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You Belong: The Acceptance Paradox - Sermon #01

You Belong: The Acceptance Paradox - Sermon #01

Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor • September 17, 2017 • Rev. Donnell T. Wyche, Senior Pastor


We're so glad you are here with us this morning. We're grateful for you and the gifts of God that you bring with you into this space this morning. As we gather together as a church, we do so in the active presence of God through our worship, community, and engagement with scripture, which we hope will lead to transformational growth in our everyday life. As a congregation we want to experience belonging, cultivate tangible joy, activate hope, and know comfort as we learn to trust Jesus more and more, enabling us to reflect the welcome and peace of Jesus to those closest to us. We pray that whether this is your first time with us this morning, or you've been a part of our community for a while, that you will feel the invitation of the Holy Spirit to join in with our vision.

This morning, we are launching a new sermon series called, "You Belong." To kick-off today's sermon, I would like to share this video with you.

You Belong Video

Danyelle Reynolds - 2 minutes 14 seconds

A Unique Church

As a Jesus-centered, Bible-believing, Gospel-oriented, evangelical church, it can be hard for some to locate us on the "Christian Church Continuum." People often struggle to pinpoint us based on their prior church experience, if they have any. I think this is best summarized by a recent guest at church who said that she had received a postcard inviting her to church. After receiving the card and then looking us up on the web, she decided to check us out. I asked her what she thought and she said, "It was different." But she was quick to note that this wasn't a bad thing; she liked the celebration. As I have continued to meet with folks, I've had to interpret things that they say to me like, "I like your sermons because you always tell the truth." Initially, I didn't know what to do with this compliment. Finally, it occurred to me that what I was being complimented on is something I think best explains our church we believe in the slow and steady process of transformation. We are vulnerable and transparent. We try to give away what we have received, and finally, we try to be honest.

We don't want to over-speak for God.

We recognize that we don't know it all.

We are willing to learn from others.

We are open, not only to God, but to the Holy Spirit's work of transformation in our daily lives.

We are centered-set in our approach to God.

We follow a master who is alive and on the move, unfolding his Kingdom of God in our midst, requiring a great deal of flexibility.

We are willing to stand with people, not over or against them.

We are willing to trust God for his ability to transform lives and hearts, even if that transformation is incremental and takes a lifetime to unfold.

So, when we encounter folks, we don't assume we know what's immediately best for them, other than our belief that our best life is a life lived in relationship with Jesus and in community with his people. True to form, relationships are messy, which makes our attempt at church a little messy too. We will get lots of things right, and simultaneously, we will get lots of things wrong. The only challenge for us is that we won't immediately know whether what we are doing is right or wrong.

But, I Just To Want Fit In

Many of us spend our entire lives trying, while often failing, to earn acceptance from others. We want acceptance from our parents, family, friends, partners in life, and people we respect as well as those we envy. When we think about it, the drive to be accepted is at the core of who we are and becomes a significant motivator for much of what we do. Our desire for acceptance influences almost every aspect of our lives including, how we order and structure our lives, determining the clothes we wear, the friends we have, the job we have, and most importantly, the stories we tell about ourselves to ourself and others.

King Solomon writing in the wisdom writings notes this as a core identity issue for us in Proverbs 19:22a,

22 What a person desires is unfailing love; better to be poor than a liar.

"I just want to fit in," the fifth grader pleads to her parents over the dinner table. Shocked, her parents look at each other confused. What now? What do we say? Her parents love their daughter, they want the best for her. They know that fitting in isn't what she really wants. She really just wants to belong. She wants to be herself, and know that she is accepted and loved. She wants what we all want.

Accepted and Called to Change

Here's the deal: God loves us, God welcomes us, God accepts us, and at the same time God invites us to die to the ways that we participate in the rebellion–the ways that we attempt to live life without God.

This is the tension that we operate in as a church community, we are both accepted AND we are called to transformation. When we hear that we are accepted and called to transformation, this feels like a paradox. How can I be accepted and called to change at the same time Either I am fully accepted or I'm not. It cannot be "both and." And yet this is exactly what we see in the ministry of Jesus.

When Jesus encounters someone in the New Testament, there's a consistent pattern, welcome and acceptance, and an invitation to change. His acceptance never meant complete approval of them or their behavior, with his welcome and acceptance there was always an invitation to consider that he had a better way for them to live their lives. You see this in the call of the disciples, in the lives of major characters like Zacchaeus, The Rich Young Ruler, the Mary and Martha the sisters of Lazarus. In every encounter, Jesus has something to offer.

