THE GOD OF APATHY – 4

Do you feel alone… like God doesn’t care?

TEASER: The truth of the matter is, for those of us who call ourselves “Christ Followers”, one of the big reasons why there are so many people out there who feel alone, who don’t feel like God is an EMPATHETIC GOD… is because WE HAVE FAILED.

Pastor Dan Borgelt
Kirkmont Presbyterian Church
Beavercreek, Ohio
http://www.kirkmont.com/index.html

Pastor Dan’s wife Amanda sang “I Am Not Alone” introducing his sermon. For a treat, watch the Kari Jobe video

Sermon AUDIO – Listen along as you read TRANSCRIPTION BELOW:

I AM NOT ALONE – Lyric Video Link:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I2oel0_Xa54

“I Am Not Alone” LYRICS:
When I walk through deep waters
I know that You will be with me
When I’m standing in the fire
I will not be overcome
Through the valley of the shadow
I will not fear

I am not alone
I am not alone
You will go before me
You will never leave me

In the midst of deep sorrow
I see Your light is breaking through
The dark of night will not overtake me
I am pressing into You
Lord, You fight my every battle
And I will not fear

You amaze me
Redeem me
You call me as Your own

You’re my strength
You’re my defender
You’re my refuge in the storm
Through these trials
You’ve always been faithful
You bring healing to my soul

– – – – – – – – —

Giving the Character of God a Second Chance: The God of APATHY

Pastor Dan:
“When we came across the lyrics to that song we thought that would be a good fit for our sermon series… we’re talking about the subject THE GOD OF APATHY.  In particular, that line, “I am not alone”; but let me ask you, IS THAT REALLY TRUE?  I mean because sometimes it REALLY FEELS like we are.

Here we are in the sermon series, looking at the idea of TAKE TWO: GIVING THE CHARACTER OF GOD A SECOND CHANCE. And we looked at the God of ANGER, and the God of JUDGMENT, the God of VIOLENCE and now today we come to the GOD OF APATHY.

Some synonyms for apathy are: INDIFFERENCE, UNCONCERN, and BOREDOM.  The first 3 weeks in our series we looked at these characteristics of God of anger, and of judgment, and of violence, and we didn’t try to explain away the idea that God ever gets angry or judges or was ever violent at all; but we tried to show you that God is righteous when He is those things… so that He is righteous in his anger, righteous in his judgment, righteous in his violence.

So I started down the same path with APATHY and I had a difficult time trying to explain to you how God could be righteous in His apathy… trying to say, “God is indifferent about you, He’s unconcerned about you, He’s bored with your life but it’s in a righteous way”.

So we’re gonna have to do something a little different this morning; instead of trying to show you how God is righteously apathetic, instead I want to present to you is that God’s characteristic is the EXACT OPPOSITE of apathy.

And the best word I could come up with as the opposite of apathy is the word EMPATHY… and synonyms for that word: UNDERSTANDING, SYMPATHY, COMPASSION… and I like this one, FELLOW FEELING. So does God care, are we ever alone, is He apathetic, is He indifferent and unconcerned and bored with your life? Or is He EMPATHETIC, is He understanding, sympathetic, compassionate and have fellow feeling toward you?

Well to answer that question I thought it would be good for us to turn to the Book of Matthew together today; the Book of Matthew Chapter 8, starting in the first verse; Matthew 8 verses 1 through 4. If you happen to have a Bible with you, or if you wanna open up a Pew Bible we’d love to have you turn with us to the Book of Matthew, the first book in the New Testament; if not, the Scripture will be on the screen, as always, Matthew chapter 8 starting in the first verse.

Now some passages of Scripture require us to read a long lengthy passage of Scripture and out of necessity leave less time for us to talk and explain; but this is one of those passages of Scripture where it’s just a few verses, but there’s SO MUCH that one can unpack from these few verses. And so here we are, we’re gonna read just the first couple of verses to get started. Here’s what the Scripture tells us, Matthew 8, verses 1 and 2,

When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”

This is one of those passages where if we’re reading on our own we often just read right over the passage, we don’t think much of what we just read, we just sort of keep going because the word “leprosy” really doesn’t create a lot of emotion; not a lot of pictures come to mind when think of the word ‘leprosy’ in our culture.

