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In It to Win It

(a sermon for February 4, 2018, the 5th Sunday after Epiphany, based on 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 and Mark 1:40-45)

Here’s something that I’m sure will come as a huge shock to all of you:  I am not much of an athlete.

And by “not much of,” I mean “not at all.”

I don’t know; I just have never had the ability or coordination it takes to do sports, or for that matter, the real desire.  Even as a kid, gym class was for me basically something to be gotten through and if at all possible, avoided!  And besides, back in school I was always the one in band and chorus, doing drama club and working on the yearbook; that was my thing!  So back then being any kind of star athlete (or even a benchwarmer) was never going to happen; and obviously, in all the years that have followed, nothing about that has changed!

Which is not to say, however, I don’t appreciate athleticism in others; in fact, I have to say that the older I get, the more I admire those who have shown forth not only their God-given ability, but also the drive, discipline and perseverance it takes to succeed on the field of athletic competition.  Whether we’re talking about tonight’s Super Bowl, the upcoming Winter Olympic Games, or simply high school kids running up and down the basketball court at tournament time there is beauty and grace to be found in those who do these things very, very well; who have trained and practiced, struggled, endured and pushed themselves to the limit – sometimes over the course of an entire lifetime (!) – all for the sake of running that race, of winning that game… of being the absolute best that one can be.

And ideally, friends, I’m here to tell you that it can be a spiritual thing as well. I actually came across a quote this week from, of all people, Pope John Paul II, from back in 1987.  He said that “Sport… is an activity that involves more than the movement of the body; it demands the use of intelligence and the developing of the will.  It reveals… the wonderful structure of the human person created by God, as a spiritual being, a unity of body and spirit.  Athletic activity,” John Paul went on to say, “can help every man and woman to recall the moment when God the Creator gave origin to the human person, the masterpiece of his creative work.”

I like that.  Granted, in an age where sports is big business and things like politics, drug abuse and (as we have seen illustrated so horribly as of late) all manner of assault have too often plagued the whole endeavor, it’s increasingly difficult to see the ideal made real; but when it happens – be it a perfect touchdown pass or a ski jump that seems to defy gravity – when we can bear witness to the wonder of body, mind and spirit working together toward a singular goal, even to this most decidedly non-athletic person, it’s a beautiful thing.  At the heart of it all, you see, is this very clear desire, this relentless drive, this passion, if you will, to be “in it to win it.”

And isn’t it interesting how when Paul wants to speak in our text this morning about the spiritual life and what it means to be a child of God it’s precisely that same kind of passion to which he refers as making all the difference.  “Do you not know,” he writes to the Christians in Corinth, “that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize?  Run in such a way that you may win it.”

Now at first read, it might well seem a bit odd to hear that kind of a sports metaphor coming from the pen of an apostle; but in truth there are several instances throughout the epistles where Paul uses what might be called “the language of athletics” in order to make a point about the Christian life.  In fact, in our passage today, Paul makes reference to an actual athletic event:  the Isthmian Games, which were a series of Olympic-styled athletic contests that took place every two years just outside of Corinth, and which included boxing events, wrestling and all different kinds of footraces.  The competition was great and intense, and as a sign of their victory the winners of each event would be given a wreath to wear on their heads; fashioned, believe it or not, out of a garland of dry and withered celery!  Think of it: all that work, all that effort and all the winner has to show for it is the lousy leftover part of a summer salad!  Or, to put this much more biblically, “Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one.”  And that’s the point, isn’t it?  If these Isthmian athletes do what they do for the passing glory of such a small and fading reward, how much more might we do as followers of Jesus Christ for the “imperishable” wreath, that is, the gift of eternity with God?

By the way, these verses from 1 Corinthians get translated in a variety of ways: the NIV talks about how those athletes do what they do “to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever;”  and, of course, The Message brings it a little closer to home, especially about now, in referring to a “gold medal that tarnishes and fades” as opposed to the one “that’s gold eternally.”  But regardless of the translation the point is the same: to quote Kenneth Kovacs here, “the point is that the goal, the prize that we strive after and strain for as Christians is better than any athletic prize or any other prize given in this world subject to rust and decay and corruption.”

So given all this, the question for us, I suppose, is that where a life of faith and true discipleship is concerned… are we “in it to win it,” or not?

Of course we need to understand, and Paul also makes this clear, that winning the race isn’t about “run[ning] aimlessly,” any more than a boxing match is about flailing about and “beating the air.”  Moreover, this race of which Paul calls us to run is no hundred-yard dash where it’s a quick sprint run to get the prize; it’s more like an intense spiritual marathon that extends over the course of a lifetime and which requires every bit of our attention and energy.

That’s where so many people make a mistake about the nature of faith; they assume that to be a Christian is simply to be a nice person, to show some empathy, and maybe employ some common sense along the way.  But to actually follow Jesus and to become his disciple is something much more than that: it’s about truly loving our neighbor as ourselves; it’s about forgiving our enemies not just once or twice or even three times, but seventy times seven times; it’s about denying ourselves, and then there’s that matter of taking up our own crosses so that in our own lives we might follow Jesus where he goes… and that’s just the beginning.  It’s no accident that the Greek word Paul uses here for competing in a race is “agonizomai,” which is where we get our word “agony,” because in this particular race, it takes an agonizingly tremendous effort to win.  If you’re going to last for very long, it’s going to take discipline and self-control… and good training!

I love the story that William Willimon tells about his time as Dean of the Chapel at Duke University, and how a well-meaning student came to him and said, “You know, I just don’t get much out of the Bible.”  “Oh,” replied Willimon, with just a hint of sarcasm, “and when was it you last did time in a Bible study group?”   Well, the student said, “I just thought you could pick it up for yourself and sort of like, get the point.”  To which Willimon answered, “Try that with lacrosse stick and see how far you get.”

You see, for you and me to run our race of faithful living means we need to be trained and grounded in this Christian faith we espouse.  There needs to be a commitment to study God’s word; there needs to be a discipline of prayer; and there has to be, I believe, a real participation with kindred hearts in a community of faith.  In other words, it matters that we’re the church together and that we’re running this race together as God’s people; because without that kind of love and support, we’re bound to get winded and discouraged at the first sign of struggle. And make no mistake: at every turn along the way, we are going to need to call upon every resource that our God has to give, so that we might be the vessels by which the gospel is proclaimed and love is brought forth; because, friends, in this broken and hurting world that is the race we’re running.

Our gospel reading for this morning is Mark’s story of how a leper came to Jesus begging to be healed, and “moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him,” and how immediately, the leprosy left him.  One of the interesting parts of this passage for me is how the leper actually says to Jesus, “If you choose, you can make me clean,” and in the act of healing, Jesus responds by saying, “I do choose.”  So not only does this story talk about the grace of God’s healing love extended to those whom the world would consider to be hideous or dangerous or somehow morally deficient – because remember, leprosy was considered at the time to be a disease that was the result of the victim’s sinful actions – it’s also a story about how Jesus “chooses” in that moment to make him clean in a profound and divine sense of compassion to which you and I are also called as his disciples.

Yes… I’ll say it again: we are his disciples; we choose to be so! We are called to be beacons of light in a dark world; and we choose to be bringers of love and compassion, purveyors of healing and a higher good.  We are God’s people, and as such, we are a people with eyes upon the prize, always that of Christ and his kingdom.  And it is a sacred endeavor that’s every bit as strenuous as a Super Bowl or an Olympic event; even more so.  But it’s a race that needs to be run; and might I add here, it’s also a race that when it all comes together, is a beautiful thing to behold.

I had a friend back in high school who as a young man trained to run in the Boston Marathon.  All through school he’d been a star member of our cross-country team, and had won any number of races; but this was different, something much bigger, something that stretched every part of his ability, and he trained for months so he’d qualify; no easy feat as he sprinted through the snow covered streets of our town!  But he was determined, and when he finally got to Boston – looking back on it, he must have been just about as young as you can be to run the marathon – we were all rooting for him.  And God love him, he finished the race; well behind the pack, as I recall, but he finished, and that was something!

I remember afterward asking him about the race, and I remember this because my friend actually had very little good to say about the experience: he was tired, and sore, the course was impossible, his shoes weren’t right, and on and on and on. And so I asked him, given all that and so much more why he didn’t just stop, and for that matter, why he chose to run this race in the first place.  But then he smiled, and said simply, “because when you finish, there’s no feeling like it in the world.”

When you and I seek to live as our Lord Jesus would have us live it will most certainly not be easy, and there will be moments when we’ll wonder if the effort’s been worth it and if what we’ve done has mattered in the scheme of things; but if we are in it to truly win it, beloved, by God’s good grace it becomes an experience unlike anything else in life, and one that makes all the difference out these doors and into the world.

So let us run the race before us, and let us do in such a way that says we want to win it, for the sake of Jesus Christ. And as the race goes on, let us to “press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14)

Thanks be to God who sets the course before us.

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2018  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

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Posted by on February 4, 2018 in Epiphany, Faith, Family Stories, Life, Paul, Sermon

 

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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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Bringers of Good News

(a sermon for September 24, 2017, the 16th Sunday after Pentecost, based on Romans 10:5-15 and Matthew 28:16-20)

It was Lee Iaccoca, the former Chief Executive Officer of the Chrysler Corporation who said it:  “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”

As simple as that sounds, I dare say that Iaccoca knew what he was talking about.  Those of us “of a certain age” will probably remember that back in the 1980’s when Iaccoca was named the CEO of Chrysler, that company was virtually bankrupt.  But somehow this very aggressive, no-nonsense leader managed to get a loan from the only “bank” that had enough money to bail them out – the United States government (!) – and not only did he turn the company around, he paid the loan back ahead of schedule!  It was, by any standard, an unlikely and amazing feat; but Iaccoca somehow pulled it off, and later on when he was asked about it, he’d keep coming back to that same idea about keeping “the main thing the main thing!”

What was interesting about all this, however, was that for Iaccoca the “main thing” for the Chrysler Corporation was not, in fact, to keep the enterprise solvent, nor was it to make all the employees happy; neither was it to make money for stockholders, or to increase efficiency and production.  It wasn’t even simply to sell more cars!  Iaccoca kept saying over and over again – much to the consternation of many in power – that the Chrysler Corporation existed first and foremost to produce vehicles that would satisfy the customer; if you stick to that, he said, then everything else would follow; because the main thing is always to keep the main thing the main thing!

It seems to me, corporate credos aside, that that this is one particular philosophy applicable to other areas of life as well, including our own as the church!  Seriously; consider the myriad of things we do together in this or any church.  We provide a time, a place and a method for Christian worship, and everything that goes along with it; we offer education and nurture in the history and tradition of our faith; we’re an arm of outreach, from one to another, extending outward to the wider community and the world.  We stand up, we speak out and occasionally we act up (!), all in the name of God; truly, we are the ones to whom politicians and policy makers are referring when they talk about “faith based initiatives.”

But we’re also here for the sake of fellowship and community; to share in the celebrations of life, and to be present to one another during times of hardship and struggle.  We marry the couples, we bless the babies, we bury the dead; and in and through all of this we bake casseroles, hold yard sales and plan holiday fairs and “bean suppahs,” all of which, I might add, are very important rites of the church!

But, even given all of that (and so much more besides!), it does beg the question: can it be said of any of it that it’s the “main thing?”

And the answer… well, is… no; at least not according to scripture!

You see, for all the many and laudable things we involve ourselves in as the church, in the end the main thing all comes down to the one thing that maybe we don’t do enough of that which Jesus himself sent us to do: to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”

Now, before anyone gets the idea that I’ve suddenly become “anti-bean supper,” understand that there is an essential and important place for bean suppers and everything else we do as a congregation (do you know how much fun I have telling people that we here at East Church volunteer at the race track twice a year?) ; but we also need to understand that all of this is ultimately a means to an end, which is the fulfillment of that “great commission” I just shared with you.

Paul Schrage, another corporate mogul, this time from McDonald’s, actually explains this rather well.  He is quoted in Walt Kallestad’s book, Turn Your Church Inside Out, and he says that for all the things that McDonald’s does to get people in the door, “One of the most important things we do is ask for the order.” That makes a lot of sense; I mean, you can’t sell somebody a Big Mac until you take their order!  Well, Schrage goes on to say, what’s missing in most [churches] is that we never ask for the order!   “If someone goes into a restaurant hungry and thirsty and no one ever asks them for their order, they will leave and not return.  [Likewise,] those outside the church come inside the church hungering and thirsting for God, seeking healing, looking for meaning and purpose, [but if] no one ever ‘asks for their order,’ they will leave and not return.”

It’s such a simple thing; and yet the implications of it are huge. For you and me who are the church of Jesus Christ, the “main thing” is ever and always to bring the good news of the gospel to a world that is crying out for the love of God!  And make no mistake; as we hear it proclaimed in our gospel text for this morning, it’s more than simply a calling, or even a polite request on the part of Jesus: this is a mandate!  This is no less than the Risen Christ pushing us, as his disciples, out the door, stirring us out of our highly valued complacency and compelling us to speak and to act clearly and boldly for the sake of accomplishing God’s purpose of love for the world; and in doing so, to fulfill our own destinies along the way. There’s a reason, friends, why this portion of scripture is not referred to as “the Great Suggestion,” but rather “the Great Commission!”

For all that it does and all that seeks to do and to be for its own purposes, ultimately the church exists to serve the purposes of God; and God’s purpose is to bring every single one of us into his own loving care, so to be named now and forever as one of his own; forgiven and redeemed.  This is the central truth of our Christian faith, one proclaimed by Paul in our Epistle reading this morning from Romans:  “For, ‘Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.’”  But here’s the thing; as Paul goes on to say (in what I’m finding to be one of the most haunting passages of the Epistles), “But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?”

How are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? Or, in the parlance of The Message, “How can they know who to trust if they haven’t heard of the One who can be trusted? And how can they hear if nobody tells them?”

And that’s the “main thing” that we in the church need to keep the main thing; as simple (and as all-encompassing) as that.  What we’re talking about here, in the language of the church, is evangelism; a term that admittedly has long tended to make us mainstream and progressive Christians more than little bit uncomfortable (!); and yet, what is evangelism really, but Christian outreach at its most basic level? At its very heart, you see, it’s communicating – often one on one, in words and by action – the love of God in Jesus Christ; so that others can come to know God as we do.  And while that awareness may well come in the midst of one life’s huge moments or through the inevitable “times of stress and grief” that come to us all; it’s just as likely to happen in a conversation with someone over a cup of coffee; in some small, seemingly random act of caring and kindness extended to a friend or stranger in need; or even… hear this, beloved… in an invitation to someone near to you to come here to worship next Sunday!

The point is that Christ and his kingdom is profoundly proclaimed in ways we can’t even begin to imagine until it happens; and you and I need to recognize that we have the opportunity each and every day to be bringers of that good news!

Barry H. Corey, the president of Biola University in Californian, writes about his father, Hugh Corey, who was for many years a missionary on the poverty stricken streets of Bangladesh.  In a particularly difficult time in his ministry, the elder Corey told his son, “I don’t fully understand what Jesus meant when he said, ‘He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me.’  But this I do know.  In everything I do I must make myself receivable to people God places in my life.  If the lives God intersects with mine do not have the opportunity to receive me, how will they ever know the infinite love the Father has for them?  I must live my life in a way that strangers, friends, [the] aching, lonely… [can] receive me and receive through me the amazing love God alone has authored.”

In everything I do, I must make myself receivable to the people God places in my life; that is Christian evangelism defined, a life poured out for others so that they, too, can know God personally through Christ.  In other words, unless we are able to be open enough before others that they will see and hear who we are and whose we are, we will have missed the opportunity and the responsibility of proclaiming good news and making disciples… and by extension, strengthening the church in the process.

Friends, let me ask you this:  how open and receivable are you to the people that God is even now placing in your life?  What are the spiritual resources in your own life that you can use in the effort to reach out to those around you who need the love of the Lord… and are you making use of those resources?  Can it be said of you that your life is so marked by the love of Christ that it cannot help but overflow into the hearts and lives of others in need?  And are we the kind of church, the sort of people in this place, who make this a priority in everything we do?

It’s not about our being spiritually eloquent, or having all the answers; it’s simply about knowing who and whose we are, focusing our daily energies on growing in the grace and knowledge of God, and then being willing to open ourselves to others with that same kind of love that we ourselves have received!

For you see, what is true about ourselves is that whatever it is we experience on the inside of our hearts and souls eventually has to bubble up the surface and overflow to others.  So if what you experience with God is pure joy, then what you give away to others is joy.  By the same token, of course, if we’re feeding our souls with something less than God’s priorities for our lives, what’s going to come across to others won’t be much better; in fact, it’ll be counterproductive!  What’s the expression… garbage in, garbage out?  Well, as Christians and as the church, it’s the love and joy that we have in believing that will be the key in our being the bringers of that truly good news.

Maybe we’ll never fully know what comes of that kind of openness; pn the other hand, maybe we’ll change a heart… and a life.  Maybe, just maybe, next Sunday that person to whom we opened ourselves will be sitting there in the pew beside us; ready to joyfully receive all of the blessings that God has to give in Christ Jesus.  But whatever happens, we’re creating a legacy… a legacy of faith, hope and love in which the spirit will move and work for a lifetime and beyond.

After all, “as it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’”

So let’s get our feet to walking… and as we do, may our…

Thanks be to God!

Amen and AMEN!

c. 2017 Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

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