By Bishop Elaine Stanovsky – her words in full and in part.
Luke 10:25-28 NIV
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind,’ and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this, and you will live.”
I started the day with a Breathing prayer – it is an easy thing, you can do it when you are driving the car or washing the dishes. It is going to play on the themes for today and in our conferences for the next four years. As you breathe in, say Love, as you breathe out say Live. Then switch them … live, love.
What if Jesus knew that there would be trials in every age?
What if the whole creation waits in breathless anticipation?
What if we ourselves groan and wait to be set free?
What if a whole crowd were waiting on a hillside for a life-giving word?
And what if Jesus were asking us right now, what do you have to feed them?
What if a man was harassing two women on a train?
What if a man with a rifle walked into a baseball stadium?
What if Jesus needed UM Christians in the greater northwest to do something fresh and courageous and wonderful, something world changing, Something we’ve never done before, something we never thought of doing before?
Something abundantly more than we can ask or image?
What would Jesus do with us?
Simon Sinnock gave a TED talk – I don’t know who he is, he sells books in the business and management section of airport bookstores. He did a TED talk and wrote a book. He said organizations need to start with the question why?
- What difference do you want to make?
- What end are you working towards?
- Why are we gathered here? What is our purpose?
- What is the end toward which we are striving?
- Where are we headed in this fellowship called the church?
Most organizations know pretty well what they do and possibly how, but they often lose track of the why they are doing it at all. So let’s turn back to the scripture in search of the answers why, how, what.
We’re going to use this scripture for four years. I like some stability, so we are going to dwell in this text together for a while. So, let it come inside you. Don’t just let it roll off you, Invite it in for coffee, think about every word. Why is each of those words there? What’s God trying to say?
The legal expert comes to Jesus with a what question – what must I do? Bible studies, potlucks, Sunday school, Easter sunrise, daily prayer, give to the poor? What must I do to gain eternal life? Give me the formula for eternal life. He’s trying to trick Jesus and tie Jesus up
Jesus and his disciples began a very successful mission. As they went out by twos to towns and villages they’ve been spreading the good news with power. They’ve just come back and reported. The religious establishment was very nervous. The lawyer wants to show that Jesus isn’t as great as he’s made out to be. He wants to entangle Jesus in the law.
The question is all about him – he might as well have said what must I do to gain my place at the heavenly banquet? What must I do to get my golden ticket? But we learn that The end that Jesus is about is all different than the lawyer. Jesus isn’t so much about the law as where the spirit leads, about the way of life. Jesus is about living in a way that gives life to everyone, the whole of creation. He doesn’t play the lawyer’s game. He turns the question back. He turns the game in a whole new direction.
He might as well have said, “You are the lawyer. What does the law say?”
The lawyer answers straight out of the law – love the lord your God with all your heart, all your strength and all your mind and your neighbor as yourself… and in this answer the whole notion that there is a checklist that will get you into heaven dissolves. The law really isn’t about the law. Quoting the law, the lawyer is faced with an answer that isn’t a legal answer, it’s a deeply spiritual answer. It’s about relationships, stupid. It’s about living in love with God and neighbor, caring as much about your neighbor’s quality of life as your own quality of life.
Bishop Will Willamon blew me out of the water during the debate over Obamacare. He wrote a letter to the United Methodists in North Alabama, where he served as bishop, in which he said. “I hear that most Americans are happy with their health insurance. I sure am. But we can’t leave it at that. As a church, Jesus has given us responsibility for the least of these. Our Jesus-assigned concern is, ‘Am I happy with my neighbor’s health care?’” He wasn’t taking a position on Obamacare, he was taking a position on the way Christians have to evaluate policy propositions.
That’s what loving neighbors is all about.
That’s what seeing the world as God sees it is all about. And living the life of God that God is counting on us to live.
In the same way Jesus brings the lawyer face to face with the fact that the life Jesus came to serve is not about a place in heaven. It’s about the life that comes when you are in relationship with God and with God’s children, relationships with neighbors and yourself. Life isn’t so much about eternal as it is about relational. Jesus says that if you learn to love God and the people around you, you will live! It’s about a way and not a destination.
You know what comes in the very next line of that chapter of Luke – Right after the love God and neighbor part, the lawyer asks another trick question, the next question is who is my neighbor?
In response to the question who is my neighbor, Jesus launches into the familiar story about the Good Samaritan. A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of robbers. Man does it get specific. The point of the Good Samaritan story is that any stranger you run across in life can be your neighbor if you embrace them with love. There’s no law you can fulfill that will give you life, there is only love to share, there is only life to embrace.
So, Why faith in Jesus Christ? Because God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but live.
How shall we promote life? Abundant life, life in its fullness? Jesus says the way to life is Love of God and Neighbor: Limitless, generous, endless love. And so what shall we do to love?
A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, you know the rest of the story…
We learn what we must do by loving God so thoroughly, that we learn to see with God’s eyes. We learn to notice what is happening around us, to the people around us and we learn to care for them as much as we care for ourselves.
We live in some tough times. What’s new about that? Manchester bombings, stadium shootings, North Korean aggression, rising cost of living, rising unemployment.
It’s hard. People are scared, frustrated. In the US we hear about and some of us may be experiencing rising incivility, hate crimes, intolerance, belligerence, isolationism, black people experience systemic police violence, LGBT people continue to be misunderstood, misinterpreted and persecuted even in the church, women are demeaned, children are sold as sex slaves, immigrants are distrusted and attacked, white men experience displacement, disorientation, disappearing jobs, homeless people have no voice, budget proposals lay a heavy burden on the poor, young people have a feeling the system is rigged against them, some feel unsafe in a dangerous world and carry guns, others feel unsafe because they know some are carrying guns in city parks, theaters and grocery stores…
As different as we are, as conflicted as our views of the world are at times,
It is exactly as we learn to sit together, to understand one another, to learn to love one another, even in our radical differences that the unlimited power of the Holy Spirit is able to work miracles among us. As we love God, we learn to love one another. As we grow in our love of one another, we move closer to God.
It’s not two things; it’s one thing.
The logo on your bulletin is representational.
A life of faith is like a wheel. God is in the center, at the hub, and we are on the outside of the wheel. Each of us is connected to God like a spoke on the wheel.
Each of us can move closer to God. As you move closer to God, you move closer to the next spoke over and the rest of the spokes on the wheel. You can’t get to God without getting closer to all of God’s beloved children. It’s not a choice between loving God and loving neighbor. It’s a picture of how loving God and loving neighbor are one thing. Love is a way of life.
If you take that wheel and lay it on a hemisphere. It makes it 3D. I’m down here looking up at God. I can’t even see the person on the other side. I don’t even know they are looking at the same life-giving creator that I’m looking at. That I claim. Our perspectives are so different. As we move closer to God, we become able to see one another. Draw near in faith, draw near to one another, draw near to God.
- Personal holiness – me and Jesus.
- Social holiness – me and my neighbors
- All are One, they go together.
So, my news for you today is that I love you. Many of you, I don’t know very well, but I love you. Some of you I know very well and I still love you. Not perfectly, but deeply and broadly. I love you because you know that beneath the surface of social convention there flows a deep, powerful current of meaning and purpose and beauty. You are drawn to it. You have let yourself be shaped by it.
It courses through your veins. It pulses in your ear… It makes you dance despite yourself. It shapes your life, your discipleship, your ministries.
I love you not because of anything you do, but because you love Jesus and you draw near to Jesus and you let Jesus speak to you and teach you and lead you. You are followers of Jesus even if it’s very difficult for you to say the name.
Most of all I love you because you are precious, God-created persons pronounced good at creation by the creator and placed in a garden to thrive.
It was a beautiful picture at creation. The story didn’t end there. It went bad, very bad. Life became hard. We got thrown out of the garden to toil and suffer. But all along the way the story of the salvation history of faith teaches us that God works to bring us home again to the garden.
Showing us a good way of life by leading us with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, by rescuing us from life destroying flood, by freeing us from slavery and leading us through the wilderness, by delivering us into a good land, by listening to our laments and receiving our songs of gratitude, by feeding us with manna in the wilderness, by making water gush from a rock,
By forgiving our sins, by forgiving our sins, by forgiving our sins, 7×70.
Not condemning us to live in the shadow cast by our sins. But letting the sun rise anew and fresh every morning with a new opportunity to try again to get it right.
Don’t take that for granted. We could live under curse, but we do not.
The church is a community of people that are all about life, about loving for life, love for God, love shared, love for others. We’ve seen this love at work in Jesus’ life. We’ve learned how to love this life from Jesus. And so in the name of Jesus we gather to praise and sing and study and tend each other’s wounds, whether we agree with one another or not. Because we are children of the same God, loving with the same love, so that we might live, and all the world with us.
The only way to get there is by traveling together.
It is in the community, the church, that we invite others to travel with us. The community that travels out into the world to people as they are, where they are, the community with all its challenges and wounds, it’s an exciting mission.
The why of abundant life is pretty compelling. The how is elusive. Mainstream Christianity is in a slack season. But I want you to know the decline in the church is not anyone’s fault. Everyone did the best they knew at every step of the way to be generous and faithful in their ministries. Everyone. We’re still doing the best we know how to do. While it’s not anyone’s fault and we are not responsible for getting us here, it is our responsibility to move us out of here.
Methodism was strong during the depression and after WWII. Those families raised their kids in the church. The world changed. It continues to change and the forms of church that spoke to the parents do not speak to their children and grandchildren. The people in our communities don’t look much like the people that grew those churches.
We have lived a life cycle and Now it’s a new season. As in every season, Our job is to figure out what to save from the past, what has enduring power and what is possible now that was never possible before. We take the treasures from the past and weave them into new possibilities for the future with confidence that God Is not finished working miracles. We must trust that the love of God will bless the world in new and surprising ways.
We are told we are living in a season of nones and dones. Those who claim None of religion, Those who are done with the church. People aren’t flocking to the church. They don’t think of the church as a place where they will find what they are looking for.
You aren’t the nones and dones. We’re all here because we aren’t done with God and God is not done with us.
The world and the communities we serve are in a season of deep and profound change and we are called to change in ways that make us very uncomfortable. Our Wesleyan heritage prepares us for this service. Wesleyans hold ideas together that are often seen as incompatible. Things that may tear others apart. We aspire to be made perfect in love in this life even when we know we fall short.
The church in early America was the engine of social innovations – schools, hospitals, orphanages, lending libraries…Caring for the widows, orphans and the poor was the social innovation of the early Methodist church.
Too many of our churches have turned inward and become shaped more by fear than by hope. We need to live into new forms of friendship with God and with others. What if we lived as if God was trying to do a great new thing through us?
Are you aware that breaking the color barrier in professional baseball was a Methodist conspiracy?
Branch Rickey, first name Wesley Branch Rickey, the general manager of the Dodgers had a 6 point plan to break the color barrier – It took him years to implement it. When the time had come…. He sent scouts out to find the player who had the right character and the right personal demeanor to be the poster child who would break the color barrier and that guy, that Jackie Robinson, was a United Methodist – His wife went with him to training camp in Daytona Beach Florida. They couldn’t live with the rest of the team. It was the president of the Bethoon Cookman College that took them into his home. This is a Methodist Story. Wesley Branch Rickey, product of Ohio Methodist University, knew he could change the world and he did! How did we lose that?
People are searching for meaning, direction, heart, connection, authenticity. Many aren’t searching for any church they know or can imagine and they can’t imagine the church as a place of connection. If we enter into authentic community with people outside the church, amazing things happen. It is like the feeding of the multitude. We, you and I, here and now in our spheres of influence, we can choose to turn to again to God and neighbor. We can grow deeper in our faith, deeper in our relationships with friends we don’t know yet. We can turn strangers into neighbors. We can learn to tell the story about how faith makes life rich, gives courage in trial, invites community where there is only suspicion, and restores the beauty and abundance of God’s amazing creation.
So what will we do to love the world into life?
What if Jesus needs us to do a fresh, courageous and wonderful new thing?
Love god, love neighbor, love yourself. You can’t have one without the other.
Do this, do this, and you will live!
Pray with me.