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“But When You’ve Done the Wrong Thing…”

(a sermon for September 15, 2019 , the 14th Sunday after Pentecost, based on Hosea 4:1-3, 5:15-6:6 and 1 Timothy 1:12-17)

(The podcast version of this message can be found here)

In biblical parlance, they are often referred to as “trustworthy sayings,” and there are at least five of them scattered throughout the so-called “pastoral epistles;” that is, 1 and 2 Timothy and the Letter to Titus.  Simply explained, these are major points that Paul wanted to make sure his readers perfectly understood before proceeding.  And the thing about these sayings is that you always know they’re coming; because, first off, Paul tells you so (in the NRSV, for instance, Paul announces, “The saying is sure and worthy of acceptance…”), and secondly, what follows is usually something that while absolutely essential for understanding our Christian faith what Paul is about to say might nonetheless be a little bit hard to hear and difficult to swallow!

And so it is with the “trustworthy saying” at the center of our text for this morning, “that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” of which, Paul hastens to add, “I am the foremost.”

Now, in at least in one sense, for Paul to proclaim that Jesus came into the world to save sinners does not seem like all that much of a radical statement or something hard to hear.  I mean, after all, that Christ died for our sins on the cross is central to just about everything we know to be true about our Christian faith; certainly not anything that Paul would need to first qualify before writing to these early Christians!  And yet, it does sort of hit us in an uncomfortable kind of way, does it not?  Because if Christ Jesus did, in fact, come into the world to save sinners it would follow that there were (and are!) sinners to save; and if the Apostle Paul, of all people, would refer to himself as “the foremost” of sinners (or as it’s translated elsewhere, “the chief” (KJV) or “the worst” (NIV) or even “Public Sinner Number One,” as it is rendered in The Message), then what does that make you or me?

I remember back in seminary how those of us who were serving as student pastors would often return to school on Monday morning ready to commiserate on the experience of preaching to these little congregations who were at once incredibly supportive and encouraging of our efforts in the pulpit but also a bit, shall we say, skeptical, which was more than a little unnerving to us!  I remember one of my classmates lamenting that he’d had an extremely difficult, to the point of nearly impossible time that week looking into the eyes of those sweet people sitting in the pews in front of him and saying that they were all, in fact, sinners in dire need of salvation!  I remember this because for my part, I’d preached on pretty much the same text that Sunday; and after worship one of the sweetest of the sweet elderly ladies of that church came up to me – I’ll never forget her: her name was Alberta Burrill and I used to call her “Sunshine” because she always sat in the back of the church listening to the sermon with her eyes closed and this wonderful, peaceful smile on her face – and she took my hand in hers that morning and said, “That was very nice, deah… but you don’t want to do that very often because people wouldn’t like it.”

See what I mean about some of these “trustworthy sayings” being hard to hear?

The fact of that matter is that none of us want to think of ourselves that way, do we?  Last week, as you’ll recall, we spoke here about the need, our call in Christ Jesus, to always be seeking to do the right thing in faith.  I’ll be honest; as I often do after the preaching is done, I found myself sort of self-analyzing the sermon that day, and I found myself wondering if perhaps it had come off as a bit… obvious!  I mean, who doesn’t think we ought to be doing the right thing, in faith or otherwise?   Maybe the real question, I started thinking, is what happens when we’ve done the wrong thing?  What about when our intentions are good, when we really do want to do what’s right in a given situation, but for whatever reason we just keep doing exactly the opposite?  Or even worse, when it’s become so easy, so convenient, so normal, or so, well, enjoyable that the right thing to do kind of gets lost in the process?  What then?

In other words, what happens when it’s begun to feel to us that if Paul is the chief and foremost of sinners then we might well be working our way up to second in command?

The Old Testament, of course, doesn’t hedge on such matters.  In our other text for this morning, from the prophet Hosea, we hear an indictment of the inability of God’s people to accept any real guilt for its sin:  “Swearing, lying, and murder, and stealing and adultery break out; bloodshed follows bloodshed,” (all clearly, by the way, wrong things to do!) to the point where there has been a judgment upon the land in the form of ecological disaster.  “Therefore the land mourns,” says the prophet, “and all who live in it languish.”  But perhaps most damning of all is the lament that despite the horrible result of such sin, Israel doesn’t seem to care:  “What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?  What shall I do with you, O Judah?  Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes away early,” that which seems promising at first but ultimately and swiftly dries up in the light and heat of another day.

