ETHOS: Family      2 Corinthians 13:11-14

I want to invite you to close your eyes and to pretend the year is 200.  You live around the Mediterranean; you’ve decided to follow the way of Jesus.  Against the advice of most of the people in your life, you’ve joined this sort of rogue, rag-tag band of the Jesus way followers.  It’s Sunday morning and before you go to work, you head to church.  You get your family ready, you walk through the dusty streets, and you enter into the “sanctuary,” which happens to be an apartment building.  You sit around with a number of other believers.  The Way is growing so the room is jammed packed.  You open with prayer and everybody starts to pray around you.  Then you move to the greeting time.  As you stand up, you look somebody else right in the eyes; they’re following the way of Jesus too.  You plant a big kiss right on their lips!  {Okay, open your eyes.}  So that’s pretty much the way that it went in the early church.  Can you believe this?  We might have an easier time recruiting greeters if we bring this back!

The early church was known for what they called the “kiss of peace.”  Tertullian, one of the early church fathers, wrote that everybody in the church participated in this custom.  Cyprian, another early church father, in 250, was exiled on an island, and here’s what he writes:  “There is nothing which could give me greater pleasure or more noble delight than at this moment to be kissing the lips of those who have confessed Jesus as Lord.”   The dude is probably starving, right? He hasn’t seen his family, and what he’s longing for is to kiss another follower of Jesus.  This is strange!  This is different!

You can say it was a different culture, we’ll get to that in just a moment, but regardless of what culture you are in, the act of a kiss is a personal, intimate display of affection from one person to another.  Especially if you’re planting a sloppy one right on their lips, as they were doing in the early church.  If you’ve ever watched “Married at First Sight,” the experts pair people together to have an arranged marriage.  There are people who are married for weeks before they actually ever kiss each other.  Some of the couples never do because it’s so intimate of an action.  For hundreds of years the church was practicing this as their norm.  We get together and one of the things we do is kiss.  They had this conviction that they were not just a congregation, they were a family.  We’re a new humanity.  We’re a new picture of what God is doing in the world, not just as unified, one singular believer, but as a group.  The most common metaphor that the Scriptures use for the church is “the household of God,” or the “family” of God.  This was one of the ways they signified their togetherness.

Now, it did come back to bite them a little bit.  Word spread about the church.  There were rumors in the first few centuries of the church.  One of them was that the church was full of cannibals, because they practiced the Eucharist.  They ate the body and blood of Christ.  So word spread that you don’t want to be a Christian, they’re cannibals.  The other thing that spread was that there was some sort of inappropriate sexual activity, specifically because they loved kissing each other so much.  Clement wrote, in the third century:  “There are some who make the assembly resound with nothing but their kisses.”  He called them “The Lavish Lip-Smackers.”  A lot is said about the church these days, but that’s not one of the things that’s said about us.

The church had this conviction that the way we interact with each other matters.  To drive it a little bit deeper, Paul would write this from 2 Corinthians 13:12 — Greet one another with a holy kiss.    Here was his conviction:  The gospel that we believe comes to life on the canvas of our community.  The gospel that we believe comes to life. . . .it becomes 3-D, it becomes hearable, touchable, feelable, tangible on the canvas of our community.  Followers of Jesus are called to be a peculiar people, to live uniquely in the way of love.  We’re a community of people who are deeply rooted in another world.  Paul envisioned his communities as these little audio-visual pictures that point to what he’s praying for for the rest of humanity.    What happens in the church, he would say, is his conviction, is his proof that Jesus walked out of the grave and that Jesus is Lord.  The picture of the church is his conviction about why people should believe that Jesus is the Messiah.

{Look up at me for just a moment.}  My intention is not to bring back the kiss.  {You can take a deep breath.}  We need to recapture what the kiss meant.  As we read through the Scriptures, there are certain things that are culturally grounded, and we can go okay, well, that doesn’t work in our culture anymore.  Agreed.  But what did the kiss mean?  What did it signify?  What was the communal piece that that action displayed so that their lives were a picture of the gospel?  Whatever THAT was, we need that back.  What I’d love to do today is just talk about what does that actually looked like and mean?  2 Corinthians 13.  This is Paul’s sort of last shout-out to this church.  He’s written an entire letter previous to 2 Corinthians, it’s called 1 Corinthians.  This is sort of his parting shot after correspondence, after years ministering to them, this is sort of the final thing that he says to the church at Corinth.  Verse 11 — Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice!  Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace.  And the God of love and peace will be with you.