Carl Jung argued that "a paradox is one of our most valued spiritual possessions and a great witness to the truth."

But we dislike paradoxes, so we will try to immediately resolve the tension they create. We may do this by weakening or strengthening one side of the paradox. We will say things like since we are loved and accepted by God there's no need to ever change. Or that God doesn't accept us, in fact God hates and everything about us and will only love us when we change. Of course, I'm painting with a broad brush here, but we often rush to resolve the tension, instead of letting it invite us into a deeper connection and relationship with God.

Is it possible that the paradox of acceptance exists because until we are able to know that we are truly loved, welcomed, and accepted, we will never be able to truly change?

Here's the truth, God through Jesus has already accepted you.

Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me. (Psalms 27:10).

Do you believe it?

Therefore, accept each other in the same way that Christ accepted you. He did this to bring glory to God (Romans 15:7 GWT).

Is it possible that acceptance is the first step of our transformation?

4Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? (Romans 2:4)

Think of it this way: we start by realizing that we are accepted by God, this allows us to enter a relationship with God, which allows God to speak to us about who we are, or better yet, who we think we are, all of which can lead us to believe something different and more powerful about ourselves–that we aren't who we think we are. Maybe we are accepted first because this gives God an opportunity to present and offer us a new way forward: there's no need to live by the fruits of the rebellion: we don't have to cheat, lie, steal in order to survive, instead, we can learn to trust and surrender to God's love, care, and provision for us, which frees us to live as we were intended to be, image-bearers reflecting the king who created us.

Those Who Love Their Life Will Lose It

Here's the other side of the acceptance paradox: we are also called to transformation. While I am accepted, I cannot enter the kingdom of God if I stay where I am. It's a process, an unfolding, and it starts with our repentance.

17"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." (Matthew 4:17)

We have to repent of what we have previously believed, received, or inherited. We must be born again. We do this by dying consider what Jesus says in Luke 9:23-25:

Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for you to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit your very self? (Luke 9:23-25)

Jesus is inviting us to die, in order to come alive. Dying daily to the effects of our participation in the rebellion against God – the anger, fear, lust, pride, greed, envy, and apathy that robs us of life. Coming alive to the fruits of the spirit, the gift of the Kingdom: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Friends, this starts with our repentance, which leads to our transformation.

This is Real Tension

And there it is, our paradox: On the one hand, we are accepted by God, and on the other hand, we called to be transformed by daily dying to our "false self," which starts with our repentance.

As we press into this paradox, we do something radical. We create space for belonging, for ourselves, and others. We declare a truth over ourselves and those who are near to us, that we belong to God, that we belong to each other, and we belong to the world. But we have to be willing to hold the tension that creating space for belonging creates. We have to die to ourselves, we have to die to the Empire, and we have to trust the power and presence of the Holy Spirit to hold us together as we press into God's love, acceptance, and call to transformation.

Let me say that doing this is really hard, but I totally think it's worth doing. The main marker here is how we will deal with the tension. We are a church community that's willing to exist in tension, whether that tension expresses itself in how we welcome, enfold, and pastor those who are sexual minorities, members of the LGBTQIA community. Or how we grow our unity as a racially, ethnically, socially, and economically diverse community. Or how we answer our call to social justice. Or our approach to, understanding of, and application of the holy scriptures in our lives, to our stuff, to who we are.

It can tempting to build a community that avoids living within this tension, by ignoring those we disagree with, gathering only with those who are just like us, who think just like us, and who see the world just like us, who look like us. Here's the thing, we think by doing this we are creating belonging, the only problem is the social scientists tell us that what we actually create is "ideological bunkers" centered in our "common enemy hatred" which give rise to nationalism, racism, and religious bigotry. But wait, there's more, these ideological bunkers we create for belonging, actually make us, lonely.

Friends, this isn't Jesus. This isn't the picture of the kingdom of the God that is reveal in scripture. Jesus is when lifted up gathers all people and is inviting us, his church to be a community that reflects his sense of belonging by being a place where all people are love, welcomed, and accepted while simultaneously being called to transformation.

This is what it means for you to belong.

Practical Tips

For our practical tips, I want to continue to encourage us to practice gratitude by keeping a gratitude journal. Dr. Andrew Tidball suggested that we end the day by noting three things we are grateful for, which is a form of the examen prayer.

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