3 Simple Rules: Do No Harm

Galatians 5:14-15

14 For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

Today is part two in a 4-part series on the “Three Simple Rules” or the General Rules of the early Methodists. Remember the three rules as Reuben Job states:  Do No Harm, Do Good, and Stay in Love with God.  Last week we introduced the idea that Methodists became a driving force in 18th-century England in large part because this spiritual revival movement was anchored into a system of small groups. Remember what Fred Barnes said, editor of The New Republic, on how it affected England, “Yes, it had tremendous economic, social, and political consequences, but it began as a spiritual revival – a spiritual awakening. And unless we get in this nation a spiritual awakening and a spiritual revival that will create these kinds of economic and political implication…in our day, it won’t work. It’s got to have a new generation of Methodists who will do for this day what they did in the 18th century.”

That’s where our scripture comes in.  Love God and love neighbor.  5 simple words, harder than anything to live out.  How do we love God with all our souls, with all our hearts and with all our minds?  Who is our neighbor?  I think Wesley was getting at that by his hard core belief in personal piety – doing all you can to abide in God and grow in grace and knowledge.  Wesley didn’t believe you should leave your brain at the door.  He was an Oxford don.  He believed what Albert Outler called the Wesleyan Quadrilateral that you had to look at things with Scripture at the base along with Tradition, Reason, and Experience.  But only when he was crossing back over to England from America did he witness the Moravian’s assurance of their salvation while his boat was tossed to and fro on the waves.  You see we are all on a life-long faith journey and we grow in our love of God each and every day.  We live and move and breathe in the Spirit of God and nothing we can do can ever separate us from God’s love.

The next thing is Love of Neighbor.  That’s why Wesley not only believed in personal piety – you can’t just cloister yourself in your own little prayer closet or in an ivory tower.  Jesus calls us to be in the world but not of it.  First we have to be IN it to bring God’s kingdom to earth – love, peace, joy, hope.  Social holiness is aligning your self with the least of these and setting the captives free – whether it be from prisons of their own creation and choices or coming alongside them helping any way you can.

We learned last week the use of small groups reflected the unique theology of the Methodists and the needs of their time. After all, theirs was a time when science and economics, philosophy and many theologies, supported the idea that people are pretty hard-wired in their animal instincts. Some folks, they thought, just naturally have more virtue than others, and overall a “leopard really can’t change his spots.” In other words, for the most part you were either born a good egg or not. From that perspective, it was believed that church should try to deter sin, but more than that its function was to be the channel through which people could be forgiven after inevitably giving into temptation time after time. And, too many times, that forgiveness was only available to the special few who had access to church.

But into this reality came the Methodists, who believed that any sincere follower of Jesus could be a changed person – in terms of one’s decisions, priorities and even behaviors. John Wesley, upheld that Jesus’ death and resurrection weren’t just meant to keep us on this merry-go-round of sin and pardon. Instead, he taught that being born into a new creation means, by the ongoing work of the Spirit, we have the potential for sanctification. We can and should strive to grow in holiness, and try to approach a perfect love for God and neighbor in which our sin doesn’t have room to thrive anymore. Or, think of it this way. I put I don’t know how much Neosporin I put on Enoch’s cuts, itch relief cream on his poison ivy, and a massive amount of bandaids last night.  He is constantly scraped up ALL over the place.  I had my share of scrapes because I was a klutzy, gangly, tom boy.   My knees were always scraped.  My two brothers and I grew up when there were no digital cameras, so how did we take family pictures? We went to the local department store and there would be a kind of pop-up Olan Mills area there. And, as was always the case, one of us at least, two of us most times had skinned knees or bite marks.  Do you relate to that at all?  Did you spend childhood with skinned knees?

Imagine our faith lives like this: imagine that every time we sin and fail and fall short spiritually, it’s like we stumble and skin our knees, just like when we were kids.  John Wesley would say our faith doesn’t just provide an infinite supply of band-aids. Our faith invites us, by God’s grace, to grow into our legs, to learn to walk with God, and maybe to start falling down less in the first place. Do you hear the difference? It’s what blew people’s minds about the Methodist movement. No wonder the Methodist altar call wasn’t just “believe today and be saved” it was, “believe in the Lord, be saved, and join a group today to support you in Christian transformation.”

That’s important to us because these groups, dozens and dozens of them, put their theories to the test, over and over. It was not just a façade to ask people how they were and they would immediately say “fine” and you both would go on your way.  It was, “How well is it with your soul?”  This question became a crucible or incubator for finding out exactly what works in order for Christian disciples to help each other change, to grow together, and be stronger in the faith together.  The result is these three simple rules. Rule #1 is Do No Harm.  I want you to hear it as the time-tested Christian counsel of our spiritual mothers and fathers. Do. No. Harm.

Now, I’d love to know exactly how you receive that as a rule. “Do no harm.” We all have different thresholds for harm, don’t we? For some of us, harm might seem rare or remote, especially by comparison to other places and times. Many of us are stable, secure Americans and spanking our children isn’t even allowed, right? Where’s the harm? For others of us, all we see is harm. In several articles for The Atlantic, psychologist John Haidt proposes that, more and more in America, our only criteria for whether or not something is morally wrong is if harm is caused. That can work alright, but Haidt says it’s also the root of some big problems, like an over-sensitivity on our college campuses if you’re familiar with terms like “micro-aggressions” and “trigger warnings.” Haidt calls the trend “vindictive protectiveness” because, at some point, these efforts to avoid harm end up inflicting harm themselves. My point is that we need a place to start lest this simple rule doesn’t turn out so simple. Let’s read what Wesley said what doing harm was.  First: By doing no harm, by avoiding evil of every kind, especially that which is most generally practiced, such as:

  • The taking of the name of God in vain.
  • The profaning the day of the Lord, either by doing ordinary work therein or by buying or selling.
  • Drunkenness: buying or selling spirituous liquors, or drinking them, unless in cases of extreme necessity.
  • Slaveholding; buying or selling slaves.
  • Fighting, quarreling, brawling, brother going to law with brother; returning evil for evil, or railing for railing; the using many words in buying or selling.
  • The buying or selling goods that have not paid the duty.
  • The giving or taking things on usury—i.e., unlawful interest.
  • Uncharitable or unprofitable conversation; particularly speaking evil of magistrates or of ministers.
  • Doing to others as we would not they should do unto us.
  • Doing what we know is not for the glory of God, as:
  • The putting on of gold and costly apparel.
  • The taking such diversions as cannot be used in the name of the Lord Jesus.
  • The singing those songs, or reading those books, which do not tend to the knowledge or love of God.
  • Softness and needless self-indulgence.
  • Laying up treasure upon earth.
  • Borrowing without a probability of paying; or taking up goods without a probability of paying for them.

