Hear it. Do it.
Most high school seniors are lucky if they get into their second, third or even forth choice of college. It used to be that if you had good grades, high SAT scores, and did some extra-curricular activities then you were pretty much guaranteed a spot in the college of your choice. Not anymore. Today, universities send out more rejection letters than invitations.
But like Mick Jagger sings, “You can’t always get what you want.” By the way, Rolling Stones are on tour. From what I hear, every venue is sold out. Which means only those who have a ticket will be lucky enough to see them. Imagine what might happen if everyone holding a ticket didn’t get in? Well, believe it or not, Jesus has something to say about that as he concludes his infamous sermon.
READ: Matthew 7:21-29
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’ Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!” Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes. (Matthew 7:21-29)
Those are not the easiest words to hear. Especially from the warm and fuzzy Jesus we love and trust. I suspect there are going to be a lot of disappointed people trying to enter the kingdom of heaven.
These last few weeks we’ve heard Jesus call us blessed, and then teach us a new way to live into our blessedness. He’s asked us to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. To keep our eyes and hands fixed on doing God’s will, and to store our treasures in God’s heart. And again, last week he told us not to worry about what we did or need to do, but instead we are to focus on the here and now where life’s problems are plentiful.
Then comes the hard truth. Hearing these words isn’t good enough.
Like we saw a few weeks ago, not everyone wins gold at the Olympics. Some take home silver or bronze, but most go home empty handed. And that chance at medaling is only for those who are good enough to qualify. The ones who do the work to get there in the first place.
Jesus said, not everyone who calls him Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven. Only those who hear his words and acts on them.
Hearing and doing is the hallmark of Matthew’s understanding of discipleship. The two cannot be separated. If you want to see the kingdom of heaven come alive before your very eyes, then your head and heart must work together - trusting God and serving others by doing God’s will.
So hear this: It’s not enough to hear what Jesus is saying. His words are meaningless to you and your faith, if you don’t act upon them. Just because have a perfect GPA and the highest SAT score, that doesn’t automatically get you into Harvard or Yale. Likewise, empty words and empty gestures will not get you the keys to the kingdom.
I’m sure hearing this has stirred something up in the disciples, just like it might has stirred up something in me. They gave up their family and careers to follow him. To think it might be all for nought.
It’s hard not to sweat a little here knowing you’ve been a devote Christian, and Jesus could still say, “I never knew you.” Or worse, he calls you an “evildoer.” But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what your lips confess if your heart doesn’t show it. This should make us all take a serious look at how your head and heart align with his.
Before you tune me out completely, let’s not forget Jesus began this lesson by blessing those who were with him. I believe that by our baptism, we received Jesus’ blessing too. What then will we do with it?
In these three chapters of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus teaches us roughly 35 specific lessons on what we are to do to live into our blessedness. But let me warn you, these lessons are easy to hear but they are also hard to do – especially if your head and heart are not in sync with each other or with his.
Jesus says, “Some of you will hear these words of mine and not act on them.” I just hope that won’t be the case with me. Or that I won’t find out until it’s too late.
Many years ago Kathleen said something that has stuck with me. She asked, “What if Jesus already came back, and we missed it? Or worse, didn’t believe it?” Seriously, what if Jesus has come up to you as a homeless man (because he was) and you ignored him? Or what if he was the baby crying in the arms of a teenage refugee seeking asylum in our country and you shut them out? I don’t know if that has happened already, but I do know this. Jesus said whenever you see and do “to the least of these, you do also to me.”
Hearing and doing. That’s it.
Why are there still many who miss that point. Or worse, choose to ignore it. There are still too many so-called Christians who are so self-absorbed that they see very little around them. There are plenty of Pharisees and Scribes still alive, preaching in Jesus’ name about God’s redemptive love, and yet forget to live out that love in the world. Jesus isn’t kidding when he says he won’t be pleased.
Again, hear me when I say it’s not enough to hear or even speak the Word of God. You have to live it as if your life depended on it.
Consider this our wake-up call as individuals and as the church. Jesus is giving us a stern warning to make sure that our actions and motives match what we’re saying. That our heads and hearts are in sync with our Lord who calls us all to follow him. We have no excuse not to. We’ve heard the word. And now we know what to do.
Those first listeners on the mountain knew what they were supposed to do as well. Jesus wasn’t giving them a whole new set of rules to live by. He’s has already reminded them he didn’t come to abolish the laws, but to fulfill them, to help them live the life they knew more faithfully.
The same is true for us. We have the words of Jesus, the very Word of God. But are we really listening to what he’s saying? Are we really doing what he is doing?
Hearing and doing. That is the path to discipleship. The path that leads our head and heart towards God’s love and grace.
You can say you have faith, but is that enough to enter the kingdom of heaven? Jesus has made it very clear that it’s not. A proper confession of faith must lead to a genuine practice of that faith. What good is your faith if it doesn’t transform and redeem you? Or move you to change your behavior, to love your neighbor and pray for your enemy?
In his Epistle, the Apostle James writes, “What good is it if someone says they have faith but does not have works? Can that faith save them? Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” You see, faith isn’t something we confess once and then check off our list of things to do before we die. It’s a lifelong practice; a constant, daily action.
I have learned that the more I practice my faith, the more visible the kingdom of heaven becomes, right here, right now. When my head and heart are fixed on doing the will of God, the kingdom comes to life, before my very eyes. I begin to see Jesus in the face of the other, and am moved to act accordingly. I do this not because I am trying to enter the kingdom of heaven, but because my heart is so aligned with Jesus’ heart that I can’t help but to mirror him.
Henri Nouwen wrote, “In Jesus, no division existed between his words and his actions, between what he said and what he did. Jesus’ words were his action, his words were events. They not only spoke about changes, cures, new life, but they actually created them. In this sense, Jesus is truly the Word made flesh; in that Word all is created and by that Word all is re-created.”
To his point, if I will truly live the words I speak from my heart, then “my spoken words become actions, and miracles would happen whenever I open my mouth.”
Jesus has ushered in the kingdom of heaven, and has invited us to join him. The way we do that is to hear his words and act on them. Hear and believe. Hear and obey. This is how faith deepens, how miracles happen, and how God’s will is done on so no one is left out or uncared for.
If you want enter into the kingdom of heaven, then you have to choose to participate in it. If you believe that Jesus means what he says, then you need to reorient your actions to mirror his – reflecting his thoughts and feelings as if they are your own.
To hear him and be like him means to love as he loved; turn the other cheek; go the extra mile for others. It means being a person whose yes means yes and no means no. It means forgiving others - not just their sin but their debt as well. It means not seeking retaliation, or letting the sun go down on your anger, or allowing your lust to lead you astray. It means giving to everyone who begs and lending to all who ask.
To have your head and heart with Christ is to walk and talk with intention and mercy and grace, treating others with kindness and not condemnation. This is what it means to be the salt and the light, a blessed one who hungers and thirsts for righteousness’s sake.
Do these things, Jesus says, and not only will you see heaven appear in all its glory.
But you will also hear our Lord say, “Welcome, blessed one. For the kingdom of heaven is yours.”
Let us pray the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray. Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; they will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the Kingdom, the power and glory forever, Amen.
Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year A. Vol 1, and Vol 3. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010 and 2011 respectively).