But I want to take the time to dive into what the life of a person who had leprosy would have looked like. Let’s take the time to be EMPATHETIC towards this man.

The definition of the word “leprosy”; here’s a description of what leprosy would’ve been like for someone back in this time. It says this,

“Leprosy, a variety of skin diseases may have been termed leprosy, but the dominant form was Hanson’s Disease… a disfiguring bacterial infection that attacks the skin and nerves often resulting in loss of feeling and muscle control.

Loss of feeling can lead to infection and decay from unnoticed injury; while loss of muscle control can lead to atrophy and even paralysis.  

In advanced stages the rotting flesh can literally crumble off the extremities and even the face. This living death was greatly feared and served as a graphic picture of sin. Touching the leper made one ceremonially unclean.

I just want you to imagine what it would’ve been like for a person who had that.  The Scripture tells us it’s a man; he’s recognized by the Jewish culture as an adult male of some kind; which meant in all likelihood he was probably married and in all likelihood a good chance that he also had children as well.

Let’s just go down that road, we don’t know for sure. But what that means, at some point in time, this man began to see the early signs of leprosy… and what do we do when we see the early signs of sickness… we ignore them, right?  And so he probably saw some early signs; of course we don’t want to face that reality… we don’t want to imagine, “what if?”

But eventually the signs became something that he couldn’t ignore; perhaps he washed his hands and whenever he washed his hands it would create a pool of blood of some kind; and he started to notice what was happening to his skin in an undeniable way.

And the thing with leprosy is… by the time you embrace the reality that you have leprosy it’s too late for a proper goodbye. It’s too late to go up to your wife and give her a hug and a kiss and say “I’ve gotta leave”.  It’s too late to go up to your children and hug them and embrace them and say “Daddy has to go away.”

See, as a person with leprosy he would’ve been forced to be exiled… he was sort of quarantined as an unclean person and forced to live away from the rest of society.  He wasn’t allowed to just live in another building on the property and see his family from a distance… this was a highly contagious, deadly disease that society did not want people like him mixed with the rest of clean people. So he then was forced to say goodbye to them in some sort of distant way KNOWING that they would never have a normal relationship with each other again.

And to go off and to live, for all practical purposes, ALONE, except for the company of other lonely lepers as well… without shelter, without someone providing for him and caring for him… forced to beg for any of his provision; no work, no employment of any kind.

When he did go into town he would’ve been forced to wear around him some type of bell which he rang aloud declaring himself unclean so that people knew to stay away from him.

Now you think WE have outcasts in our society… could you imagine that?

This is the type of circumstance that this person has experienced. WHO KNOWS HOW LONG IT’S BEEN SINCE SOMEONE HAS TOUCHED HIM… DAYS, WEEKS, MONTHS… maybe YEARS at this point, we don’t know. But here he is, a leper, and he comes up to Jesus and he makes a statement and asks the question sort of in one… “You can make me clean… are you willing to do that?” is basically what he says.

I just want you to imagine how the mood might have shifted from LOUD CHAOS to utter silence.  I could just imagine as he’s making his way towards Jesus and the rest of civilization what some of the other lepers were saying to him, trying to persuade him to do otherwise… “are you crazy, what are you doing, do you know what they are going to do to you?” .. ya know, ‘this isn’t gonna work”.

And as he got closer, this crowd of people following Jesus, the Scripture tells us was there; how many efforts they must have made to keep this unclean person away from their rabbi, their teacher. And the chaos… until he breaks into that chaos and says, “Lord, if you’re willing, I know that you can make me clean.”

And then the utter silence….

What is Jesus going to do in this moment?  I cannot imagine the anticipation. There are a few times when I read the New Testament, and I imagine not only silence in that time, but SILENCE IN THE HEAVENS AS WELL.  And I can picture Abraham, Isaac and Jacob looking down and going silent… and the angels in heaven looking down and going silent.