I want you to notice something. They had an exhaustive way of defining harm. It’s robust, probably more than what you had in mind, and if you notice the majority of these fall under “such as.”  You are a free to write your own.  Some of them are more challenging than others.  Can I get a witness?   The “such as’s” are divided into two parts.  The sins or harm we do consciously and those we do unconsciously.   The sins of volition, the harm we cause consciously – making choices because “I want to” or think “I have to.” Like when I have an angry outburst with someone or look at someone lustfully or tell a little white lie or gossip about someone or I don’t pick up my litter. Conscious harm.  It’s just a small, little thing.  No one will know.  No one will know that it was me.  But even those little things do harm and sometimes they do a great deal of harm.  Then there’s unconscious harm which I inadvertently cause just by being naturally self-absorbed or by failing to see the impact of my decisions down the line. Like when I’m a wasteful steward of God’s resources, whether it be food, energy, water, while somewhere someone doesn’t have enough to live. You can argue that this isn’t exactly unconscious, because we all know good and well that our choices have impact, but nevertheless: when we don’t overtly mean to hurt anyone, unconscious harm.

You can see your harm through the lens of individual choices, the harm I personally inflict on myself, others, God’s heart and creation, all by myself. Individual harm. Do No Harm means you’re not hurting one of the least of these or yourself.  Self-harm is running just as rampant as harm to others.  You can take a long hard look at things in terms of the harm that we can only accomplish together. Corporate harm, through immoral group dynamics and institutional sin. The sins of society, of slavery, of economy. If we’re attentive to it, “Doing no harm” includes the conscious and unconscious, individual and corporate.  Reuben Job writes of harm, “Each of us knows of groups that are locked in conflict, sometimes over profound issues and sometimes over issues that are just plain silly. But the conflict is real, the divisions deep, and the consequences can often be devastating. If, however, all who are involved can agree to do no harm, the climate in which the conflict is going on is immediately changed. How is it changed? Well, if I am to do no harm, I can no longer gossip about the conflict. I can no longer speak disparagingly about those involved in the conflict. I can no longer manipulate the facts of the conflict. I can no longer diminish those who do not agree with me and must honor each as a child of God. I will guard my lips, my mind and my heart so that my language will not disparage, injure or wound another child of God. I must do no harm, even while I seek a common good.”

You may be thinking of the ways you do all sorts of harm.  There’s a reason that this is number one. The Methodists realized that in our fallen human state, harm is our natural language. After all, the good farmer in the parable is awfully direct with his servants. He doesn’t say, “Oh, in the midst of the beautiful, fruitful wheat that I’ve planted, another farmer with a different set of strategic interests planted an alternative species.” No, in reference to our sinful produce he calls a spade a spade, or rather a weed a weed, the lifeless stuff that’s hardly worth burning.  If we’re ever going to do no harm then first, we need to have the ability to be real with one another, to paint a distinct, outlined picture of the true state of our hearts.  In the Methodist groups, this happened through confession, and every single week the members knew that their first job was not to hold back but to speak their struggles out loud, before God and one another. It was the first step toward discerning the wheat versus the weed in their hearts, and it’s something we have got to find ways to do together. Holy, honest confession.  Doesn’t it help to say things out loud?  So they’re not rolling around in our heads filled with worry, guilt and fear.  Speaking it aloud casts out fear.  When we confess things aloud, we do so in humility acknowledging we don’t have it all together, we don’t have it all figured out.

What did the Methodists do other than confess each week? They prayed together.  They shared each other’s joys and struggles.  Life together. They set out to connect with one another’s hearts and with God’s heart. The next week they would report in and then hold each other accountable in mutual love when they failed or fell short.  God could speak through their human voices a word of encouragement, challenge, and forgiveness.  They could celebrate together, because they knew exactly what God was doing in their lives by God’s transforming grace.

God doesn’t leave us where we are.  God continues to mold us, shape us, and free us to live lives of transformation.  The old has gone.  The new has come.  Not to be good little Christian boys and girls, not to be sure we’ve stamped our passport for heaven, but to be disciples. To be followers of Jesus who even if they’ve got their knees scraped with sin, God’s grace has enough Neosporin in it to heal anew.

Which brings us to this meal we are sharing together every Sunday during Lent and the transformative power where if we confess the harm we have done to ourselves, to others and to God, God is faithful and just, and will cover a multitude of our sins.  Hear these words anew and afresh as I say them and we will sing our responses today as well as the Lord’s Prayer.

What are you looking for?

John 1:29-42

29The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” 35The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”

37The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

What Are You Looking For?

Why are you sitting here in church this morning?
What possibly possessed you to climb out of your warm bed on a quiet Sunday morning and come to church?  And it’s turning into  beautiful day outside?  And you’re here, again?!?

Christmas is over, remember? The tree is down, the ornaments put away, even the pine needles have pretty much worked themselves out of the carpet by now. There is no big liturgical holiday scheduled for this Sunday. And yet there you sit.  I see you.

Why? What are you looking for?

We are a destination-obsessed culture. When was the last time you slid behind the wheel of your car without the least idea of where you were going to go? The old tradition of taking a “Sunday drive” has gone by the wayside. We are busy people with crammed, jam-packed schedules. Just look at our business cards: name, address, cell phone number, work phone number, e-mail address, web site, Instagram, facebook, Google plus, snapchat, twitter or our linked in profiles.

Instead of meandering about, we have morning news and radio traffic reports for the commute to downtown, to North Charleston, to Summerville, telling us where the accidents are and we have GPS’s or Google maps on our phones to give us the latest on how to adjust our driving routes around congested intersections and clogged arteries. We have so many places to go and appointments to keep that we keep our phones in our hand so that we’re constantly connected and we miss the world going on all around us in “real life.”  We don’t have time to wander around, to walk about and explore.  Much less have time to even ask the question, “Now what was I looking for?”  As I open the pantry, I’m overwhelmed by the options, and immediately think now, what was I looking for?  It’s not just our pantries.  It’s our jobs, our kid’s activity schedules, or the like.  We have all these things vying for our attention and some of them are great and worthwhile things, but we’re so over programmed that we’re not fully present anywhere or we’re half-way present everywhere.

This culture is looking for something – desperately. There is a quest for some sort of awakening, a deep hunger for spiritual renewal, lurking behind all the scheduled chaos that fills postmodern life. Not all recognize they are even searching for something MORE to add to their lives. Something significant.  Something filling for this gnawing emptiness deep inside the soul.  We are each after something that awakens our hearts, souls AND minds.

I posted a blog yesterday, when we were taking a break on the job site, written by Gina Butz and in it she talks about being busy to the max.  She was in a new country, six months pregnant, doing ministry with her husband, meeting with small groups, burning the candle at both ends.  When her baby was 6 months old, she talks about cleaning up a blow out in his diaper, while she meets with her language coach.  She writes, “In my desperation, I cried out to God, and He led me to Jeremiah 6:16. It reads, “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.”  When I read that, my soul ached. I longed for that rest.”

“Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.”  Do you long for that rest?  Boy, I do!

We try to squeeze all the time out of our schedule to the very last drop as with the coffee commercial many years ago.  Perhaps it is our continuing commitment to a “filling” schedule that has made a boom market for spiritual “quick fixes” in the last ten years.  The amount of blogs, podcasts, online devotionals has increased dramatically. In the marketplace of this new era, when we’re always connected, spirituality, a quick and easy spirituality especially, has become a major consumer item. You can get a smorgasbord of Bible apps, devotional apps, and even get the Common Prayer app.  Whenever a spiritual ache twinges or an empty soul growls, all we have to do is look to a phone or a computer or we can run to the store and pick up the newest hot-seller on the spiritual-fulfillment list. You’ll notice the pile of books in my office or the apps on my phone or the amount of blogs I post, I’m just as guilty.  Note that I said I found that blog on a break when we were on the Sellers Work Blitz yesterday as I was cleaning layers of grime in this man’s kitchen.  Hammers and saws were in the background but I was left alone for a few minutes with the Rabbi.  I often relate to the story of Mary and Martha.  I’m more often than not, a Martha, busy making preparations and checking things off the list and missing out on the opportunity to sit at the feet of the Messiah and simply be.  I long for more time to sit at his feet, listen, rest in and acknowledge he’s the Great I Am, the Lamb of God, the One who was born to set the captives free.

When Jesus turned and confronted John the Baptist’s two disciples as they began following him, they were startled by his question and its directness. “What are you looking for?” Jesus asked. More John Wayne or Clint Eastwood than anything mamby pamby. No pithy parable, no gentle discipling. More a sharp question than anything else. During the course of Jesus’ ministry, it would become blatantly evident just what some of his so-called “followers” were looking for.

– As his reputation spread, there were the throngs that crowded around him with various diseases and ailments. They were looking for healing.

– As his popularity spread, there were the religious authorities who began to question his theology and orthodoxy. They were looking for a fight.

– As his miracles increased, there were the crowds of hangers-on or groupies, just there for the show. They were looking for entertainment.

– As his wisdom spread, there were seekers like the rich young ruler who tried to second-guess his meanings. They were looking for an easy way into heaven.

– As his fame circulated, and his famine-quenching powers became the talk of the town, there were lots of people with needs and wants who followed in his wake. They were looking for the loaves and fishes.

When Jesus went off by himself to the mountains and was lost in prayer, his own disciples came and interrupted him, declaring, “Everyone is looking for you!”

The disciples were right. Everyone is looking for Jesus, for the living spirit of God in their lives – and no imitations will fill their needs.  Not fancy cars, lavish houses, high-powered jobs, designer clothes… The answer to Jesus’ soul-searching question, “What are you looking for?”, can’t be brought home from the shopping mall or a car dealership.  It comes from a seeking heart ready to sit at the feet of Jesus acknowledging him as Lord of our lives.  Saint Augustine writes, “You have made us for yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”  You have made us for yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they rest in YOU.

When Jesus confronted these two would-be disciples with his haunting question, “What are you looking for?”, the answer he received may sound strange to us, but it was actually a pretty good start.

“Rabbi,” they replied, “where are you staying?” “Teacher,” they were saying, “let us join with you and be your students.” Let us pick up whatever we can from you as we learn at your feet.  When Jesus responds to this address and request, his answer is an invitation, “Come and see.”  It’s always an invitation with Jesus.  Discovering the spirit of God, the presence of Christ, in your life is rarely experienced as a blinding light or a burning bush ie. Paul or Moses.  It takes gradual morsels, ingested, digested and lived out in our lives.  Growing your soul, filling your spirit with the right nutrients and nourishment, is a lifelong process.

Do you choose to call Jesus, Lamb of God, as John the Baptist did?  The Mighty Atoner for all our sins.  Jesus who made the great sacrifice and washed away all our sins.  Do you choose to call him Rabbi or Teacher?  The One who walks in the way that leads to life?  Do you choose to sit at the feet of this Rabbi your whole life long?  You can always learn something if you truly follow Jesus.  Or do you call him Messiah, like Andrew said to his brother Simon Peter?  The One who is we have been waiting for.  The One whom the prophets foretold.  The One who proclaims release to the captives, the recovery of sight to the blind, the Light of the World.  Jesus can be anything you need, if you look for him, Healer, Savior, Justice-Seeker.  If you seek Jesus with all your heart than you will find him.  If you invite him into your lives, he’ll be there. Rev, Canon Manoj Mathew Zacharia, Sub-Dean at Christ Church Cathedral in Cincinatti, writes, “What are we looking for?  The answer to this question depends on our basic orientation towards and understanding of Truth. If our orientation is rooted in self-centeredness and the accumulation of wealth and power for its own sake, then we are looking for truth in the idols that society has given us in the form of individualistic materialism and consumerism. If we are looking for an authentic experience rooted in the vision of a new heaven and earth bridged by the reconciling work of God manifest in the redemptive work of Christ, we are looking for a relationship centered on Jesus, who proclaimed himself to be the way, the truth, and the life.”

Is that, perhaps, the reason you came to church today? To continue your spiritual search or get sustenance for the journey? To attend your life long journey to grow more and more like Jesus?  To find fellowship and support from your fellow believers?  In Matthew 22 he had just silenced the Sadducees, when the Pharisees sought to trick him and they asked, “Which commandment in the law is the greatest?”  In verse 37 he says to them, “37He said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38This is the greatest and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”  What are you looking for?  A church who follows Jesus’s commands?  To Love God and Love neighbor in word, prayer, and deed? I know for me, I want to sit at the feet of the One who calls me by name and asks, “What are you looking for?” and I answer and he says, “Come and See.”  In a world where spirituality has become a consumer item, we must consciously, intentionally choose to sit at the feet of Jesus and invite others to do the same, so we can ALL come see and know that our God reigns.  I know what I’m looking for.  I want to see a great awakening in our hearts, in our neighborhoods, in our churches, in all the lands praising and following the Christ who was and is and is to come. Letting Jesus transform our lives from the inside out individually and communities of faith so we can grow as disciples and we can live it out by being the hands and feet of Jesus, shining and sharing our lights for the world.  Amen.