Metz, Susanna E. Well, This Is A Rough. (episcopalchurch.org June 01, 2008). Accessed on August 25, 2021.
Nouwen, Henri J.M. You are the Beloved. (San Francisco: Convergent, 2017)
A message from Matthew 6:24-34
My lovely wife has been worried a lot the past couple of weeks because she couldn’t get the classes she needs to graduate next summer. But on Wednesday she received an email from the chair of her department who pulled some strings to get her in them.
Later that night, before bed, she thanked me for believing in her, and pushing her to reach out for help. All I remember saying was, “Don’t worry.” But like most Americans, Kathleen doesn’t like to ask for help. Instead, she prefers to worry.
Watching Kathleen’s struggle with getting her classes inspired me to share something that happened to me when I decided to leave a long and prosperous career to go to grad school.
It was only few weeks after I had been accepted to Fuller Seminary, when I awoke at the crack of dawn with a massive, crushing pain in my chest. I was sweating and having trouble breathing, which caused me to freak out even more. My gut told me it wasn’t a heart attack, but an attack nonetheless. As I struggled for air, a voice in my head kept repeating, “How will I put shoes on their feet? How will I put shoes on their feet?” My heart was crushing like a beer can, and all I could focus on was raising three young kids on a minister’s measly salary.
Instead of waking my wife up to get me to the emergency room, you know what I did? I picked a fight with God – using a vocabulary that was more suited for a seaman than a seminarian. Have you ever been so angry with God that you just unleashed a torrent of rage and profanity? This was my moment. And I let God have it. No matter what I said, though, or how I screamed it, the only response I got was that voice in my heads that kept repeating, “How will I put shoes on their feet? How will I put shoes on their feet?” Again, it’s amazing what we worry about, especially in dire situations.
I’m not sure if it was money issues that caused me to have the worst panic attack of life, or the fact that maybe I didn’t really believe I was doing the right thing. Now, I knew my call to ministry was real. I’ve known it since I was 13. God had made it very clear to me in many different ways.
Yet here I am, paralyzed by my own uncertainty, demanding God to prove to me that I wasn’t nuts. After all, I wasn’t about to give up my financial security to pursuit something that could have easily been a delusion. I needed to know. And only God could prove it to me. But this time, it was going to be on my terms. You know, because “How will I put shoes on their feet?”
Now, I’d come to learn the unofficial term of what I did is called Bible Roulette. This is when someone, often a seminarian having a panic attack, challenges God to prove God’s self by opening the bible and randomly slamming their finger down on verse. That verse, of course, will be the answer they are looking for.
At the time I had no idea this was a real thing. I thought I had found a way to trick God. So I picked up the bible next to my bed, and as my head screamed one last time “How will I put shoes on their feet?”my finger hit the page, and this is what I read. “And why do you worry about clothing?”
To ensure I got the message loud and clear, God directed my eyes to the title at the top of this passage from Matthew’s gospel, “A cure for anxiety.” That was it. God won. I fell on my knees and started to sob into my pillow. I just didn’t have the fight in me anymore. Once I surrendered, that tight grip on my heart was released. The stress that I had carried for decades melted away. And my life has never been the same since.
“Why do you worry about clothing?” Jesus said these words in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount. And they come on the heels of what we talked about last week - how a healthy eye brings light into your entire being. Picking up from where left off, Jesus says this from Matthew 6:24-34.
One of the most repeated phrases in the entire bible is “Do not be afraid,” or a variation like, “Do not fear,” or “Do not worry,” which Jesus says four times in these few verses. It’s a phrase that is both familiar and foreign, and it hits us at a time when the world has given us so much worry about. Another COVID variant, wars and civil unrest, fires on the west coast, hurricanes on the east coast, earthquakes, famines. It’s hard not have a little worry rattling about inside your head.
When Jesus says “Don’t worry,” it could come off a little cliché, like something one says when they don’t think someone’s problem is worth getting worked up over. As Fiona was moving herself back to college I told her, “Don’t worry, you’ve got this.” When Colleen was nervous about returning to campus after a year and a half of school at home, I said “Don’t worry, you know where things are and what to expect.” And this past Friday, when Sean began his freshman year at a prestigious catholic high school, you know what I said to him? “Don’t get yourself kicked you out. They don’t give refunds.”
Saying don’t worry is one of my go to phrases. But sometimes saying it can do more harm than good. I mean, how do you tell a young woman who is fleeing from the Taliban not to worry? Or my friend who called me for some marriage advice, if I told her not to worry she would have known I wasn’t invested in her o pain.
Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is calling us into an alternative way of living in the world. A way that is focused on God’s righteousness and provision. He begins by saying you can’t serve two masters. It’s either God or money. He’s saying if our heart is focused on obtaining wealth, we will constantly be worrying about how much we have, or getting more of it. This is how the world invites us to live.
Jesus said If our heart is on God’s righteousness, in good times and bad, then we have no reason to worry. Sounds easy, unless a single mom who has to choose between paying rent or feeding her kids. Here’s the thing. This parable isn’t about what money can buy. It’s about what God can provide.
The question for us is simply: do you believe God is an intimated, caring, and a trustworthy parent who provides for all of us?
All Jesus has to do is look at the birds flying around him, and the flowers and the grass on the mountainside, for the answer. He sees how everything is constantly under God's delicate, loving care. And tells his followers not to worry about what they will eat and wear because if this good God takes care of the least of these, then surely God will do the same for them.
I know what you’re probably thinking. “This is just a little out of touch with reality.” Doesn’t Jesus know that our world runs on money and consumerism. I have the credit card bills to prove it.
Jesus knows we need things like food and clothing in order to get by in this world. He also knows we need air, and water, and gravity, and sunshine as well. Where do those things come from? God. The creator of it all: you, me, and everything. Jesus points our attention towards the birds and the flowers because they are like us. They too are made by God’s divine hand. And they, like us, rely on God’s hand to provide for them without work or worry.
If I have learned anything in my faith, it’s that worry always takes my focus off what I’m supposed to do. It causes me to think about what’s next, or what I did, instead of being present, right here and right now, so that the presence of God can shine through me.
Jesus calls us into Anamesa, that space between heaven and earth, us and them, me and you, the space where life is unfolding with every second because “the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.” When you are worrying about the past or what tomorrow will bring, then you’re not focusing on God’s kingdom and all its righteousness that is happening all around you.
Jesus says, “Don’t worry,” because where you are is where you need to be; where heaven comes alive here on earth. It’s here, in Anamesa, God comes to meet us. And we come to meet God in one another. Jesus invites us to open our eyes and our hearts to see God among us in every living thing - birds, trees, babies and even in our enemies. Once we wrap our head around this reality, there’s no need to worry.
If our hearts are on God, then we know that we are under God's loving personal care. God will not leave us without resources or support, just as God has not abandoned the forest and oceans that we are destroying at a rapid pace. But as Jesus’ life and death taught us, God is in control. Out of death, God brings new life.
This is good news for us because we can face life today with all its uncertainties and contingencies with the same assurance that was given to us with Christ’s empty tomb. God not only hears, sees, and cares about our us and our situation, but God also moves to help alleviate the stress it causes.
