The Separation of Church and Hate | Patterns

[This is the sermon text from my 10/25/2020 message from Avenue United Methodist Church. You can listen to the sermon here or watch the worship service here.]

My childhood best friend had a wood shop on his property. It had every kind of wood working power tool that you could imagine in the shop. The shop was immaculate, too. We would sleep in the wood shop when I would spend the night in the winter time. His dad had someone that worked for them, doing carpentry projects around the house. You would look around the shop and find pieces of wood that had the word PAT on them. There was no one named Pat at the house, so I asked what it meant. PAT meant that the piece of wood was the pattern that was being used to make other pieces so they would be the same. The pattern ensured uniformity.

The challenge for us, as Christians, is what pattern are we following?

The late British Pastor, John Stott tells the story of visiting India where he heard of a young Hindu girl raise in a strict Hindu family who had come across some Christians. Someone asked her what she thought a Christian was. She thought for a few moments and replied, “A Christian is someone who lives differently than the rest.”

A Christian is someone who lives differently than the rest.

We are in the second week of our series, The Separation of Church and Hate. We are naming the polarization that is in our society and even in our church and looking at how we are called to live differently as followers of Christ. Nowhere is that more evident, in this moment, than in politics with the election just over a week away. Even as followers of Jesus, we have been content to replicate the pattern of the world when it comes to our politics. Some of us cannot speak to other family member or friends because of the polarization this election has caused. We cancel anyone who thinks differently than us. We’ve traded our Kingdom-based identity for a world-based identity in order to achieve world-based ends.

The Church, over the years has failed here because our political parties have done a better job of discipling us than the church has done. We’ve made our political identity greater than our identity as citizens of the Kingdom of God. Sure, we’ll say our Kingdom Identity, our identity as Christians, is primary but our lives tell another story. If we find that we spend more time in the echo chambers of MSNBC or FOXNews than we do in studying the scriptures, in prayer, in times of worship, and in serving our neighbors, then it is likely that our politics are more important than our citizenship in the Kingdom. If our belief system and worldview reflect the Republican or Democratic platform rather than reflecting the Kingdom of God, we’ve traded our Kingdom identity for an identity grounded in the world.

A Christian is someone who lives differently than the rest of the world. Trading in our Kingdom-identity for a world-based identity is the essence of conforming to the patterns of the world.

In Romans, Paul has addressed the mind several times and how apart from the work of the Spirit our mind is sinful. Apart from God we have a pattern of putting our own interest first at the expense of others. In Chapter 12, Paul encourages followers of Jesus to “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. This is your true and proper worship.” Notice that true and proper worship is not attending worship once a week- true and proper worship is when we make the decision to give our bodies- our lives- to God. True worship is how we live out our everyday routine, mundane, and normal lives. Our lives are patterned after the decisions and the choices we make every moment of every day. We are the sum total of the choices we make.

There is a worldly pattern that is self-centered, that sets us above those we deem to be less than us, and invites us to see other people as enemies. The wordly pattern tells us to step on and over people on our way to the top. The worldly pattern is that I am the most important person in the universe. Paul writes

“Do not conform to the patterns of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

The way that we avoid conforming to the pattern of the world is to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. This is why it is so important to consider the voices we allow in our lives. If the media we consume is encouraging a world-based kingdom, we will begin to pattern our lives in pursuit of that kingdom.

While it sounds so very trite in Church, this is why we must have a growing understanding of the Bible, of time in prayer, in worship, and in our service in the world. We need to create space for the Holy Spirit to shape us and to direct our lives- that space needs to be greater than the space that we give the talking heads on TV or the internet. The Holy Spirit renews our minds making a way for us to test and approve of God’s will.

A Renewed Mind Leads to a New Way of Living

As we think about the patterns of the world and allowing the Spirit to renew our minds, a renewed mind will lead to a new way of living. A renewed mind will enable us to ‘live differently than the rest of the world.’ Paul covers three ways (at least) that a renewed mind enables us to live differently

A Renewed Minds Leads to Renewed Thinking

Paul writes that we are to be “renewed by the transforming of our minds.” Renewing our minds will naturally lead to renewed thinking. When we eliminate the garbage that we place in our minds and replace it with the things of God, we give room for the Spirit to renew and reshape our mind. This will lead to, as we see in verse 3, thinking of ourselves with sober judgement. Rather than thinking of ourselves, our tribe, our beliefs, or our actions are better than others, we will have a renewed sense of humility that enables us to respect and live empathetically towards others.

A Renewed Mind Leads to Renewed Relationships

When we are able to live out humility in our lives we are able to have a renewed relationships. In Chapter 12, Paul reminds us that we are part of the Body of Christ and that every person in every role is important. We belong to each other. Too often, in the American Church, we downplay the role of community and our responsibility to the Body in exchange for personal salvation and personal faith. In the New Testament, faith in Jesus is always experienced and expressed in community. We are better together.

Think about Jesus’ disciples with me. There was a group of them, Peter, James, and John to start with, who were fishermen. They probably had a lot in common. But then, there was Levi the taxcollector. He was a Jew working for the occupying oppressor and living off of scamming his fellow Jews. Then, there was Simon the Zealot. While you can be zealous in a lot of things, by the time of Jesus- a Zealot was a group of anti-Roman revolutionary faction who believed God was calling them to extract divine judgment on Rome. They were out for a holy war. In today’s world- Simon the Zealot was a Religious Extremist- a terrorist. Then there is Judas Iscariot who stole from the group treasury and betrayed Jesus. Common fisherman, a hated taxcollector, a terrorist, and a crook. Ultimately, that is a picture of the church. It’s not homogenous. It is diverse and messy.

When it comes to a difference of opinions, we cannot cancel someone out because we disagree with them. Each person and each gift is necessary for the body. Christians should be the last group to practice the cancel culture because God has yet to cancel us when we fall short. Because we have received grace from God, we are to give grace abundantly to those in our midst. This changes and renews our relationships.

A Renewed Mind Leads to Renewed Love

Lastly, a renewed mind leads to renewed love. Last week, we talked about loving our enemies and Paul continues to give us encouragement on how to love our brothers and sisters in the church and those who would be our enemies. In verses 9-21, Paul comes at us with rapid fire exhortations about how we are to put love in action.

  • Devoted to one another in love
  • Joyful in hope; patient in affliction, faithful in prayer
  • Practice hospitality- important- caring for strangers
  • Bless those who persecute you
  • Rejoice and mourn- we are to be empathetic towards others
  • Live in harmony
  • Don’t let your pride prevent you from associating with people in low positions (Humility was not a normal attitude in Greco-Roman world)
  • Do not repay evil with evil
  • Do everything you can to live in peace with one another (this would include social media post)
  • If you enemy is hungry, feed them. Thirsty? Give them something to drink.
  • Overcome evil with good.

Don’t we need more of this in our church and the world? Devoted to one another? Joyful? Patient? Humble? Seeking to live in peace? Loving our enemy? Refusing to meet evil with evil? If we are living like this, we are living with our Kingdom Identity. When we live with a renewed mind, we will be building bridges in a world that has become more separated and polarized.

In the ways in which we live with in the world, we must be careful to live out the patterns that we see in Jesus and in Scripture. Regular patterns of loving our neighbor and our enemies; extending grace to those around us; forgiving those who wrong us; caring for the poor; seeking justice for those who have been treated unjustly; proclaiming the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. These patterns not only renew our lives, but they transform our communities as well. The life of a Christian should look different than the rest of the world. Who or what is your life patterned after?

About Steve LaMotte

Husband of Andrea and father of four amazing children. Pastor at Avenue United Methodist Church in Milford, Delaware.
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