Weekly Sermon (10)

Sermon – June 4, 2023

‘The way we love…reveals who we are’

June 4, 2023

Scripture:2 Corinthians 13:11-13, Matthew 28:16-20

        It is a good idea once in a while to consider just how blessed we are, to reflect on all of the good things in our life.  And if we are totally honest with ourselves we may also take a moment to think about some of the poor choices we have made…times we may have squandered those blessings, and thinking how things might have turned out if we had done things a little differently.

        And we are able to do this because we were created in such a wondrous way…fashioned in the image of our creative and loving God. And in that creative moment, each of us was given what could arguably be seen as a questionable gift…the gift of free will.  You see, God had to create something outside of Godself, something that was ‘not God’ in order to create humanity.  And so God did just that…created humanity free and separate from Godself…and even free to choose whether or not to follow after God. 

But we were also created in the image of a triune God, a God who is defined and known only within relationship…the relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  So in spite of the fact that we have free will, God also blessed us with the opportunity to enjoy fullness of loving relationship, both with each other, and with our God. Perhaps thereby returning some small measure of the love by which we were brought into being.

But in some respects ‘free will’ was also a dangerous gamble for God, as there was no guarantee that humanity would actually choose to be in a relationship with God, perhaps choosing instead to walk in ways, or into places quite far from the divine center.  Regardless of that possibility however, we each were given the ability to choose just how we will spend our days. To choose if we will draw near to God and to ways of goodness, love, and justice…or instead to focus solely on our own very human needs and wants. 

Which reminds me of a cute little prayer I once heard…Dear God, so far today, I’ve done all right. I haven’t gossiped, and I haven’t lost my temper.  I haven’t been grumpy, nasty or selfish, and I’m really glad of that! 

But in a few minutes, I’m going to get out of bed, and from then on, I’m probably going to need a lot of help. Amen!

In all seriousness we do have a brand new opportunity at the start of each day. An opportunity to try and do a better job with the many blessings we have been given, extending them into even greater blessings for others.  As we ‘put our feet on the floor’ at the start of each day, we each have choices as to how we will handle that new opportunity…how we will wisely use, treasure, and cherish it…or instead, allow some distraction to waylay us and move us in another direction.  The choice is there, and it is ours. We are not like puppets on a set of strings for God to move and to control, but rather freely created individuals able to choose God…or our own agenda.

         And if in fact we do choose to surrender our will to God on a particular day, then we need to keep in mind Jesus’ call to his disciples at the end of today’s gospel passage, ‘Go therefore, and inspire all others to become like you are…create an urgency within them to know who it is you follow, why it is that you are able to approach each day with that certain resolve and energy, and who it is that you draw your inspiration from. Go, and live your life in such a way that the full goodness of God’s name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is revealed through your life.’

Now it is important to remember that doing anything ‘in the name’, as Jesus’ command in our passage calls for, is to do it in such a way as to fully imitate and fully reveal all that that particular ‘name’ implies.  So, to ‘live into the name of the Father’, is to live such that you reveal the fullness of God’s mercy and unconditional grace in all you do and say.  To ‘live fully into the name of the Son’, is to accurately reflect the steadfast brotherliness and the stand-by-your-side-every-moment aspect of Jesus’ love and compassionate care of your innermost hopes…as well as your deepest hurts.  And to ‘live fully into the name of the Spirit of God’s love’, is to allow the wind of joy and lightness, the all-penetrating goodness of God to dwell within you, even as it blows through you, lifting and guiding you. Our call to inspire others to live fully ‘into the name and likeness’ of our God is not only deeply sobering, but close to overwhelming as well.  But that is what Jesus commanded.

But is that really enough for us to go on?  It is all well and good to say we need to live such that we share the goodness of our God…but how exactly is one supposed to do that?  And how do we share even a bit of all that in what are sometimes just momentary encounters with others?  Perhaps we should pray, ‘Okay God, you can have this day…but how am I ever to do all you believe that I can?’  And God just smiles and says softly, ‘I have already told you.’

Well, that is not much to go on either.  We have heard and read many of the things that Jesus did during his three year sprint through the Holy Land two thousand years ago. But those are not things we usually think of as being within our own ‘toolbox’.  We are probably not comfortable thinking we may be asked to ‘give sight to the blind’, or to ‘help the deaf to hear’. In truth, it is daunting to think that ‘I’ve already told you’ could possibly mean some of the miraculous things Jesus did!  And so those words meant to comfort and to guide are still a bit unclear.

…perhaps we could bake lots of bread…but multiplying loaves or making coins appear mysteriously in the mouths of fish we have just caught still seems pretty far out of reach…

…perhaps we could stand up against the existing religious or political order of the day as Jesus did throughout his ministry, but that seems a strange way to inspire people to live into the ways of the God we follow. In short, hearing God say that ‘he has already told us’ may not clear up the matter a whole lot.

Still just as confused, we may continue to pray, ‘but how Lord?  How are we supposed to make disciples, or to inspire others to follow after your ways and to use their own free will to give of themselves to others in ways they may not be comfortable with either?

And again the Lord smiles as he asks, ‘Do you remember when I told you that there was one thing, one command that was greater than all the others?  One command through which all the others would be fulfilled?  Do you remember when I told my followers tolove one another just as I have loved you’

And suddenly, we are even less comfortable, for we do know that commandment, and we know that we have wrestled with its meaning before. We know that to ‘love others’, is all well and good for those we already know, or those whom we are comfortable with. Which of course sounds bad and we know it.  But for that commandment to be the key one that instructs us to inspire others, seems almost as challenging as some of the other things Jesus did during his time on earth.

Which in truth, raises yet another question. Namely, what does it mean to say we are called to love others ‘as Jesus loved us’?  This is perhaps an even more difficult question. Because answering it requires that we know and acknowledge what God has done for each one of us. If we truthfully consider what God has done for us, if we realize the broad extent of our own gifts and blessings, of all that God has done specifically for us over the course of our lives…all of the love, all of the guidance, and importantly, all of the forgiveness by which we were able to keep on going…then we will know what ‘as I have loved you’ really means. To love ‘as Jesus loved us’, asks us to honestly and humbly reflect on how much we have been loved, even in those times when we were not necessarily very ‘lovable’, or perhaps even entirely unworthy, and, to love others around us in the same unconditional way

And since this can be difficult to grasp or perhaps to admit, we might be tempted instead to go part of the way…to love some of the time…and to love some of those who cross our path.  But a quick check in with the Lord will remind us that this is not the call he has asked of us. It is not enough to be a part-time reflection of love and grace if we truly want to make a difference in the lives of those around us. 

So our prayer continues…how dear Lord are we to inspire others to seek after you in truth as well as in true surrender? 

…by knowing who we are…

…by acknowledging how much we each have been loved by God…

…and by being willing to love everyone whom God places in our pathway with the same depth of love, the same willingness to extend our blessings, and the same degree of forgiveness.

But wait…that’s not all, we are called not only to witness and to live into the likeness of our Lord as individuals, but also to do so as a community of faith.  Remember, our Lord is a God always, forever, and only in relationship…three persons in one God…Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three in one, three in relationship, three distinct but united and interrelated parts of our one true God.  So by this example we too are called to live out our lives in visible, loving community. We will have loved in vain, if the fellowship we claim to be a part of does not reflect that same love outward to others as well.

‘If you love them as you have been loved, both individually and as my people, then they will know you are mine’, says the Lord, ‘And you will have revealed the pathway to holiness and grace for them to follow. After that it is up to them to choose to walk on that path and to draw nearer to grace or not.  Your only call is to reveal my love to them, from there on the journey is mine to complete. My love lived out in fullness within your life will inspire the hearts of all who are seeking to turn to me.

And he continues on, ‘Remember that I told you, ‘I will be with you always, even unto the end of time, I will never leave you or abandon you’.  Therefore do not fear, and do not hesitate to love all others in the same way I have loved you…

…now get up, get out of bed, get dressed, and let’s get started with the ‘gift’ of this new day!’


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