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Why We’re Here

(A sermon for July 7, 2019, the 4th Sunday After Pentecost, based on Galatians 6:1-16)

(Note: An audio version of this message can be found here )

One of the things I’ve come to realize over the course of 35-plus years (!) in this work is that it’s pretty much a rare occasion when your identity is not wrapped up in being a minister!

Not that this is a problem for me; truly, I think you know that I love what I do, and that this calling to ministry is part and parcel of who I am!  That said, however, I must confess that there have been moments when I’d have just as soon remained anonymous: like when you’re all dirty and grubby and tired from having worked outside all day and you’re rushing to get to the post office before it closes, only to be met in line by a perfect stranger who recognizes you as a local pastor, and wants to know all about your church; or like up when you’ve been invited to a marshmallow roast with your child and you end up being cornered by two men from another church in another town who want you to settle a horrible dispute they’ve been having in their congregation about how much the organist should be paid (true story); and let’s not even talk about those well-meaning people who wish to pick your brain about end times, the virgin birth and where Cain got his wife… all while standing in the frozen food aisle (also a true story)!

I think I speak for a lot of my colleagues in ministry when I say to you that this is why we tend to keep a low profile while we’re on vacation!  And, I know, we’re not alone in this need for some selective anonymity: police officers, teachers, doctors and all kinds of people in the public eye all have the same experience. All I know is that being identified as a “clergy type” just sort of goes with the territory!

By the same token, however, I’ve also discovered over the years that while you may be able to take the boy out the church it’s hard to take the church out of the boy!   I remember a camping trip in the White Mountains with Lisa and the kids; and I’m walking my daughter Sarah – who was just “itty-bitty” at the time (!) – to the campground’s lavatory facilities.  It’s well after dark, so we’re walking our way down the road with our flashlights shining and out of nowhere comes this other little girl, not much older than Sarah, who had somehow gotten separated from her mother in the darkness and was now unsure of where she was and how to get back to her campsite.

With a shaky voice, she asked if she might please walk with us, because she’d gotten lost and now she was pretty scared.  Of course you can, I replied, and in my best Daddy voice, I told her, don’t worry, we’ll get you back to your Mom; after all, you know, it’s really easy to get turned around in the dark!  And that must have been all the assurance she needed because then the little girl opened up and told us her entire life story; probably sharing much more than her parents would want me to know!  But that was okay; because as far as that little girl was concerned we were old and trusted friends!  It ended up that since her mother was also busy looking, we managed to bring the two of them back together fairly easily.  A scared child was home again safe and sound, a mother’s panic was replaced by relief and gratitude, and in the process perfect strangers had become caring friends.

Now was this an “official” pastoral activity of great religious significance?  No… truth be told, that night I was probably in more of a “Daddy Mode” than in “Pastor Mode!”  But thinking back on it now, I realize that in the truest sense it was ministry; in this case, quite literally a ministry of love and light to the lost.  It was a small moment; but one in which faith and kindness came into play in a real and meaningful way.

Christian ministry is not so much a job as it is a vocation; a way of life and living and love.  In other words, if you’re a minister of Jesus Christ, you’re always on duty, whether you’re “on the job” or on vacation; or for that matter, even when you’re waiting in line at Market Basket!  But lest you think this only relates to those of us who work in the church or perhaps have an “Rev” in front of their names, understand that this applies to you as well; it applies to each one here because as Christians, ministry is a vocation that belongs to each one of us.  It’s a calling that touches all the other tasks that provide the ebb and flow of our daily lives, no matter what it is that we do in earning a living, raising our families, making choices and setting priorities for ourselves; ministry is involved in everything that you and I go through in our days so that it might be lived with some sense of dignity and integrity.

Actually, when you come down to it, it’s all about “reap[ing] whatever you sow” in the everyday of life, “…doing what is right… [and] work[ing] for the good of all.”  It’s about “bear[ing] one another’s burdens,” not as mere philosophy but as a way of living.  It’s about true forgiveness and the restoration of others “in a spirit of gentleness.”  It’s about viewing those around us not as strangers or mere acquaintances, but brothers and sisters to be loved and cared for in the same manner as Jesus Christ has loved us.  It’s about bringing ourselves to people who need to hear the good news of God’s kingdom; by our words, yes, but more essentially by the example of our very lives.