The three things that I want to draw out are things that we say in church that make church work.  They’re also things we say in family that make family work.  They’re probably things you heard your mom say to you, at one point or another, or as a mother you’ve said.  They are the pillars that hold up every community that flourishes.  The first thing he says — Strive for full restoration.  When a follower of Jesus would look another follower of Jesus in the eye and kiss them, here’s what they were saying:  When things go wrong and we hurt each other unintentionally, or maybe when maliciously we do something eventually we wish we could take back, we are committed to making things right.  That’s what this kiss signified, that’s what this kiss meant.  The word ‘restored,’ in this passage is the word katartizó.  It literally means to fit back together.  It’s like you’re putting together a puzzle and pieces get dispersed all over and you’re putting it back together.  It’s a command.  It’s a command for two reasons.  One, Paul knows that his churches are going to need to practice restoration.  Because if you live in proximity with people long enough, they’re going to hurt you.  It’s part of our human journey together, isn’t it?  We’re imperfect; we can choose to live in discord or we can choose to pursue reconciliation.  Paul says we’ve got to pursue reconciliation.

The second reason he gives it as a command is we must choose it.   You think about all that was going on in the church at Corinth.  You can just flip through 1 Corinthians.  You can start in chapter one and read about the division that’s in the church. . .some people follow Apollos, others follow Christ, they’re all following different people.  You have somebody who’s sleeping with his step-mom. . . .sort of strange.  You have worship services that sort of look a little bit like a circus.  Paul’s going, we’ve got to bring this thing back together.  We’ve wronged each other, but we’ve got to practice this distinctly Christian ethic that says, “I forgive you.”  That’s what the kiss pictured.  When things go wrong, we’ll work through it.  OR, it’s having the courage to step out and say, “I’m sorry.”

I love the way Jesus paints this picture in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:23-24.  {By the way, we’re going to be studying the Sermon on the Mount this summer.  I cannot wait.  Spoiler alert, here’s one of the things he talks about.}  Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, {Quick timeout.  How many of you have been in worship, at some point in time, and God digs something up in your soul that you hadn’t thought about in weeks or months or maybe even years?  Yeah, that happens when we’re quiet, when we listen, when we posture our souls to say God, what are you doing here?  Sometimes a thought will come into your mind and you’ll go, I haven’t thought about that person in years.  Jesus says, when that happens, leave your gift. . .every pastor is like, leave your offering first, THEN go make things right.  Leave your gift there.  Because if things aren’t right on a horizontal level between you and the people around you, they’ll never be right between you and God.}  …leave your gift there in front of the altar.  First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

The standard in Christian relationships is not perfection, it’s restoration.  It’s when things go wrong, we commit to doing our best to make things right.  We aim to be a people here at South who are committed to both giving and receiving grace, and we’re going to be on both sides of that equation at some point, yes?   I just want to point out that when we talk about restoration it’s different from forgiveness.  Forgiveness is releasing the wrong that someone’s done to you and saying, “God, that’s yours and you get to deal with it however you see fit.”  Forgiveness takes one.  You can forgive without having any contact with the person who’s wronged you.  Restoration takes two.  That’s the hard part about restoration. Sometimes that other person just isn’t on the same page.  Maybe they can’t see how things have gone wrong, maybe they can’t see what they’ve done, or maybe they can’t….   A whole lot of things going on.  That’s why the Scriptures will say:  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, {That’s the only person you can control—yourself.}  live at peace with everyone. (Romans 12:18) 

In the course of this message, I want to share a few stories about us, because I see God creating a beautiful family.  One of the ways I see that is in this ‘I forgive you’ being displayed in our body.  Two weeks ago, I got a note from somebody within our church.  It was right after the message we gave on getting a white stone, some day, with a new name written on it, out of our Revelation series.  We handed out those white rocks and said to take a moment and ask Jesus if there’s anything that he would say over your life, if there’s a name he would give you.  Somebody in our congregation was holding this rock, and they wrote a note to me and said, “As I was holding that rock, I heard this name, ‘forgiver.'”  They said they had tried to make things right with their spouse a lot of times and it always made things worse.  They said, “As I held that stone, I just got that sense that Jesus wanted me to step out again, to be that forgiver.”  They said, “That action changed our marriage.  We’re closer and more unified than we have been in years.”  That’s the ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘I forgive you’ in action.  That’s the power of forgiveness.