It would seem as though as much as Israel wished for prosperity and plenty to return they were half-hearted at best about repentance and their faithfulness to God.  And the truth is, we get that, don’t we?  For as much as we desire and know to do that which is right and good and in keeping with God’s precepts of love and faithfulness, all too often all those challenges and temptations we face in the heat of the day pull us away from that which logically, lovingly and spiritually seemed so very… obvious to us.  It all comes back to a break in that sacred relationship we have with God; that innate human tendency to live independently, autonomously, of God… which, by the way, is the very definition of sin.  But even as the cycle of doing the wrong thing again and again continues, here’s the prophet calling for God’s people to return to the Lord, “for it is he who has torn, and he will heal us; he has struck down, and he will bind us up.  After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.”

…which brings us back to Paul’s letter to Timothy and his “trustworthy saying” that “Christ came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the foremost.”

Once again what we have here in these “pastoral epistles” is a very personal appeal on the part of Paul to some “faithful co-workers,” namely Timothy and Titus, dealing with some real-life challenges to the integrity and purity of the Gospel message.  Simply put, these letters deal with a few of the “messier” aspects of trying to live in true faith.  I love what Thomas Long writes about this:  he says that most of the time we would rather read accounts of the church cruising down the highway of faith… in the Pastoral Epistles, though, we see the church on the mechanic’s lift, in the garage, and we are given guidance for performing an ecclesial engine overhaul… [which may] in fact, make them urgently important” for us today.

So, yes… Christ came into the world to save sinners, and like it or not, as hard as it may be to confess, we’re the sinners Christ came to save!  But as you consider this, Paul says, remember something:  that “even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.” (NIV)  Or, as The Message puts it, “The only credentials I brought to [this ministry] were invective and witch hunts and arrogance.”  But, with a heart full of thanksgiving, Paul says, “the grace of our Lord overflowed for me.”

Think of this for a moment, friends.  GRACE… a gift freely given of love and forgiveness and new life.  GRACE… extended to the same one who, quoting Rick Power, who “stood as an approving witness to the stoning of Stephen, [who] dragged believers out of their homes to face imprisonment, [who] made it his sole purpose in life to crush this new movement of Christ-followers, and [who], perhaps worst of all, mistakenly thought he was serving God at the time!”  And yet, Paul writes to Timothy, “for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life.” Paul, you see, had begun as the lowest of the low – where the wrong thing was the starting place – but the point is that his story ends in the glory of Christ.  This was the assurance “sure and worthy of acceptance” that Paul wished to convey to Timothy; and for those of us seeking to do the right thing even when so often we’ve ended up doing the opposite, it’s a crucial word as well… and a reminder of true GRACE.

Perhaps it was precisely in those moments when we messed up and failed to “do the right thing” in faith and love:  maybe an ill-spoken word or some regrettable action done without thinking; or else when we made a choice not to stand up or stand with someone who’d been knocked down or rejected or subjected to some manner of hatred that’s become all too common in this present age, even as we knew better.  Could be an instance of discovering to your great despair that the ethical or moral standards of your life have… slipped.  Or it could be, I’m just saying here, an overwhelming shock and revulsion at the depths of selfishness and the realization that your life might well have fallen far as you think possible from the life filled with God’s love and purpose.  Understand, friends, it is not my desire nor am I seeking to send you forth from this place this morning stinging from words of judgment and rebuke… but I would say to each one of us here that as we are stand naked before God there is always going to be… sin.  We have done the wrong thing… in the words of the old confessional, “We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done.”

But the good news, you see, is that this isn’t the end of the story!  The good news is that through mercy, in great patience and in the light of God’s limitless and overwhelming grace bestowed upon us in Christ Jesus, we are forgiven, and redeemed and saved.  In the words of the anthem we heard earlier in the service, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.”  Amazing grace that opens up a new future for each one of us as a redeemed child of God; amazing grace that opens before us brand new opportunities for finding the right thing to do in a world sorely in need of simple human kindness and true compassion, peace and justice rooted in Christian love rather than political divisiveness, and a moral and ethical center that begins from the heart.  Because beloved, Christ Jesus came to save sinners – and yes, that means you and me – but Christ Jesus also came to send us forth as his disciples in the redeeming work of his Kingdom.

So let us go forth in that sacred calling, beloved; and “to the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever.  Amen…”

And AMEN!

© 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

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Posted by on September 15, 2019 in Church, Epistles, Ministry, Paul, Sermon, Spiritual Truths

 

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The Right Thing to Do

(a sermon for September 8, 2019, the 13th Sunday after Pentecost, based on Philemon 1-21)

(The Podcast version of this message can be found here)

His name was Bernard Larlee, but to everyone in our little town, he went by the unlikely nickname of “Snigg.”  He was, in fact, the local postmaster and a stalwart member of the First Congregational Church; one of those folks who not only had been brought up in that congregation but who also over the years had ended up doing just about every job there was in the church, including teaching my 10th grade Sunday School class!

