DETROIT — “It’s about voice and touch. It’s the connection of those two things. It’s all about the power of Jesus Christ to transform us, to change us, to change us in ways that we may never want.”
Those were the words Mark Labberton shared during Tuesday’s morning worship service of the 221st General Assembly at the Cobo Center.
Labberton, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, cited Matthew 7:24-30 when Jesus taught of building on a solid foundation. Labberton stressed the importance of accepting those who may be different from us.
He told a story of a successful, wealthy, powerful man who stopped by his office one day while he was pastoring in Berkley, Calif. The man asked if he could provide bulletin points about Jesus so he could talk with his wife when she started such a discussion over dinner. Labberton told the man he could not give bulletin points about Jesus, explaining that there was so much about His transforming power to share, and if he provided all that detail the main would have to reorder his own life.
“The thing about Jesus is He is a disrupter,” Labberton said, noting the power of Christ to cause changes in our relationships and a reordering of our circumstances.
“It’s not enough to simply love those who love you but those who don’t love you or those who may be your enemies,” he continued. “We really just prefer a God who welcomes the ones we welcome.”
But that is not Jesus’ message, Labberton explained.
“Jesus said it’s not whether you heard or affirm these words of Mine but whether you act on them,” he said. “Will you live what you profess and not simply profess it?”
He spoke of the concurrence, coherence and cohesion that distinguished Jesus from other teachers of His day, noting that the key to Christian leadership is the connection between voice and touch.
“What we say and do is one coherent whole,” he said. “The indictment against the church is a failure to do what the church professes. We say one thing but live very differently.
“We must build a house on rock if it is going to stand. Will you build your house on a rock or won’t you?”
Labberton went further to show that kind of foundation in relating to others by addressing Jesus’ healing of a leper and the faith shown by a Roman centurion found early in the eighth chapter of Matthew.
The leper told Jesus if He chose to do so, He could change (clean) him. Jesus’ response: “I do choose to remake (clean) you.”
“What do we do when we encounter those most stigmatized, rejected and poor?” Labberton asked. “Are you paying attention? Do you see what this kind of kingdom life is about? It’s an unexpected act of love, mercy and healing. That’s a convergence the world longs for.”
He then noted the faith expressed by the centurion, whose servant was paralyzed. Jesus asked if He needed to go to the servant, but the centurion, acting on great faith, simply asked Him to say the word needed to provide healing. Jesus spoke of that display of faith, saying, “Go. Let it be done just as you believed it would.”
“It’s the significance of a genuine offering of faith in heart and mind,” he offered.
Labberton said Jesus is calling us to a new life — a new vision, new righteousness, new goodness, new holiness — to build our houses on the rock rather than sand.
He used another example of a conversation he had with a young man trying to determine how he fit into the church The man asked, “If I hang out at your church long enough, will I meet people like Jesus?”
“If we affirm (Jesus’) love for the world, will we meet people like that or just hear about Him?” Labberton asked. “It’s about voice and touch. It’s the connection between the two.”
As he concluded his remarks, Labberton talked about excluding people who “bum us out.” That’s done by using caller ID on phones and unfriending people on Facebook. Jesus did not do that, instead calling all to Him, providing an example for the world to follow.
He shared a story of a beautiful woman on the side of the road that a passing motorist wanted to help. The motorist stopped and, upon closer view of the woman, found that she had some open wounds on her neck. The motorist handed her money as a gift. The woman replied that she had been praying for such help.
The motorist responded by saying, “God looks upon you, and you are God’s beloved. You are loved by God.”
“Where in this gathering will we be able to see and affirm that, though our differences in voting and the people we interact with?” Labberton asked. “We should not relate ourselves to a polity or a plan but to a life and a love.
“Are we going to exclude all those who ‘bum’ us out? Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all you who truly ‘bum’ me out, and I will give you my very life.’”