After my first quarter of school, I put God to the test one more time. It happened while I was signing up for more classes, which meant more money. My severance from my old job was gone, and my unemployment had run out. I needed to come up with $4,000 to cover tuition. Instead of anger or using colorful words, I simply prayed “God, you promised me.”
I had just uploaded up my tuition on the credit card when our doorbell rang. It was our mailman Rick, who loved to hang out and talk. After about 15 minutes or so, Rick hands me a stack of mail and leaves. In my hands were numerous envelops from churches around the country. In those envelops were different scholarship checks. Those checks totaled, $3,750.
And you know what I said to God? “You’re $250 short. But don’t worry. I got it.” Yes, once again I tried to pull one over on God.
That Sunday I had been invited to preach at our church. And wouldn’t you know it, when I got to the pulpit there was an envelope with my name on it. Inside was another check - for $250. Talk about divine provision. Now, I wished this happen all the time. But it does happen enough so I will never lose sight of where to keep my heart focused, on the One who put shoes on their feet.
Jesus calls us to imagine the world differently, to see life through God’s eyes and to value the things that Jesus values, which includes you and me.
He knows that we’ll face challenges and circumstance that will overwhelm us and cause us to worry and maybe have a panic attack or two. Thus, he encourages us to keep our eyes and hearts on God who looks out for the transient life of grass with such beauty and care.
Just as God looks out for the least of these, so too does God look out for us who are faithful in the kingdom, standing up for what is right and just, and sharing all that we’ve been given knowing with our eyes and believing with our hearts that there is always enough of God’s love to go around.
So let's go out into the world taking Jesus’s advice. Let’s not worry about tomorrow, today’s trouble is enough for today.” Instead, let's keep our focus on the Kingdom of God and all its righteousness. Because if Jesus means what he says, and if his word is true, then all things will be given to you.
Let us pray:
Almighty and Heavenly Creator, As we set our eyes upon you and your glory, we open our hearts to receive your providence. You sent us your Son to free us from the bonds of this world, and to show us a way to live into your righteousness. Through him we are drawn closer to you and to one another. And so it is in his name we offer to you our whole selves. Amen.
Seeing With The Eyes Of A Compassionate Heart Matthew 6:22-23
August 15, 2021
Well, here’s what happen to me last Sunday. I was in the middle of cutting up some fresh jalapeños for my pizza, when I received a call from a friend. There was an emergency in his family, and I had to go to the hospital immediately. In my haste, I forgot to wash my hands. And when I got in the car, I accidentally rubbed jalapeño oil in my eyes. Not only did the burn nearly blind me, but it caused my eyes to water for the rest of the drive.
Between my astigmatisms and getting older I’m used to struggling to see things the way they ought to be seen. Which brings me to what I want to talk about today, seeing life differently – not with our eyes per se, but with our heart.
Staying with the Sermon on the Mount, I chose today’s passage because it seemed to be a perfect transition from last week when Jesus told us to be “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world.” Today’s reading might sound like a recap in a way because Jesus speaks of light again.
Before I read today’s scripture, I think a little context is to help us understand where Jesus is coming from. In the previous verses, he tells his disciples not to store their treasures on earth where bad things can happen to them, but to store them instead in heaven. Jesus is saying, keep your focus on God – because where you put your treasure is where your heart will be.
Then we get this.
The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! ~ Matthew 6:22-23 ~
Once again, Jesus uses light and darkness as metaphors to speak to the spiritual health of a person. And this “spiritual vision” is what keeps our souls in right relationships with God and others. For example, when your focus is on the wealth and ways of the world, and not on what God is offering, then it’s like you’re choosing to shut out God’s light and all life that it brings.
You might remember from last week that I said, unless you’re a mushroom or mold, light is essential to life. Not only does it help us grow, but it helps us see, and to navigate the darkness be it physical, emotional, or spiritual. Jesus said, “If your eye is good your whole body will be full of light.”
Somewhere around the age of 3 or 4, my nephew Lucas received his first set of glasses. This was big news, as it is with anyone who wears glasses. For the first time in his life, Lucas could see details, like individual leaves on trees and blades of grass, instead of just blurry blocks of color. Those glasses changed the way he saw things, including his worldview. He became more curious, and more aware of everything around him.
Jesus is calling us to see the world with a new set of lenses, ones that help us see things we so often miss. When we gaze upon God’s light and love everything changes. We too begin to see all the little details that God has in store for us.
There’s a great viral video of a grandfather receiving a pair of sunglasses as a birthday gift. Judging the unimpressed reaction on his face, you’d think they were a pair of Ray-Ban knock offs. But his grandkids encourage him to put them on, and when he does his entire demeanor changes. He gasps. Looking all around in utter disbelief, he’s laughing and crying at the same time – speechless because he can’t believe what he sees. Those were no ordinary glasses. But ones designed to help colorblind people see the world in all its vibrant glory.
It’s amazing how one gift could change a person’s perspective on life forever. So too is the gift of Christ Jesus who said, “if your eye is good your whole body will be full of light.” But sometimes even people with perfect vision have trouble seeing the light of Christ as the gift that it is.
Most of us see people for what they appear to be, and we judge them accordingly. We see them as ordinary sunglasses and not the special creation they are. But Jesus sees us for who we are – beloved children made in God’s image. When Jesus sees a person in need, he feels their pain and moves to help them. That’s because Jesus sees the world brightly with the eyes of a compassionate heart.
Luke tells a story about Jesus passing by a funeral procession (Luke 7:12-15). The people are carrying the body of a widows only son. Luke writes, “When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her.” Jesus knew that this woman’s life depended on her son. He felt her pain and helped. He touched the bier they were carrying him on, and immediately the dead man was brought back to life and returned to his mother.
When Jesus saw two blind men crying out for help on the side of the road. And the woman begging for her daughter’s life, and the leper cast out from his community, and the demoniac left to die alone. Not to mention the crowds who constantly flocked to him to be healed. Jesus doesn’t avoid their gaze, but gazes upon them with the eyes of a compassionate heart.
What about us? How do we see? Or better yet, who do we see?
It’s not hard to imagine that if you were to see a crying child, you’d rush to help ease her pain. But what do we do when we see a man with mental illness begging on the side of road? Or a frightened immigrant too scared to ask for help? How do you see a person who wears a MAGA hat, or baggy, low hanging pants? “If your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light.”
In his latest book The Universal Christ, Richard Rohr makes this powerful point: What Jesus really wanted, was for us to “see the world with his eyes.” When we see the world with the same love and compassion as Jesus, our own world grows richer, deeper, and more loving. So, we must always keep our gaze on the One who is in us, and in everything around us, because according to Rohr, everything we see is the outpouring of God for God is the light inside of everything. How we see, and who we see, is relative to how we will shine.
This productive life that Jesus calls us into, begins by changing the way we see things. It begins with seeing life the way he does, looking through his eyes by turning away from the darkness and stepping into the light that is within us all.
Jesus is the visible presence of God’s love incarnate. He sees faces and lives, situations and struggles and hurts. And is moved with compassion to love on them. Having been made in God’s image, we too are vessels by which God’s love is seen and felt in the world. Thus, the Apostle Paul calls us to be imitators of Christ – to see with the eyes of a compassionate heart – radiating God’s love.
