RSS

As Bread for the Broken

(a sermon for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost and World Communion Sunday, based on  Exodus 16:2-15)

I suppose that it was inevitable.

After all, it was now about six weeks out from their deliverance from slavery in Egypt and their subsequent journey across the parted Red Sea into the Sinai wilderness: just long enough for food supplies to run out, patience to wear thin and the harsh reality of their situation to settle in.  And moreover, to be fair, there was a certain vagueness to this whole enterprise.  There’d been a whole lot of talk about freedom, a better life and “a land flowing with milk and honey,” (Exodus 3:8) which was all very good, but so far no specific indications as to how that was all going to work out; nor had they had any real say in the process.  All they knew is that this pilgrimage through the wilderness had now become a battle for survival; bad to the point where they’d even begun to reminiscence that even in the worst of times back in Egypt, they “sat by the fleshpots” and ate their fill of bread!  So it was kind of understandable that what they did in response was exactly what any of us might have done under the circumstances:  they complained. 

Now, in other translations of scripture, the word used is grumble, but actually for my money the best translation comes from the old King James Version where it says that “whole congregation of the children of Israel murmured” against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.  The idea that out amidst the dry sand and blistering winds these people were murmuring their discontent, for me says it all: no rioting, no attempted coup or petitions for asylum; just this growing crescendo of fear and uncertainty, an overwhelming feeling of helplessness that builds into hopelessness, and then to anger and desperation.

And that we can understand, right?  Because after all, we are a people who want, need and expect some measure of control in our lives!  M. Craig Barnes says this very well: “Vague is one of our least favorite adjectives.  If you give a report or presentation at work, the last thing you want to hear is that you were vague… when your daughter announces she is getting married and you ask about their plans for the future, you don’t want to hear they plan to live on love.  Vague frightens us.  We are a people who prefer plans, strategies, numbers, and lots of details.”

The trouble with all this, however, is that oftentimes life is far out of our control; and just like Israel, we find ourselves wandering aimlessly in the desert.  Things are going along just fine, and then you lose a job; there’s a health scare; a cherished relationship comes to an abrupt end; a world-wide global pandemic (!) leads to months of quarantine… and suddenly that pathway you’ve been walking along every day of your life takes a sharp turn into unfamiliar territory. You’re totally disoriented, scared to death and wanting like anything to go back to the way things were, where at least it was safe. 

That’s the desert experience, friends; that’s what the Israelites were facing out there in the wilderness; and that’s what you and I very often have to deal with in the utter uncertainty of our own lives! In the face of that, murmuring just seems like the proper response!

But here’s the other thing about the desert experience:  while it is most definitely the place where we have to give up control, it is also the place “where we learn to receive the mysterious future God has for us.”  To quote Craig Barnes again: “The desert journey is hard because it is so threatening.  Resources and assurances are few; questions and anxiety are plentiful.  In the desert you discover you have no choice but to trust God, which is why it is a place where souls are shaped.

In today’s reading from the book of Exodus we discover that the Israelites’ problem is ultimately not with Moses and Aaron, but with God.  Even Moses can see this: it’s not he or his brother that the people can’t trust, it’s Yahweh; and that’s because they don’t know or understand that this same God who enacted their deliverance also plans to be with them in the wilderness.  They don’t “get” that while their plight is very real, God in his providence will sustain them for the journey ahead.  Once you’ve started crossing the desert, you see, there is no going back; the future and its promise lay ahead and Israel had not yet come to embrace the truth that only the God of mystery could get them there.

