Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Rights in the Kingdom, Lam. 3:34-36, John 1:6-13

I confess I am an activist. Not a week goes by that I don’t sign a petition or send an email to my political representatives or a company either in support or protest for their actions. I’m a member of several social justice organizations. I put my money where my mouth is by boycotting products that treat workers as little more than slaves or contributing to those who bring clean water, education, and food to others. It is an important part of Christian faith to stand up for those who have no voice. Over and over in the Old Testament God calls God’s people to action to stand up for the orphans and widows, the poor and needy, the afflicted and oppressed, the immigrant and the hungry. God brings judgment on God’s people when they become oppressors. God cares about human rights. We see this in our Old Testament reading. God sees when human rights are being abused. And in this sinful fallen world, we are to speak up for those who have no voice.
I did a couple of word studies on rights in the Bible. The Old Testament word for human rights and legal rights is “mishpat”. It is also translated ordinance, justice, and is used many times in the Law pertaining to God’s laws and justice. While there are many proscriptions for how to determine justice, it is rarely something we are to seek for ourselves. Rather it is something we are to administer and seek for others. The word is used to tell us what to do, not what to demand for ourselves. When it comes to ourselves, we are to rely on God for justice and vindication. Sometimes that happens through human instruments and systems, but sometimes it literally takes divine intervention. Regardless, it is always God who vindicates, who determines right, and who satisfies justice.
Job is an example of one who went directly to God for vindication. He claimed his righteousness and rightness over and over to God and before his friends. Even though God does vindicate Job and declares Job righteous, Job also learns to see his own unrighteousness in the presence of a holy God.
The Old Testament call to defend those who rights are being taken away or abused still very much applies to us today. In our denomination’s mission 6-fold mission statement known as the “Great Ends of the Church,” one of those is the promotion of social righteousness. The world is still a sinful, broken place.
But inside the Kingdom of God, which is the true home for the believer, even now, things work differently. In the Kingdom of God, we have no rights with a couple of exceptions. The main exception is found in our New Testament reading this evening. John 1:12—“But as many as received Him, He gave the right to become the sons of God, to them that believe on His name.” The other exception is the right to the tree of life, which we read about in Rev. 22—“Blessed are those who wash their robes so that they will have the right to the tree of life,” and the negative example a few verses later, “If anyone takes away from the words of this book of prophecy, God will take away that person’s right to the tree of life.” Everything in the Kingdom is gift or privilege. I’ve been doing a sermon series on the Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. In this sermon, we learn that we don’t have a right to anything. We aren’t supposed to go to court. If we are accused, we are to give the accuser more than what they demand. We are to turn our cheek to our enemy. We are to give to anyone who asks. Now, what we’ve realized as our church has gone through this series is how miserably we fail to live Christ’s mandate and how desperately we need the One who has fulfilled all the law on our behalf.
The New Testament word for “right” is exousia, which means the power to act or authority, and is often translated “power” or “authority”. In the Kingdom of God, we have no authority except that which comes from Christ. In Matthew 28, Jesus says all authority on heaven and earth is given to Me. Jesus gives us the right to become God’s children. He gives us authority over evil, over principalities and powers, over spiritual wickedness in high places. He has given us all power over the Enemy. But when it comes to those things that we think of as human rights, we have no right to demand them. Again, from the Sermon on the Mount, we are to be totally dependent upon Jesus for food, shelter, and clothing. Jesus goes on to say that we do not have a right to our bodies to do what we want with them—they are rather, the property of the Holy Spirit. Paul reminds us in Romans that the potter has the right to the clay—God is the potter; we are the clay. God can make us into whatever God desires, and we are not to talk back. We don’t have a right to our very life. We must lay them down and die totally to self in order to live with Christ. We know we fail miserably which is why Jesus used the continuous tense when He said, “If anyone is to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” We have to constantly deny self and daily take up the cross. It is only in Christ that we have any rights, authority, and power. In order to have any rights in the Kingdom, we must submit totally to Christ’s Right—His authority, His power.
When I was in high school youth group, we had a lesson on what it means that Christ is Lord. As part of that lesson, we received a paper that was entitled, “A Surrendering of All Rights.” Listed on that sheet were a lot of things to which we think we have a right, but are not listed in Scripture—the right to our bodies, the right to be free from pain and suffering, the right to food, clothing, shelter, the right to be right, etc. Our youth leader asked us to sign it if we were serious about acknowledging Christ as Lord of our life and keep is someplace where we would remember. I kept that sheet in my Bible for many years. With that sheet, we also received a list of the blessings and promises that surrendering to the Lord brings—peace, unending, unconditional love, joy, the promise that we will never be alone, the promise of eternal life, justification in Christ, forgiveness of all sin, the Holy Spirit, and so on and so on.
Although Christ’s Kingdom is not yet fully and visibly realized, as the Church of Christ, we are to live in the Kingdom to the point where we exhibit Kingdom life to the world. Also in my denomination’s mission statement, the Great Ends of the Church, another one of those six great Ends is the “Exhibition of the Kingdom of God to the World.” When we start demanding our own rights, which are not rights at all, we not only fail to exhibit the Kingdom of God to the world, we obscure its visibility.
And yet there has been a constant push to make privileges into rights within the church. Marriage is a gift, although a widespread one. God gave Eve to Adam. But now the church is fighting about who has the right to be married. The answer according to God’s word is no one. Marriage is a gift. The church is fighting over ordination rights. There are no ordination rights. Ordination too is a gift. No one has the right to be ordained—I don’t care how many years of seminary you’ve had. You are either called and equipped by God, or not. It’s not a right, for anyone.
You may have heard on the radio or read in the paper that my denomination passed an amendment to our Constitution that now allows certain classes of people previously denied “the right to be ordained” to be ordained as ministers and officers in the church. Let me read to you what it is we passed:
"Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life (G-1.0000). The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation (G.14.0240; G-14.0450) shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003). Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates."