How will our Savior–the Rescuer handle a moment like this?  What will He do with that which is untouchable?  And the Scripture says this is what happens, in verses 3 and 4.

Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cured of his leprosy.  Then Jesus said to him, “See that you don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”
Jesus heals this man and in doing so He gives him his LIFE BACK… I’d like to imagine He gives him his WIFE BACK.

How many of you saw the film, CASTAWAY with Tom Hanks? …anyone seen that movie.. the 3 hour movie that has about an hour of no talking of any kind. Tom Hanks is just a castaway on an island. And I think he’s married, or got a serious girlfriend whom he loved and who loves him and he’s castaway for so long he’s presumed to be dead.

And then he comes back… at that moment you’re so happy.. you watch this movie, it’s a happy ending and you’re excited, you’ve invested a good 3 hours of your life; and then he comes back and he finds out that the woman has moved on, and she’s married to someone else.

And it becomes the MOST depressing movie that you’ve ever seen, and (LAUGHTER)… I mean I’m just sort of reading between the lines…. but I refuse to interpret this passage that way, I refuse to imagine that THAT was what happened to the leper… right? … I’ve got an alternate ending here for him.

But he gets his life back, he embraced with his wife, he embraced with his kids, his dignity, his job, EVERYTHING IS TOTALLY TRANSFORMED ABOUT HIM.

Now let me ask you, as you look at verse 3, HOW DO YOU THINK THAT JESUS HEALED THIS MAN…. by what means… was it by TOUCHING or was it by SPEAKING as you read verse 3?  (pause).

I think the Scripture’s quite clear… it’s what Jesus SAID, “BE CLEAN”. He did not need to touch the man, did he, to heal him.  Did Jesus HAVE TO touch him to heal him? Was He incapable of healing him without touching him?

In fact if you’re wondering about this, it’s a point that Matthew makes very clear in the next story that he includes when Jesus heals the Centurion’s servant at a DISTANCE… in the very next section of Scripture that’s exactly what happens; the Centurion says, ‘I have a servant, they’re ready to die’, Jesus says, ‘I’ll go there’, the Centurion says, ‘You don’t need to go there, You can just say the Word, it’ll happen.’  Jesus says, “That’s pretty good faith man, that’s exactly what I’ll do’. And He heals him at a distance, just by the mere SPOKEN WORD of Jesus Christ.

He doesn’t need to touch this man, but it does raise the question, WHY DOES HE TOUCH then?

Why touch the untouchable if He could’ve just said, “BE CLEAN”?

I think we see in this passage the FULL EXTENT OF JESUS’ EMPATHY… to take the time in this moment, to care enough, to see into someone’s circumstances to know the story BEHIND this person and say they haven’t been touched… they’ve been denied a BASIC HUMAN NEED… and that is TOUCH. And He reaches out and does just that.

Now we might be left thinking, “Well that’s great, but this is a sermon series about the character of God, not the character of Jesus… right?  BUT… Matthew is also making a point there as well. You see, Jesus has just finished making THE MOST famous sermon that’s ever been preached … The Sermon on the Mount.  He said all kinds of really cool things in there that people in the church and people outside of the church are still quoting 2000 years later.

But just to be clear.. that Jesus isn’t just some kind of prophet, that Jesus isn’t just some kind of wise teacher.. right.. he then moves right into this section and shows you that He has the power and the ability over the human body, the very thing that God Himself created.   And not only does He have the authority over the human body which God created, but He has the authority over the human body in the same way that God created.

When God created, what did He do… He merely SPOKE the world into existence: “LET THERE BE LIGHT, LET THERE BE PEOPLE, LET THERE BE ANIMALS”… he spoke it and by the power of His Words speaking it, it came into existence.

And so now he’s setting up Jesus in that light and showing us we are not observing a mere prophet or messenger of God… but this is indeed The Emmanuel … God among us… God himself is here in this passage.