It’s true ministry; it’s what’s sometimes referred to in Christian theology as “the priesthood of all believers;” and, friends, it’s why we’re here.

In our text for this morning Paul is seeking to teach the Galatians, in essence, how they should act toward one another.  These new Christians at Galatia, you see, had a bent toward, shall we say, “scriptural correctness;” that is, they concerned themselves with staying wholly true to “the law of Christ,” almost to the point of becoming like the Pharisees.  In other words, they were devoted to doing everything right, spiritually speaking, but they were doing it arrogantly and without any kind of sympathy for others, and were isolating themselves from the rest of the world.  So the question here is, how much is too much?  When does staying true to the gospel and to God’s law – as important and essential as that is – get in the way of true faith and risk mocking God in the process?

What Paul seeks to remind them is that our Christian duty – our vocation, our job – is not just to ourselves but also to others.  We are called to bear one another’s burdens; we are supposed to help those who have gotten lost in regards to their lives and faith, so that we might gently lead them home.  And we’re to be generous with others; open and giving, without making everything we do an exercise in self-indulgence and false piety. You are to model your life in true adherence to God’s law: in the words of Sarah Henrich of Lutheran Seminary, you are to “do what is given you to do on behalf of your neighbor, as God on behalf of God’s people did what needed to be done for them.”  Because make no mistake, “God is not mocked.”  Or, as The Message says it, “No one makes a fool of God.” After all, says Paul, we do reap whatever we sow.  “What a person plants, he will harvest.” (The Message, again) “The person who plants selfishness, ignoring the needs of others – ignoring God! – harvests a crop of weeds.  All he’ll have to show for his life is weeds!”  But, Paul goes on to say, “the one who plants in response to God, letting God’s Spirit do the growth work in him, harvests a crop of real life, eternal life.”

And isn’t that what the kingdom is all about?  And isn’t that why we’re here?

The late Marshall McLuhan famously said that “the medium is the message.”  He was referring to the massive effect of media on our collective lives; how what we see on a television screen, or in the movies or in the papers ends up being what a great many people assume to be real about life, living and world (a theory, I dare say, that though posited in the 1960’s has never been more true than it is in 2019).  But may I suggest to you that’s it’s also true as regards the church and its mission… our mission.  Friends, we are called by Jesus himself to be about the business of God’s Kingdom; but if we truly want to do that, then we need to be living, acting and being as though that Kingdom has already come in its fullness; indeed, we are the medium that is the message!   We need to live a life that shows forth the truth that love is the only truly redemptive power; we have to order our priorities as persons and a people so that the others will not come to assume that the predominant culture is one of manipulation, violence and neglect.  If you and I are to proclaim Christ as the Lord of life, if we ever expect to change the world by Christ’s love, then we have to live unto the change that Christ has made in each of us!

Let me ask you something this morning: can you love your neighbor?  And I don’t mean in a greeting card kind of way, either; I mean can you really love your neighbor; are you able to do it?  Can you, for instance, love that person – and you know who they are – who just seems to go out of their way to be a thorn in your side?  Can you love that person who’s been very unkind; who’s been out there talking and telling lies about you behind your back? Can you love the one who’s hurt you, whose actions have made your life difficult?  Can you love the one with whom you disagree… vehemently?  Can you love them even when they haven’t loved you; can you love those who need that love the most?  Can you work “for the good of all?”

To quote Sarah Henrich once again, “Such a life needs graciousness, perseverance, a constant cheerful sowing, and a refusal to judge who is worthy of help and who not.”  And we should know that it’s most decidedly not easy. But if we hear what Paul is saying here (so emphatically, in fact, that Paul makes a point of writing it in large letters by his own hand!); if we know the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ, then we also know that this is the life that’s expected of us as his disciples, and we must “not grow weary in doing what is right.”

