The Sunflower – Simon Wiesenthal

Before we jump into the sermon, I want to make an excellent book recommendation.

Simon Wiesenthal, was a survivor of the Nazi death camps, and dedicated his life to documenting the crimes of the Holocaust and to hunting down the perpetrators still at large.

He was also one of the biggest proponents of examining Forgiveness and Reconciliation.

In 1970, he retold a story of himself, being dragged into a hospital, to the deathbed of an SS officer. There, the man asked Simon, if he could forgive him. Unable to answer, and haunted by the memory for years, Simon wrote his account of the story in a book called The Sunflower, and asks the world for their opinion.

In the book, you can read the responses from 53 theologians, political leaders, writers, jurists, psychiatrists, human rights activists, Holocaust survivors, and victims of attempted genocides in Bosnia, Cambodia, China and Tibet.

I highly recommend getting this book as it has profoundly changed the way I look at forgiveness, healing and reconciliation.

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Mark 2:15-17, NLT

15 Later, Levi invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. (There were many people of this kind among Jesus’ followers.) 16 But when the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees[a] saw him eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with such scum?[b]” 17 When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”

This week, as we continue our series in Love, Acceptance and Forgiveness, we tackle Acceptance.

Chris Wessling said something last week during his sermon, that I found utterly profound. He said that while he was set to preach about Love, it was the one thing he felt singularly unqualified to speak about. Ironically, I find myself in the same place.

How many of us have felt like we didn’t belong somewhere? To quote Jackie Gleason from Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, how many of us have felt like “The world was a tuxedo…and you were a brown shoe?”

Growing up, I had VERY little self-esteem. I was the victim of abuse by a babysitter at the age of 4. One of the long-term consequences of the abuse was that I never felt good enough about myself.

I never felt that I would amount to anything.
I never thought I could be good as just me. I never thought anyone could love me.
I never thought that my life was worth anything.

These were all LIES that the abuser had put in my head. All lies that I told myself that were true. So, what does a kid with no self-esteem who bought into lie after lie, do to make himself feel worthy?

Tell more lies, of course.

I thought that by building up a wall of protection around myself – constructed by bricks of lies, that I would feel better. That I would feel important. That I would feel like I mattered and could be accepted.

But the truth is that I couldn’t accept me for me.

The world accepted me fine.
The church accepted me fine.
My family accepted me fine.
I didn’t accept myself.

It’s something that took years for me to realize and overcome. The biggest supporter: LOVE.

I found LOVE in my parents who welcomed me with open arms, and sacrificed a lot to make sure I was cared for.
I found LOVE in my friends who were still friends when the walls of lies came crumbling down – because they always saw right through them.
I found LOVE in my wife who will nudge me in the ribs when I fall into the trap of trying to 1-up someone with a story of my success.

Most of all, I found LOVE in the Father who first loved me.
I found LOVE in our savior, who as I look at his circle of friends, and people he hang out with – he’d probably want to hand out w/me.

If Jesus were to suddenly walk among us today where would we find Him? Would He be attending Sunday morning services, or the Friday night prayer meeting? Would he be sitting in a home group meeting or be holding mass in the city square?

Here’s a fact: Christ didn’t hang out in safe places.

Today – you would be more likely to find Jesus in a gay bar than at a church service. He’d probably be turning water into an Appeltini – but would be ministering to the people who need him most.

This might offend some people today – but it’s true. Jesus hung out with the people who needed him MOST.
Notice that the Pharisees were very displeased with the people Jesus would break bread with. The NLT version calls them “scum.” Even today, we’d probably find it more “righteous” to hang out with other Christians than non believers. “Fellowshipping with the saints” we’d say. But does that emulate how Christ built his church?
Let’s look at who Christ hung out with, who he called to serve:

Fishermen – I don’t know how many fishermen you know, but the ones I’ve had the chance to hang out with have been womanizers, drunks, and swore like sailors. A recent statistic I read stated that 1:3 professional fishermen deal with some form of addiction. If we’ve learned anything from the Deadliest Catch, is that addiction and alcoholism run rampant in the men who spend months at a time at sea. This includes half of the disciples.

Zealots – Were fanatical Jewish Nationalists who had heroic disregard for the suffering involved and the struggle for what they regarded as the purity of their faith. The Zealots were crazed with hatred for the Romans. It was this hate for Rome that destroyed the city of Jerusalem. Josephus says the Zealots were reckless persons, zealous in good practices and extravagant and reckless in the worst kind of actions. Today, we’re more likely to compare a zealot to the Klan. While they’re not killing people, they’re using force and intimidation to uphold a UBER strict interpretation their bible. Three Disciples were Zealots.