So what does God do in the midst of the murmuring?  How will God respond to a people who won’t trust him to lead?  Well, the answer comes in one of the most evocative images we have in the Old Testament:  God tells Moses that “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you.”  It’s manna, “a fine, flaky substance” appearing each new day with the morning dew, “as fine as the frost on the ground,” as Exodus describes it; in fact, we’re told later on in this chapter that “the taste of it was like wafers made with honey.” (16:31)  It’s a true gift of God, but it’s a gift that comes with instructions:  first, every family has to gather their own; you can’t hoard it because by the middle of the day it will have been spoiled by the worms; and only one day’s ration was allowed, except on the sixth day of the week, when you could have an extra portion for the Sabbath.  So, manna in the morning, followed by the arrival of quail in the evening for meat: not too much food, to be sure; but enough, just enough sustenance to keep them going on the journey.

Interestingly enough, while Moses is very reassuring in bringing this news to the people – “in the morning you will see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your complaining,” he says to them – God, on the other hand, is more than up front as to how this is, in fact, a test of Israel’s trust and faith; a determination as to whether or not this measure of food will lead them in trusting that God will continue to provide for them along the way… or not!  If you read through the entirety of this 16th chapter of Exodus, at first it sounds kind of vindictive, the very vision of the judgmental God of the Old Testament.  But looking at it a little more closely, it makes perfect sense that God would see this as a test of faith; in fact, it actually kind of completes the gift!

You see, just as God understood that the Israelites would most certainly not be wholly satisfied with what they were being given; God also knows that there will never be enough sustenance in this world, at least, to rid you and me of every concern and anxiety we carry; because the true nature of life, friends, is that life is predictably unpredictable!  In other words, just about the time we figure out what we need to survive whatever it is we’re facing today, here comes another challenge that needs facing tomorrow!  On some level or another we will always be hungry, we will always be thirsty, there will always be yet another unexpected twist and turn along the pathways we follow: like it or not, that is simply what life is, and if you and I are going to live that life with any sort of confidence or integrity or purpose, friends, we are going to have to walk those pathways trusting God, knowing that there will be more manna and quail when we need it.

Granted, we all do the best we can along the way: we put away money for the future, we build up our pension accounts, we get serious about losing weight and exercising more, we wear our masks and make every effort to stay socially distanced from one another.  But at the end of the day, that kind of effort only takes us so far, and the time will inevitably come when in the midst of our challenges, our “murmuring” and even our brokenness, we’ll have to give the rest over to God… this God who provides for us one meal, one day, one blessing at a time; truly giving us “this day our daily bread.”

Today, of course, is World Communion Sunday and in a few moments, we’ll be gathering – however remotely in 2020 (!) – at the Lord’s Table with believers the world over so that we might know his presence in the broken bread and shared cup.  It’s also, I think, a time to reflect on the true meaning of this sacrament as regards our Christian faith and moreover, a chance for each of us to remember and give thanks for how this deceptively simple meal has nourished our own spiritual growth. 

For me, this day is filled with the memories of moments when in either receiving or serving communion I was made newly and palpably aware of the Lord’s presence in the bread and cup, as well as the powerful movement of God’s Holy Spirit in and through my life and the life of the church of which I was a part.  But of all those memories, perhaps the one that stands out the most happened right here in this very sanctuary; shortly after I’d arrived here at East Church as your pastor. 

As most of you know, before we came here, I was at a place I like to refer to as “in-between callings.”  Lisa, the children and I had left Ohio and had come back to Maine, where I was going to focus all my attention on the search and call process and finding a new church.  And we did so knowing that in the United Church of Christ, this is a process that can take some time; but hey, it was summer, we had the camp and it was going to be fine!  But… as August turned into September and the days of autumn crept toward a long Maine winter with still nothing concrete about a pastoral position, I’ll be honest with you; I had begun to do more than just a little “murmuring” of my own! Now, in retrospect, I don’t know if I ever doubted God through all of that but I certainly doubted myself and day by day I was feeling increasingly mired and broken there in the middle of my own personal desert wilderness. 

But you all know what happened:  our wonderfully amazing graceful God managed to bring us together as pastor and parish here at East Church.  And now, about a month in, it was the first Sunday of the month, we were in worship and I was leading us in communion; something that as a pastor I’d done literally hundreds of times over the years… but this time it was different.