This is not the empathy of just a man named Jesus who lived 2000 years ago; this is the empathy of the Creator of the heavens and the earth.

GOD IS EMPATHETIC

In Hebrews Chapter 4, verse 15 the Scripture tells us this,
“For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way… just as we are, yet was without sin.”

Maybe you feel most alone in your temptation, in your weakness, in your failure when you sin; and the Scripture is telling, “You’re not alone then… you have a God who can empathize with you”.

Scripture also tells us in 1st Peter 5, verse 7 this,
“Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.”

Maybe you feel most alone when you’re anxious.  The Scripture’s telling us, “you’re not”.. that we have a God whom we can cast all of that anxiety on to.

In Psalm 121:3 the Scripture tells us this,
He will not let your foot slip; He who watches over you will not slumber.

Maybe you feel most alone when you have decisions to make and you need guidance and direction or provision; and the Scripture’s telling us, ‘You’re not alone then either… He cares for us in that moment’.

GOD IS A GOD OF EMPATHY

Some of you might say, ‘Well, it doesn’t seem like it; it doesn’t FEEL like it.. I so often find myself FEELING like I am alone. Well friends, there are times when our feelings ought to dictate our beliefs.. I get that. In fact I’m a Christian today, not because of my convictions, I’m not saying my convictions don’t line up with my Christian faith, but because of what happened when I first accepted Jesus Christ into my life.

When I first prayed to accept Christ into my life, I had an undeniable reality that something had happened inside of me… I couldn’t explain it, couldn’t understand it, but I knew that God had begun a work in me and something was different.

AND THAT IS ACTUALLY A FEELING which drives and helps shape many of my convictions and beliefs.

But there ARE times when it should be the OPPOSITE way… when our beliefs and our convictions should shape the way that we feel. And when we study the Scripture, and we hear the truth of the Scripture telling us WE ARE NOT ALONE… that God is a God of empathy… it ought to shape the way we feel when we’re alone… and when we FEEL alone… because we know the reality and the truth of the Scripture.

***
And the truth of the matter is, for those of us who call ourselves “Christ Followers”, one of the big reasons why there are so many people out there who feel alone, who don’t feel like God is an EMPATHETIC GOD… is because WE HAVE FAILED.

You see there are some aspects of God’s character that demand we become LESS of that.  For example, a couple weeks ago we talked about the JUDGMENT of God.  And that aspect of God’s character allows us to be less judgmental.

The Scripture/God is basically saying, “Look, I’ve got judgment in my hands, you can be less judgmental. But there are some aspects of God’s character that demand that we are MORE like that, and this is one of those.

The EMPATHY OF GOD demands that you and I are empathetic towards other people. Friends, empathy is one of those aspects of God’s character that is most often ONLY going to be seen when we the church express it on God’s behalf to other people.

I mean, the PRIMARY WAY that most people become convinced that God cares for them is after someone from the Church has cared for them first.

God’s empathy… it invites, it demands that we the Church show empathy to the world around us, and communicate to them that the reason we are showing them empathy and care is because we serve a God who loves them and cares for them as well.

– – – – – –

Is empathy something that you could really use help with? Are you like me, and when you look at the news you see the situation in Nepal and the earthquake that’s devastated so many people there… and you think to yourself, “my heart should break more than it really is”.

[TRANSCRIBER’S NOTE: The above statement is an example of this man’s uniqueness and why we love him so. He not only makes the complex simple; he not only joins us in the journey “are you like me”… but he has a way of seeing things from OUR perspective, putting it into Word Pictures and helping us see the point Scripture is making].

Are you like me and you need help in the area of empathy?  When you look at what’s happening in Baltimore, are you caught up in who’s blaming who and what political side is going to come out on top as a result of this… or… as a follower of Jesus Christ are you able to say, “I’m empathetic toward [inaudible [00:19:04] … I want this whole situation and circumstance to be better.