Together

Matthew 3:13-17

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ 15But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness.’ Then he consented. 16And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’

I often hear James Earl Jones booming voice or Morgan Freeman’s distinctive voice when I read that part.  Jesus’ baptism ushers in a new baptism. Not just with voice and the dove.  Christian baptism is not just a washing away of sin as John’s baptism was; but it is the baptism that brings the power of the Holy Spirit and a special relationship with God.  The Gospel writers all 4 tell the story of Jesus’ baptism. As usual John has his own way of saying things, Matthew adds the part about John the Baptist preventing him and then questioning his validity to baptize Jesus, Luke cuts to the chase and has the shortest account, but Mark’s Gospel is different.  Unlike Matthew and Luke, where it says the heavens are opened, Mark writes that as Jesus “was coming out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and a dove descending.”  His word for ‘torn apart’ is schizo, and it means “to cleave, to cleave asunder, to rend.” It’s a strangely violent word to describe such a happy occasion.  The way we tend to talk about baptism, it would have made more sense if Mark had talked about the dove, gently cooing, or perhaps fluttering over the surface of the water. But that is not how he talks about it.

Instead, Mark talks about the heavens, schizotorn apart. It’s the word Matthew, Mark and Luke all use to describe that moment on Good Friday when the curtain of the temple is torn in two. It’s the word John uses when the Roman soldiers at the foot of the cross determine not to tear Jesus’ garment and divide it between them, but to cast lots for it, instead. It’s a word with resonances in the prophecies of Isaiah, also, particularly when Isaiah says to God, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,” (Isaiah 63:19).

Mark understands very clearly that in Jesus, this is exactly what has happened. God has torn open the heavens and come down.  It is in the waters of baptism that the heavens are torn apart and a voice from heaven claims Jesus as God’s son. Although we rarely think of it as having such a dramatic flourish, baptism today still serves as a time when we recognize our being claimed as children of God.  And this is why, in the Gospel writers’ judgment, the baptism of Jesus is a radical act. In Jesus, God has committed the act of breaking and entering the world, and they want the world to know.

Sometimes, I wish it were harder to join the church, to come to communion, to be baptized.  I mean, honestly, sometimes I think it’s harder to get a membership to Sam’s Club than it is to become a Christian.

Sometimes we cheapen grace.  It’s like the membership vows of the church are in the fine print or it feels like a medical commercial saying, you’ll feel better if you do this whole Jesus thing, you’ll be happier, while the people on the screen are running through a field of flowers or jumping on a trampoline or flying a kite with what seems to be a bright, smiling, happy family.  They’re still showing the pictures of all the smiling people and let’s throw in a pet for good measure, as they read quick like the micro machine man the hazards.  Baptism is terrific but please plan on attending worship, Bible studies, service projects, fellowship events, and don’t forget covenant discipleship groups.  Christmas and Easter only come once a year, but Narcie throws in enough grace to last all year round.  She may make you experience some discomfort and conviction, but that’s at minimum only once or twice a sermon. Following Jesus may cost you.  Putting his teachings into practice may turn your life upside down……

Who can blame people for just tuning that part out?  And not understanding what following Jesus means?  What a big, awesome commitment that is?

We’re involved in a bait and switch.  You may, say hold on a second, I do no such thing.  I would challenge that back to you.  Can those around you, tell you are a Christian?  What makes you different from all of the other do gooders?  What makes this different than any other civic organization?

Peter Rollins, Northern Ireland writer, speaker, philosopher, and theologian writes, “Without equivocation or hesitation I fully and completely admit that I deny the resurrection of Christ. This is something that anyone who knows me could tell you, and I am not afraid to say it publicly, no matter what some people may think…

I deny the resurrection of Christ every time I do not serve at the feet of the oppressed, each day that I turn my back on the poor; I deny the resurrection of Christ when I close my ears to the cries of the downtrodden and lend my support to an unjust and corrupt system.

However, there are moments when I affirm that resurrection, few and far between as they are. I affirm it when I stand up for those who are forced to live on their knees, when I speak for those who have had their tongues torn out, when I cry for those who have no more tears left to shed.”

If you want to actively follow Christ.  It’s going to be hard.  It’s going to be the greatest joy and sacrifice of your life.  Don’t merely get baptized for fire insurance, because you want to flee the wrath of hell, but because you want your life transformed, you want to do more than honor Jesus’ sacrifice.  You seek to live as a changed person walking the way of life, trying to grow more like Jesus every day, and when you mess up, as you inevitably will, God gives you God’s abundant grace, God’s sanctifying grace.  God doesn’t leave us on our own in the mire and the muck.  God begins the mighty work of transforming us.

We’re not going to change overnight into the perfect Christian.  We need to hone our spiritual disciplines:  prayer, scripture reading, daily times alone with God, discerning God’s will for our lives, and not just things we  do alone.  Tenth Avenue North sings in the song No Man is Island,“We’re not meant to live this life alone.”  We are stronger together.  Iron sharpens iron after all.  The kids asked to watch Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince on Friday’s Family Movie Night.  Mike says I should use “spoiler alert” even the book came out more than 5 years ago.  At the end of the movie, Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts, dies and it looks like darkness has won.  He was Harry’s protector and the only one Voldemort was afraid of.  When he dies, the students and staff are mourning him and it seems like all hope is lost, Madame Pomfrey holds her wand in the air, Professor McGonagall joins her, and the students and faculty do the same.  When they do that together, it lights up the night sky.  Together in their sorrow.  Together in their hope that the light will pierce the darkness.  Mike told Enoch and Evy, the darkness doesn’t win and I joined him in saying, when all hope seems lost, even if it looks like the darkness has won, the light will always, always, always eventually conquer the dark.  I want them to be prepared to fight for the light in their choices and to continue fighting even when it feels like it’s not making a difference, even when it seems they are fighting an uphill battle, even in the darkest night of their souls.  Good will triumph.  Spoiler Alert.  The grave didn’t hold him down.

See baptism is an individual sacrament, but it’s also a communal one also.  Whole families were baptized in the New Testament.  The church agrees to love, support, grow and strengthen those baptized persons.  Dietrich Bonheoffer, German Lutheran pastor, theologian, anti-Nazi dissident, believed that a community of love is one which focuses its attention on Jesus and then expects everything else to fall into place. When the people of God come together to share their lives openly and freely, accepting each other with a kind of unconditional positive regard, there is a sort of social-spiritual “chemistry” that emerges, and those who come together experience a delightful cohesion and sense of belonging.  Bonhoeffer’s central idea is that the Church as the fellowship of Christ centers on Christ rather than being a mere association of people with a common purpose. Human love and actions are related to a desire for human community. Christian love, spiritual love, comes from Christ and goes out to the other person, not directly, but through Christ. Christ “stands between me and others”. The most direct way to another is found in prayer to Christ whose influence is greater.  The unity of the community is in Christ, “Through him alone do we have access to one another, joy in one another, and fellowship with one another.”