And I can tell you exactly the moment I realized it:  it’s when I said, as I almost always do during communion, “In the broken bread we participate in the broken body of Christ… in the cup of blessing, we celebrate the new life that Christ brings.”  I tore the bread, and the reality of it hit me like a ton of bricks:  I’d been broken!  All the challenges and struggles of the past few months, all of the uncertainties, all of the doubt, all of the lingering feelings of regret and fear and anger and… brokenness in my life: I was suddenly and profoundly and deeply aware that Jesus’ body was broken for my sake so that I might know redemption and hope and life, not to mention forgiveness and the ability to forgive; all of this even when I’d been too mired in my own feelings of being lost and broken to fully know and trust in it.  But now I realized that I was, in fact, “participating in the broken body of Christ,” a recipient of love infinite and unending… and able, at last, to truly and wholly celebrate the new life Christ brings.  As bread was given for the broken in the form of manna, at that very moment of celebration in our worship I was given the sustenance I needed.

And I’m telling you about this today because if right now you’re feeling broken – maybe seven months of pandemic has finally gotten to you… perhaps the onslaught of negativity and divisiveness in this election year has left you exhausted, angry and bitter… or maybe you’ve come to the sad conclusion that this roller coaster ride that is 2020 is much more than you can handle and now you’re just broken as a result – if that’s you, beloved, then know that this Holy Meal we’re about to share is for you.  As the song goes, “there’s life to be shared in the bread and the wine,” and whereas this act of worship might not change the ever-spinning nature of the world in these times, it will give you and me the sustenance we need for this desert journey…

…so let us come to the table so that we might be fed, and that we might know the presence, the power and the Glory of God in Jesus Christ in the process.

And may our thanks be to God!

Amen and AMEN!

© 2020  Rev. Michael W. Lowry.  All Rights Reserved.

 

Tags: , , ,

Walking the Talk

(a sermon for September 27, 2020, the 17th Sunday after Pentecost, based on Matthew 21:23-32)

Let me just say this up front:  I could have been either one of those two sons!

I actually remember a whole lot of times growing up when my father would ask me to do chore or another – raking leaves in the front yard, for instance, or stacking firewood in the garage at camp – and just like the second son in Jesus’ parable I would say, if not altogether happily, then mostly willingly, “Sure, Dad, I’ll do that!” But somehow, I never seemed to get the job done: there was always something else I “needed” to do first, always something that I wanted to be doing rather than the job I was supposed to be doing!  And the best part of all is that I always had a perfectly reasonable, well thought out reason for not doing the job right then: I had the chance to hang out with my friends, for instance; or  it was kind of looking like rain and I didn’t want to get wet;  or (and thinking back, this excuse is my personal favorite), it’s only October, and all the leaves haven’t fallen off the trees yet, so why bother even trying to rake till all the leaves have come down?  Suffice to say, in my callow youth I was the very model of that second son who tells his father, “I go, sir,” out into the vineyard, but “did not go.”

On the other hand, however, I can also recall a few times when I cussed and moaned pretty much without ceasing over some chore or another, to the point where I pretty much refused to cooperate because it wasn’t fair and none of the other kids had to do this kind of hard labor!  So just like the first son of the parable, I said, “I will not.”  But then, those were often the times when, for whatever reason – be it wanting to please my parents or to not be grounded – I changed my mind and did the job I was asked to do.

Like I said before:  I could have been either of those two sons in Jesus’ parable.  But which of these two responses do you think pleased my parents the most (ignoring, for the moment, that they would probably would have been the happiest if I’d just said yes and done the job in the first place!)?  Certainly, when I (to borrow a phrase from another parable) “came to myself,” and went to do the job that I’d previously refused to do, perhaps having learned a lesson or two along the way!

At the end of the day, you see, our talk matters very little; it is the way that we “walk the talk” that is truly important.  As the old saying goes, “actions speak louder than words,” and not only that, actions have a way of showing forth our true selves, especially as it pertains to our place in the Kingdom of God.