Think about it like this. Jesus looks out at a crowd of a thousand people and sees: Proud people, broken people, gay people, self-righteous church people, people who are addicts, workaholics, adulterers, tax-evaders, embezzlers, hypocrites, liars, thieves, people who are broken and hungry for more that the world offers, people like you and me.
And when he sees us what does he do? He loves us as God loves him. He shows compassion not judgement. He teaches – rather than condemns. He sees past our sin to our condition and moves to help. This is our calling and what it means to follow Jesus. When you set your eye on him, you can’t help but see the divine light in all things and react accordingly.
Your eye is a lamp that illuminates God’s love in you. Remember it was Jesus who said, “Let your light shine so that others can see your good works and give God glory.” (Mt. 5:16) By shining upon others, in all the ways you act in love, you show them how to flip the switch and turn on God’s light within themselves.
But here’s the thing, if we want the light of Christ to shine through us, we need to turn our gaze away from the darkness of the world and put it upon him. Jesus helps us to clearly see the way of God’s love and righteousness. He is the light within us all that helps us see ourselves and others as we really are.
But to see through Jesus’ eyes we must first see him for who he is: The incarnate and visible presence of God’s light and love that exposes the darkness and redeems the good. When we can see this, we are able to break out of our narrow, self-centered way of seeing others and get involved with the people around us. We notice them, acknowledge them, see them not as sinful creatures to avoid, but as God’s children, holy and beloved.
Take the story of a notorious sinful woman who interrupted a dinner party to anoint Jesus with oil (Luke 7:36-50). When Simon the Pharisee quickly passed judgment on the situation, Jesus asked him, “Do you see this woman?” then he gave a list of reasons why she was more spiritually grounded than Simon! Simon had all the religious rules down, but this woman saw Jesus for who he was, and poured out her love upon him. (Roper)
When we see the world through Jesus’ eyes, we can see a person for who they are and not judge them by what we think, or what they wear, or who they love, or how they vote, or where they’ve been, or what they’ve done. Like Mother Theresa loved to say, “I see Jesus in every human being. I say to myself, this is hungry Jesus, I must feed him. This is sick Jesus, I must tend to him.”
As you go out into the world, I’d encourage you to look closely at the people in your community, your neighbors and co-workers and strangers alike. When you see them, hear our Lord asking, “Do you see that person the way I do? Do you realize that God made them too?”
Jesus gives us the eyes of a compassionate heart so that we could not only see ourselves as he sees us, but to see others like he does, as brothers and sisters, not strangers and enemies.
Jesus gives us the eyes of a compassionate heart so when we see injustice, we will have the desire to put an end to it. His eyes help us to see the world’s dark sin, so our hearts know where to radiate God’s light.
He has given us eyes that see not only a broken person in need of help, but the horrific cross that repairs all damage. There on that cross, Jesus opened his heart for the world to see God’s redeeming love in the flesh. A love that is given to all who want it.
While the cross of Christ shifts our focus and changes our vision, it is the empty tomb of Christ that frees us to give our hearts willingly to everyone we see. And to do so as if we are giving it to Christ himself.
Therefore, let us keep our eyes always upon the One who said, “If your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light.”
The daily prayer of St. Theresa of Calcutta
Dear Jesus, help us to spread your fragrance everywhere we go. Flood our souls with your spirit and life. Penetrate and possess our whole being so utterly that our lives may only be a radiance of yours. Shine through us and be so in us that every soul we come in contact with, may feel your presence in our soul. Let them look up and see no longer us, but only Jesus. Stay with us and then we shall begin to shine as you shine, so to shine as to be light to others. The light, O Jesus, will be all from you. None of it will be ours. It will be you shining on others through us. Let us thus praise you in the way you love best by shining on those around us. Let us preach you without preaching, not by words, but by our example; by the catching force – the sympathetic influence of what we do, the evident fullness of the love our hearts bear to you. Amen.
Rohr, Richard. The Universal Christ. (New York: Convergant, 2019).
Roper, Mark. Seeing Through The Eyes of Jesus. sermoncentral.com. 12 12, 2009. (accessed 08 11, 2021).
The Word This Week.com Eigth Sunday After Epipnany 02 26, 2017. (accessed 08 13, 2021).
Being Salt And Light
On Friday I went to the beach to officiate a funeral of a man who was an amazing blessing to so many people, including my dear friend Gianni. I know it will sound crazy, but I love doing funerals. They give me an opportunity to offer hope in situations that often feel hopeless. If done right, funerals can allow a minister to shine, to really live into their calling and purpose.
This ceremony was extra special because it was a “paddled out” service, where we gathered in the ocean and made a circle with our surfboards to say our goodbyes. If you know me, you know that I love the ocean as much as I love God. In fact, as a kid that was where I would go to be with God.
That was certainly the case on Saturday, when we all went to Topanga Beach to escape the heat, and to just relax. While there was some resistance in going, I think we call came back a little more refreshed, and some a little more sunburnt. There’s nothing else like the beach, and the salt air to cure whatever is ailing you. It’s a sanctuary for me. Whenever I’m feeling stressed or lost, I go to the beach knowing the ocean has the power to heal.
When we lived in Michigan, we’d go to Lake Michigan which for the most part could easily pass for an ocean. Except for one thing. The locals often brag about it, they sell t-shirts that say “Salt and Shark Free.” But every time I went in, something was missing. And it wasn’t the sharks. Salt might not be essential to enjoy a good swim, but it does define the uniqueness of an ocean. It also defines our uniqueness as followers of Christ.
Today, I want to return to the mountain side, on the heels of Jesus blessing the crowd. The disciples listen carefully, ready to learn what it means to be a blessing in the world. And it’s here the Word of God uses these two analogies to enlighten them: Salt and light.
READ: Matthew 5:13-16.
You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
You are the salt. You are the light. Every time I read this passage, I think about one thing: my wife’s salt addiction. Those of you who have ever opened a cupboard in our home would know what I mean. We do have your basic table salt. In fact, she carries some in her purse. But our everyday salt is imported from Australia. We also have red Spanish salt, blue Persian salt, two kinds of black salt from Hawaii, three different salts from Peru, and one from the Himalayan mountains. We also have lava salt, smoked salt, kosher salt, wine salt, and about a dozen more I know I’m forgetting. Each one of these salts are unique, but each one also has the distinct flavor – salt.
If you were to call my wife salty, she’d take it as a complement. She knows its a good thing. After all, Jesus says salt is good, “but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it?” It never dawned on me that all our salts could one day stop being salty.
All I know about salt is that it’s essential to human life. It is the only trace mineral that’s found in every cell in the human body. Without it, we’d cease to function. If you don’t get enough, you increase your risk of heart attack, stroke, and cardiovascular disease. And too much can be toxic or lead to high blood pressure. Salt is good as long as it’s being used wisely. Maybe Jesus trying to tell us to not just sit there in the cupboard but go out and do what you’re supposed to do. Be the visible presence of God’s love in the world. Go spice it up with love.
I also know that whenever I have a sore throat, I gargle with saltwater because it helps to reduce inflammation. If you have sore muscles or tired feet, nothing is more restorative than a good soak in a salt bath. Whenever I swim or surf in the ocean, the stress in my body just seems to disappear.
Is Jesus using this analogy to remind us to go heal and restore the world? Is that what we’re supposed to do? If you think about it, love has that power, doesn’t it? Showing kindness to someone who is scared, or anxious, or lost can go a long way to healing them and restoring one’s soul and faith.
Now couple of years ago my brother took me to a restaurant called “Salt” where each item on the menu was pared with a particular salt to enhanced the flavor of whatever you were eating. There was a different one for beef, and one for chicken, and different ones for specific vegetables. And even desserts. Maybe Jesus is comparing us to salt because he’s asking us to bring out the best in ourselves and the best in other people.
There are all different kinds of Christians – from fine to flakey – yet we all have a distinct, common purpose. That is to shake out the Good News of God’s redemptive love on everything. To love liberally to enhance the goodness of God in others. Too much of this is good for humans and the world. That is why it needs to be sprinkled over everything.
But what good is our faith if we refuse to live it out like Jesus did? What good is love if we stop showing it to others?
Fun fact: in 1st century Palestine once salt lost its flavor, it was then used as a weapon. Troops would spread on an enemy’s crops and ground to make the land barren. If there is no Christ in your Christianity, you run the risk doing more harm than good. We lose our saltiness every time we cheat a business partner, or refuse to forgive someone who has hurt us, or denied dignity to a stranger. We cannot lose our capacity to love. We must constantly be shaking it out by speaking up and standing up for what is right even if those in power crucify us for doing so.
We cannot risk being losing our flavor, our faith and the love that it enhances. The best way to ensure that never happens is to constantly keep God’s love alive in us. It doesn’t matter if you’re a regular old table salt, or some exotic smoky sea salt, or even salt of a different color, the world needs to hear God’s Words because there is still so much darkness around us. Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth.” But you are also the light that shines in the darkest of places.
One of the only things I remember from high school biology class besides needing salt to live is that we also need light. Light is the main source of energy for all living organisms. Without it we would literally be nothing. Maybe mushrooms, or mold, but yuck! What then are we without God’s light? How well will we live if we remain only in the darkness? What would grow in us without God’s love filling us? We need light. God’s light.
In John’s gospel, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” Not only does this mean that we will grow well with him, but we will thrive. Through Christ, we become light bearers, illuminating God’s presence in the darkest of places every time we love another, especially those who do not know love or have not felt it for a very long time.
When our kids were little, we had night lights throughout our house to give them comfort and to help them see their way in the night. But what good is a night light if it’s not plugged in? We are called to be the light of the world. Our light needs to cut through the darkness and guides people to God’s loving arms. But how?
Just as the moon which has no light of its own but reflects what it receives from the sun, we receive our light from Jesus. And are called to reflect his light upon the world. To love as he loved, forgive as he forgave, care and heal and serve, as he did. Jesus didn’t discriminate, neither shall we. Jesus didn’t say because you are this way or that way, I won’t love you and care for your needs. He loved and cared for all. And he died for all.
If there is no Christ in your Christianity, then you are only adding to the darkness that hangs over this world. To follow him is to reflect his light. And to shine brightly. Jesus says it’s imperative that we don’t hide our faith or spiritual gifts but to put them in the center of life – drawing people to its warmth and radiance.
By being salt and light, we can live within our own Christ likeness without fearing how others might retaliate. We can enhance God’s goodness and illuminate God’s blessings in those dark places where love is lacking, forgiveness is needed, and where mercy and justice are missing.
Salt and light. This is how we share the good news of our faith…by being faithful to it. This might require to be vulnerable and open to hurt. Which is never easy. Letting go of our power and hard exterior is difficult for many of us. But it’s how we take off the baskets that hide our light and we allow our goodness to be released.
The hard ground cannot bear good fruit. Only when it is cracked open can the seed enter the expose, soft dirt and take root. God is calling you to go and be the salt and light of Christ in the world, to produce the goodness of the Kingdom of Heaven…be it at the beach, a lake, or wherever you are. To be like Christ is to let Christ shine through us so others can see their goodness in God’s glory and shine themselves.
This is how Jesus fulfilled God’s righteousness and blessed the world and produced the good fruits of God’s love and grace. And this is how we, his followers, are to abide the same – loving God with all our heart, mind, and soul; and our neighbor as ourselves.
We are his salt. Full of flavor and full of life. We carry his light that destroys the darkness. Let us go forth and shine brightly. Leading people safely home to the open arms of God’s unfailing love.
Let us pray:
God, you have enlightened us with your Word today, and illuminated us with your Spirit. Send us now out into the world to bring out the best in others by being our best. Help us to shine brightly, not for our glory but for yours. As our individual lights come together to form this church, we pray that you will draw others to it’s warmth and radiance. Amen.
Bartlett, David L and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting On The Word, Year A, Vol 1. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010) pp. 332-337.
Lockyer, Herbert. All The Parables of the Bible. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1963) pp. 146-147.
Sharing God's Love
I can’t even begin to tell you the kind of week I had.
Starting with last Monday, each day brought its own set of issues to deal with and obstacles to overcome. And as the week progressed, I started having trouble focusing on any one thing at a time. I’d start something but then I get distracted by something else and when I go take care of that I find something else to take my focus off what I originally started to do.
Do you know what I’m talking about? If so, then you should relate to this story I want to read today. It’s called “If You Give A Pig A Pancake” by Laura Numeroff.
This book is part of a series that includes the one that started it all, If You Give A Mouse A Cookie…which I would have read but I’m not a fan of mice. And well, I don’t like to boast, but I make really good pancakes. (Watch video of reading here)
Virginia Woolf wrote, “For pleasure has no relish unless we share it.” And this wonderful children’s book seems to capture that spirit exactly.
I read this story because 1) I believe it’s the perfect illustration of what God’s love for us is like. Wherever we are or what situation we find ourselves in God is there, and ready to give us our hearts desire. But I also read it because I believe it also says something about who we are, and what our faith should look like.
For the past few weeks, we’ve been learning about the Word of God. A Word that John’s gospel professes “became flesh and walked among us.” And then in Matthew’s gospel we heard what that Word has to say about who we are. Today I want us to look at what that means to us, and this community, now that we’ve heard the good news proclaimed.
How can we share our faith with the reckless joy and tireless enthusiasm of this little girl who shares everything she has with her pet pig? She makes it look so effortless. As if it’s the natural thing to do. And for God, it is. But what about us?
Imagine a world where we just automatically shared our faith without pause. To have such a giving spirit that people can’t help but see the goodness of God shine through. And when they do, perhaps they will want to know more.
There’s a word for this. It’s called evangelism which comes from the Greek word “euangelion” which means “good news” or “gospel.” But I have also seen it defined as a “word that scares the crap out of Christians.” And rightly so.
Many of us don’t like to share our pancakes, muchless our hearts. And when it comes to our faith, well like politics, there are just some things we don’t share in good company.
Because it’s often tied to a particular politic or religious ideology, evangelism has become a kind of dirty word. It’s hard to see all its good points through all the negative that have become attached to it. Which is odd when you think about it because, in its broadest sense, evangelism is the work of those who are messengers of God’s good Word made manifest in Christ Jesus. Heck, it even has the word “angel” right in the middle of it so it can’t be that bad.
Given what we’ve been enduring with the pandemic and the politics surrounding it, we sure could use a little good news. And who doesn’t want an angel hanging around? I’ve learned that when you see an angel, there’s a good chance you’re going to want to hear what they have to say.
There’s another good book where this idea is found. In the book of Romans, Paul writes this.
READ: ROMANS 10:11-15
In May of 2018, some 29 million people around the world watched Prince Harry wed Meghan Markle in Saint Georges Chapel. Amidst all of the royal pageantry, the presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the most Reverend Michael Curry, preached a sermon of love and the good news of Christ’s Word for all to hear.
In that sermon Curry proclaimed, “If humanity ever captures the energy of love, it will be the second time in history that we have discovered fire.” Such powerful words to profess.
Now, let me ask you this: When he spoke those words to all those people do you think he was nervous, knowing 29 million viewers were more interested in seeing Megan's wedding dress than what he had to say?
Or was he convicted knowing that 29 million people would hear about the love of God; knowing that faith comes by hearing? I would bet it was the latter. Bishop Curry was given an opportunity to share the gospel and he took it. And it left people wanting more. It makes me wonder if we have the same conviction.
Bishop Curry might preside over one of the biggest churches in the world, and yeah he has decades of preaching experience under his belt, but his call to share the gospel is no different than ours. The world is hungry, not for pancakes but for love. But how will they know where to find it if no one tells them or shows them the way?
“How can people call for help if they don’t know who to trust? And how can they know who to trust if they haven’t heard of the One who can be trusted? And how can they hear if nobody tells them? And how is anyone going to tell them unless someone is sent to do it?” (MSG).
Evangelism is not an option.
And if you’re like me, that should make you squirm a little. You see, I’m not the kind of person who just walks up to someone and beats them into accepting my way of faith. I know how intrusive that can be. In fact, it doesn’t seem very Christ like at times.
I remember driving home from work one evening and seeing a small group of people in my neighborhood going from house to house with bibles in one hand and pamphlets in the other. It was only a matter of time before they hit up our home.
No sooner had I walked in from the garage, a mother with her young daughter knocked on our door. Now the nervous look on the mother’s face was priceless when I answered the door still wearing my clerical collar.
But it didn’t stop her kid from asking that old familiar question, “If you were to die tonight where would you go?”
I could help myself by answering, “Hopefully in the ground.”
Despite their feeble efforts, they were at least doing what God is asking of all of us – to share the good news of God’s redeeming love.
Again, this is not optional. But thankfully, there’s no one-size fits all approach to doing it either. If you feel comfortable going door-to-door, good on you. But don’t worry if your comfort zone maxes out at only being able to post a meaningful bible verse on Facebook. That’s evangelizing.
So too is telling a friend about the real struggles you’ve experienced in your faith journey. Or how going to church or following the way of Jesus helped you get your life back on track.
Perhaps you’re better at showing your faith than speaking it. No problem. Evangelism is all about putting our faith into action.
It happens when you march for justice. Or work to end discrimination. Or collect signatures to ban assault riffles. You preach the good news of Christ Jesus whenever you bring his light into someone’s darkness. Or when you’re generous with your kindness, patience, or your super delicious pancakes.
You see, it’s not about HOW you evangelize. But WHEN. It’s a matter of willingness. The opportunities to share God’s love and grace arise all the time. But who’s going to do it if not you and I?
Evangelism shouldn’t be a dirty word. It’s our mission, our goal, our way to participate in God’s kingdom right here in Anamesa...in that space between heaven and earth, us and them, you and me. It’s not supposed to scare the hell out of us, but to scare the hell out of hell itself.
I don’t know what was going on in Bishop Curry head on the morning of the royal wedding. I don’t know if he was nervous. Or if anyone confessed Christ that day because of what he said. All I know is he did it, with his whole heart, knowing faith begins with hearing the gospel first.
It wasn’t up to him to convert or “save” whoever was watching that day. That’s Jesus’ job. His, and our, job is to share the good news of Jesus Christ, the very Word of God. And to do so faithfully and freely. How we do it is up to us.
God’s not looking for perfection, just participation. For some strange reason God has faith in us, and believes we can do it. It might not happen on international television. But it can happen in a kitchen, or a treehouse, or at work, in a bar, or anywhere you find yourself.
And so, as you enter the world today, consider what your words and actions are saying about God. How are you allowing the light and love of Christ Jesus to shine through you?
People are hungry for more than what this world can give. They are always listening and always watching out for it. When people see the way you speak love into their lives, there’s a good chance they will want more.
Like the prophet said, “How blessed are the feet of those who bring the good news!”
May God bless your lips, and your hands and heart as well. So that you will be an angel, in the flesh walking among us all in love and peace. Amen.
Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word Year A, Vol 3. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2011) pp. 336-341.
Numeroff, Laura. If You Give A Pig A Pancake. (New York: HarperCollins, 1998).
Last week we described Jesus as the Word of God. We looked at many ways that defined what that means. And we barely scratched the surface. A lot of ink has been spilt on the Incarnation of Christ, and if you were here last week, I’d bet that the one thing you probably remember is “God’s taco.”
If Jesus is God’s Word as John proclaimed, then that tells me his words matter. But they are more than just wise sayings, or interesting observations that look good in memes. They are social commentary, ethical pronouncements, and radically political declarations.
Jesus does not mince words. When he speaks, he is teaching. And what he teaches is imperative for our spiritual growth and understanding of the kingdom of heaven, which Jesus said “has come near.”
Today I want to turn to the Gospel of Matthew and focus on one of Jesus’ first and longest lessons which begins with a series of blessings, commonly known as the Beatitudes. The problem we face today is this passage is so familiar, that it can be difficult for us to see ourselves in them. Or hear God’s intent and purpose that Jesus is conveying. I would invite you now to close your eyes and picture yourself sitting on the hillside listening to Jesus speak these words to you.
READ: Matthew 5:1-12
You might remember in Monty Python’s Life Of Brian there’s a scene where they borrow from this famous passage. A man standing in the crowd proclaiming, “Blessed are the Greeks,” and “Blessed are the cheese makers.”
The writers might have been joking when they wrote the lines, little did they know that they’re telling us something about the character of God and the power of God’s Word made flesh. A most unexpected messiah giving blessings to those who never expected one in the first place.
Now if you have never heard the Beatitudes, there’s also a good chance you’re saying to yourself, “Wow. These are the most beautiful words I have ever heard.” Or “Gee, these words are beautiful but not very realistic given the world we live in.”
For those who have heard them, perhaps you’re thinking, “These beautiful words are just another reminder of all the ways I fail to live up to being a follower of Christ.” Or worse…you might be thinking you’re not worthy of such a blessing.
Here’s the thing, Jesus blesses us because it’s in his nature to do so. Jesus isn’t setting us up to fail or wanting us to feel ashamed. He’s giving us a way to live right with God. He’s calling us to participate in the kingdom of heaven knowing exactly what that will entail. Fear, doubt, pressure, mistakes. Jesus knows us, and what we are capable of doing. For better or worse he chooses to bless us with God’s love even if it costs him his life.
In her book “Accidental Saints,” Nadia Bolz-Webber imagines Jesus looking at the crowd on the mountain and “extravagantly throwing around blessing as if grew on trees.”
She writes, “Maybe the Sermon on the Mount is all about Jesus blessing all the accidental saints...especially those the world didn’t seem to have much time for: people in pain, people who work for peace instead of profit, people who exercise mercy instead of vengeance.”
Maybe you know these people – the ones the world doesn’t always admire. Again, maybe that’s what you think about yourself. Like you don’t deserve to be blessed – believing you’re not good enough, or poor enough, or meek enough to receive God’s love and grace.
But here we have God’s Word saying you are good. You are worthy. You are enough. You might not wake up in the morning hoping to be poor or persecuted, but Jesus wants to give you God’s blessing, nonetheless. I invite you to open your heart and let them in.
Of course, this speaks more to who Jesus is than who we are. He is the Word of God made flesh. He is God in our midst, turning the ways of the world on its head every time he blesses those who have been ignored, abused, or marginalized.
No wonder when God’s Word speaks the world covers its ears, closes its eyes, and turns its back. The world doesn’t want to be blessed with peace when it can make a profit off war. It doesn’t want to mourn, be meek, or give mercy. It wants power.
It’s easy to blame all the bad stuff in the world on those who disregard or deny the Word of God. Richard Rohr invites us to take an honest look at ourselves too. He writes, “Let’s be honest, most of Christianity has focused very little on what Jesus himself taught and spent most of his time doing – healing people, doing acts of justice and inclusion, embodying compassionate and nonviolent ways of living.”
As a Franciscan, Rohr naturally points us towards St. Francis of Assisi who took the Sermon on the Mount seriously and spent his life trying to imitate Jesus. Francis believed Jesus meant when he said the kingdom of heaven has come near. He went on to live into that truth; creating a community of saints who live into their blessedness by blessing others.
I like to imagine what our world today would look like if we proclaimed God’s Word like Francis did. Blessing everyone like Jesus did. It makes me wonder how can we worship God if we don’t trust God’s Word enough to live it out in the world? At the end of the sermon on the mount, Jesus gives us this short but effective image so we will know that we are to act on his words.
He said, “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise person who built a house on rock.” (cf. Matthew 7:24–27)
God’s blessings didn’t stop with Jesus. They didn’t die on the cross. They too have been resurrected. And been passed on to us, given to us in our faith, to live through our faithfulness.
In Christ, God has blessed you and me so that the world might know God’s Word and receive God’s blessings as their own. It’s up to us to give them away “as if they grew on trees!”
The beatitudes are more than just beautiful words to needlepoint. They are an invitation to participate in God’s kingdom. This is our calling. Our mission and ministry. This is our purpose – to be a blessing in and for the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus is the Word of God. And his words have purpose - to redeem and restore all of creation back to God. He is calling us now to walk in this kingdom, in his footsteps, blessing everyone we pass along the way. For the blessings we receive from God are the very blessings we are to be for God.
Through Christ, God has provided us with everything we need to bless the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, and the dying.
In Christ, God has given us a living example of how to honor the poor in a way that empowers them; to show mercy and forgiveness to those who have hurt us, even if we get nothing in return.
With Christ, you might discover people will put you down, throw you out or speak lies about you. But instead of getting angry or seeking revenge, Jesus says “Be glad. You’re in good company. God’s prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble” (Mt. 5:12 MSG)
If you want to get things right in the world, especially in your own life, perhaps it’s time to let God’s Word direct the way you live by receiving and being a blessing to others. Jesus shows us the way to be in the world without being of it. He is God’s Beatitude made flesh.
When we model our lives on his, peace will prevail; all will be comforted and everyone will have their fill; mercy will be shown to us; and the kingdom of God will reign, now and forever.
May the Lord bless you and keep you. May his light shine upon you and be gracious to you. May his face smile at you and give you peace.
Bartlett, David. L. and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol. 4 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2011).
Bolz-Weber, Nadia. Accidental Saints: Finding God In All The Wrong People. (New York: Convergent, 2015).
Pagano, Joseph S. The Beatitudes and Barriers, All Saints Day. Nov. 01, 2017 (accessed on July 23, 2021).
Rohr, Richard. Scripture as Liberation, (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2002).
Fleshiness...of God in us.
The Word Became Flesh John 1:1-18
July 18, 2021
I need to make a confession. About two months ago I started Weight Watchers, which I did not just to lose weight, but to reacquaint myself with better eating habits that seem to have disappeared during the pandemic.
I was doing well until I went on vacation. Though I was good about passing on the morning donuts, I was not so good when it came to everything else. But what happens on vacation stays on vacation. So didn’t give it too much weight so to speak.
But then I came home and did the unthinkable. I stepped on the scale. No surprise there was more flesh on my body than I had hoped. Whatever weight I lost in Sherman Oaks, I found along the sandy shores of Delaware.
Which brings me to what I want to talk about today. Fleshiness. Not the lumpy-meat-under-your-skin kind, but the visible substance of faith. And perhaps getting reacquainted with this fleshiness might help us make better and even healthier life choices as we seek to shape our spiritual body.
READ: John 1:1-18
I love John’s prologue because it not only speaks to the humanity and divinity of Jesus. But it also reminds me of tacos. And I love tacos. While you probably didn’t notice that in the text, you might have noticed John’s gospel doesn’t begin with a typical birth story. There’s no baby in a manger, no shepherds or wisemen. Or angelic proclamations. Just this strange, poetic passage about the Incarnation - where the perfect embodiment of God takes on human flesh and walks among us.
What’s this got to do with tacos? Good question. Well, the root word for incarnation is carne, which in Spanish means “meat” or “flesh.” Any taqueria worth its salt will have carne asada, or steak tacos, on its menu.
I’ll make another confession. If I could have tacos with anyone, and no offense to you all, I’d pick Jesus, the incarnate Christ - God with meat.
According to John, Jesus is the Word of God made flesh, sent to live among us so we could see the glory of God’s grace and truth. He describes Jesus as the light that reveals God’s self to humanity. And the life that gives us new life by reconciling us back to our Creator. So it’s like Jesus is a delicious life-giving taco that nourishes us with all the goodness of God.
To understand who we are as followers of Christ, we must first understand who he is as the Word of God. Growing up in the church I thought the Bible was the word of God. In many ways it is. It’s filled with things God said, and it’s meaty in all the ways it shapes and guides our way of living. But the more I studied John, the more I realized he’s talking about something bigger than some holy words in holy book.
In the original Greek New Testament, John uses the word logos to introduce Jesus. It says “In the beginning was the logos, and the logos was with God, and the logos is God.” Logos is a rich and nuanced word that can define one’s mind and rationality, as well as one’s speech or communication.
In this case, the logos or Word of God is the content of God’s thinking and conveys God’s actions. Think about the creation story in Genesis. God has an idea and speaks it into being. With a Big Bang, God’s Word creates the infinite universe and all that it contains. If Jesus is the logos, the very Word of God that John proclaims, then Jesus is the one who conveys God’s intentions, which are made visible, or manifest, by his actions.
Are you following me? Think about tacos again. Imagine God standing in the kitchen looking at a plain tortilla sitting all by itself on the counter and thought, “I bet that tortilla would taste better if it were stuffed with some meaty goodness.”
Well, that goodness is Jesus. As John tells it, the intangible light, glory, grace, and truth of God comes into being, takes on flesh and walks among us in the personhood of Jesus of Nazareth. Anyone who want to see God or taste God’s goodness needs to look no further than him – God with meat.