It’s why we’re here.

Sometimes you and I succumb to the temptation of believing that we can somehow compartmentalize our faith into a specific time and place; to keep it contained right here within these walls to be used only for a couple hours on a Sunday morning.  But that’s not the ministry to which we’re called by Christ; and it’s not where the Spirit leads us, which is out these doors and into our homes, our community and our world, proclaiming good news and working in every opportunity we have for the good of all.  We have this ministry in Christ’s name; and even now it’s unfolding in the times, the places and the people of our lives.

And who knows what may happen in our ministry, beloved?  Frederick Beuchner puts it this way:  “Who knows,” he wrote, “how the awareness of God’s love first hits people… some moment happens in your life that you say Yes to right up to the roots of your hair, that makes it worth having been born just to have happen… how about the person you know who as far as you can possibly tell has never had such a moment… the soreheads and slobs of the world, the ones the world has hopelessly crippled… maybe for that person the moment that has to happen is you.”

Beloved, let us never grow weary in doing what is right, for “at the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit.”  It’s why we’re here, and it’s the vocation, the ministry we share as believers and as the church of Jesus Christ.

May we be blessed in that ministry, and ever and always, may our thanks be to God.

AMEN and AMEN.

© 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

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After the Spirit

(a sermon for June 16, 2019, the 1st Sunday after Pentecost, based on Acts 2:42-47, 3:1-10)

“…and they lived happily ever after!”  And… Amen!

Now that’s how the story really ought to end, right (?); at least as it pertains to those first few verses of our text for this morning.  I mean, consider the “narrative arc,” if you will, of this part of the biblical story; think for a moment about everything that brought that group of twelve disciples from where they were – that is, as this rather motley assortment of fishermen, tax-collectors, and other assorted outsiders who’d left everything to follow Jesus – to what they are now, the Spirit-filled and Spirit-led Apostles in whom “many wonders and signs are being done,” and by whose proclamation of good news a new church is growing exponentially, to the point where once there were little more than a handful of believers and now – in a single day, no less (!), the day of Pentecost  – “about three thousand persons were added;” and as Luke goes on to tell us, “day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”

And it’s at this point in this sweeping narrative that Luke began in his gospel and now continues his “Book of Acts” that we’re given this incredible description of Christian community as it was truly lived out in the life of this new church.  We’re told that the believers were all gathered together and that everyone was filled with awe about all the signs and wonders they were witnessing; and along with worship and prayers and “devot[ing] themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship,” they also gave to one another as any had need, and – I love this part – “ate their food with glad and generous hearts.”  It’s worship, it’s fellowship, it’s compassion: from the very beginning these were the marks of the Christian life and to this day remain our model and the ideal of what the church of Jesus Christ is supposed to be.  Or, to put it another way, if I might quote Laura Truman of the Forum for Theological Exploration, “Oh my goodness, it is beautiful.   They are doing theology, they are living together, they are eating together, they are praying together – this is the kind of community that most church leaders would give their left foot for… This story of the beginning of the Church,” she writes, “is just glorious.  This is the Church alive.  This is the Church on the move.”

And so, do you see what I mean when I say that this might well be the place to end the story; that now we’re at the part of the gospel in which we can gaze upon this amazing new church – formed by Jesus Christ himself, crucified and risen, and gathered, led and empowered by his Holy Spirit – and know that from this point on, after everything those apostles had been through and more to the point, through what God had done in the person of the Christ (!) that they could indeed “live happily ever after.”  I mean, if I’m making a movie about this (I guess technically, given it’s about the apostles and their journey after the resurrection, it would be a sequel!), about the time the Spirit has come in all of its power and the believers are “praising God and having the goodwill of all the people,” it would be time to fade out and roll the credits; as I said before, that’s where the story ought to end, right?

Well, if we understand scripture, not to mention the mission of the church, the answer there would be… no.  In fact, it can well be said that “after the Spirit” is when the story begins anew; and in many ways, it’s the place where our story and truly, our mission as believers really comes into focus.

