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Category Archives: Epistles

A Question of Attitude

(a sermon for January 21, 2018, the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany, based on Philippians 4:4-9)

I should begin here by confessing to you that the moment I sat down this week to begin writing this sermon, this very next sentence immediately caused me to “flash back” to a time when my children were much younger than they are now:

“I want to have a talk with you this morning about your attitude!” 

Believe me, I know how that sounds!  Granted, like most parents, I did have that conversation with my children back in the day; with the boys at some point when they were teenagers, and with my daughter, actually, when she was about five years old and imitating some obnoxious character from a cartoon show!  But I don’t want to give the impression that I’m giving you that kind of a lecture, because I’m really not; and besides, I don’t want you to be “rolling your eyes” at me the way my kids sometimes did back then!

That understood, however, I would like to talk with you this morning about… our attitude!  Because certainly attitude is a crucial issue for every one of us, most especially as adults; and moreover, because attitude plays into just about every aspect of our lives.  Health care workers, for instance, tell us again and again that whether we’re dealing with something as serious as a catastrophic illness or recovering from surgery or whether it’s something relatively simple as trying to adopt a healthier lifestyle, having a poor attitude about these things can only make a difficult situation that much worse; while a more positive attitude might well contribute mightily to faster healing and making things better overall!  And we’re not just talking physical health, either:  a good attitude cannot help but have a positive effect on your day, your week, your work productivity, your family atmosphere and the state of your relationships with others.  By the same token a negative, “gloom and doom” attitude has a way of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy; in other words, expect the worst in things, or in people, and that’s pretty much what you’re going to get!  Simply put, a proper attitude is of utmost importance!

Chuck Swindoll actually expresses this very well: he says that “the longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life.  Attitude,” he says, “is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, [or] than what other people think or say I do… we cannot change the past.  We cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way.  We cannot change the inevitable.  The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced,” Swindoll goes on to say, “that life is 10% of what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it.”

I like that; and believe me, friends, when I say to you this morning that this is especially true as it applies to the spiritual life.  For you see, there are a whole lot of spiritual people out there who seem to be far more negative in their attitudes than positive!  These are people – ostensibly people of faith, mind you – who are more about what’s wrong with the world and people than what’s right; who are more willing to talk about everything they’re against and can’t approve of, than what it is (and who it is) that they truly stand for; whose very words and actions would just seem to betray that which they come and sing about every Sunday morning at church!

Truth be told, there’s a real cynicism that can be seen in a great many Christians today.  Now, I don’t know if it’s world-weariness, the by-product of  all the conflict and divisive rhetoric that surrounds us these days; if it’s about the kind of worldly culture that has long sought to pull us away from Christianity; or if it’s just what happens when you begin to feel like you’ve been living your own life in some constant state of fear and anxiety: but there are those who have let themselves get so caught up in an attitude of negativity that I have to wonder if they can even hear what Paul has proclaimed in scripture reading this morning, much less receive it:  Rejoice, he says.  “Rejoice in the Lord always.  Again I will say, Rejoice.”

That particular verse from Philippians stands among the most upbeat, positive affirmations in the Epistles, if not all of scripture; certainly one of the most familiar to our ears.  It’s also, by the way, one of those verses that’s pointed to by those who would make the claim that faith in general and the Bible in particular have no real basis in reality! But I would suggest to you that such an attitude (there’s that word again!) represents a major misunderstanding of scripture, and one proof of this comes from Paul himself.

You see, by the time he wrote this letter to the church in Philippi, Paul had been in prison, probably in Rome and in miserable conditions, for upwards of two years; and, by the way, quite literally shackled to an endless series of Roman palace guards, waiting at some point to “stand trial” before Nero (in fact, here’s a not-so-fun fact: such was the cruelty of this imprisonment that the Romans would change guards every four hours, so that no one guard could ever begin to sympathize with Paul and perhaps be inclined to show him mercy).

So here’s Paul, facing a dismal future that would almost certainly include his execution at the hands of Nero himself; and yet, still, Paul is able to say “I rejoice in the Lord greatly;” (4:10) and what’s more, he’s able to say these Philippian Christians, and to you and me, you also rejoice!  “Let your gentleness be known to everyone.  The Lord is near.”  As The Message translates this, “Don’t fret or worry.  Instead of worrying, pray.  Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns.  [And] before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down.  It’s wonderful,” Paul concludes, “what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.”  It seems incredible that Paul could maintain such a positive attitude and rejoice in the midst of all of that he was suffering, but in the end, you see, it was not a shallow idealism that was guiding him; it was optimism fueled by his relationship with God in Jesus Christ.