Our text for this morning from Matthew’s gospel is set just after Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and just a few days before his crucifixion on Good Friday; so already there is an inevitably about the events that are unfolding.  In fact, as Rev. Nikki Hardeman of McAfee School of Theology has written, as we pick up the reading today, “emotions are high, the politics are tense, and Jesus has a sense of the danger his life is in,” and “we also see Jesus laying all of his chips on the table and not holding back on his teaching.”

With all that in mind, now we have “the chief priests and elders of the people” coming to Jesus in the temple to challenge him regarding the “authority” by which he can teach the way he does.  It is, of course, a classic “gotcha question” on their part: if, they reasoned, Jesus answers in defiance of their authority as priests and elders, he could be accused of blasphemy, but if Jesus answers in deference to those religious leaders, essentially “walking back” his revolutionary teachings, he’d most certainly lose credibility with the people; which, as far as the scribes and Pharisees were concerned, would be a “win-win” for them!  Jesus, however, was not about to get caught in that kind of trap and so, as was typical of Jesus, answered the elders’ question with a question of his own, this one regarding baptism of John, a question that the temple leadership had no intention of addressing!

So there they all were; and it’s in the midst of this long and very awkward silence that Jesus shares the aforementioned parable about the two sons and their different responses to doing the will of their father.  And what becomes immediately clear is that there’s more going on in this story than the comparative work ethic of that vineyard owner’s two sons!  What Jesus is doing here – quite succinctly, in fact – is calling out those so-called “righteous uprights” who claim to and who may even appear to be following God but who, in truth of fact, do not; while at the same time, putting forth the notion that perhaps there are those who by their reckoning, aren’t doing “the will of the Father,” so to speak, but are in fact doing in every way they are able the will of God!  In fact, Jesus goes on to say to this very silent group of priests and elders, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.”  (Which, by the way, was a statement not only shocking in and of itself, but also one rife with the politics of the time: because what Jesus was saying was that even those who were collaborators with the Roman occupation – as were many tax collectors of the time – as well as those who sold out their very faith to other religions and other nations – which was in the parlance of ancient Israel was regarded as akin to prostitution – would be more qualified for God’s kingdom than even these priests and elders, who were considered to be among the greatest adherents of the law and the prophets!).  In other words, says Jesus, what you all say about faith and law and authority means nothing at all (!) unless that is actually practiced; unless you are “walking the talk” of righteousness and faith all these other so-called sinners will get into the kingdom ahead of you.

This text offers up the perfect denouement of how Palm Sunday became Good Friday, as well as a great illustration of the hypocrisy of the religious establishment of Jesus’ time.  What’s interesting, though, is that this parable of Jesus also has a way of speaking to our own attitudes of what constitutes true faith and by extension the status of our own access to the kingdom.

To put a finer point on this, how easy is it for us to become a tad, shall we say, judgmental as to who may or may not be faithful in their walk or who are doing God’s work in their lives.  Don’t think this doesn’t happen, friends: after all, we are currently living in days when people regularly make judgments as to the character of others based solely on their differing political views; so why wouldn’t that also happen as a response to matters of religion and faith?  I remember, for instance, years ago as a young pastor serving on an ecumenical planning board charged with creating a charter for a Christian-based community youth center; but this was a job that was never completed because there were some on the board who refused to sign on because they argued that there were other people and churches in the community who were not Christian “enough” to be a part of the outreach (the project, sadly, fell apart in the wake of the arguing).

So, yes, it is tempting to dismiss those who we don’t think are doing the will of God: maybe their theology is different from ours; maybe the choices they’ve made in their lives don’t scream “capital G-good church people,” maybe we struggle with their points of view on some issues, or maybe they’re just… different from us.   And so we cast them in the mold of the second son, the one who was quick to cut and run on anything we’d consider to be true to the faith… what we do, you see, if I can quote Nikki Hardeman again, is “to judge based on what we see, when what we see is a very small part of the picture!”  And what makes this all the more ironic is that at the same time we’re apt not to recognize that there are a good many “believers” out there, maybe even a few of us who are more like the first son than we’d like to admit, people who seem to be doing everything right but whose faith ends up being shallow at best.