How about your daily life… for some of you maybe the only area that God wants you to start improving on is with your spouse.  You have a husband or wife who desperately needs you to start showing them EMPATHY… to start showing them that you care about the circumstances in their life… children who might need the same thing from you…  and people at your workplace, people at work who may need that.

Just imagine how we might transform our community if we all walked and went to work with the idea that we are going to be a BEACON OF LIGHT, as far as empathy, in the world around us.

[Transcriber Note:  “Buckle your seatbelt”]

Ya know… this subject is so personal for me… because it was through the EMPATHY of someone ELSE that I first became convinced that God cared about me.  When I was younger, some of you know I didn’t grow up in the church and my family life was just sort of BROKEN I guess… for lack of a better terms; broken to the point where my parents separated  in 5th grade because there was a bunch of abuse in the household.

And then my parents got back together and then eventually they divorced when I was in High School and my older sisters were already out of the house. So when I was in high school I would spend 2 weeks with my mom, then I’d pack up my stuff and go to my dad’s house for 2 weeks, and 2 weeks with my mom, 2 weeks with my dad… some of you, you know the routine.

And, ah… through all this sort of brokenness I was just locking horns with my father… just big time; and we had several nights in a row where we were fighting, and I left the house and I didn’t come back till late; and one night it happened again; and like the 3rd or 4th night in a row and I tried to leave the house and he wouldn’t let me… and ah… so I threatened to call the police on him… and ah, he said, “Well go ahead”, and so I called the police on him and the police showed up and I said, “Well I wanna leave and my dad won’t let me”.

So you can imagine who they sided with, as far as that goes (LAUGHTER).. ahh.. they left, and we can kind of laugh about it now, but at the time it was just the final straw for me… and it just sort of broke me… and it left me feeling completely helpless without any way out….

So I went upstairs to my bedroom and I had a 22 rifle that my father had given me… and I got that out of closet and I sat down at the edge of my bed and I put the rifle down on the ground in such a way that the butt of the gun was on the floor and the barrel I rested my chin on… and I just sort of sat there crying and weeping and praying and all these types of things… and

I remember saying something to the extent of “GOD, IF YOU’RE REALLY THERE… if you really do care this would be a great time to show up”… ya know… and ah..

KNOCK KNOCK ON THE DOOR…
You see my sister and her boyfriend had observed the whole thing downstairs in the living room and he got up, walked upstairs, knocked on the door, came in the room, sat beside me on the bed; he put one arm around me, used the other hand to take the gun… and started talking.. I don’t remember what he said, it didn’t really matter truthfully… HE WAS JUST THERE.

And it was in that moment that God answered that prayer, “… if you care this would be a great time to show up”.. because we learn and most people will learn that God cares for them for the first time BY ONE OF US caring for them.

And I think what that must have meant for this young man who was in college, to get up, right in front of my father to go upstairs, to come into my room, to sit… HE HAD HIS OWN ISSUES, he had his own problems in his life.. and to be there in such an intimate way with me.

Ya know, EMPATHY often TAKES US OUT OF OUR COMFORT ZONE. Oftentimes, not always, but oftentimes if we’re going to be a people that shows the world the EMPATHY OF GOD it’s gonna take us out of our comfort zone.

There’s a lot of excuses… that’s one of them… another of course really popular one would be, “I’VE GOT MY OWN PROBLEMS”… yeah…

I think about JESUS ON THE CROSS… and the thief that was next to Him saying, “Remember me today when You’re in Paradise”… and just how differently the Gospel would read if Jesus would’ve said.. “I’M REALLY SORRY, BUT I GOT MY OWN PROBLEMS RIGHT NOW”.

Ya know, the greatest act of empathy is right here at the Table [communion] as I’m speaking of the Cross… the ability of God to look at us, to see our broken human condition, to see our incredible need for Him… our desperate need for a Savior, for someone to rescue us… and to come in the PERSON OF HIS SON JESUS … AND DO JUST THAT.

– – – – – – – —

Link to all Pastor Dan’s Sermons:
http://www.kirkmont.com/sermons.htm

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