Paul goes on and says this:  Strive {Fight for it!  As much as it depends on you, live at peace with all people.  So even as I told that story, maybe you’re going, oh yeah, there’s somebody I’ve got to make things right with.} for full restoration, {Then he says….} encourage one another.  As you would hold somebody’s face and kiss them, it was a commitment for you to say, “I’m for you.”  You couldn’t kiss somebody and stab them in the back at the same time, unless you’re Judas.  Most people can’t do that.  This word ‘encourage’ that Paul uses here, literally means ‘to call alongside of.’  We typically have in our mind a picture of an encourager as a soft teddy bear, right?  There that person that’s patting you on the back and telling you that you can do it, you’re amazing, you’re a snowflake, you’re unique, you’re awesome.  But that’s not what this Biblical word of encouragement means.  It means to call alongside of.  Encouragement is not for the weak, it’s not for the faint of heart.  It’s not for the unloving, certainly.  You have to have love, but you also have to have strength, to call forth the best in another person.  If you read through this letter alone, Paul encourages people to reaffirm their love for a wrong doer. (2:8)  He encourages people to be reconciled to God. (5:20)  He encourages people not to resist the grace of God. (6:1)  These are not patting on the back going, you’re amazing, you’re awesome, you can do it.  It’s calling them forth and calling them forward.  That’s what encouragement does.  Encouragement says, “I’m for you.”  I forgive you.  I’m for you.

I love the way the book of Hebrews paints this picture of this gathering that we get the chance to be a part of on a weekly basis.   Hebrews 10:24-25 — And let us consider {Like, let’s think about this.  Let’s give some mental energy towards this.}  how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds,  {Just a question:  How many of us, before we came through the doors this morning, thought, how can I spur someone on?  It’s the picture of somebody riding a horse and digging their heels in to say, “Come on!  Go, go, GO!” towards love and towards good deeds.} …not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—-and all the more as you see the Day approaching.  So the author of Hebrews goes, listen, the gathering of the saints, the gathering of the family of God, is not something that we should have to pray about whether or not we’re a part of.  It is ESSENTIAL to following the way of Jesus.  In large group gatherings, in small group gatherings, and everything in between.  You cannot be an isolated Christian.  It’s impossible.  Practicing the ‘one anothers’ in Scripture alone. . . .good luck!  You can’t do it.

Church is not an event that we attend.  It’s not a network that we’re a part of that we try to leverage for our own well-being and our own success.  No!  It’s as Desmond Tutu so powerfully said. . .I think this is a great picture of what the church embodies:  “We depend on each other in order for us to be fully who we are….   The African concept of Ubuntu says:  A person is a person through other persons.”  We become more fully who we are as we link arms and hearts together.

It’s interesting, as you read through the Scriptures, you get to Genesis 1 and you have this poetic language of God creating and it’s good, and it’s good, and it’s good, and then he steps back and he says, it’s VERY good.  Before anything else happens. . . .before sin enters the world, before this fracture happens because of Adam and Eve’s decision to go against the grain of God’s command for them. . .God looks at humanity and goes, you know what, in all the good I’ve created, you know what’s not good?  Is that man is alone.  Before sin, God goes, that’s not good. . . .so we don’t need each other because we’re broken, we need each other in order to be whole.  From the get-go!

A recent study showed that the same place in our brain that responds to emotional loneliness is the same place that responds to physical pain.  Your BODY feels loneliness.  It’s not just your heart, it’s not just your soul, it’s your physical body that feels loneliness.  We live in a world, don’t we, that’s as connected as it’s ever been, but people are more lonely than they’ve ever been.  In the flatness and globalization of the world that we live in now, you can be connected to a ton of different people, but it’s not solving our problem for loneliness.  Did you know that in Japan you can rent a friend?  You can.  We’re heading that direction.