And here’s Jesus, who’s asking us now, “Who do you think is doing God’s will… the one who’s saying, “Lord, Lord, yes, yes, sure, sure,” only to fall away at the first sign of… anything; or the one who’s been struggling to live up to what they should be and how they should live and ends up with a deeper and more sincere faith than anyone ever thought possible? 

Well, Jesus has the answer… and it’s the same one that the temple leadership was given: it’s the one who said “no,” and then relented in doing God’s will; the one who understood on some level, to quote David Lose, that “each moment is pregnant with the possibility of receiving God’s grace, repenting of things we’ve done or were done to us, returning to right relationship with God and those around us, and [truly] receiving the future as open rather than determined,” and then doing everything possible to opening themselves to the Kingdom and everything that God has to offer.

And what does this mean for you and for me in this very strange, uncertain and divisive days of 2020?  Well, first off, it’s a reminder to you and me to, as the kids say, not to be so “judgey;” because God’s grace is amazing and that it extends to each and every one of his children “with the gift of acceptance and love and forgiveness that are the hallmarks of the kingdom Jesus proclaims,” (David Lose, again) regardless of how we might perceive their motivations, their experiences, or their worthiness.  So be careful, brothers and sisters, and judge not…

But I also think that there’s something else about his passage, and it’s that Jesus knows that we struggle at times with “doing the will of the Father” as it regards living up to what we profess to believe in faith.  Most especially right now: I dare say that there have been very few of us over the past six months who have not wondered aloud how anyone is supposed to live in love and with true Christian faith in times such as these; and who haven’t thought, however fleetingly, that perhaps – since the world is going to “heck in a handbasket,” anyway (!) – that maybe we ought to cut and run and just do whatever we can to get by!  Bottom line is that the Lord knows what we’re going through in this strange and divisive time; but the Lord is also, even amidst our current struggles, is calling us to “embrace his grace” and “walk the talk,” returning to the vineyard of God’s kingdom in our midst.  We are called to do God’s work in this time and this place, in our time and our place; and by that work our faith will be made stronger.

Beloved, may you and I answer the call today… and as we do, may our thanks be to God!

Amen and AMEN!

© 2020  Rev. Michael W. Lowry.  All Rights Reserved.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on September 27, 2020 in Current Events, Jesus, Life, Sermon

 

Tags: ,

Stooping Down

(An Online Message for September 20, 2020, the 16th Sunday after Pentecost, based on Mark 9:30-37)

Her name was Emily, she was six years old, and she was a visitor at our church that Sunday morning.  Well, not exactly a visitor, as she and her family were long time members of the congregation I was serving at the time, but they’d moved away to Atlanta the year before, and this was their first time back with us since they’d left.  So at the fellowship hour after worship, we’d all crowded around these old friends to visit and get caught up.

I have to confess, at first I didn’t even realize that Emily was standing there, so involved was I in all the small talk flying around.  But Emily was there, patiently but quite persistently trying to get my attention.  First it was, “Mr. Lowry… Mr. Lowry… Mr. Lowry!” with the increasing sense of urgency and intensity that kids can do so well!  But such was the clamor of voices in the room and my lack of attentiveness that this wasn’t working, so then she moved on to repeatedly yanking on the ministerial robe!  Now this I noticed; but how did I respond?  I gave her one of these (the wait a minute and shh! Finger!), and went back to my “adult” conversation.

But Emily was undaunted, and a minute or three later, when the crowd had dispersed, I finally looked down to find that Emily’s eyes were completely fixed on any sign she might be granted an audience with her former pastor.  At this point, I’m finally starting to get it, and bending close so I could see and hear her, I say “And how are you, Emily?” 