There is nothing biblically wrong with this statement. It reminds us of our desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Christ in all aspects of life. To me all means all, including those areas, which some people claim that their “rights” are being denied. We cannot claim rights and joyfully submit to the Lordship of Christ. I did not vote in favor of this amendment despite the fact that in many ways I find it an improvement over our prior language because it doesn’t single out one particular aspect of our lives that we are to submit to Christ. I did not vote for the statement because there has always been an agenda behind it pushing “rights”. No sooner was this amendment passed then a movement to redefine marriage within our denomination started making a lot of noise.
How can a such a statement so in line with Scripture become so twisted? Because we use our self-proclaimed authority to interpret the statement instead of the authority that God granted us in the written Word. Most of the divisions found in today’s church boil down to the authority of Scripture. When we undermine that authority, we have little on which to stand. Our youth group is using an abstinence curriculum by Lakita Garth Wright called “The Naked Truth.” This past Sunday we unlocked the lie of “safe sex.” In our Bible study, we looked at Jeremiah as an example of the lie that Judah believed regarding “safe religion”. Listen to what we learned:
"Problems arose when the people of [Judah] grew weary of God’s ways and devised their own. People today fall into the same trap. When we start living for ourselves, we often want others to join us, so we create lies to convince ourselves and others that it is safe to turn away from God. The King and priests of Jeremiah’s day were preaching the lie of “safe religion.” “Safe religion” says you can do what you want…You don’t have to worry about the consequences of sin because God will always forgive you, always love you, always protect you, even when you totally disobey God’s commands. Believers in “safe religion” look to churches and pastors to tell them they are “safe” even when they are not. “Safe religion” says it’s easier to do your own thing than to follow God.”

We are living in a time where “safe religion” is prominent. Paul warned Timothy about this time where there would “be teaching for itching ears.” While God does always love us and forgive us, there are consequences for sin—including the teaching of lies. Self with God on top is not the way God’s Kingdom works. There must be an exchange of self for Christ.
Civil rights do not carry over into the Kingdom. We don’t need them there. They are unnecessary because Christ gives us everything we need. He has broken down every barrier. Demanding our “rights” except in accordance with God’s promise of Sonship and the blessings that go with it, is a clear sign that we are not submitting to Christ’s authority. We can hold God to God’s promises because God never breaks God’s word. But we can’t ask God to justify the self. The self must die in order to inherit eternal life. We can either have self-justification, which is no justification at all, or Christ’s justification. It is either Christ or self; it cannot be both. Will you keep demanding your rights or will you submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ?


Blogger Pastor Parato said...

Brought the recorder and forgot to push the button!

May 25, 2011 at 3:16 AM

Blogger Pastor Parato said...

This message was given at St. Peter's UMC Tuesday, May 24 as part of their Community Renewal Services series.

May 25, 2011 at 6:39 AM


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