The Book of Mormon Broadway Musical has a song called Mostly Me.  In it the missionary says he’s doing all of this “good” stuff altruistically, but he’s actually doing it for himself.  This is not just a “but mostly me” but something that if we are to survive, if we are to be a stronger, healthier, more grounded body – we’ve got to be supporters, advocates, confidants, friends to each other.  Bonhoeffer in The Cost of Discipleship writes, “Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others, we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.”  We have to trust each other enough to share our lives together, with no fear of judgment, that’s the only way we get to the Light of Christ.

How do we push through the fear, the doubt, the awkwardness, the ego, and move towards real community?  We have to really love each other, pray for each other, root for one another, weep one another, encourage one another, be CHURCH with each other.  As Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”  I want us to be a deep, Christ-centered community whether it be as Friday morning Men’s Group, an adult Sunday School Class, the Choir, the Thursday morning Women’s Bible Study, the Somerby Bible Study or one of the other communities we will create this year.  I want us to make as our theme this year to Love God and Love Neighbor.  I want us to make the main thing, the main thing.  Our focus shall be to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world in Park West, in North Mount Pleasant and across the Earth.   We can only legitimately do that if we abide in Christ and seek his leading for our lives, for the call he has put on our lives, for the call he has put on this church to be the hands and feet of Christ at this time and in this place and if we look to Christ – boy, what could happen?  Could you imagine?

People should be able to see Christ in us, just as the song says, “They will know we are Christians by our love.”  Wesley’s General Rules provide an extensive list of the marks of the Christian life that could be summarized by do no harm, do good, and attend upon all the ordinances of God or as Wesley said,

Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.”

These rules take into account and respond to the great command to love God and neighbor. In our baptism, similar things happen to us as happened to Jesus when he was baptized: 1) The Spirit of God comes into us and remains in us. 2) We are declared to be a child of God. 3) We hear that God is well pleased with us. God’s grace washes away our sin and angst and doubt and we are made clean in the waters of baptism.  We’ve been washed by the water and are set free to live an abundant, thriving life.  Jesus doesn’t say it will be easy, but as Paul writes in Philippians 4, “I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me.”  The Spirit of God opens up the Heavens to give us a taste of the Living God, Emmanuel, one with us, Jesus who was, is, and is to come.  As we journey with our stars and seek God’s personal will for our lives and as we journey as a church to know God’s communal will for this body of Christ and the part God wants each of us to play in that, God’s wonders and mercies are new every day and at every step of the Christian journey, God will be faithful.

I’ll ask you to come to the baptismal waters as you reaffirm your baptism, as you reaffirm that you are a new creation, as you reaffirm your commitment to this body of Christ, to walk with each other in love and grace, spurring each other on to right action and to seek the will of God.

“We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand
We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand
And together we’ll spread the news that God is in our land
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
They will know we are Christians by our love.”

 

REAFFIRMATION OF BAPTISM         

 The Lord be with you.

and also with you.

Let us pray.

Eternal God: When nothing existed but chaos, you swept across the dark waters and brought forth light. In the days of Noah you saved those on the ark through water. After the flood you set in the clouds a rainbow. When you saw your people as slaves in Egypt, you led them to freedom through the sea. Their children you brought through the Jordan to the land which you promised.

Sing to the Lord, all the earth. Tell of God’s mercy each day.

In the fullness of time you sent Jesus, nurtured in the water of a womb. He was baptized by John and anointed by your Spirit. He called his disciples to share in the baptism of his death and resurrection and to make disciples of all nations.

 Declare Christ’s works to the nations, his glory among all the people.

 Pour out your Holy Spirit, and by this gift of water call to our remembrance the grace declared to us in our baptism. For you have washed away our sins, and you clothe us with righteousness throughout our lives, that dying and rising with Christ we may share in his final victory.

All praise to you, Eternal God, through your Son Jesus Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns for ever. Amen.

Come as you feel led to the baptismal waters as we reaffirm our baptisms.  As you come forward and touch the water, I will say, “Remember your baptism and be thankful” and you respond “Amen.”  You can touch the water and make a sign of the cross on your forehead or you can scoop the water and let fall back into the bowl.

Remember your baptism and be thankful. Amen.

Prayer reaffirming the Baptismal Covenant:

The Holy Spirit work within you, that having been born through water and the Spirit, you may live as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

 

Abide With Me

I heard the song “Abide With Me” by Matt Maher on my iTunes yesterday afternoon while I was trying to complete charge conference forms.  It came at just the right time and it reminded me that all ever have to do is be faithful.  Faithful to be abide in the true vine as it says in John 15 and faithful and obedient to God’s will for my life.  Even if I’m connected to the vine, even when I’m doing all the seemingly “right” things, junk still happens.  The messiness of life still happens.  Sin still happens.  The Enemy comes to steal, kill and destroy and he sows discord, drama, misunderstanding, hurt, and confusion.  As Romans 8 explains nothing can separate us from the love of God.  We are more than conquerors through Jesus who loved us.  In the song it uses the word “with” not “in.”  Abide with us.  We have that hope and expectation with our God, the one, true God.  Emmanuel, God with us, came down to be with us.  The Triune God is present with us in our joys, like Melia ringing the bell that signified her radiation treatments were over, our hopes, as sweet Lillian’s prayer said, even when we’re tired and frustrated in this political season or in general.  It’s easy to get so busy, we’re just checking off the boxes off a “to do” list and going through the motions.  Or maybe you’re feeling like you’re far from God and God’s being silent right now.  No matter where you are on your faith journey, I pray that God gives you the encouragement you need to keep stepping out in faith.  Some of us may be running.  Some of us may be barely putting one foot in front of the other.  Wherever you are, know and trust in God’s abundant love for you and that Point Hope will welcome you with open arms as you are, a child of God.

“Abide With Me”

I have a home, eternal home
But for now I walk this broken world
You walked it first, You know our pain
But You show hope can rise again up from the grave

Abide with me, abide with me
Don’t let me fall, and don’t let go
Walk with me and never leave
Ever close, God abide with me

There in the night, Gethsemane
Before the cross, before the nails
Overwhelmed, alone You prayed
You met us in our suffering and bore our shame

Abide with me, abide with me
Don’t let me fall, and don’t let go
Walk with me and never leave
Ever close, God abide with me

Oh love that will not ever let me go
Love that will not ever let me go
You never let me go
Love that will not ever let me go
Oh You never let us go

And up ahead, eternity
We’ll weep no more, we’ll sing for joy, abide with me

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John 15

15‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. 2He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become* my disciples. 9As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

12 ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

18 ‘If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you.19If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world—therefore the world hates you. 20Remember the word that I said to you, “Servants are not greater than their master.” If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also. 21But they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. 22If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23Whoever hates me hates my Father also. 24If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not have sin. But now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. 25It was to fulfil the word that is written in their law, “They hated me without a cause.”

26 ‘When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. 27You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.