What does this look like in the church?  Let me give you for things I think it looks like in the church.  I think it looks like an arm.  I think it looks like putting an arm around somebody.  I got an email a few months ago from Rhonda Nelson, who sings on our worship team.  She gave me permission to share this email with you.  She said:  “God has funny little ways of letting me know He hears and is near.  One being the latest worship night.  As we were worshipping, I was telling God how alone I feel sometimes, and asking Him to help me feel His nearness.  That was when Nicole walked up from where she was, quite a few rows back, and put her arm around me and stood and worshipped with me.  She later told me that God told her to come stand with me.”  That’s the picture of church, isn’t it?  It’s an arm.  There’s all sorts of ways that we do that, maybe it’s physical, others are metaphorical.  Every month, when you give to the Benevolence offering, we get the chance to bless people in our church body who are struggling financially.  One of the arms you put around somebody THIS month, was a young couple who was in between jobs and who could not make their rent payment on their apartment.  YOU got the chance to come alongside of them, to put an arm around them, and to pay their rent for a month.  That’s awesome!

Maybe it’s an arm or maybe it’s an ear.  Every Sunday you get the chance. . . .or maybe it’s midweek with your life group, or as you interact with people throughout the week. . . .you get the chance to ask questions that go just a little bit beneath the surface.  When people express just that hint of maybe things aren’t that great, you get the chance to follow up and you get the chance to be an ear.  To listen.  To care.

Maybe it’s a word, a word of encouragement.  Did you know that the Scriptures say that some of you are gifted by God to have words to give to other people.  I believe that we need to live into this a little bit more, you guys.  We need to sense the Spirit—some of you are gifted in this—to sense the Spirit’s prompting, to know, man, that person needs something from me.  Maybe it’s a little piece of encouragement, maybe it’s an arm around them, maybe it’s just some sort of way to display love.  But here’s the way Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:8 — To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit.  Some of you have this gift.  We need you to live into it, if we’re going to be the family that God’s calling us to be.

From others, maybe it’s an invite.  It’s an invite over to your house for lunch.  It’s an invite out after church.  It’s being a part of a meet-up, or dinners for 8.  An arm, an ear, a word, an invite.  These are all ways the church says, “I’m for you.”  I’m for you.

I don’t know what kind of home you grew up in.  Mother’s Day is one of those double-edged sword days for me.  I love to celebrate my wife, who’s a great mom, and I miss my mom dearly.  But as I think about the things I love most about my mom, it was some of those things.  An arm.  An ear.  A word.  And a life that was just ridiculously open.  The more I’ve interacted with moms, I think, moms, if I can say this with all gentleness and respect, you’re hard on yourselves.  Most of you are doing such a great job.  I ran across this video this week and I want to share it with you, because I think it paints this picture of the way moms are living out this DNA of “I’m for you” and sometimes you just don’t realize you’re doing it.  {Video showed mom’s saying how they thought they were as a mom.  All spoke mainly of their shortcomings and what they wished they could do better.  Then they watched videos of their kids saying what THEY thought of their moms:  Awesome.  Great.  My hero.  My heart.} The message of what your kids see in you and what you see in yourself, sometimes is a different story.  I just want you to know, whenever you live the “I’m for you” that gets down in them, and eventually it’ll come back out of them.  It may be decades before they come back and say ‘thank you,’ so hear it today.  Thank you.

Listen to the way Paul goes on:  Encourage one another, be of one mind.  The unique thing about the church, in this culture, was not that they practiced the kiss of greeting. This was actually wide-spread and widely practiced.  Here was the difference in the church.  In the church, everybody kissed everybody else.  In the prevailing culture, you only kissed an equal.  So a slave would never kiss a free person.  A free person would never kiss a slave.  Somebody who was on a different social status would never come together, but when you walked into the church, it was this declaration:  We’re all on equal footing here.  The ground is level at the foot of the cross and we are in this together.  Be of one mind.  It did not mean that they agreed on every little thing.  Praise the Lord!  It meant they agreed on the main thing.  Here’s the way Paul described the main thing:  Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.  In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. (Ephesians 2:19-21)

See, our anthem isn’t we’re all the same, that’s not the song we sing.  The goal of Christian community is not uniformity, it’s unity.  It’s for us to say there’s a ton of things that we have different, but the one thing we hold the same is enough to keep us together.  That one thing is Jesus!  We get the chance to say to each other, “I forgive you.”  We get the chance to say to each other, “I’m for you.”  We get the chance as a church family to say, “I’m with you.”  One of the things I love about South is that we have a wide range of people.  We have some people that are older and some people that are younger.  I thought, “What would our older generations want to say to our younger generations, and what would the younger generations want to say to the older generations?”  So I did just a little bit of asking.  Here’s some of the things the older generations said they’d love the younger generations to hear.  We want to be involved in your life.  We’re not going to force ourselves in, but we want to be a part.  We’ve sacrificed and we’ve given and one of our deepest longings is to see the way of Jesus continuing and moving forward. So if you’re a younger person in here today, I just want you to hear that that many of our wiser generation is saying, “We want to be a part of your life.”  Here’s what the younger generation would say to the older:  Don’t pigeonhole us as “millennials.”  We’re not all the same.  We have a desire to be relational, to be creative, to be resourceful, and we have a desire to make a genuine difference for good in our world. 

