It seems that there is one thing of which we can be certain: we live in a time of uncertainty. We live in a time of great change. We live in an age where the Christendom paradigm, that structure which presumes that the vast majority of people around us share our faith and our values, is changing. I agree with Roberts and Meade that the changes have been coming for some time and we have just been unprepared for the changes that come with the paradigm shift.
Our folly, I fear, is that our reaction to these changes has been the wrong reaction. It seems that the loudest “Christian” voices have reacted with a shrill voice shouting out in the language of persecution. Now, I will concede that in some areas of the world, especially in the Middle East where ISIS seems hell-bent on destroying anything and anyone that does not fit into their extremist worldview, persecution is real. However, and you can disagree with me on this point, but, claims of persecution in the United States are, at best, a gross exaggeration.
In the midst of the changes that we see happening around us, we should be standing true to what Jesus identified as the “greatest commandment”: “‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31 New Revised Standard Version). But, in too many instances, it seems to me, we react to the changes that we see happening around us in a manner that demonstrates anything but love.
In his sermon, “On Love,” Wesley addresses the passage in 1 Corinthians 13:3, “If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing” (NRSV), and he points out that our motivation means everything:
There is great reason to fear that it will hereafter be said of most of you who are here present, that this scripture, as well as all those you have heard before, profited you nothing. Some, perhaps, are not serious enough to attend to it; some who do attend, will not believe it; some who do believe it, will yet think it a hard saying, and so forget it as soon as they can; and, of those few who receive it gladly for a time, some, having no root of humility, or self-denial, when persecution ariseth because of the word, will, rather than suffer for it, fall away. Nay, even of those who attend to it, who believe, remember, yea, and receive it so deeply into their hearts, that it both takes root there, endures the heat of temptation, and begins to bring forth fruit, yet will not all bring forth fruit unto perfection. The cares or pleasures of the world, and the desire of other things, (perhaps not felt till then) will grow up with the word, and choke it.” – (http://www.umcmission.org/Find-Resources/John-Wesley-Sermons/Sermon-139-On-Love#sthash.WcqgUtXC.dpuf)
It seems that we have let perceived power and status get in the way of our true mission as given to us by Christ. And I contend that, in a time when others advocate that we climb into our bunkers and hole up in our silos to separate ourselves from the world, that we should reject those calls to isolation and step boldly into the world to share “a more excellent way,” a way based in the love of Christ.
During the Easter Season I was preaching a series based upon the lectionary readings from the Epistle texts of 1 John which, along with the Gospel texts, focused primarily upon an attribute of God that challenges us as we attempt to live into the life that God calls each of us to live through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit… a life that is centered in the love of Jesus, the love of God, and the capacity of the Holy Spirit to give us the strength that we need to embody that love to a world that has no idea what love is.
John tells us that God is love. He tells us that we love because God first loved us. It is a message that the church needs to hear, because, to be perfectly frank, we haven’t been so good at this crazy and unruly thing called love.
And the wonderful, crazy thing about God’s love is this: God loves us whether we want God’s love or not – and it makes no difference whether we are worthy of God ’s love because, as I hope every one of us knows, we are most assuredly, most definitely un-worthy of God’s love and grace. That might not mean a lot to those of us sitting in this classroom on a Monday morning in Atlanta, but it can make all the difference in the world to a person who has been beaten down by the stress of trying to be worthy of God’s love… something that is preached by too many of our brothers and sisters, but mostly brothers in denominations that are more about rules than they are about grace. That’s the message that way too many of the people that we serve at the Tri-State Food Pantry have heard their entire lives… a message telling them that “you’re not good enough” and “if you don’t follow the narrow rules that we set out for you and use against you in our effort to define who’s in and who’s out then all you can look forward to is damnation to the eternal fires of hell.”
Now tell me, where is the Gospel in that?
The overarching story of God, personified in Jesus Christ and told to us in the fullness of Scripture is a message of love. All of humanity is created in love, created in the imago Dei, the very image and likeness of God. Paul reminds us in Romans 5:8, “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” Think about it: Christ died… for us… so that we might live and so that we might share that love with others in the name of Jesus.
We are the body of Christ.
We are a body that exists for one purpose: to love God with everything that we have and to love our neighbors as God loves us.
We are the body and we are Christ’s representatives to the world. And those of us who claim the faith of Jesus must make our stand in the world to proclaim Christ to everyone in every corner of the earth. Just like the song by Casting Crowns says:
Jesus paid much too high a price
For us to pick and choose who should come
And we are the Body of Christ
But if we are the Body
Why aren’t His arms reaching
Why aren’t His hands healing
Why aren’t His words teaching
And if we are the Body
Why aren’t His feet going
Why is His love not showing them there is a way
There is a way.
Jesus IS the way.
Jesus calls us to throw aside our prejudices and our fears and to go into the world and engage the world with his message of love to all people… period.
The work won’t be easy, but if we give our all to the honor and glory of God, then the rewards will be plenty. And the best part is that we won’t be there alone and on our own, because Jesus, through the Holy Spirit will be by our side as we go about His work – the work not of a kingdom that is yet to come, but a kingdom yet to be revealed in the here and now.
We are the body of Christ and it’s time for us to get to work.
Thanks be to God. In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.