Actually, from a narrative point of view, it’s interesting to note that following this very grand and idealistic view of the beginnings of the Christian church, Luke in his telling of the story sort of pulls back a bit so to tell the story about how “one day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, about three o’clock.”  So, you see, already there’s a routine developing in the life of the church; and I don’t say that as a negative, nor am I in suggesting that the “wonders and signs” done by the apostles were in any way diminishing, because if you read on in the Book of Acts, you’ll know that this is not the case.  If anything, this “going up to the temple” every afternoon tells us that a discipline of prayer and worship was from the very beginning, as it continues to be, essential to the Christian life.

And so it is on this particular day, we have Peter and John on their way to the temple for afternoon prayer – for “prayer meeting,” The Message calls it – and as they pass through the gate of the temple known as the “Beautiful Gate” they encounter a man “crippled from birth,” [The Message] “asking for alms;” that is, begging passersby for any kind of handout they might we willing to offer him as one poor and needy.  Now, we don’t know much about this man: he’s not given a name nor is there much of a backstory about what’s brought him to this station of life; all we really can glean from the text is that being “lame from birth,” he’d been carried to this gate and placed there for the purpose of begging, and that apparently he’d been doing this for quite some time, because later on we find out that all the people who entered the temple by this so called “Beautiful Gate” had recognized this  man as one of “those people” who were always there on the fringes begging for whatever spare change anybody might give him.  And so likely what he was doing that afternoon was what he always did, which was with eyes to the ground and arms extended crying out… crying out again and again and again for alms… for money… for something, anything that might help.

But whereas most people going to temple that afternoon sought to ignore the beggar’s cries and probably did everything they could to avoid any encounter with him altogether, we’re told that Peter and John heard the man’s cries and stopped; but even more than merely stopping to hear the request, Luke tells us that “Peter looked intently at him, as did John,” and said to this beggar, “Look here…” “Look at us…”   which, as even you and I in these times, was a pretty radical response!   I remember years ago someone I went to school with describing to me of her experience one summer living and working in New York City.  Now, this girl was not only still pretty young, she was also from Maine; and her first instinct on the streets of Manhattan was to smile and say hello to everyone she passed on the street!  But, she explained, that exuberant spirit was short-lived, as very quickly her more streetwise co-worker informed her that the first rule of walking down along a New York City street was not to make eye contact; this, after all, is not Bangor, Maine!  And we understand that, don’t we; especially as it applies to those in this life and in this world that in all honesty we’d rather avoid: from that person across the aisle at the market who makes us feel uncomfortable to the one who’s standing there with the handwritten cardboard sign on the median of Fort Eddy Road; just keep your head down and keep moving, and there’s no problem.

Sadly, that’s too often our attitude, but not Peter and John; they look this beggar square in the eye and pretty much demand that he look back at them in just the same way; thus treating him and engaging him as a person… as the child of God that is rather than the nameless beggar that the world has always perceived him to be.  And then Peter says something very interesting: he says, in the very poetic language of the old King James Version of scripture, “Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.” (Or, if you’d prefer a more contemporary translation, how about this from The Message: “I don’t have a nickel to my name, but what I do have, I give you.”) Either way, Peter then reaches out to this man, this man crippled from birth, pulls him up (!) by his right hand, “and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong.”  So strong, in fact, that the beggar immediately starts leaping and dancing for joy; praising God for all he’s worth and, might I add, totally disrupting any semblance of a serious prayer time that afternoon and astonishing everybody who’d witnessed what happened to this now former beggar there at the Beautiful Gate!

This story from Acts serves to tell us that “after the Spirit” came on the Day of Pentecost and filled them up with its power, the disciples’ story begins anew; with their being called to and given the gift of healing in the name of Jesus.  And moreover, writes Craig Barnes, it’s also a reminder that ultimately, in a multitude of ways – not just physical, mind you, or even financial; but also in the emotional, relational, even spiritual sense – “we’re all beggars, and it’s only in the name of Jesus that we’re going to get back up on our feet again” and we, as believers, have the ability, the call, the power to proclaim that name “that gets people back up on their feet.”  But even beyond all that, friends, what this story proclaims is that all of us – you and me and everyone in this sanctuary, all of us who count ourselves as believers – do have this ministry of healing and of life in Jesus’ name.