And Emily, bless her, started to tell me:  about her new school, her teacher, her classmates, how hot Atlanta is, about what she had for breakfast that morning and other matters crucial in the life of a first grader.  The conversation didn’t really last all that long – she got bored with me pretty quickly – and when she was done, Emily gave me a big hug and ran off to be with the other kids of the church.  The whole scene made me laugh, but I have to tell you that I’ve never forgotten that particular pastoral conversation; not so much because of how incredibly important it was to her to tell me about all her adventures, but how much more important it was that I stooped down to really listen!

Wouldn’t you agree that in any true act of caring and love, you’re going to find someone “stooping down” in some way or another?  For instance, if you’re in a serious conversation with someone, one of the non-verbal signals that that person is truly listening to you is that they’ll lean in just a little bit, as if to say, “I’m coming a little closer, because I want to make sure I get every word.”  Likewise, if you’ve ever visited someone in the hospital, then you know how awkward it can be standing by the hospital bed and towering over this person who is feeling weak and sick; so what do you do, or at least what did you do in the days before Covid? You leaned over, or you knelt down, or you pulled up a chair so you can be at their level!  

It’s within such relatively small considerations that are found a spirit of caring and love (and, might I add, if you’ve had a loved one sick or hospitalized over the past several months, then you know that these are the considerations that are truly missed!).  Robert Browning, the great 19th century poet, says this beautifully in a verse we hear a lot at Christmastime: “Such ever was love’s way – to rise, it stoops.”  And according to Jesus, such is the kingdom of God.

In our text for this morning, Jesus and his disciples have journeyed through Galilee to the village of Capernaum.  They’ve reached the house where they’re staying, and this is when Jesus turns to the disciples and asks, “What were you arguing about on the way?”  Another simple question from Jesus without an easy answer, not to mention another one that’s met with embarrassed silence,  because what they’d been doing out there on the road was arguing about their legacy; specifically, who among them would be eventually be remembered as the best and greatest of disciples!  And even they know how inappropriate that was, not to mention ironic: after all, here was Jesus, who in every aspect of his life was the least, lowest, and servant of all and who’d just barely explained to them that this pilgrimage they were on would inevitably lead to betrayal and his death that would become this incredible sacrifice for the sake of a sinful humanity!  And yet, still here were these disciples all bickering over their own greatness! 

Well, Jesus’ response to this is, to say the least, swift and decisive: “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all,” and to illustrate this point, he takes a child who’s there in the house and “puts it among them” as a living parable.  Cradling this little one in his arms, Jesus says to them, “Whoever embraces one of these children as I do embraces me, and far more than me – God who sent me.” (The Message)

It’s a beautiful and familiar image; but we need to understand that this was no small gesture on Jesus’ part.  When we read this passage, you see, no doubt we think of children like our own; you know, cute and personable, little bundles of energy and personality.  But in Jesus’ time, children were not always viewed that way; but rather as unbridled bundles of chaos of little worth to the world. Many children in those days were sold into slavery, and that’s if they hadn’t already been cast out of society or killed, especially if they were girls. At best, children were to be seen and not heard, and then, not seen very much.

In Mark, when Jesus speaks of “welcoming” a child, the Greek word that’s used is decomai, which translates to mean “to receive or fully accept.”  What this means in the context of this passage is that we have this child who in the scheme of Palestinian life, power and culture means… little or nothing at all.  Jesus, however, embraces that child with love and affection and then says to the others, when you fully receive and accept this little one who’s weak, powerless, unappreciated and unworthy, you’re accepting me.  Now there’s a powerful image:  Jesus is saying, this is how you become “the greatest of all.” For you see, the Kingdom of God is entered through a very small door: in order to get in, you have to stoop to the level of a child!