I started to think about the fact that we have people who are single.  We have people who are divorced.  We have people who are single-parents.  We have people who have physical challenges.  We have some people who have mental challenges.  We have people who are down to their last dollar.  We have some people that have plenty.  We have people who are walking in joy.  We have some people who are battling depression.  We have people who are gay.  We have people who are straight.  We have people who have been here for forever.  We have people who are probably here for their very first time.  I want you to hear me say, “You’re welcome here.  You’re welcome here.  You’re welcome here.  We’re in this together.”

One of the groups that is doing a great job of this is a group called “Sisterhood” that Sue Muckley started a number of years ago.  At the end of each semester, she has people share testimonies, so we get the chance to capture these, which is just awesome.  Here’s what one of her leaders said:  “I have seem women encourage, lift one another up in prayer.  Women pray for one another and follow up with that the next week.  Women are real in sharing their struggles and by doing so create an atmosphere of transparency and vulnerability in our groups.  Our groups are cross-generational which aids in encouraging.  For example, the anniversary of one woman’s loss of her daughter was not forgotten.  She received many words of support, flowers, texts, and prayers.  Another woman was prayer over and received a care package as she was journeying elsewhere.  Leadership is cared for and supported as well.”  To that I go “Yeah!”  That’s an “I’m with you” picture.  We could let our differences divide us, or we could let them create a beautiful mosaic of what God’s gospel is intended to be for his whole world.  I pray we choose the latter.

Listen to the way Paul ends this section.   All God’s people here send their greetings.  May the grace {Which sounds a little bit like “I forgive you.”} of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love {Which sounds a little bit like “I’m for you.”} of God, and the fellowship {Which sounds a little bit like “I’m with you.”} of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Cor. 13:13-14)   Isn’t that a beautiful triune picture of these three words—-I forgive you, I’m for you, and I’m with you?  When we live those out, we embody the God who came for us, out of love gave himself for us, and by his Spirit dwells with us.  When we live that out, we are, Paul says, being built together to become a dwelling place in which God, by his Spirit, lives. (Eph. 2:22)  That’s awesome!!  I love the way AJ Sherill put it:  “The church, in her essence, are those peculiar people {What is the church?  It’s a peculiar group of people.}  who conspire together with God for the world’s renewal.  The sum of the whole is greater than the parts.”

Before you go rushing out of here, I want to give you one piece of encouragement, to sort of drill down and ask what God may have you practice from this this week to live as family.  You’ve heard a lot of stories.  I’d encourage you, if you have stories about the way God is moving and working in your life, I just want to say, I want to hear them.  You can send them to [email protected]  I promise I won’t share them unless you give me permission.  But I want to hear them.  If God’s moving and working in your life, in a ministry you’re involved in, would you let me know?  [email protected]  Maybe you join a meet-up this summer:  golf, softball, play dates, etc.  All sorts of stuff.  Maybe you offer hospitality—you open your life and your home, maybe you host dinners for 8, you can come up with hundreds of ideas.  Maybe you lend an ear, or an arm, or a word, or an invite, and just as a side note, in case you missed it, you don’t need a church program to do that.

Would you stand with me as we close our time together. I’m not going to have you kiss the person next to you, but I am going to have you hold hands with them.  I want to read this once to you so you can hear it and sort of let it wash over you.  Then I want us to read it together.  As South Fellowship Church:  We will give and receive grace.  We will strive to be a community that comforts, encourages, and spurs each other on toward love and good deeds.  We will commit to walking with one another in the good and difficult seasons of life.  We purpose to live together as family.  And Jesus, may it be so.  May the grace of you, Jesus, may the love of you, Father, and may the fellowship of you, Spirit, unite us together as family, and may the way that we live be the canvas that we paint on to declare the goodness of the gospel that we believe.  It’s in your name, Jesus, we pray.  And all God’s people said. . . .Amen.