Of course, we need to understand here that there is a huge difference between idealism and optimism.  To be filled with idealism is to live unto the notion that everything is wonderful in life, that things will always go well, and that nothing in the world can ever truly be wrong; you know, “all’s for the best in the best of all possible worlds.”  And don’t get me wrong, idealism is fine to a certain extent; it’s idealism that inspires hope and dreams, and it’s what moves people to higher vistas in their lives; but ultimately, idealism can also be unrealistic, given the world as it is.  The truth is that those who live wholly unto idealism and who carry on as though everything is always sweetness and light are bound to come crashing down to life’s harsh realities; and that cannot help but do damage to the spiritual life.  The theologian Reinhold Niebuhr said it well: “Idealism is a greater threat to faith than [even] despair.”  It’s no coincidence that some of the most negative people you’ll ever meet in this life are “burned out” idealists.

Optimism, however, is something different: optimism, at least as it is understood biblically, is ultimate hope.  An optimist knows that life is going to be rough; understands that stuff can be bad and that sometimes we’re going to get hurt, but also knows that good things can and will come through in the end.  A good analogy, I think, is to say that an optimist is something like a marathon runner:  he or she knows that the race is hard, that running may well tax every bit of residual strength they have, and wait… just when you think the race is over, “Heartbreak Hill” is dead ahead!  But the optimist’s attitude is, it’s going to hurt, yes, but I will win this race!

By the same token, Biblical optimism is the attitude of accepting difficulty, but expecting victory.  It is to be looking for God’s hand at work in every situation – the good, the bad and the ugly – and to know that God’s strength and hope pervades any suffering and struggle we face; it is to live expectantly unto what God will be doing in and through our lives; and it is to purposefully live with a positive attitude in a negative world, facing the day with the kind of confidence that comes in knowing that whatever else comes down, we will be able to find the wherewithal to do as Christ himself inspires and leads, including rejoicing in the darkness of a prison cell!

And no, in times such as these, it’s neither an automatic nor easy process to adopt that kind of an attitude, but it’s within such a positive, spiritual stance that we are able to truly embrace the kind of unending hope and redeeming joy that each one of us longs for in this life. Rene Schlaepfer, a pastor and writer out of California, makes the point that while many in the world view positive people as naïve and shallow, “as someone has said, ‘cynicism is just intellectual laziness.’  It doesn’t take any character to be negative,” he says; “it doesn’t take creativity to be negative about [the things] you see… it doesn’t take any deep spiritual maturity to be upset [about everything]… it takes perspective to be positive; it takes wisdom to be positive; you have to be spirit-filled to be positive.”  It takes work, friends; but in the good news that is ours in Jesus, and “in the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding,” by grace we are given that which we need to weather the storms and challenges of this life; so that we might truly “rejoice in the Lord always” as we do.

And I don’t know about you, friends, but I want to rejoice in the Lord, and in life… I need to rejoice in it! I do not believe that life should be something that is merely endured and trodden through; I believe that life, most especially as a Christian, is to be an exciting and joyous experience; that every moment of it, be that moment joyful or sorrowful, should be filled with dynamic power.  Beloved, as believers, we are being called to live lives that are thrilling to behold, exciting to watch, ennobling, enkindling, enabling, and enthusiastic. Because of faith, who we are and what we do in life ought to have a vibrancy about it that’s unmistakable; and let me also say that it can, and it will, make a difference in the world!

But how that happens, and if that happens… in many ways, it’s a question of attitude; yours and mine.

The late Mike Yaconelli, in his book, Dangerous Wonder, writes beautifully of how the Christian life can accurately be compared to a roller coaster ride; but not one of the newer rollercoasters where they strap you in and but bars around your shoulders; rather one of the old fashioned ones where you sat on a bench with only one skinny metal pipe in front of you!  In other words, “suddenly you are strapped in and you think, I’m going to die!  Then you begin the long climb up the track of [spiritual] growth… and you think, Hey, no problem, I can follow Jesus anywhere, and then – ZOOOOOOM (!) – you crash into the twists and turns of life, jerking left then right, up then down, and fifty, sixty years go by and – WHAM! – you’re dead.”   But, writes Yaconelli, “if I died right now, even though I would love to live longer, I could say from the depth of my soul, ‘What a ride!’”