Two thousand years later, of course, it’s safe to say that we do view the place of children differently and in a more enlightened fashion – in fact, for the most part, in our society today we place a high value on welcoming children, as well as on their welfare and nurture – understanding, of course, that the rising numbers of hurt, abused, abandoned and poverty-stricken children ought to be enough to remind us that as a people, we still have a ways to stoop to reach the level of a child and alleviate that pain. 

But that having been said, friends, I want to suggest to you this morning that for us to focus this text solely on children, as is very tempting to do, is to miss the point of what Jesus is saying.  The fact is, the child that Jesus is holding in his arms could be that homeless man who stands with his sign “Will work for food” down on Fort Eddy Road.  Or it could be that teenager who’s out on the street, abused, forgotten and pregnant, quite literally with no one to go home to.  Or for that matter, maybe it’s your neighbor who has faced such a barrage of tests and needles and chemotherapy that they are physically, emotionally and spiritually beaten down, to the point of feeling as though they don’t even really exist any longer… and being stuck in quarantine isn’t helping the situation at all.  Look in the arms of Jesus, friends, and you’ll see that in his loving embrace he’s cradling those who are weak and hurting and powerless, the outsiders and the nobodies.  Welcome these, Jesus says, receive these who are the least of all, and you’ll be receiving me. 

And whoever receives me, dear one, receives the one who sent me.

It’s still an important lesson, friends, because in truth, it’s all so very tempting, and easy, for us as Christians to glory at who we are!    I mean,  don’t misunderstand me here; I don’t want to overstate this, because I know that most of us don’t run around with an “holier than thou” attitude!   But it’s also true that in the empowerment our faith gives us, as well as in our joy of being with and serving God, there is always a danger of our standing so tall we’ll miss those below.

And that’s why we need Jesus, friends; and in this instance, not so much the “Jesus, Friend, Kind and Gentle” we love to sing about but rather the Jesus of Hard Truth who challenges us to live with a Servant’s heart.  If you’re going to follow me, he says, it begins by reaching out and reaching down into the places of hurt and suffering, stooping down as you go, so that you might be at the same level as those who have been beaten down by life and living, and love them as I have loved you.

This is the gospel of Jesus Christ, friends, and it’s a gospel that applies globally and societally; but never forget that it’s a gospel that applies first to you and me, here and now. Simply put, sometimes the best thing you and I ever do for others is to simply be with them, bringing the love of Christ to them in exactly the places where they are. 

One of the questions I get asked a lot as a pastor is what one is supposed to say to someone who’s just had a death in the family.  We’ve all been there, haven’t we: we’ve gone to the visiting hours, and we wonder how we can possibly get by the awkwardness of the moment and say something, anything that might give our friend some comfort in this horrible grief their experiencing; or at least not say something that will inadvertently make things worse! 

But, you see, the thing is that we really don’t have to worry about that: because it’s not really about what we say; the fact is, what they’re going to remember later on are not our words of eloquence and wisdom, or even that we were at a loss for words.  What they remember is that we were there; that we, that we looked them in the eyes to see their sadness; that we took their hands in ours and we hugged them (if only, these days, in a socially-distanced fashion!) and cried with them for a bit.  Maybe the only words spoken were “I’m sorry,” if that; but it spoke volumes, and trust me, we did more good in that moment, offered more healing, showed more love than we ever thought possible.  And all simply because we cared, and we showed that care by stooping down low enough that we might touch, and fell and share in their pain and grief.

Beloved, if you want an example of how to be “Christ-like” in these troubled times, there it is:  if we can love like that, if we will choose to love like that, letting Christ’s love be manifest in us, then we are not far from the kingdom of God.  As Christians, as followers of Jesus Christ, this is our life’s calling, yours and mine, wherever we are; to love one another with a love that stoops. As it says elsewhere in scripture, “Truly… just as you did it to one of the least of these… you did it to me.”

Go forth and serve the Lord today with that kind of love.  And may our thanks be unto God!

AMEN and AMEN.

© 2020  Rev. Michael W. Lowry.  All Rights Reserved.

 
 

Tags:

 
%d bloggers like this: