…a light brightly shining
February 26, 2017
We are standing in a place of unprecedented challenge and need for Christian witness…as well as a place of incredible opportunity to be the will and grace of our Lord and Christ. Over the last several decades the ‘Church’ of our fathers and mothers has gone through many changes not the least of which is a drastic downsizing of the number of individuals and families who still view faith and religious practice as a necessary part of or influence over their lives.
And the faith itself has changed as well, modifying its message in an attempt to meet the perceived needs of those remaining few who still seek after the ‘faith comforts’ of days past. And at the same time as the overall number of individuals seeking such faith assurances has dwindled, so also has the fervency of various ‘new’ faith expressions become more radical and more centered on individualized aspects of religious practice, often to the exclusion unfortunately of community-based and justice-driven practices that were the original intent and message of our Lord. Too often many of today’s faith offerings have narrowed their focus so that their primary concern is a sort of striving for moral and doctrinal perfection intended to offer individual guarantees of eternal life rather than the much broader intent of Jesus’ ministry that sought to lift op the whole body of the community of faith through mutual caring, sharing, and compassionate looking out for one’s neighbor and friend.
And as a result the various expressions of faith available to one seeking a closer relationship with God today are either old and seemingly often irrelevant, or conversely extremely conservative with a deep emphasis on control of personal behavior and religious practice through either the age-old threat of eternal torment or the promise of eternal life based primarily on how closely one has been able to follow the prescribed ethical and moral guidelines of their chosen brand of religious expression.
And as a result many have seen through this false dichotomy and have chosen to turn away from it, feeling that neither choice feels right or rightly focused to them, and have chosen instead to settle into a place of rejecting religion overall even though a deep hunger for spiritual answers or comfort remains within them. These are those who choose to ground themselves instead in the relationships and activities of family or friends, feeling that these at least are genuine and good at heart. Ironically, very often these who have rejected formal religious involvement altogether still hold on tightly to a belief in the existence of God…they are just not sure who God actually is.
Others who are also unsatisfied with the offerings of these two poles of available religious expression have decided that rather than run away from the faith entirely it might be better to seek after a new way of understanding God, a new way of understanding why Jesus throughout the gospels had such a deep concern for matters of justice and such a heart for those less fortunate or oppressed. These individuals insist on understanding God as the scriptures actually describe God’s nature to be…namely that of One whose very essence is love, One who is unfailing in mercy and grace, and One who is intent on bringing to be a new day of peace and glory in which all will know their fellow human being as sister or brother…the long promised and prophesied day of peace, truth, and sincerity.
This movement of the Spirit of our Lord towards re-engaging the nature of God-as-love is emerging all about us as seekers continue to grow away from the opposing poles of institutional religion and radical literalism, instead seeking after a God they can know personally and a God who is in fact always and in every way the one described by Jesus as his ‘father’…a God of love not wrath, a Lord of forgiveness and mercy not a gatekeeper willing to turn some away consigning them instead to some form of eternal misery.
These seekers in the middle are many in number…these who hope that God really is who Jesus said he was…those who still hunger but may not know there actually are fellowships like our own who are waiting to welcome them in, waiting to respect and to share their questions, waiting to accept them with unconditional grace, and waiting to search together through the deeper mysteries of God’s amazing love.
Our church is just such a place of wonder and grace…a body of believers who know that God is love, that God is mercy and grace, and who know that discipleship must be both an inward discipline and an outward practice. Our church places no constraints on one’s personal beliefs but rather welcomes all with equal enthusiasm and joyful acceptance. Our fellowship stands midway between the two poles of contemporary religious expression already mentioned…willing to let go of past practices while still holding on to elements which hold deep meaning, and unafraid to abandon inaccurate and harmful understandings of God that force God’s nature to be some bizarre hybrid of wrathful revenge and syrupy Sunday-School love. Our fellowship is open to all who are seeking after the one true God…to all who question…to all who have been hurt or injured by harmful past religious practice or understanding…to all who still seek…to all who still wonder…to all who still hope.
Those who regularly attend faith-based organizations are incredibly few in number when compared to the number of those who actually live within our communities. However, those who still question and hope deep within the center of their souls for a God of love to believe in are also great in number and great in need. And the Spirit of our God is forever hard at work still trying to offer to these seekers a doorway through which they might pass into a new understanding of the Good News…an inner conviction and assurance that God’s love is indeed there for them. All that is needed is for them to witness the grace of God for that welcome to start to sink in and begin to birth within them a new sense of peace…and of purpose.
And that witness of God’s grace…that example of a God of unconditional mercy and acceptance…that presence of God standing incarnate before that seeker…is ours to show and to witness. Each one of us here is called to be the love of God as drawn from our experience within this fellowship of grace.
And I truly believe that this is an option…I believe that if we do not willingly and accurately portray the nature of our loving God…then it shall not be seen…that if we do not deliver the message that grace and forgiveness covers every past miss step and every past transgression then those mired in the inability to forgive themselves shall never be set free…that if we do not reach out and offer the provision of need we have been so graciously given to assist those in real need around us, then their hunger and thirst shall indeed persist unto death-if not of the body then surely of the soul…and if we do not advocate for those who are victims of exploitation, abuse, or injustice…then we are no better than the perpetrators of those conditions in the first place.
We are called to stand in this place as a light brightly shining…as a source of hope for those who know it not or have given up on it entirely as well as a source of grace and unconditional love and acceptance towards those who so desperately need the fellowship of friendship and genuine concern.
We are called to stand as a light brightly shining to give guidance and direction to those seeking to find their way out of the wilderness of poor choices, confusion, or misunderstanding based on wrong or mean-spirited religious influences of the past. We are called to stand as a light brightly shining that illumines the pathway back to our Lord of Love…and to be those willing to take the hand of any wishing to walk upon it.
We have the gift of a full measure of God’s love and grace…a measure so large as to be overflowing with sufficient energy and purpose to reach out into every corner of our community. Let us with wisdom, imagination, and love find every one of our Lord’s ways to share who we are, what we have been given, what we have come to know, and why we are so ‘differently-abled’ to share the love of the one true God within our community. It is our sacred call and purpose…and the true reason for our being.
Come let us shine…let us love…let us celebrate our Lord of mercy and love!…amen