Looking back on it, Snigg must have had an awful lot of patience to be teaching at that level!  After all, as I recall, there were mostly boys in that particular class, and so not only were we as teenagers kind of restless, to say the least (!) but I’m also sure that the theological nuances contained in Paul’s epistles were pretty much lost on us!  It could not have been easy; but God bless him, Snigg soldiered on, and what I’ll always remember is that in just about every class there would come this moment when after a long while he’d just sigh a bit, quietly close his teacher’s manual and simply say, “Boys, let me ask you this… is there a Christian way to go to McDonald’s?”  Or, he’d ask, “If you’re a Christian, how do you sit in the stands at a Schenck Wolverine basketball game when we’re down by 20 points in the last two minutes of the fourth quarter… and it’s the Orono Red Riots?”

Now, of course, at first we’d all respond with smart aleck comments about praying over Big Macs and for decent referees, but what was interesting is that before long we’d find ourselves discussing these matters as though they were deep and profound questions of faith!  I mean, at the time McDonald’s was the place to go with your group – or with your date – after the movies at the K Cinema.  So that gave rise to questions both about how we related to one another as friends and classmates and how we treated others who we didn’t know, or who were outside of our social circle, or who were… different.  We’d be talking about things like dignity and respect and compassion and inclusiveness and yes, even love; and as far as basketball games were concerned, maybe good sportsmanship was important, after all, as was our refraining from referring to the opposing team members as Orono Red “Rots!” (And that was one of the nicer names…)

Whether we realized it or not, you see, what Snigg was teaching us was about faith; but not faith in the doctrinal sense, per se, nor from the lofty, some might say arrogant, perspective that oftentimes emanates from sitting in a church pew.  Snigg simply put out there for us how faith might actually affect our real lives; how our belief in God and in Christ Jesus could have an impact on our world view, our relationships, and on life just as we knew it and lived it.    We’d grown up on all the Bible stories, you see, from the time we were all little kids in the church nursery; we knew all about Noah and the Ark, Moses bringing the Ten Commandments down from the mountain, and how Jesus, the little baby born in the manger of Bethlehem, was the Savior who died on the cross for us.  We’d learned all about love and the golden rule; we understood (as best our 16 year old minds could ever possibly comprehend) the presence and power of God Almighty… but this?  These questions that Snigg the postmaster was challenging us to ask ourselves?  This was about us!  This was about how our Christian faith leading us to actively discern what was “the right thing to do” in any given situation… and then to actually do it!

Which leads us to our text for this morning, the Apostle Paul’s own very personal letter to a friend and co-worker by the name of Philemon.

First off, a little background:  at only 25 verses and 335 Greek words, the Epistle to Philemon is the shortest of Paul’s letters to be found in the New Testament as well as one of the most obscure, easily missed nestled between the books of Titus and Hebrews; truth be told, a lot of people don’t even know it exists!  Moreover, it is not, as is the case of most of Paul’s letters, written to the members of an entire congregation or a group of new Christians; and it’s decidedly not filled with any sort of theological discourse and weighty doctrines as what you find in Romans or Galatians.  It’s actually, and amazingly, a lot simpler than that:  it’s just a letter… albeit an open letter sent from Paul to Philemon, who was likely a member and leader of the church in Colossae in what is now Turkey.

This was a letter written from one man to another, friend to friend, regarding a kind of sticky situation involving a third man by the name of Onesimus, who was a slave owned by Philemon.  Basically, there had been some kind of falling out between master and servant: some scholars maintain that Onesimus was a runaway slave, others claim that perhaps Onesimus stole from Philemon or else committed some other kind of transgression against him and now was on the run for fear of reprisal or mistreatment.  And now Onesimus is with Paul, and while he’s with Paul Onesimus not only comes to faith in Jesus Christ, he’s also become as a son to Paul, to whom he refers to as his “own heart.”  Paul realizes, however, that Onesimus really does need to be sent back to Philemon because as a slave, Onesimus does technically belong to Philemon.  So… Paul decides to write this diplomatic and very flowery letter to his friend Philemon, appealing to his better nature (“I appeal to you on the basis of love,” he writes) but most of all to his faith in Christ (as The Message translates it, “I keep hearing of the love and faith you have for the Master Jesus, which brims over to other Christians”), finally asking Philemon if he might please forgive Onesimus “so that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother,” adding that this is who Onesimus was to him and certainly, “he’ll be even more than that to you.”