The Christian life, he says, “is the breathtaking, thrill-filled, bone-rattling ride of a lifetime where every moment matters and all you can do is hang on for life dear… most people believe that following Jesus is all about living right. Not true.  Following Jesus is all about living fully.”  And to live fully means to take the ride… and to do it with joy, and spirit, and optimism along every turn.

I think that’s what Paul was saying to the Philippians, and us, when he said, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable… think about these things,” and, most importantly, keep doing those things.

It’s all a question of attitude, you know.  May our life’s faithfulness be of such an attitude that one day, we also might be able to say with great satisfaction, “what a ride that was!”  What a ride!

Thanks be to God!

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2018  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

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Posted by on January 21, 2018 in Epiphany, Epistles, Faith, Life, Paul, Sermon

 

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What We Are, What We Will Be

(a sermon for November 5, 2017, the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost, based on 1 John 3:1-3)

I remember his words as though it was yesterday:  “I realize,” he said, “that a lot of people look at me and think I’m nothing but a loser; and I know I’m considered by some to be the black sheep of the family.”

This sad but painfully honest assessment of things came in the midst of a late night phone conversation a number of years ago with an old friend of mine from high school (this guy was always calling me in the middle of the night!); and though, as that old friend and as that old friend who happened to be a pastor (!), I immediately sought to assure him that neither God nor the people who loved him thought of him that way, truth be told I understood what he was talking about.

For you see, though my friend was a good and fun-loving guy, and one who was always determined to put his best foot forward no matter what, he’d also had a very rough life, starting with the father who walked out on him when he was a little boy and continuing on from there.  Even as an adult it always seemed as though trouble and heartache were following close behind him at every junction of life.  Several failed marriages combined with some often bitter custody issues with his kids, moving around from place to place trying to eke out a living while dealing with a long series of medical problems that cost him a great many jobs over the years: this kind of thing just seemed to go on and on with him.  And yes, to be fair, some of the problems were of his own making, or at least were complicated by some very bad choices made along the way; in fact, it could probably be safely asserted that for most of his life, this man was “a day late and a dollar short,” in every sense of the expression!  And so, to the casual observer, it might have indeed seemed as though my friend was something of a loser and a black sheep; but interestingly enough, when my friend made this confession to me in the wee hours of that morning, it turned out that he wasn’t done speaking!

“I know I’m considered by some to be the black sheep of the family,” he did say; but then he added, “but you know what?  I’ve come a long way!  I’ve grown, I’ve learned a lot, and I’m a much better person than used to be; and despite everything, I managed to help raise three good kids who love me.  What’s better than that?” And as he went on, it became clear to me that he understood something that a whole lot of people never come to grips with: that while his life had been hard in so many ways, it was also good in others; and the best part is it wasn’t over yet!  That’s the reason he called me at four in the morning, you see; he was excited to let me know that he was going back to school; that he was going to get his degree; that he wanted to teach, to help young people in need; and now he was determined to show his now adult children, and everybody else (!) that “if the old man can reach his dream, then so can they.”  And as his friend, I wished him well; after all, life is not supposed to be something that we’re resigned to live out, but rather an adventure to be experienced: an evocation of a work in progress inspired by God’s own movement in our lives.

I still remember after hanging up the phone with him thinking of an old, admittedly lesser-known John Denver song that my friend and I knew well back in those days:

“Come, dance with the west wind and touch all the mountain tops,
Sail o’er the canyons, and up to the stars.
And reach for the heavens, and hope for the future,
For all that we can be, not just what we are.”
(from “The Eagle and the Hawk” by John Denver)

For all that we can be, not just what we are:  life is so often an intermingling of what is and what might be, of the actual and the potential, of the realized and unrealized parts of ourselves.   In other words, there’s always more to us than what meets the eye, more than others can see, more than we can even see in ourselves; our “true identity” might well be veiled by the challenges that life thrusts upon us, as well as by our own fears and self-doubts.   The hope for all of us is that over time and experience, by learning and through grace, each of us eventually comes to recognize and understand who he or she truly is, and thus embrace the whole meaning of life.

This also pretty much encapsulates our journeys of faith as well, does it not?

It’s there in our text for this morning:  “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.”  Basic to our understanding of the Christian faith is the truth that in God’s love, revealed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are identified before all creation as God’s own children, holy and beloved; and what that means is that whoever else we are considered to be in this life, or whatever other label has been placed upon us and we carry around with us as we go, who we are, first and foremost and forever, are children of God!   But the best part is that that’s not even the end of the story; for if we read on in this passage from the 1st Epistle of John you find there’s a twist to this incredible affirmation:  “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.”  It turns out that you and I, who have this sure identity as children of God, still have much to discover about who we are and what we are yet to become; and that is also good news indeed!

As Linda Johnson Seyenkulo, a Lutheran pastor and writer from Chicago, explains it, “What you are now is not the end.  You are a work in progress.  And the exciting part is, you don’t know what is possible until you open up to God’s possibilities.”  Faith, Seyenkulo goes on to say, is all about God-inspired and God-led possibility, “and so the Christian life is [by definition] a life of possibility, waiting to be revealed.”

And there’s great precedent for this: think of the disciples of Jesus who knew themselves to be his followers, but until that resurrection experience began to reveal itself and the Holy Spirit began to move in and through the reality of their lives they could not possibly imagine themselves to be the purveyors of his good news in the world.  Or think about the people who heard that good news from those disciples: I’m thinking of a story, for instance, from the 3rd chapter of Acts about a man regarded by everyone around as a beggar; a nameless, faceless indigent.  But upon being healed by Peter and John in the name of Christ, this beggar became something different, quite literally “walking and leaping and praising God” (3:8) as he went first into the temple, and then out to a new future… full of possibility!

For that matter, think about someone like my old friend; someone you know whose faith has so profoundly affected his or her life that who that person is now stands in sharp contrast to the person was before.  Maybe you can even see yourself in that regard; the point is that this love of God is the catalyst for true and ongoing transformation; it creates unlimited possibilities as to what can come as God’s own future unfolds.

What we will be is not yet revealed… all we know for now is that when Christ is revealed, that is, when the kingdom is come and all of Christ’s promises are fulfilled, then “we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.   And…” – here’s a key verse (!) – “all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.”  Or, in the beautifully rendered words of The Message, we will have “the glistening purity of Jesus’ life as a model for our own.”

For what comes between what we are and what we will be is the journey; and how along live on the way.  Think of it as a journey of self-discovery on a divine scale. On the way from who we already are as God’s children to what we will be by God’s intent and purpose, we are being called to grow; spiritually, and by extension ethically, morally and socially.  We are being called to turn around from worn pathways and old ways of thinking and being; so that we might truly walk in newness of life after the manner of Jesus.

I love the story that Juanita Austin tells about her brother, who works as an accountant, and who is, as one might expect, up to his eyeballs in tax returns every April. Ordinarily, Austin writes, this would be a sure cause for stress and strain, but this year when she asked her brother how he was doing, he replied with great enthusiasm, “Great!  I’m doing just great!  I love this!”  Though her first instinct was to call a doctor and find out if her brother was in fact seriously sleep deprived (!), she asked him why he was so visibly excited by his job.  And he explained that on that particular day he’d been able to help this widow on a pension to increase her monthly income, “so that instead of barely scraping by she would be reasonably comfortable.  What her brother had as a gift – a knowledge about taxes combined with a [new, faith centered] compassion and desire for justice – he [was now able to give] to her.”

I love this story because like all of us who are children of God, what this man, this tax accountant (!), will be is yet to be revealed—and yet by the movement of his life we can begin to see a hint of what’s to come, a glimpse of the very purity of Jesus’ life in his own life. Well, my question for each of us today is what people might see in the movement of our lives here on Mountain Road; as Christians dwelling within a decidedly non-Christian culture; as persons and a people of faith dealing with the very real challenges of life here and now, yet on a journey full of possibilities for the sake of Christ and his kingdom.

It seems to me that in faith, you and I are ever to be giving thanks for “who we are” as children of God; but we also must never lose sight of “what we will be” by God’s own intent and purpose.  For between here and there, now and then, lay all the wonderful and heretofore unimagined possibilities that God is setting before each of us.  It’s ultimately what will help us to soar as the eagle and the hawk, to “reach for the heavens, and hope for the future.”  And it will be that which will reveal to us some of the “glistening purity of Jesus’ life” in everything we are and seek to be in this life.

Where we will go and what we will be; that is yet to be revealed. But we do know who we are, beloved; and as children of God, I hope and pray that we are ready for journey of faith and discovery they lay before us.  Because the possibilities… they’re endless!