After the Spirit, you see, there’s the church of Jesus Christ… and we are the church.

In the end, you see, it’s not about the almsgiving, though in Christian love and creativity, we do do that, and we should; reaching out to those in need, however that may happen, is always to be at the very center of our mission as believers.  But it’s not just about that; likewise, it’s not only about the acts of healing, though I know that there are many of us in this very room, myself included, who can tell the stories of how healing prayers and words and gestures and creative, Spirit-led, actions led to the healing of mind, body and spirit.  It’s not even about the miracle, per se: because, you know what, miracles are not always what they at first seem to be, or not to be; sometimes the miracle with that overwhelming sense of the holy in our midst; in that peace Jesus spoke of that the world can neither give nor take away.  In the end, it’s about this Spirit that all of us have been given and this ministry we share; this calling to be witnesses to all we’ve seen and heard and received, sometimes by what we say, but always by what we do.

And the thing is, we never know exactly how that might unfold until it happens:  we’re having this random conversation with a friends or a co-worker, maybe someone we hardly know, but suddenly they’re pouring out their pain and grief in all its intensity and suddenly the “small talk” has become something much deeper and wholly cathartic.  You’re running an errand or taking care of a long-dreaded chore, and all of a sudden you get this idea that what you’re doing in that moment could be helpful for somebody else whose pride has long prevented them from asking for any kind of assistance.  You’ve been wrestling with some sort of big decision in your life, and trying to weigh how what you’ll do changes things for you; but then you wake up in the dawn of a new day and you’re seeing that choice from a different point of view: maybe that of your children or your family or even how it might affect a hurting world.  Or, could be you’re sitting in this sanctuary this morning, you’ve been singing the songs, you’ve prayed the prayers, you’re wondering if the minister’s ever going to wrap this thing up (!) so you can go to lunch… and in that moment you’re inspired… moved, somehow, to call somebody to go to lunch after worship with you, and maybe then invite them to come to church next Sunday….

…who knows? 

Give alms to the poor; feed the hungry; clothe the naked; visit those in prison; love, cherish and nurture all of God’s children; be kind, for Jesus’ sake!  Just know, beloved, that however it takes shape and form this is our ministry, yours and mine together, and that God’s Spirit comes as we do what we do.  And it is in that ministry that beggars become leapers, and that miracles happen.

I hope and pray that now that Spirit has come, we will be bold to embrace its power to do God’s work in this place and time… always in the healing name of Jesus.

And in that holy name, may our thanks be to God.

Amen and AMEN!

© 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

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“And They’ll Know We Are Christians…”

(a sermon for May 19, 2019, the Fifth Sunday of Easter, based on John 13:31-35)

I first read about this a number of years ago, and apparently these days it’s a growing trend: several medical schools across the country are actually adding to its curriculum classes in something called “Medical Improv.”

What we’re talking about here are, in fact, acting classes in which medical students are taught theater arts and the skills necessary to improvise a scene; all this so that these new doctors might learn to  choose their words and gestures deliberately and have their interactions with patients become more empathetic, compassionate and thoughtful.  And furthermore, this according to an article in USA Today, “as accomplished actors, physicians who find themselves too swamped, stressed-out and suspicious to really feel any compassion for their patients can at least act like they care.”

Now, lest you think I’m simply picking on the medical profession, this article goes on to suggest that similar courses of study could easily be developed for all sorts of helping professions (I don’t know about you, but I can think of lot of occupations where this might apply!); jobs where the stress level is such that often the people in those occupations begin to distance themselves emotionally from the people they’re caring for, so often to the detriment of the care receiver.  In all seriousness, the hope is that by taking acting lessons these caregivers will be taught to respond as if they are emotionally connected to the people they’re helping; even if the best they can do at first is to simply to go through the motions.  Is it a case of, “Fake it till you make it?”  Maybe; but the idea is that perhaps, eventually, they’ll come to realize what they’ve been missing and genuinely feel the compassion and care that up till then they’ve only been acting out!