Romans 8:35-39

35Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36As it is written,
‘For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’
37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

Being a Disciple Takes Sacrifice

Luke 9:18-26

18 Once when Jesus was praying alone, with only the disciples near him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” 19 They answered, “John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen.” 20 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “The Messiah of God.”

21 He sternly ordered and commanded them not to tell anyone, 22 saying, “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”

23 Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. 25 What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves? 26 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words, of them the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

 

On September 11th 2001, I had just started my senior year at Winthrop.  I was student teaching at Saluda Trail Middle School for two days a week, but it was a class day so I went to my 8 am class.  I watch The Today Show every morning, so I must have watched it that morning.  Towards the end of that class I remember hearing about it somehow.  We didn’t have smart phones back then.  We all thought it was an accident.  In my next class at 9:30 am with Dr. Silverman he had turned on the tv in the classroom, by then we all knew it wasn’t an accident.  I remember vividly when the South Tower fell at 9:59 am because someone was holding my hand out to see my new engagement ring as I stood watching in horror as the smoke and debris billowed.  We had gotten engaged on September 10, 2001, little did we know that the next day would be etched into our brains forever.  Winthrop cancelled class at that point.

I immediately walked over to Winthrop Wesley to watch the coverage with Mike, who was the Director of Tuesday’s Child Learning Center, an after school ministry for homeless and at-risk kids, and Jerry, the campus minister at the time.  They were talking about evacuating Charlotte because of the nuclear plant and at the time it was the second biggest city for banking.  I worked at Tuesday’s Child and I was also a youth minister and in the coming days, we struggled to find the words to say to the children and youth.  However, the afternoon of September 11th we had an education colloquy that was mandatory for all student teachers and the education professors decided not to cancel it.  I don’t remember what they covered, but I do remember this.  They said that the terrorists want to disrupt our lives and they were not going to give the terrorists the satisfaction of impacting our lives because that’s what the terrorists want.  As I’ve remembered the anniversary with students over the years, I got a sense of the chaos that ensued.  For example, one student was in the elementary school and one student was in middle school in the town of Blythewood, and one school was on lock down and one they requested parent pick up.  I have since taken students from all 3 campus ministries to St. Paul’s Chapel where the first responders stayed.  They have created a peace exhibit and saved one of the pews were the first responders slept.  One of the students’ uncles had died in one of the towers and we found his name on the memorial.  It was my generation’s Pearl Harbor or shooting of JFK.  We all have stories of remembrance and sacrifice.  As well as struggling with theodicy, in other words, why bad things happen to good people.

This story gave me comfort in the days after 9-11 and it represents a critical, crucial truth to me.

Meet Me In The Stairwell by Stacey Randall

You say you will never forget where you were when you heard the news On September 11, 2001. Neither will I.

I was on the 110th floor in a smoke filled room with a man who called his wife to say ‘Good-Bye.’ I held his fingers steady as he dialed. I gave him the peace to say, ‘Honey, I am not going to make it, but it is OK..I am ready to go.’

I was with his wife when he called as she fed breakfast to their children. I held her up as she tried to understand his words and as she realized he wasn’t coming home that night.

I was in the stairwell of the 23rd floor when a woman cried out to Me for help. ‘I have been knocking on the door of your heart for 50 years!’ I said. ‘Of course I will show you the way home – only believe in Me now.’

I was at the base of the building with the Priest ministering to the injured and devastated souls. I took him home to tend to his Flock in Heaven. He heard my voice and answered.

I was on all four of those planes, in every seat, with every prayer. I was with the crew as they were overtaken. I was in the very hearts of the believers there, comforting and assuring them that their faith has saved them.

I was in Texas, Virginia, California, Michigan, Afghanistan. I was standing next to you when you heard the terrible news. Did you sense Me?

I want you to know that I saw every face. I knew every name – though not all know Me. Some met Me for the first time on the 86th floor.

Some sought Me with their last breath. Some couldn’t hear Me calling to them through the smoke and flames; ‘Come to Me… this way… take my hand.’ Some chose, for the final time, to ignore Me. But, I was there.

I did not place you in the Tower that day. You may not know why, but I do. However, if you were there in that explosive moment in time, would you have reached for Me?

Sept. 11, 2001, was not the end of the journey for you. But someday your journey will end. And I will be there for you as well. Seek Me now while I may be found. Then, at any moment, you know you are ‘ready to go.’

I will be in the stairwell of your final moments.

-Jesus

Our scripture this morning asks, “Who do people say that I am?”  I would answer, Emmanuel, God with us, through our suffering, through the terror, through the pain.  The One who gives strength and courage both to the first responders on 9-11 and on United Flight 93 and gives us all the power and audacity to lose our lives in order to gain something far greater.

There’s this story from the Vietnam War that my dad told in every church he was appointed to when I was growing up, and I would look forward to it each time.  During the war, some stray artillery rounds landed in an orphanage, wounding several children.  One was a nine year old girl who lost a lot of blood and was barely alive.  Nearby there were some American forces who dispatched a Navy doctor and nurse to help the children.  They went to work first on the young girl who was in shock and needed an immediate blood transfusion to save her life.  To get a donor, the doctor and nurse called together a group of unharmed children and in their broken Vietnamese and limited French they explained to the orphans that someone would have to give blood to help save the little girl’s life.

At first nothing but stares came from the frightened children.  Then a small hand went up in jumpy hesitation, then down again, then up again, it was the hand of a ten-year-old boy. The nurse asked him his name and he said, Heng.

He was immediately placed on a cot; and his blood drawn for a compatibility test.  For example, O positive, O negative, A positive, A negative, etc.  They amazingly were a match.

Then the transfusion started from him to the little girl. Heng soon broke into crying that grew into deep sobs.  “Is it hurting, Heng?” asked the nurse. He shook his head no, but went into deep sobs and began to shake. Soon he was a flood of tears.

The medical team became nervous and thought something was wrong.  At that moment a Vietnamese nurse arrived on the scene. She quickly spoke to him in his own language. After answering several questions between sobs, she whispered to him and he became calm and the crying faded away.

Turning to the American medics, the nurse said in a low voice: “He thought he was going to die.  He was under the impression that you needed all his blood, and that he would have to die to help save the little girl’s life.”

The amazed doctor asked, “How could he possibly have the guts to do that?”

The Vietnamese nurse turned and asked the little boy.

He simply said, “Because she is my friend.”

Great sacrifice doesn’t come without risks.   Risk we must, because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.  The person who risks nothing does not live.  Because to LIVE – fully, richly, abundantly – you have to risk.

My family loved to play RISK, the game of world domination, pre-kids.  The last time we played my mom had to keep Enoch who was 6 months old at the time, from eating the pieces.  My favorite RISK story was from my parents in seminary.  As Dad told it, he was up late playing RISK with a group of seminarians and this one guy stood up from the table and said, “What does it profit you if you gain the whole world, but lose your souls?” and slammed the door.  That must have been some game!

We are people who straddle two worlds. We have one foot in the physical realm that is saturated by sinful human nature, systems, and institutions. As Christians, we have another foot in the unseen kingdom of God, where we claim that our true citizenship lies in Christ our King. The call of discipleship is to be willing, as much possible, to sacrifice our foothold in this world. That includes our status and position, and the worldly treasures of all kinds that we’ve amassed of ourselves. Jesus’ invitation to take up our cross means being willing to take on the absolute lowliest position in the entire empire in opposition to the sinful powers that be.

Sacrificing our place in the world also includes sacrificing our worldly sense of identity or self. Jesus’ description of losing one’s life to gain it can be translated, maybe more accurately, as losing one’s self (Greek is psyche which in the ancient world was the difference between a living person and a dead one — the soul/spirit/self). That means we no longer identify ourselves and our value by the way that the worldly empire defines those things. Instead, we search for our true selves whose value comes from Jesus’ body and blood sacrificed for us. Being a disciple means continually trying to cut the ties we’ve built with the empire of the world.

When you cut those ties, whether of addiction, consumerism, ambition, or the other world-enticing sins, don’t get discouraged or dismayed when the Enemy attacks.  All you have to do is to call on the name of Jesus.  Ann Voskamp writes that she sings hymns, “When the enemy attacks with lies, when I feel alone and scared, when I fear the future and whispers in the shadows. It’s what my mother-in-law, a Dutch farmer’s wife and mother of nine, godly and with these big calloused work hands, said to do. What she told me once hunched over this row of peas we were picking out in a June twilight: “It’s what my mother said, Ann: When it is hardest — that is when you sing the loudest. The devil flees at a hymn.” At the last, when the cancer wound tighter, folks would ask how she was — and my father-in-law would say, “Good! She’s singing all the time.” And we knew how hard it was — and how good she knew He is.”

Indeed, God is good and our God is a God that is with us, who took on flesh in the form of Jesus.  Jesus warned us especially in this passage that we would have to deny ourselves and take up our crosses.  BUT WE DON’T DO IT ALONE.

I love the poems in Alive Now by Roberta Porter. This one is called simply “Gift.”

It is no small gift to be a faith community,
to worship, to witness,
to walk the way of love
in the name and strength of Jesus.
And in community,
When brokenness and sorrow come,
those in need are surrounded
with prayer and compassion.
Our caring goes beyond ourselves,
and the stranger, in many places,
Is touched
by the healing love and grace of God.

In our failures, in our busy forgetting,
we are forgiven, renewed
to continue to be the hands and feet of Christ –
no small task,
no small gift.

The world will see our Jesus by our witness and by our community.  It’s imperative that we take up our crosses every day AND show the world God’s tangible love for them.  We have to let it bleed and infect all of our lives.  Nothing is off limits.  James 1:22-24 says, “22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; 24 for they look at themselves and, ongoing away, immediately forget what they were like.”

Be authentic.  Be real.  Be honest.  Say and know, you’re not perfect, and invite them into your life so that they see the little reassurances God gives us along the way – the person that says something and God’s speaking through their voice, the song that happens to come on the radio or the itunes shuffle at just the right time, the passage of scripture we happen to read…it doesn’t just “happen.”  Be the hands and feet of Jesus.  Go and take it to the world and rock it. Claim it.  Let your life of faith be a testimony.  Live your faith out loud.  And remember to be grateful not only to our first responders who put themselves in harm’s way for each of us, nor for their families, but the One who gave the greatest sacrifice, Jesus, so that we, and those lives lost, could have eternal life.

I will close with these words of Mr. Rogers.  “When I was a boy and would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers.  You will always find people who are helping.”  To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”  Jesus says come, take up your cross and follow me.  John 15:12-13, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  No one has greater love than this, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  Do we love the world that much that we’re willing to lay down on our lives?  God did.

 

Daniel Jester

Isaiah 43:1-7(NRSV)

43 But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
3 For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.
4 Because you are precious in my sight,
and honored, and I love you,
I give people in return for you,
nations in exchange for your life.
5 Do not fear, for I am with you;
I will bring your offspring from the east,
and from the west I will gather you;
6 I will say to the north, “Give them up,”
and to the south, “Do not withhold;
bring my sons from far away
and my daughters from the end of the earth—
7 everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.”

When we pick Enoch up from Pinckney Elementary we are to hold this orange sign.  We got this sign, Daniel Jester, at meet the teacher before school started.  Thankfully, Enoch took it in good fun and they sent this new one home on Thursday.  He even started calling himself Dan during specials i.e. music, art, and drama.  He’s clearly embracing his new school and having a little fun too.  Is he a Dan or is he an Enoch?  Those identity questions are important for all of us.  Who am I?  How do I relate in the world?  What am I good at?  Will the teacher call on me?  Will I be picked last for kickball?

 

Isaiah is reassuring the Israelites.  You are children of the Most High.  You were created, formed, and redeemed and I, the Great God of the Universe have called you by name.  Who are we, that the Lord of hosts takes notice of us?  We are God’s beloved children and we can do nothing on earth to separate us from God’s love!
Enoch loves to take pictures and video on my phone.  When I was deleting off the pictures, I found this gem.  Facebook reminded me this morning that I shared this two years ago. It was before he went to bed, he’s talking about living with his mom, dad and sister and he’s praying for his teacher at the time, Ms. Wilkerson. Then he says, “My name is Enoch.  My name is Daniel Enoch Jeter.  It’s in the Bible.  I stand for God.”  I’m going to show it to him tonight to remind of who he is and Whose he is.
 
A friend shared this truth by Richard Rohr, “Life is not a matter of creating a special name for ourselves, but of uncovering the name we have always had.”  May we all do the hard work of uncovering, shedding, excavating because the highest praise we can give ourselves is to claim and know that we are children of God.  Nothing more, certainly not, nothing less.  As I daily walk the road of mommy, pastor, wife, daughter, sister, and all my other roles, I need a constant reminder of the grace that covers everything.  When I fail, when I don’t get that last i dotted, when I think I’m not enough, I need to rest in God’s love for me.  That’s where my help comes from.  That’s where our kids’ help comes from.  That’s where we place our trust and we live, move and be in that merciful love.  I love this verse from Micah 6:8.  “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”  We should all seek to do just that and wait and watch the world transform!

Chosen to love the world.

1 John 3:16-24

16We know love by this that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? 18Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him. 23And this is his commandment that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.

We are Chosen to love the world.

Leviticus 19:18 says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” That’s what God said to Moses and the people of Israel.

As far as formulas go, it’s great.  The golden rule.  I was telling Enoch yesterday, treat people like you like to be treated.