A couple of things that should be said here: first of all, that we need to understand and own the fact that there have been many times throughout history – including, it should be noted, 400 years’ worth of American history as well – that this particular Epistle has been misinterpreted and misused as a way of sanctioning the enslavement of others, in part by virtue of the fact that Paul never condemns the practice.  Now, obviously today we know better – or at least most of the world knows better – but we also need to understand that this letter, and Paul’s words within, were written in the historical context of a Greco-Roman culture in which slavery was the norm and upwards of 35-40% of the populace were, in fact, slaves; which for me makes it all the more powerful and telling that Paul writes this very moving personal letter encouraging – no, urging… imploring (!) – true and loving reconciliation between Philemon and Onesimus, and not out some desire to “drop all charges,” so to speak, or as an effort to maintain the status quo, but rather something said and done out of faith, and Christian love, and because it’s the right thing to do.

Now I realize that you and I today might look at this relatively obscure bit of scripture and dismiss it as something totally out of sync – inappropriate, even – given our more enlightened understanding of the world and our faith in this age (though by the same token, I also have to say that I’m not willing to believe, as some have been saying as of late, that the ongoing and egregious sin of racism can be entirely pinned to verses such as what we’ve read today).  It’s true that this little letter of Paul to his friend Philemon comes off as little dissonant given its background; frankly, it’s probably the reason that this isn’t a passage that gets preached on all that often!

But then again, if you go back and read it again… if we hear in Paul’s words his earnest plea that Onesimus not be punished but welcomed home (“If you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me,” he says) and consider how Paul himself is more than willing to take the weight for any damages or debt that Onesimus might have incurred, and assures Philemon of this by emphasizing, “I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it,”  (Actually, I have a feeling that if this were something written online, this verse would have been in all caps!) for me what becomes clear in this letter is that Paul is doing more here than trying to smooth things over; no, he’s seeking to do what’s right in this difficult situation and challenging Philemon to do the same, ever and always for the sake of Jesus Christ.  And so when we look at these verses that way, the question being asked both of Philemon and to you and me is no different, really, than “Is there a Christian way to go to McDonald’s?”)

I love what the Rev. Rick Morely, Episcopal priest and blogger from New Jersey says about this:  he writes, “if you dare to take a third glance at this passage what you’ll find is faith hitting the road in the lives of real people dealing with real difficult issues and relationships.  It’s the story of three people… struggling to live out their faith, and being challenged by it over and over again.”  This is what faith looks like, you see, when things get real in this life, when the rubber meets the road, when you have to make a decision solely because of what it is you believe in faith and nothing else, and when you’re put in the position of having to explain it or to challenge someone else because of it!  This is what happens when you or I actually have to live out of all those lessons learned in Sunday School; it’s about what happens after we’ve said “Amen” to the pastor’s Sunday sermon and have headed out these doors into the real world!

It’s one thing, after all, to hear Jesus’ words about forgiving someone “seventy times seven;” quite another when it’s that family member or friend with whom you had a falling out years ago.  It’s laudable to show concern for the poor and dispossessed, the prisoner and the outcast; but what about when he or she’s sitting there looking at you?  I suspect that most of us know, down deep inside, just how much there is that we might just need to change about ourselves on the basis of faith… but what happens when all of a sudden there’s this situation, this person, this request of us to do, by faith, exactly that which has always made us feel uncomfortable?  What do we do?  And how will that affect us moving forward?

I think that’s exactly the kind of challenge that letter Paul wrote to Philemon offers up for you and me… the day to day challenge of living our faith, friends in real time and in real ways; discerning the right thing to do, and then to actually do it!  It’s as simple – and as utterly complicated – as that.

Snigg Larlee also introduced me to the concept of a “suitcoat religion;” that is, the many believers have of wearing their faith like they would their Sunday clothes, looking good on Sunday morning but taking it off and putting it away once the rest of the week has begun.  In other words, Christianity is not meant to be relegated to a couple of hours once a week but is something meant to be an integral part of every hour of every day; in our work, our play, in and through our relationships with family and friends, in how we greet the stranger and in how we relate to all those who Jesus loves.  It is as Paul wrote to the whole church in Colossae: “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe [our]selves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” (Colossians 3:12); to forgive and to bear with one another, no matter how difficult that may be at times; to seek wisdom and understanding as we walk through these days, and to “let the peace of Christ rule in [our] hearts, to which indeed we were called in the one body… and whatever we do, in word or deed, [to] do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (v. 15, 17)

Maybe it’s a letter; maybe a well-spoken word at the right time; perhaps standing strong in the face of opposition or ridicule.  It’s always being who we are, which is how God has created us to be and has redeemed us in Christ.  It’s finding, and knowing, the right thing to do.

May the Lord in Christ lead us and bless us in that discernment… and may our thanks be to God.

Amen and AMEN.

© 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
 

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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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