The Pastor’s Pen – February 16, 2020

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‘face power’…

February 16, 2020

Scripture: Deuteronomy 30:15-20

In an age of unreliability with a high degree of cultural and social fear and unease…I believe that there is a certain power in the way we portray our faith and confidence in our Lord to the world around us. A power that could not be more critical or necessary right now.

The idea of ‘face power’ actually came to me in a dream in the early hours of the morning earlier this week, and I held on to it tightly until I could get to a computer some time later to write it down.  You see, we are most definitely in a time in which the influence and yes, the ‘power’ of Social Media seems to be growing exponentially, with all its attendant benefits…and absolute risk.

In terms of Social Media’s potential ability to form and to sway public opinion and belief, regardless of actual facts, it is critical that people of faith find a way as well, to live out, and in particular to ‘show’ the message of our Lord of love.  We must find a way, in a manner equal to all that would otherwise seek to divide or diminish to offer hope and foster true unity and brother and sisterly love.  In an age of Face Book, Twitter, Instagram, Snap Chat, and others, this idea of ‘face power’ or, the way we present ourselves to the world outside of technological assistance, seemed like not only a way to tie into the current culture surrounding social media, but a way as well to highlight the vital importance of actually looking like Christians…the importance of standing apart from the rest as a community in stark contrast to much of what is negative and less than loving throughout our culture and society. 

It is in John, Chapter 13 that we hear Jesus tell his disciples, ‘This is how others will know that you are mine…by the way you treat one another, by the way you appear to care for and to love one another.’  So you see, it is in our lived-out practice of being followers of our Lord, that people must be able to see that we are different.

And, what we do with the way we present ourselves to the community around us, in many ways, really does start with what we ‘wear’ on our face.  The ways in which we engage with others around us, the ways we deal with both blessing and adversity, the degree to which we dwell in the Spirit’s gift of ‘peace that passes all understanding’, will speak with authority of the depth of our belief and of our commitment to living the call to love.

Our reading from Deuteronomy this morning has long been one I treasure, for it speaks to me of a God who so deeply seeks after our love and trust.  On its surface it seems like a simple choice is offered…life or death.  And in some ways, it probably is, and yet, it is also a profound illustration of just what is at stake when it comes to how we choose to live out our lives as individuals and as a community.  The passage is written in the form of a covenant or a promise being offered by God to the Hebrew people.  A covenant of ‘blessings’ if they choose life, and the opposite, should they turn away from God to walk in a direction solely unto themselves.  The author writes that this is a choice that must be made both individually and as a people, and in fact urges the listeners to ‘choose life’, in order for the people to enjoy all the blessings that a life in relationship with God has to offer.

The conditions of this covenant call for followers of God to obey the commands of God, to love God, and to walk in God’s ways, in order that they might be blessed with all the goodness such a relationship has to offer. And while this may seem like a potentially difficult collection of actions or behaviors to keep track of, it really all boils down to one command or call. We would do well to remember Jesus’ words in Matthew 22 where he said, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments, all the law and the prophets depend.’ By these words it is clear that to choose life, one must choose to love in this same way…and that doing so will result in all of the blessings of relationship promised in the reading from Deuteronomy. 

Conversely, if one chooses deep within their heart to turn away from God and one another, if one declines to offer love to another and instead allows themselves to be led astray in pursuit of other lesser goals or lesser ‘bright and shiny’ gods, then the life they have before them will not be blessed with the goodness and grace of those who have chosen to love.

So, what does this ‘choice’ have to do with the idea of ‘face power’, and how does it come into any potential conflict when it comes to social media?  To truly practice the art of loving one another, one must be present and authentic.  It cannot be done simply through a ‘post’ or a ‘text’, where interpretation can, and so often does miss the point.  Truly loving as our Lord has asked us to, requires that we show our love in person and through the words and the actions we use. 

Which is not to downplay the effectiveness of a ‘love letter’, for indeed there are many of those written to us throughout the scriptures, but rather to say that in these times of inauthenticity, across such a broad range of human communications, it is important that we not only share our love and our faith through all available channels, but that we also find a way to do so actually and physically there in the presence of another. As people of faith, it is critical that we show and share our love for one another by being there…by being there to listen, or to hold, to embrace, or to lift up, to smile, or to encourage.  Wearing our faith on our face, showing the burn of the Spirit within our hearts, is what empowers us to stand in the presence of another and to offer the love that God has placed in our hearts in real, and in life-giving ways.  Authentically offering the love that has been placed into our hearts by our Lord for another, truly requires that we be there to do so.  Love, God’s love, is not something we can offer other than in actual and authentic truth.

