The Pastor’s Pen – May 6, 2018

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katherine-mccormack-65109-unsplashshare the love…

May 6, 2018

 

Scriptures: John 15:9-17, 1 John 5:1-5, 1 Cor. 9:19-23

 

As I have shared with you in the past, sometimes I read through the scriptures and a single word or a short phrase is what catches my attention…something that to others might seem unimportant, but to me allows me to hear the word in a wholly different way.  Such was the case this week as I read through our selection from 1 John and in particular in verse 5 where John writes, And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith.’  And I thought to myself that as much as we believe that somewhere in the back of our minds, I had never heard it proclaimed so openly and forcefully…so direct and uncompromising.

Our faith, the faith we share as believers in Jesus Christ is all that is needed to save the world…a world that right now is so deeply in need of salvation and a world that seems to have wandered far from the original teachings of our Lord in the gospel accounts.

And while that in itself may seem like a whole lot of excitement over nothing, as though we all already know that, I think it is a critical though seldom considered insight regarding how we as Christians are called to live out our faith.  For if this truth, this supposed linchpin of our faith-understanding is so old and so well known, then why some two thousand years after the resurrection do we still live in a world that is far from the blessed kingdom that was promised from of old?  If faith is able to bring about such great change and wondrous results then why are those results not more in evidence?  How or what is needed for our faith to actually be that ‘saving faith’ which John speaks of?  What is it about our understanding of or our implementation of our faith that seems to have prevented it from accomplishing the goal of overcoming all that would hinder the emergence of the Day of our Lord?

Those were my initial thoughts on the scripture reading for this morning.  And usually I read them early on in the week and let them wander about in my mind as I seek to make sense of what the Spirit is asking, hoping for greater clarity during the week that just might illuminate a pathway of understanding.  And while we were away this past week the pastor of the church we attended on Sunday spoke on the portion of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians where he says that he does whatever is needed to share the gospel of the Lord…by being a Jew with the Jews, by being as one under the law with those under the law, and notably, by being as one not under the law with those not under the law.

In other words Paul listened closely to the Holy Spirit regarding how he was to be the most effective emissary for Christ in each and every situation he found himself in.  He did not have a singular focus to his preaching of the gospel; rather he let the love of Christ guide his words and his actions in the moment that he might share whatever the particular individual or group of listeners needed to hear in order to be moved by God’s grace.

And somehow these two passages came together for me this week and tapped into a deep concern I have.  And that is that I am concerned that all too often we lose sight of this personal nature of God’s outreach to us, the way God tailors his pursuit of our hearts to each one of us individually.  And I realized that if we are not careful and purposeful in our outreach that we may in fact be far less creative than the Spirit in trying to share the love we have been entrusted with.  For I fear that our Christian witness and evangelism often tends to depend largely on rote formulas and rigid requirements for admission into the family of our Lord.

In his ministry to all manner of people in all walks of life and from widely varied backgrounds Paul knew and fully lived the truth that God’s love has a way to share in the language of the individual heart that is seeking…that there is no ‘one size fits all’ way to live or to share the gospel story of the overwhelming love of our God.  For in truth, when it comes to inviting others into the family of the faith, it is God who is doing the seeking and God who is determining the method, words, or actions that will speak to the heart of each one placed before us.  Ours it is to hear and then to faithfully witness in whatever way is needed to convey that love such that it invites and even compels the heart of the seeker into fellowship and friendship.

And perhaps I have this concern regarding how others hear the story of our faith because there is currently so much being proclaimed by so many within the Christian faith that comes across as dissonant and internally contradictory.  So many who profess to follow our Lord Jesus seem comfortable touting a gospel that seems to have walked fully away from the Jesus we meet in the bible, they speak it but they do not walk it…and as such, there seems to be a huge amount of suspect fruit being produced by even more suspect fruit trees.

There is such a deep need for the true story of our faith to be shared in truth and love, freed from much that has been placed over and upon it in the centuries since the dawning of our faith.  And surely our world is no less in need of truth then it ever was.  In fact one could argue that the need for a true understanding of the scope and nature of God’s love is greater than ever based on the current state of world events and the evolution of technologies that have made the direst of consequences entirely possible.

Indeed I believe that we live in a world now more than ever in need of the love God still waits to offer our broken world through the surrendered hearts of those who are willing to pass it along without pre-conditions, those who are willing to love first without question and perhaps even outside of the boundaries and fences the church has long prescribed as necessary in order for the gospel to be shared.  In other words the gospel is not ‘just for the choir’ so to speak, but even more importantly at times it is for those who have not heard it yet, for those perhaps as ‘ones not under the law’.

In fact I would argue that the very essence of God’s love is blocked and unavailable to the one who seeks to share the faith whenever there are preconditions of any sort to the sharing of it.  For bearing and sharing God’s love is actually a distinct and holy privilege, and not some sort of ‘possession’ to be owned and parceled out according to the personal judgement of the one called to share it.

Which make me wonder, getting back to our scripture passage regarding the ability of our faith to save the world and our call to speak the truth in the language of the Spirit in the moment, if the God of much of contemporary Christianity might not be a bit too small and limiting to allow for the true salvation of the world?  And I ask that because I also feel that much of contemporary Christianity tends to focus far more on judgement than it does on unconditional love.  In fact it seems that for many the judgement of another comes first when deciding who is worthy of receiving the love we have been asked to share or who is welcome to share the common table with us.

How much of contemporary Christianity focuses on these ‘entrance rituals’ and proper-church understandings rather than on simply extending the love we are given to share without condition and without exception?  And might not this preoccupation we often have with pre-judging the worthiness of a brother or sister in need interfere with our ability to creatively engage with the Spirit in order to truly love those in need in the way God wants to love them?

I think that the problem with much of this is that we are not at all comfortable with letting go of our own perceived need to be able to judge another, for good or for bad.  For in a very real sense I think we tend to draw much of our self-definition from how we view others around us, rather than on what the scriptures tell us regarding God’s feelings for us as his beloved children and friends.  We rely so much on our own instincts when it comes to judging another as friend or foe, as worthy of our trust or not, that the open and honest sharing of the gospel itself is often tainted by those same restrictions and judgements.

If we honestly sought to truly let go of all this judging of another, what might our faith practice look like then…what would happen?

…if we were to imagine just for a moment that our God truly is only about love-without-condition, mercy-without-end, and forgiveness-unceasing for our inability to live into the image of love which we each bear…

…and consequently if we were to allow the humbling self-acknowledgement that we are as much or more in need of grace than anyone else…

…and if we were willing to let go of the idea that someone else is ‘going to get theirs, because they so deserve it’ and instead decide that any judgement whatsoever belongs solely to God and is predicated solely on how well we have loved one another

…and…

…that we each individually have no right to judge or even to wish upon another whatever our worst imagined consequences are for behavior we think is so wrong…

…then…

…then we are left seemingly without a mooring, without anything of our own to hold on to regarding what is right and what is wrong…at least in our own eyes…and we are then forced to look to God for how it is we are to be as representatives and emissaries of the faith

 

To truly live into the command not to judge another we must be willing as well to let go of our imagined consequences for another’s actions and trust that our Lord of love will find a way through our faith and our actions of love to indeed save the whole world.  But in some ways, letting go of judgement and the strange comfort we get from it may prove to be the most difficult of all.

And so, if we let go even for a second our insistence on constructing our sense of faith and reality merely around a simplistic and dualistic system of good and bad, and instead focus solely on finding ways to share the freedom we have found in the understanding that our God can and does love, can and does extend mercy, can and does shower grace upon us without limit or condition; then we will be participating in the true salvation of the world.

By sharing our faith in whatever way the Spirit calls for and in whatever way is needed to free the heart and soul of the one standing before us we will be the light that beckons all to share at the table of our Lord.  In words, in actions, in the very way we live out our faith through the unconditioned sharing of the love that was first extended to us we will be offering assurance that indeed there is room for every single one of those our Lord has fashioned in the image of love…without condition, and without exception.

By thus removing the conditions and pre-judgements we have formerly placed upon the sharing of our faith we are then able to share in the way that is needed in that place and time and, specifically to that soul to reach and to secure the hearts of those the Spirit has placed before us.

For some of us the call may be to stand close by as a brother or sister in whom one can confidently and freely confide…

…for others who may need greater assurance – as one who is strong in the faith…

…for another, perhaps one who questions – as one who has questions themselves and is willing to seek together and alongside of…

…for another who is weak in the faith – as one who accepts them fully in their weakness and gently loves them nonetheless and without condition…

…for another who may be rigid and set in ritual and doctrine – as one who patiently seeks to find and reveal the presence of the holy within those trusted words and ancient understandings.

You have surely heard it said that, ‘It’s not just about you’.  And usually that is meant to imply that regardless, ‘you’ are not the center of attention.  Your ideas, your achievements may be notable but there are greater forces at play than just you yourself.  However, when it comes to sharing the gospel story of our Lord authentically and honestly, when it comes to standing in that place of being willing to receive the love of God and pass it along to another in need it is often completely about you…completely about your own willingness to stand not in judgement but rather in humble grace and openness before the soul the Spirit has placed before you.

And in those moments, in those critical times when listening and waiting for the unique and necessary response from the Holy Spirit, it is you alone who have been selected as capable of holding and extending the grace of our Lord to the one standing before you…

…And then…then speak the truth you receive in the language of love and in the way that seeker needs to hear it…and finally…

…finally rejoice in the freedom you have been a part of creating for another.  And rejoice in having been a part of saving the world…one soul at a time…

…amen

 

Photo by Katherine McCormack on Unsplash

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