A Plan for Following Jesus.
Faithful Living for Hard Times: Love and Serve the Lord.
The ninth in a ten part sermon series on our community charge:
Go out into the world in peace;
hold on to what is good;
return no one evil for evil;
strengthen the fainthearted;
support the weak,
and help the suffering;
honor all people;
love and serve the Lord,
rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.
So much of this sermon series has been about how to be fully alive.
If you were here a few weeks ago
and you remember our reflection about the good Samaritan
you might recall that that entire discussion was about how to have full life
compared to the traveller, the one who was left half-alive, on the side of the road.
We often think that the lawyer questioning Jesus
is asking about how to have “eternal life”
But its more about how we can live authentic, true, full, good, fulfilling lives.
The kind of lives that make God proud, or us proud,
Lives that make a difference in the world.
I have been reflecting on this part of the Samaritan story for weeks now
As we come to our final two weeks of reflecting on the words of our Charge.
This has also been a week where I’ve been reminded about how fleeting life can be
How precious life is, all of our days.
How God grants to us this opportunity of ours to do with it what we will
To love as fiercely as possible
To build something that means something
And to share it with those around us
And, as we do, to be as fully alive as we can be.
Reminded that life is an amazing gift.
A friend of mine knows I’ve been mulling all this over this week.
So she sent me this email the other day. Here’s what it said:
Three ministers, a Presbyterian, a Baptist and a Pentecostal,
are talking with each other about life and death and the legacy each will leave.
The Presbyterian says, “People will be at each of our funerals.
Family, friends, congregants,
they’ll all be looking at us in the casket.
I was thinking, I wonder what would you like them to say?”
The three give that some thought, you know
and then the Baptist said,
I would like to hear them say that I was a wonderful husband,
a fine Bible teacher, and a great family man.”
They nod, together,
And then the Presbyterian says,
“I hope that they say
‘she was a wonderful preacher
and a servant of God who made a huge difference in their lives.'”
They nod, once again.
Finally, The Pentecostal speaks up, and says,
“You know, I’d like to hear someone say, ‘Hey, he’s moving.’”
this sermon series has me thinking about what it means to live fully-alive,
Awake to all possibilities before us, the options we see
And the options only God can see
The choices we choose, and the ones we leave alone.
Faithful living in hard times: a roadmap for following God on the way of Jesus.
We’ve travelled a long way. Its been two months, since we started.
And we’ve explored some fundamental aspects of Christian teaching
That each, in their own way, give us opportunities for living fully-alive lives.
Go out into the world in peace: That was how we started.
Reminding each other that God’s intention for the world is Shalom
A way of living with one another where all is right with the world
Where justice is secure for all, not just for some
And people do not wage violence against one another
Where people are treated fairly, and where all have enough
And part of our calling is to be peace-makers
To reject violent solutions but to wage peace instead.
Then we talked about Having Courage:
and we thought about Jacob wrestling with God
and how unique it is to be part of a tradition
that recognizes the struggle we have with doing the right thing
the fact that God understands the struggle, but bids us go forward anyway
which pretty much is what Courage means
to step out in vulnerability and risk
for the sake of something or someone important.
And we noted how it takes courage to love someone
Or to love ourselves, to honestly love ourselves
Ourselves as we truly are, that is,
a mixture of beauty and imperfection that, nonetheless, is love-worthy
and beloved by the God who created us that way.
Our meditations then turned to the idea of Holding Fast to what is Good
While Returning No One Evil for Evil.
And these can be harder than they seem, at first glance.
We can be DISTRACTED so easily by the bright shiny thing
that “the good” doesn’t matter
or be lured into a sense of comfort or complacency
that we give up on the courage to do good
because we just get tired, or scared,
or would rather it all just go away.
Or sometimes we are hurt, wounded.
And the inclination is to hurt back, to take what was taken from us
And to return evil for the evil that was done to us.
This might have been the hardest one for me
Because I know how hard it is to hear Jesus’ reminders
to pray for our enemies as well as our loved ones
to love our enemies, which is another way of saying
don’t return them evil.
And we were clear that this doesn’t mean we allow them to keep doing harm
Or we don’t insist on justice.
It means we don’t allow ourselves to make those who harm us
Less-than-human along the way,
worthy in our minds of evil being done to them.
And in holding to that, we claim our own humanity, our own sense of integrity.
From there, we considered some practical ways
we can be God’s hands and feet in the world:
Strengthen the Fainthearted, we said,
be there for those who are faltering
and struggling on behalf of others.
Support the Weak and Help the suffering,
particularly those who struggle
With all of this, who are trying to figure out
How to get life put together
Who need good food, a warm blanket
A safe space to rest
In the middle of life’s storms.
Finally, last week, we looked at the call to Honor All People,
An extension of the question “who is my neighbor”
And how Jesus challenged his listeners to consider
Those who are most reviled—for them, the Samaritans
And the Romans
As people potentially worthy of honor too
And asking us to seriously think about
What it would be like to be shown grace by an enemy.
Did you get all of that?
There’s not a pop quiz after the sermon today, so no worries.
But if we’re seeking a way to approach these trying times of ours
There you go: eight concrete suggestions for us.
Living THIS way, Jesus teaches, is one way to be fully alive, rather than half-dead
To have some Spirit moving within us that others can see
…And experience and benefit from
One way to choose the way of God over the ways of this world.
Its that latter point, really, that is the focus of today’s readings:
To choose the way of God over the ways of this world.
Jesus is in an upper room with his closest friends.
The hour is late. The week has been disruptive.
Jesus entered Jerusalem with pomp and circumstance
Went to the temple, saw the leaders there taking advantage of the people
People who wanted nothing more than to do their duty, as they saw it
To seek to be made right with God
And who needed to by a dove or a lamb to slaughter
And the money changers were there to help them
Squeezing extra change from each transaction in return
And so Jesus turned their tables and caused a scene
And set in motion the events
that would lead to his trial and execution.
But they aren’t quite there yet.
They’re up in that room, and they’re sharing a meal together.
And there’s laughter and there’s stories being shared and there’s
Maybe bad jokes being told
About the priest, the Levite, and the Israelite…
Or a Presbyterian, a Baptist and an Pentecostal…
And Jesus gets up and he grabs a water basin
And he sets to washing their feet.
Jesus, Rabbi Jesus,
The head honcho, the guy in charge, the one running the show…
Jesus grabs the water basis, and sets to washing their feet.
Most roads were mere dust, so their feet would be covered in dust.
Most cities didn’t have proper, modern day “sanitation systems”
Much of the garbage and such that people produce
ended up near the street
So use your imagination, if you will.
Washing feet, particularly when you came in from being out and about,
Was fairly common. It was basic sanitation and quite necessary.
What is really unusual about this,
Is that Jesus got up to do it.
Normally it’s the servant who is lowest on the pecking order who got this assignment.
No one wanted it. No one would voluntarily CHOOSE to do it.
It is gross, menial work.
It is unexpectedly personal work,
putting yourself in a posture of deference and service.
We often don’t pay any attention to the people in our own society
Who do these jobs for us.
There’s an intimacy here we aren’t quite comfortable with, I think.
Peter, we would have seen if we started just a few verses before,
Was so disturbed by how this was unfolding
That he tried to stop Jesus
You will never wash my feet, Jesus….he says.
And Jesus explained that Peter didn’t quite catch what was going on
And that it was ok
And that this was an important lesson for them
About how the Kingdom of God works
That if even the Teacher, the Rabbi, the Lord
Deigns to get on his hands and knees
And puts water and soap to
Heel and arch and toe
That they should take note of that
If you know these things, Jesus says to them
You are blessed if you do them…
I give you a new commandment
That just as I have loved you
So you also should love one another.
Today’s charge is to Love and Serve the Lord.
We’ve been reflecting on the Love and Serve part all summer long,
It’s that loving and serving THE LORD part that we might attend to this morning.
What does it mean to choose to serve God, rather than to serve other things?
How can we go about trying to Love the Lord?
The reading I offered today is from the book of Joshua
It might be less familiar to many of us.
We don’t often dust off those pages of Joshua very often on Sunday morning.
Joshua is an important book.
It details what happens to the Hebrew people after
God liberates them from slavery in Egypt
and sets them wandering in the wilderness for 40 years.
Moses is their leader, and they have high moments and low moments
They receive the Ten Commandments and a host of other laws
Meant to give them structure and safety and order
Meant to give them identity as a people
And they make it all the way back toward Canaan.
Its something of a miracle.
After hundreds of years telling each other the story
About how an ancient ancestor was told that he’d be the first of a people
More numerous than the stars
And how they struggled to understand quite what it meant
To be the people God chose to be God’s people
While they struggled through conflict and famine and enslavement
Only to be brought HERE,
to the threshold of the new land that would be their home…
Only to have their leader Moses pass away just before making it there
Moses, fully alive, not someone who lived half-dead.
Moses is gone.
They mourn Moses and they celebrate his life. They recognize how God moved in him.
And then they look forward.
The book of Joshua
Describes how they commission Joshua as their new leader
And then cross over the Jordan River into Canaan
and begin to establish the Land of Israel.
By the time we get to our reading, it has been a difficult struggle
But throughout it all, God has been there.
God has kept God’s side of the agreement.
God has been steadfast.
But the people struggle with this.
There are so many questions.
There are so many doubts.
There is so much at risk, and they’ve come so far.
Wouldn’t it be better to hedge their bets, just a little bit?
Keep options open in case all this doesn’t quite pan out?
Back in that day, there was a buffet of divine options to choose from
Many different ideas of Gods one could pick.
They had little figurines for each one, idols and signs for devotion.
In today’s reading, Joshua tells the people that this sort of internal division can’t work.
That they have to choose:
Choose this day whom you will serve,
Whether the gods your ancestors served [where we came from]
Or the gods of the Amorites [in the land where we are now]
But as for me and my household,
We will serve the LORD.
These days, we don’t have the same concerns and pressures
But the temptation to go half-in is real
To hedge our bets
To calculate risk
To wonder if the dedication to love and serve the lord
And thereby to love and serve our neighbors is worth it.
There are many ways to live our lives, many choices before us:
You can go out into the world in peace
Or you can assume a posture of conflict and revenge
You can strengthen the faint-hearted
Or decide that you’d rather just not bother
I can support the weak
Or decide that other things matter more
How much money I can keep in my own pocket
Or that my time is more important today
Or that I believe in the idol of self-sufficiency
And that maybe the weak deserve it, in the end…
We can Honor all People
Or decide, no: just me, and my tribe, and no other.
We can decide to follow a Lord that asks you to do what He does
And stand ready to get on our knees to wash the grime
and the hurt off of our neighbor
Or we can say that we’re above all of that, thank you very much.
That’s for losers.
What do you think?
Who will you serve, this day?
For me and my house, will we serve the lord?
I don’t know about you,
But one of the real joys and honors of this life
Has been to walk with people who try to do THAT
Who seek to love and serve the Lord, day in, day out.
Who know that life has peaks and valleys, good days and bad
But who put these choices before them
And seek to follow God in the choices they make.
They falter, like everyone does. They’re human.
But more often than not: They aren’t half-alive.
They aren’t half-in.
They seek to be the sort of people who, when others reflect on their life
They will say: well done, good and faithful servant.
Enter the joy of your master.
She was alive for God. He was alive with Jesus.
Look at all those who KNEW they mattered because of her!
See those who lived better lives because of him!
May we, God’s people in this place
Seek to Love and Serve the Lord
Knowing that there are OTHER ways to order our life
But to choose THIS way anyway
Because we know that this is the way it is meant to be.
And because we know that THIS is the way to prove
That grace is stronger than death
And that love will win. Love will always win.
May it be so.
Image Credit: A Joshua Tree, photo by user Skeeze entitled “Sunset, Landscape, Mountains” at https://pixabay.com/en/sunset-landscape-mountains-1644702/