And so, how will others know of the love we have in our hearts? How will they know and therefore trust that our motives and our offers of love extended towards them are genuine and pure?  They will know by the way we wear our faith, by the light of Christ that can be seen in the eyes of one who truly lives for God. 

 Now I think it is important to clarify just what ‘being reflective of the grace of God’ might mean.  For surely there are those among us who will claim that they just don’t feel it…or that they do not feel as though they can, or are able to reflect the love of God in their lives, perhaps feeling not worthy, or just not up to what seems like a major challenge.  However, the truth is that everyone is capable, because everyone has a story of their own.  And in fact, the less capable you feel, the more are you able to truly reflect God’s love for you.  And while that may sound strange, it truly is in our weakness that God is able to be strong…for in weakness there is actually less of ‘us’ to get in the way of being authentic, humble, and loving.

Several weeks back I spoke on the idea of true humility as being in a state of knowing yourself dreadfully honestly, and realizing that even in light of all that, God loves you fiercely and without condition.  And the same follows here, in that it is when we are most vulnerable and even broken, that the Spirit of our God is able to do the greatest work within and through us. 

And to further illustrate, we all have heard the expression, ‘Been there, done that’.  And if we are able to apply that as a way to see or to look back on our own lives, it becomes clear that our greatest usefulness to God, is often in helping others out who may be on a rough patch of the road of life, ‘through which we ourselves have already traveled…’.  In other words, what we may see as our own greatest failings or moments of weakness, can actually be used by the Spirit to give hope or encouragement to another in a similar predicament.

The Spirit of our God needs for us to be broken to the point of being honest with ourselves, before we can be open enough to receive the loving guidance from the Spirit as to how we can be of true and loving service to others.  We need to be broken unto usefulness…which may sound hard, or even harsh.  But if we lay our lives down in surrender to our God, then it is up to God as to how best to use our willingness.  If we are willing to live, to dwell in grace as a holy and broken vessel, then God’s love has a way to flow in through those cracks unimpeded…and just as importantly, a way to flow back out to others to whom we’ve been sent to minister.

I’m not sure if you noticed the message on our sign that we put up last Sunday stating that ours is the ‘Church for the Land of Misfit Toys’.  The idea for that actually came up on one of Rachel’s and my trips down to Family Court on Long Island.  We had been discussing how our church seems to be a comfortable place for any and all who come, regardless of their needs, wants, or their struggles.  Somehow, everyone finds a way to feel at home in this collection of regular folks who are unusually honest about their own needs or struggles.  Somehow there are ears to listen, words of sincere welcome, arms to embrace, and wise counsel to be offered to anyone in need.  Truly we have a group of folks here who are not ashamed to come forward just as they are, complete with their gifts, and their hopes or dreams…in short, we are a group willing to share our own stories. 

Which is what gives us the ability to show the grace that has been bestowed upon us, gives us the openness to stand in a place of need and vulnerability, knowing that we will receive just what we need to keep on, keepin’ on.  ‘FacePower’, or the ability and the willingness to show the love of God that has been poured unto our hearts to others, is a critical element of what is so lacking in the world around us.  And therefore, for Christians everywhere in these days, it is a critical responsibility as well.

Now, getting to that place where you are able to acknowledge the grace of God in your life, getting to a place of having a story to tell, coming into possession of real redemptive, ‘face power’, is a gift that is available to all who are willing to acknowledge that the brokenness they feel inside, is actually the place where the Spirit can be found already at work.  This is by no means a call to perfection, or even to strength…for meekness and even weakness that wears the grace of God, or seeks after the face of God is still far more powerful than all the division, fear, prejudice, and smallness that is currently arrayed against those who proclaim a new and a better way…

So…acknowledge who you are…and…who you are not…hold tightly to the hands of your brothers and sisters around you…and together covenant to choose life…

…choose to make the most of your witness to the grace within your heart, by wearing it on your face

…for as others take note of the glow that sets you apart from all the rest, they too will be drawn in, into the Spirit’s grace…

…and with time, that ‘face power’, that light of Christ within all our hearts, shall surely overcome the darkness of these days…

amen

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