There’s nothing secret about this formula. Even Jesus endorsed it when in Matthew 22 he made it a part of his great commandment. “Love the Lord your God,” said Jesus, and “love your neighbor as yourself.”

But surprisingly, in the first of his New Testament letters, the apostle John offers a new recipe: “this is [God’s] commandment that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another” (v. 23).

Believe in Jesus. Love one another.

Not the same old formula.

In recent years, companies have learned how dangerous it is to change the ingredients of a successful brand. A little over 30 years ago, in April, 1985, Coca-Cola changed its formula and introduced a product called “New Coke.” The response was overwhelmingly negative, and within three months the original formula was back on the market.

Just how bad was it? The company hotline received 1,500 calls a day, almost four times what they usually logged. Psychiatrists listened in on calls and heard people talking as though they were grieving the death of a family member.

Southerners saw the change through the lens of the Civil War, describing it as yet another surrender to the Yankees. Even Fidel Castro despised New Coke, reportedly calling it “a sign of American capitalist decadence.”

Bottom line: Be careful when you change a successful formula.

So what is the apostle John up to? For starters, he wants to put a human face on the commandment to love one another — the face of Jesus Christ. Verse 16 says, “We know love by this,” he says to his brothers and sisters in Christ, “that he laid down his life for us.” John knows that the problem with the love commandment is that it can easily become sacrinny sweet like sweet and low, with people enjoying the pleasant taste of warm, fuzzy emotions and charitable thoughts. So he changes the formula to include the bitter sacrifice of Christ on the cross.

• Most of us find it easier to formulate our arguments in our head without real dialogue, real conversation, so much so that we demonize the other “side” than to love them.  1 John 4:7-10 says, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.”  Mother Teresa who becomes a Saint today says much about love. “When you know how much God is in love with you then you can only live your life radiating that love.”  “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.”

• Most of us find it so much simpler to define our Christianity in terms of attending church, rather than doing the complicated and challenging work of feeding the hungry, welcoming strangers, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, and visiting the imprisoned.  As Billy Sunday said, “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you an automobile.”

  • Most of us find it easier to point out the splinter in another’s eye, while we live with the plank in our own. For example, if you don’t want to gossip or cut down or talk trash or judge harshly or go on a road that’s a dark and twisty path to the dark side, BE THE CHANGE. Be the change, not just wish for it, BE the change – even the slightest movement, if you are resting in God’s love, puts more love in the universe.

    Such a change of ingredients can actually change our behavior. “We ought to lay down our lives for one another,” insists John, following the example of Jesus (v. 16). Under this new formula, sacrificial living becomes a central part of the Christian life, one that simply cannot be denied. John asks his followers, “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help?” (v. 17).

    Love is seen in action, not in words.  The greatest poet ever known can wax eloquent about love, but it is all flowery speech and frills, if it is not backed up.

    John summarizes his new formula with the words “Believe in the name of [God’s] Son Jesus Christ and love one another” (v. 23). He links belief in Jesus with love for one another, knowing that the clearest example of love is the sacrificial life and death of Christ. The result of this new formula is a close connection to God, one in which “all who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them” (v. 24). John says that we’ll know that God lives in us “by the Spirit that he has given us” (v. 24).

    The new link between belief and love can and will create a new kind of life for us.

    Throughout the gospel of John, we hear the promise of life. In fact, the gospel was written “so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life” (John 20:31). The gospel begins with the Word of God taking the human form of Jesus, and we’re promised that “what has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people” (John 1:3-4).

    Belief. Life. Light. Put these ingredients together, and you can see that a new formula is beginning to emerge.  John goes on to tell us that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16).

    So now love is in the mix. As well a kind of life that extends beyond the grave — eternal life.

    Describing himself, Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

    – Life in Jesus.

    – Eternal life.

    – The light of life.

    – Abundant life.

    – The way, the truth and the life.

    – Life, life, life.

    Christ Life — not the same old formula. It’s a new one based on believing in Jesus and loving one another.

Clarence Jordan captured the concreteness of this everyday love and compassionate assistance when he translated in his Cotton Patch Version of 1 John 3:18 back in 1973: “My little ones, let’s not talk about love. Let’s not sing about love. Let’s put love into action and make it real.”

Our world is in desperate need of a church that puts love into action and makes it real. Like customers looking for a good, cheap haircut or a calculator for their big test, there are people all around us who are searching desperately for a community that actually practices what it preaches. Over 100 years ago, the Christian philosopher Søren Kierkegaard made the point that Jesus was looking for followers, not admirers — he wanted people who would walk with him, do his work, and serve in his name.

One of Kierkegaard’s own parables told of a man who was walking down a city street when he saw a big sign in a window that said, “Pants pressed here.” Delighted to see the sign, he went home and gathered up all of his wrinkled laundry. He carried it into the shop and put it on the counter.

“What are you doing?” the shopkeeper demanded.

“I brought my clothes here to be pressed,” said the man, “just like your sign said.”

“Oh, you’ve got it all wrong,” the owner said. “We don’t actually do that here. We’re in the business of making signs.” We don’t do these things, he was saying. We’re in the business of talking about them.

And that, said Søren Kierkegaard, is often the problem in the church. We advertise ourselves as a place that is showing Christ’s love and doing Christ’s work. But when people show up looking for real love and real Christian action, they don’t see it. “Oh, no, we don’t love people here. We just talk about loving people here.”

When Christ is our life, we live and move and breathe in the Spirit and we do what Jesus wants us to do.  This means helping a brother or sister in need, and loving one another in truth and in action. It means focusing on activities that really show the love of God to people who might be feeling quite unloved and unlovable. That also means BOLDNESS.  We boldly approach the throne of grace with confidence.  Not just giving people fake, plastered on smiles, but telling them about Christ.  Showing with our lives the greatest show and tell in the world.  We need signs that God is LIVING in us!  I love the tv show Friday Night Lights, maybe because I went to High School in two big football towns – Cheraw and Rock Hill.  The team’s motto, “Clear Eyes.  Full Hearts.  Can’t Lose.” Clear Eyes on the cross, focused on Jesus’ sacrifice for each of us.  Full hearts of the love of God for the world.  The unconditional, agape love of God in ACTION in and through us.  Can’t lose.  We are more than conquerors through him who first loved us and nothing in all of creation will make us lose that, not even the monster in the Upside Down, nothing.

For those who dare to sip this new flavor, abundant life awaits. Believing in Jesus and loving one another draws us closer to God and one another, and allows us actually to abide in God. To abide is to live or to dwell in something — to accept, observe and follow a particular path. So when we believe in Jesus and love one another, we abide in God and God abides in us. “And by this we know that he abides in us,” says John, “by the Spirit that he has given us” (v. 24).

So give it a try. As missionary, Jim Elliot says, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” You have nothing to lose, but a new life – transformed – to gain.