Actually, when you think about it, it’s not all that bad an idea; and I dare say it speaks to an issue far deeper than distracted physicians and grumpy tech support specialists!  The fact is, we are living in a world in which the predominant culture has become so busy, so fast-paced, so focused in the quest for achievement and yet so utterly impersonal in the effort that things like simple human compassion and care risks becoming displaced by the overwhelming nature of life and the drive to get things done!  Moreover, we often make decisions and set priorities – as persons and as a people – without any real concept of how our actions will affect others; we have let our differences of opinion not only divide us but weaponized us;  we have allowed the miracle of technology to become a poor substitute for true communication and as an excuse for not actually talking – or more to the point, listening – to one another; and we have sought to give our families the best of everything but in the process have neglected to teach them about the things in life that truly matter: honesty; integrity; respect for others, especially those who are different from us or with whom we disagree; and a clear sense of right and wrong.  In short, ours is a world where love is not always the operative choice; and make no mistake, what with all its own squabbles and divisions the church is not wholly immune to this, either.  Truly, what Jonathan Swift said back in 1711 sadly often still holds true today: “We have just enough religion to make us hate, but no enough to make us love one another.”

Understand, friends, that I say all this not to sound overly morose on a Sunday morning, but to suggest to you this morning that this idea of learning how to be “acting out the love” might well be in order, in the fervent hope that such love will take root in the darkest places of our lives so that it might grow and become genuine.  Indeed, given all that it’s up against in these times, the chance of true love prevailing might well seem unlikely; but then, that’s always been the nature of love, isn’t it: something good and positive and life-changing bursting forth in the face of the unknown. As someone has aptly said, “Genuine love always leaps before it looks.”

And friends, I think that this is what Jesus was talking about when he said to his disciples, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

It’s interesting to note that even though in the church we are very much still in the midst of our Eastertide celebration of the resurrection of Jesus, our text for this morning takes us back to that fateful night of betrayal and desertion, what we know as Maundy Thursday. So at this point in the passion story, Jesus has already spoken about the certainty of his death, he’s already foretold Judas’ betrayal and in an act of humble servitude he’s washed the disciples feet. The crucifixion is less than 24 hours away now, so in everything that Jesus says from here on out there’s this palpable sense of closure; particular in what he has to say to the ones who have been closest to him along the journey, his disciples.  And that’s understandable; after all, he’d been together with this group of twelve for nearly three years, and they would be the ones who would need to carry on after he was gone.  So not only were these essentially words of farewell, but as John relates the story it’s Jesus sharing just a few last words to them that could somehow communicate the wholeness of God’s plan. This goes on for a couple of chapters in John and is often referred to by Biblical scholars as the “Farewell Discourses,” but what’s interesting is that it begins with something very basic: that they should love one another!

Now, at least as they first heard it, this would have been a word very familiar to the disciples’ ears.  Even though Jesus referred to it as a “new” commandment, as faithful Jews the disciples already knew that the law came down to loving God and loving neighbor; as another teacher of Jesus’ time, Rabbi Hillel, had observed, “the rest was commentary.” So of course, Jesus; we should love one another.

But here’s the thing; Jesus wasn’t finished.  Jesus goes on to say, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”  And that was something altogether different. By adding this, Jesus was putting his disciples on notice that words of love alone won’t do the job; neither will simply and mindlessly adhering to some loose guidelines of fair play.  No… you are to love one another as I have loved you.  You’re to love with your whole heart; you’re to love with a firm commitment that translates to the way life is actually lived; you’re to love with action that is self-giving and self-sacrificial; you’re to love in ways that demonstrate healing and forgiveness and the utter willingness to offer up your own life if by doing so love will be demonstrated.

You are to love and to live… just like Jesus did.

