenings or Wednesday evenings doing things at church. Love them all God says.
And not only love them - pray for them. You know you can’t really pray for the best for someone else unless you care about them. Pray for them. God’s people in Babylon were to pray for those pagan Babylonians and we are to pray for all those around us who do not share the values we share - Love God; love your neighbor and love your enemies……
We in the church are always talking about preaching the “Good News”. I am not sure we think of mandate from God as Good News. God says, “You are my people and this is what I want you to do. I want you to go out there, in the muck of the world, into your ordinary lives, and live for me. Don’t let yourselves be sucked in by all the stuff that looks so good and is so enticing out there in the world. Your life is not about you” God says “It is about me. And I’m telling you your job as my people is to put the needs of those around you first, care for and pray for everyone.”
There are certain Bible verses that I think we should all memorize. Micah 6:8 comes to mind as one that we should keep close to us all the time because it will help us with this charge by God to live ordinary lives - but at the same time to live for God.
Micah 6:8 And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
And that is how we are suppose to live our everyday, ordinary lives, out in the world. Amen!