Sunday, 27 March 2011

Hot debate [Love wins]

Lent 3 year A Sermon 11 
Title slide
Have you ever had a rip roaring debate
about politics or religion…over a meal with friends?
You know…the kind that can go on for hours...
especially when everyone’s defending their own view
as though it were a matter of life and death?

I think that kind of conversation can be fun and challenging … though I’d certainly rather debate religion over politics.
For example…I find it intellectually stimulating to argue for the reality of the resurrection …against someone who thinks
it can’t possibly be true.

And you’ll all know that sometimes these heated discussions… spread… beyond the dinner table
to major institutional bun fights at General Assembly and in places like Parliament…like debates around human sexuality …now there’s an issue that can ignite an argument at the drop of a match…

Doors slide
But can you imagine a debate about… heaven and hell
…spreading like a wildfire around the world
dividing evangelical Christians…and even getting traction
on CNN and other news media? [pause………]

Well that’s exactly what started… two weeks ago…
and is still going on…and the real irony is…
all the controversy and heat…are over a promotional video for a new book… that’s not even out yet?

The video begins… by daring to question the assumption that

Gandhi in the door slide
Mahatma Gandhi…the famous Indian leader and pacifist
[pause] is burning in hell.

Sheer anticipation of the book has triggered a veritable bushfire… online and on television …
and even stirred up charges of heresy… against the author.

Bell slide
And the controversy’s still burning today as we worship …fuelled by a steady stream of ‘pro’ and ‘anti’ proclamations… which you can find on Google [pause]

And what speaks volumes is… this whole uproar over heaven and hell…became the biggest most divisive story in the Christian media at the same time
Gaddafi was attacking his own people in Libya…

Nooma slide
You’ll remember the books author… Rob Bell… because for years at Night Church…we played and discussed his NOOMA DVD’s. These great DVD’s made Bell one of the most influential pastors
in the Christian world.

But before we leap any further into this fiery debate, let’s watch the video that actually sparked it off…

Play Video 1   2 min 58 sec

Wanaka slide
Whether we agree or disagree with Rob Bell…
when Love Wins actually hits New Zealand…how we handle the questions it raises…will be critical for our efforts to communicate credibly with people outside the church.

Why? Because they’re asking the same questions:
What do we believe about life after death?
Does God really condemn people to hell?
What and where exactly are heaven and hell?

And more importantly…who’s in and who’s out
and where does God draw the line?

And are we a faith community who embrace questions and doubts…or one that forbids them?

Well let’s just try it and see… for a few minutes talk to your neighbour about the question ‘Could Mahatma Gandhi be in heaven… even though he wasn’t a Christian?’

[congregational discussion and feedback]

Love wins slide
Now I wish Christian’s were attracting media attention for challenging the forces of greed and war
but this current storm over heaven and hell
actually offers us a great opportunity…to proclaim some key gospel principles …I hope we can agree on …
whether we like the book or not.
I hope we can agree… that it
is within the scope of God’s sovereign power and grace…
to reconcile all things to himself.

As Paul reminds us in his letter to the Roman’s

Slide words
…one righteous act… resulted in justification and life for all people. That’s Roman’s 5:18 if you want to look it up.

Jesus slide
The second principle I hope we can agree on…
is that God revealed this love for humanity
in time and space… in the person of Jesus Christ
and because we’re his followers… we try to love our fellow human beings… just as Jesus loves us.

If we can accept these two principles…is it such a stretch to proclaim that in the end…one way or another
…God’s love will win the day?

And if we can’t agree on these principles…are we like the labourers in Jesus’ parable of the vineyard…who complain to the master…that the workers who arrived at the last hour
received… the same reward…as those who worked all day?

And will we ignore the master’s reply to their complaint?

slide words
Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last group as I give to you. Aren’t I allowed to do what I choose… with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity? So the last will be first, and the first last.[i]

blank slide
Like the complaining labourers…will we dress up our resentment…as a claim for justice?

Will we seek to limit the grace of God… saying,
‘What’s the point of my working so hard and so long
if God’s going to let the riffraff in… on equal terms?
It not fair!”

The third principle I hope we’ll acknowledge… is that yes
…Jesus did draw dividing lines… in his teaching
but his lines were always different than people expected.
And Jesus’ purpose for drawing these lines…
wasn’t to make his followers feel more comfortable
about… our place in God’s kingdom…but to challenge us
and… shake us… out of our complacency… [pause]

and call us to repentance…for all the things in our lives
that keep us from being a part
of God’s loving purposes for the world.

Throughout history…Christians have disagreed violently with each other… and with other religions…
about who’s in and who’s out of heaven and hell.
It’s easy to find a biblical passage where Jesus’ vision for “who’s in”… includes people like us
and excludes people…who aren’t like us…

but just the same…it’s easy to ignore other passages
that would… force us to change…
if we’re to be included in Jesus’ in-group.

Wanaka slide
Today… Paul’s vision of a loving God… revealed in Jesus Christ… still sounds like good news …that

Slide words
through him… God sought… to reconcile to himself
all things… whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Blank slide
If we’re serious about making passionate disciples of Jesus…we need to be extremely careful that what
we say in these debates… actually squares with what the Bible says Jesus taught… and did.

Yes some very famous Christians are calling Rob Bell a heretic for daring to suggest that love wins…so let’s see how he answers the charge of heresy.

[Reg please cut at 2:37 Last words: ‘I believe the world needs good news more than ever.’]

Wanaka slide
When the book hits our shores…I predict the controversy’s will get as hot in New Zealand…
as it has overseas…And regardless where we stand in the ensuing debate …my prayer is… that we’ll keep in mind the gospel principles we talked about today…

That God will reconcile all things to himself
and that this has been revealed in and by Jesus Christ.[ii]

And I pray we’ll remember Paul’s warning…
as he quotes the books of Job and Isaiah
to the Christian’s in Rome

Slide words
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and a knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths… beyond tracing out!

Slide words
Who’s known the mind of the Lord?
Or who’s been his counsellor?
Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?

Slide words
For from him and through him and for him…
are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.
Let us stand and pray together…

[i] Mt 20
[ii] I am grateful to Chris LaTondresse for his contribution to this debate and have drawn on his reflections.