And, friends… it still applies.  In fact, I would say to you that these four little verses in John’s gospel, almost incidental in their placement amidst the larger story of that fateful night, pretty much says everything we need to know about who we are as Christians and as the church.

What we need to remember from this text is that Jesus did not offer up these words as a casual suggestion, nor even as a credo attached to church membership; this was and is a true commandment for those who would follow Jesus.  As his disciples, we are expected to love one another as Jesus has loved us; truly, we are known as Jesus’ disciples by our love.  It’s not that we won’t fail in the endeavor; indeed, we have failed and we will again (as a cartoonist by the name of Jim Wetzstein has opined, it’s a “good thing that Jesus didn’t say, ‘I’ll love you the way you love one another.’ Because, man, then we’d be in trouble!”), but Jesus is clear that we can’t give up on the effort! What you and I do out of love, whatever we seek to do out of love – even when it falls short of the mark – ends up speaking volumes to the world about the one who has loved us, about Jesus Christ; our love brings Jesus Christ to a disconnected world.  Because love does not happen in a vacuum; just as we understand that a child cannot learn to be kind without having experienced kindness, the love of Jesus Christ is something that needs to be passed on from person to person, life to life, heart to heart.

But by the same token, in order to show this love of Jesus it follows that we need to have received it as our own.  And that’s why it’s crucial, especially in this world and life that has become increasingly disconnected from the kind of genuine love that finds its expression in true faith, that you and I be about the business of actively seeking out the kind of life that puts Christ at the center of it!  Do you remember the old story about the man who over the course of several years, worked to carve an elephant out of a big boulder in his front yard?  The neighbors kept asking him not only how he could possibly create something like that out of something as immovable and unchangeable as a rock, but also how he could keep at it for so long; and his answer was, “Well, I just chipped away at everything in that boulder that didn’t look like an elephant; and once that was gone, there it was!”

Well, likewise in a world where we’re literally surrounded and bombarded by that which would seek to pull us away from love and keep us from Christ’s presence in our lives, we need to keep chipping away at anything that doesn’t look like Jesus.  We need to get rid of the anger, and the hatred, and the prejudice and the envy that’ll fester in our hearts given the slightest opportunity; we need to let go of the old hurts, the past regrets and the lingering guilt that holds us back and keeps us from moving ahead with life; and we need to do away with anything in our lives that doesn’t look or feel like love. Because it’s only in doing that we can truly receive the love that Jesus has to give us, and thus be able to share it with the world.

“Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”  What an incredible thing it is to be known by our love; how wonderful to be recognized by all those around us as Christ’s true disciples because of our love.  And what a joy to belong to a community of faithful followers – the church itself – that is girded on such love. Love, you see, has the effect of transforming everything we do: in love, our children are instilled with a sense of well-being that they carry throughout the whole of their own lives and bring as a legacy to their own children and grandchildren; in love a spirit of true unity and acceptance grows where once there was division and exile; in love comes the awareness that every word, every deed, every decision made has the power to hurt or to heal, but that doesn’t matter because healing is the first and only priority.  In love, you and I are made true disciples of Jesus; can you imagine what could be done for Jesus’ sake? Can you envision what the world and our lives could be by God’s grace and by our love?

Well, I’m here to tell you this morning that it begins with… acting it out.  As I said before, it begins by loving and living… just like Jesus did.

What a shame that something as defining as faith we so often do by rote; how sad to find ourselves merely going through the motions.  The Christian life – our Christian life – is never meant to be anything less than our embracing of the whole power and wonder of life and living!  How horrible it would be to wake up in the morning and not say that “this is the day the Lord has made,” and not rejoice and be glad in it?  What a tragedy it would be for us not to seize that day for the sake of the Lord in loving one another as Jesus has loved us.

Friends, they will know we are Christians by our love.

Let us make sure that we show them who we are… by our love.

Thanks be to God.

AMEN and AMEN.

c. 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

 
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Posted by on May 19, 2019 in Church, Discipleship, Easter, Jesus, Love, Sermon

 

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