Tax Collectors – Tax collectors had been known to assess duty payable at impossible sums and then offer to lend the money to travelers at a high rate of interest. Today a good analogy would be that of a loan shark, standing at your front door to claim the funds lent to you at astronomically high interest rates – and you better hope to God that you have them. Here’s two more Disciples.

There were also:

Adulterers – the woman at the well, and her “husband” who wasn’t her husband
Prostitutes – Mary Magdalene
Murders – Even after his death, he appeared to Paul, who at the time was a Roman soldier bent on persecuting anyone who wasn’t Roman.

The fact is that regardless of what you’ve done – of what you feel about yourself and your self-worth – CHRIST ACCEPTS YOU.

No, Christ didn’t hang out where it was safe. He went to the edge of where the body of believers would think it was “safe,” stepped across that line, and then took another 40 steps! He went so far past that line to show us that nobody is exempt from the Father’s love. Nobody is unworthy. Nobody “looked” like his people. Instead everyone was “his people.”

There’s a brother at the local coffee shop that I set up at every week. His name is David and his body is adorned with Tattoos, giant hoop earrings and dreadlocks. Looking at him from a distance, you might think he was a lost cause.

He’s accepted by the father, too.

Engage him in conversation, look closely at his tattoos, and you’d hear the story of a warrior being built up by the Father. His tattoos tell the stories of God’s love. His ears are open to receive the spirit’s nudging. He and I had a conversation a while ago where he mentioned how someone challenged him about his ink, citing the “bodies are temples” reference.

Look around your church, your temple, your tabernacle. Don’t we decorate our walls with pictures, stories and images of the bible? Visual representations of God’s love? Hasn’t he done the same?

Even while preparing for my sermon, I went to the Redwood City library to use their quite reading room. Ironically, the only table available was right in the middle of the romance section – where I had a seat that was eye to nipple with Fabio’s chiseled physique.

Yes, Jesus Christ hung out with sinners. And yes, He hung out with those who were doing wrong in their life. However, we must understand why. Jesus Christ was NOT hanging out with these people because He preferred them to the righteous. He was NOT hanging out with them because He enjoyed sinful behaviors. He was NOT hanging out with them because He wanted to be exposed to wickedness.

Don’t get me wrong; the fellowship of the saints is a wonderful and beautiful thing. Jesus found fellowship in very deep way with His disciples. Yet Jesus gave us a mission to go and make disciples.

Matthew 28: 18-20
18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations,[a] baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Most people ignore the last line – He’s STILL hanging out with us! And if he’s still hanging out with us, shouldn’t we want to hang out with one another? Shouldn’t we want to hang out with everyone he wants to call?

I was talking to a some about our church a year ago, and you know what he told me: I love [our church] because it’s full of weirdos like me!

He Welcomes Us

On Friday – I was bored at work. Didn’t have much to do except a bunch of expense reports – so….Facebook calls. While I was surfing, I came across a video that someone had shared showing a New Zealand/West Australian wedding. And it was one of the most amazing displays of acceptance that I have ever seen.

I wanted to share it with you today:

Powerful right? The first time I saw it I was moved to tears.

Haka like this were originally performed by warriors before a battle, proclaiming their strength and prowess in order to intimidate the opposition. Haka are also performed for various reasons: for welcoming distinguished guests, weddings, funerals or to acknowledge great achievements.

So, why show this today? Because the I imaging that this is how we’re accepted by the Father. It’s how we’re welcomed into his family.

He sends his saints and angels to intimidate the opposition and take that yoke of being unworthy off our backs.
He sends his family to Welcome us in strength, providing immediate community of His people.
He sends his passion to inspire us to want to sit with him, to enjoy his presence and want to share it.
He sends his love to embrace us, to know that we’re beyond accepted, but that we always have been.
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I want us to meditate on something.

The moral of this Haka are translated to this: “Look inside yourself, for there you will find the integrity that will lead you out of your troubles.”

Do you feel unworthy?
Unaccepted?
Feel like you don’t belong?

I say, look inside yourself and see that you’ve always been worthy, regardless of where you came from, what you’ve done or what you’re going to do. Look inside yourself and feel the spirit of unworthiness lift, and the spirit of adoption give you rest.

Look up and see that he’s standing there with his warriors to intimidate those lies away.
He’s standing there to welcome you with His strength.
He’s there to light a passionate flame that burns with Love.
Most of all, he’s there to embrace you.

And be sure of this: He is with you always, even to the end of the age.

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