May we be blessed on the journey… and may our thanks be to God!

AMEN and AMEN!

c.2017  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
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Posted by on November 5, 2017 in Epistles, Faith, Life, Sermon, Spiritual Truths

 

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The One Anothers

(a sermon for October 1, 2017, the 17th Sunday After Pentecost, based on 1 John 3:11, 16-24)

“For this is the message you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.”

Ultimately, that’s what it all boils down to around here, friends: LOVE.  It’s love, personified in Jesus Christ, that brings us into relationship with God; it’s love that forges that connection of kindred hearts that makes us more than friends in this place, more than community, but also a spiritual family; indeed, it’s love that gathers and binds us together as the Church of Jesus Christ.  Indeed; however else we might choose to name, describe, categorize, or even disseminate its relevance for today’s world, at its very core remains this impenetrable truth that the church is all about love!

And I’m here to tell you this morning that I am grateful for the presence of that church in my life!  But I also have to be honest: there are times for me when the church can be easily compared to the young man who wrote the following letter to the love of his life: “Dear Mary,” he wrote, “dear, sweet Mary… I would swim the deepest river for you.  I would climb the highest mountains!  I would walk over burning coals to be at your side.  All my love and my devotion… XOXOXO, Jack.

“P.S. I’ll be over Sunday if it doesn’t rain!”

It’s one thing, you see, to say “I love you,” quite another to actually mean it; to let that affirmation move our very lives.  In the end simply elaborating on the depth of our devotion is insufficient.  Words of devotion, while beautiful and often very welcome, are empty of meaning – and can even be offensive – when they are not accompanied by action!

And so it is with the church.  The fact is, in this place we have an abundance of good words with which to talk about love, and we’re not afraid to use them: in songs and stories, in “poems, prayers and promises” we regularly tell out our devotion to God, as well as the depth of our affection for those around us. There’s no question that where love is concerned, we in the church are very good at talking the talk!   The question is, does our “walk lives up to the talk;” or where love is concerned does there exist a “disconnect” between what we say and what we do?

That’s not an easy question; but I think it’s a good one for us “church folk” to ask ourselves from time to time!  After all, it’s pretty easy for us to come together on a Sunday morning and say “good things” about God, and faith, and love; the fact is, we do it every week, and it’s tempting to let ourselves float along on the warmth of that sentiment. But there’s also a danger, in that when those sentiments of love and faith fail to find any real expression, our lives end up carrying little or no resemblance to the virtues we proclaim.

And that’s not who we’re called to be, friends. We are a people gathered by Christ and led by the Holy Spirit to be the church, called to be a distinctively Christian community, and to live as the embodiment of God’s kingdom in this place and time.  And so both individually and collectively, it seems to me that this requires so much more from us than mere lip service!  Indeed, what our calling demands, as this morning’s reading from 1 John puts forth, is that we “love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action;” a love epitomized by Jesus who “laid down his life for us.”

The purpose of the church, you see, is for us to live out God’s intent for his creation and to love as God loves; but in order for that to happen, we have to do more than “just talk about love;” we have to “practice real love,” (The Message) building a deeper relationship with God and with God’s people as we do so; without that at the center, the work that we do is empty and without any real meaning.  Whether we’re talking how we worship, the ways we do fellowship or outreach, or even something as deceptively simple as putting on a great bean suppah… ultimately, the test of our life together as a church, the end verdict as to whether we sink or swim as God’s people, will always come down to our willingness and ability to truly and actively love one another as we have been loved.   As Leonard Sweet has aptly observed, “Love is the foundation of the Christian church, the cement that glues together the church community. Nothing else can come before this love. Nothing else is possible without this love.”  We would do well to always remember that.

It’s no accident that over thirty times in the New Testament we are told, in one manner or another, to “love one another.”  This has its source in the “new” commandment that Jesus gave to his disciples and to us: “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12) – this is the place we start when it comes to being the church – but then what we find out as we go through scripture is that there are a great many “one anothers” that apply to the Christian life.

For instance, just in Romans alone, we’re told to “be devoted to one another (12:10),” to “live in harmony with one another (12:16),” to “accept one another (15:7),” and “instruct one another (15:14).”  Elsewhere in the epistles there are admonitions that we are to bear with one another (Col. 3:13), forgive one another (Eph. 4:32), encourage one another (1 Thess. 5:11) and build one another up (5:11). As believers, we are to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds,” (Hebrews 10:24) and to offer hospitality to one another without grumbling (1 Peter 4:9); that is, to welcome one another not because we have to, but because we have the joyful opportunity. We’re even urged, on a couple of different occasions in the Epistles, to “greet one another with a holy kiss (2 Cor. 13:12); and to this, I can only say, bring on the hugs!

And there’s more; but do you see the thread that runs through all these admonitions? This isn’t about love as a warm and fuzzy sentiment; we’re talking about behavior here, about action rooted in faith. It’s about the church’s commitment to live together as a community, united in the truth of God’s love; and it’s about our commitment, yours and mine, to live our lives first and foremost as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Moreover, what we see in this is that a life lived in the Christian faith is never meant to be one lived in isolation.  Whereas the prevailing culture of these days seems to promote that which would separate us each from the other – be it by gender or race or economics or politics – the church is supposed to be radically different than that.  To put a finer point on it, if we are to truly live out our faith as it is to be lived out, that is, “to obey [God’s] commandments and do what pleases him… that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us;” then there never can be any room for the kind of division that fuels hatred and bigotry such as we’ve seen so much on display as of late. To quote Leonard Sweet again, to follow Jesus and to actively love others – all others – these are inseparable parts of a life of faith. “Those who purposefully sow discord in the community, whose actions are carried out without the primary concern of emulating Christ’s love, can’t be genuine disciples. 1 John,” Sweet goes on to say, “insists that to confess Christ is to love. Love is the one litmus test of faith.”

Make no mistake: what we’re talking about here are not spiritual truths in the abstract; this is quite simply the meat and potatoes of the Christian life! What we have in this text is practical advice for being an authentically loving Christian, both inside and outside the church.  And that’s the challenge, isn’t it; for us, each and all, to keep it real as persons and as a people of faith.  But if that’s going to happen, friends, it just seems to me that it’s always going to rest on how we deal with “the one anothers!”

Tony Campolo, the renowned pastor, preacher and sociologist, writes that when he was young he thought that a true Christian could be easily defined as “somebody who believed in God, who believed in the doctrines of the Apostles Creed, [and] who believed in the Bible.”  But whereas all that continued to be true, what Campolo eventually discovered was there was more to being a Christian than simply believing: it means going beyond faith as an intellectual exercise, and actually having a relationship with God; it means letting God invade you and possess you, and your surrendering to a presence of stillness and quietude in your life.  But, writes Campolo, “when the Spirit of God invades you there’s [also] a consequence you don’t anticipate… you find yourself becoming sensitive to Jesus […] in other people.  People become sacramental… [and they become] the kind of vehicles through whom Jesus comes to us, so that when we look into their eyes we have this eerie awareness that Jesus is staring back at us.  That’s what it means to be a Christian: to be filled with God and to be sensitive to Jesus, waiting to be loved in needy people.”

I’ve said it before from this pulpit, and it bears repeating: as a pastor it never ceases to amaze me the kind of diversity that’s to be found in your average congregation!  I mean, we’ve got it all in the church: older people and younger people, liberals and conservatives, evangelicals and progressives, people on the first steps of their journeys of faith and those who have been “on the way” their whole lives.  We have members who are very demonstrative about their faith, others who keep what they believe fairly private; and then there are folks who can be fairly and accurately described as “salt of the earth,” annnd… others who are, well, just kind of spicy!  But it’s all good: as they say, it takes all kinds to make a world, and that’s particularly true of the church; and it’s what makes what we do here an incredible joy… even if sometimes it creates a challenge or two!

But I have to wonder, friends, what would happen to us as Christians – what would happen to us as a church – if we were intentional about looking at one another with a different set of eyes?  I wonder how it would be if we began to look in one another’s eyes to see if we can find the face of Jesus?  And then, if we could do the same as we looked into the eyes of someone outside of this sanctuary… in the eyes of a friend, a neighbor… a stranger, even?  I wonder how much of a difference that could make in our life together; I wonder how our perceptions would change or how we might be moved for the sake of God’s kingdom in this place; I wonder what the church could become in these days… all because we started to perceive the presence of  Jesus Christ right here among us.

And the thing is, it’s not an improbable or unreasonable proposition; it’s all there in that message we’ve heard from the beginning, that “that we should love one another.”  The question is whether you and I are willing make it real.

Something to think about today as we come seeking this presence on this World Communion Sunday.

Thanks be to God.

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2017  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

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