In Christ, God’s divine attributes are made know to us in order to show us who we truly are and what it means to be called: “children of God.” As someone once said, “Jesus is not alone in this word-made-flesh business. He has brothers and sisters.” And that’s where we come in.
Jesus needs you and me – in all our fleshiness – to continue his mission, revealing God’s glory and reconciling humanity back to God’s open heart.
You could say we are a part of God’s taco. Jesus is the meat, but we’re the seasoning, the onions, cilantro, guacamole, and salsa. We build upon what God has created by living into what God has given to us. Life.
With Christ leading the way, God empowers us to nourish the world with delicious and divine goodness so we can live life the way God intended since the beginning. With abundance.
Most of us don’t think of ourselves as a taco. But then again, most of us don’t think we’re good enough to possess the flesh of God. But John says anyone who sees Jesus and believes what he has to say is given the power to be a child of God.
We each have a bit of God’s logos in us. We each have a word that defines our faith and helps others to see God in their midst. For some that word is “justice” or “compassion” or “generosity” or “patience.” Yours might be “love” or “kindness” or “tender-heartedness.”
These are all great words that embody God’s thoughts and actions in you. But here’s the thing: You have to put flesh on your word in order for it to mean anything. Which is exactly what Jesus did.
To be his follower we too must put on the flesh, the weighty substance of faith, and do what he did: healing and feeding and tending to the needs of others; forgiving debts and transgressions, welcoming strangers, showing hospitality, offering a helping hand to your enemies. Being God’s abundant love with our flesh and blood.
What is true for us, is true for institutions as well. As the body of Christ we are called to live as he does. We can’t do everything ourselves, but we can do somethings well. Paul reminds us that there are different parts yet one body. Each of us have unique gifts that add to the fleshiness of that body.
We can say our church vision is to love God, love others, and serve both, but until we go out and actually love and serve, those words are just meatless bones. To quote Corey Booker,
“Don't speak to me about your religion; first show it to me in how you treat other people. Don't tell me how much you love your God; show me in how much you love all God's children. Don't preach to me your passion for your faith; teach me through your compassion for your neighbors. In the end, I'm not as interested in what you have to tell or sell as I am in how you choose to live and give.”
Booker’s words echo the entire teachings of Jesus who boiled down the gospel with a single word. That word is love. The moment we show love is the very moment God’s Word becomes flesh and lives among us, in us and through us.
You see, the incarnation is not a one-time event. It’s an on-going invitation to participate in God’s kingdom; to feed and nourish the world with God’s love. It’s a call to truly embrace and embody Christ’s flesh, not just his name. God did not send the Son to create another religion.
No, God became flesh and blood so we would know God’s thinking and see God’s intensions.
The Bible is filled with stories of Jesus living like this. As a result, he couldn’t help but radiate God’s glory with truth and light. He shone so brightly that the darkness of the world didn’t stand a chance.
As you leave here today, I hope that you will remember this: Jesus is the word given to us. His flesh is ours flesh. His light is our light. His life is ours too. This is important because there’s still way too much darkness in the world. Nationalism, individualism, racism, division, addiction, violence, poverty, starvation and injustice just to name a few.
What seems like an endless list continues to cast a dark shadow over all the good out there. And there’s a lot of good out there. There always has been. For in the beginning was the Word. God’s Word. And it’s a good word. Love.
In Christ, God’s perfect love became flesh so that you and I could live into our best self.
We are made in Imago Dei. We are the image of God. Filled with God’s love and light. We are made fleshy and good. So, the more flesh we add, the bigger and better Christ’s body becomes.
But who will take on the weight of his flesh so the world can know and savor God’s everlasting goodness? Who will set aside their political ideologies and divisive doctrines to accept and welcome all people as if you are welcoming and accepting Jesus himself? Who will stand up against injustice? Or advocate for peace? Who will march for the dignity of life? Or stop and help a stranger in need? Who will set aside your own power and privilege to be a servant for the voiceless and powerless?
Will it be you?
Will you pick up your cross and really follow Jesus – breathing life where there is death; light where there is darkness; hope where all hope seems lost?
Again, each of us brings our own unique flavor of God’s love to life. We are a part of God’s taco, given life and love so that the world can know and savor everlasting Word made flesh, full of grace and truth.
May God bless your hearing and understanding.
Let us pray:
Holy and Merciful God of Light and Love, we thank you for your Divine Word that has been revealed to us today. We ask now for the Holy Spirit to stay with us, to lead us and guide us in all the ways of Christ Jesus so that wherever we go, people will come to know your Word and give you glory. Amen.
Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor. Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol. 1 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2009).
Goodness Acts 2:43-47 (CEV)
June 27, 2021
Over the last four weeks, really these last four years, we look at how to be a church. Not how to play one but to be one. Despite how simple this might seem on paper, it has not always been an easy undertaking.
In the early days of the church, being a follower of Christ was challenging. People left their homes, families, and even their cultural religion to follow what seemed like a cult to many. But as we have seen through our study of Acts 2, these early Christians persevered; creating a thriving faith community that did everything together and shared all they had so none would be without. It was probably as close as anyone has come to the kind of community God envisioned for humanity upon its creation.
As we conclude our look at the early church, I want to focus on how these first followers of Jesus built up of God’s kingdom by sharing their time and theirselves with people outside this new community.
Read: Acts 2:43-47 (CEV) “They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone.”
Over the last four weeks we’ve learned that God did some really cool stuff through the Apostles that left people in awe. This caused people to want to be a part of their new way, and soon they built a community where all things were held in common. And everything they did seem to be a holy task because everything they did was grounded in Christlike love.
Moreover, all this was done so that all people would come to see the presence of God all around them. They did this, as Luke writes, by demonstrating God’s goodness to everyone.
While you might think it’s impossible to do great miracles or crazy to pool your finances into a common bank account, any one of us is capable of demonstrating God’s goodness. And in doing so, even pull off a few miracles or at least make sure everyone is taken care of.
Our first question then is simply: What is the goodness of God? The easiest way to describe it is to say it’s God’s very essence.Goodness is who God inherently is. God is the original source of goodness. It’s not like it first came from something else. So we say, God is good.
As creatures made in God’s image, this means we too are inherently good. In Genesis 1, “God saw everything he made and declared it good.” At times you might not think this about yourself or others. But that’s not what the Bible says. The psalmist writes, “The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made." (Ps. 145:9) We don’t earn God’s goodness. We are made in it; whether we think we’re worthy of it or not.
Now you might be thinking, if this is true then…why is it so hard to see God’s goodness in our world today? Outside this horrific pandemic that is killing so many of God’s children, we still have war, famine, poverty, mass shootings, personal assaults, police brutality, racism – the list these days seems endless.
You might be wondering, “Why doesn’t God do something about it?” What if God did do something, and is waiting for us to respond?
Imagine seeing a love one suffering, what should you do? Ignore them and their pain? Or sit with them and tend to whatever it is that is causing them hurt? Whenever we enter into such a place, God’s goodness is able to shine.
This is what we are called to do, as individuals and as a church; to be the visible presence of God’s goodness. God has made us good, but it’s up to us to live into it. And we have no excuse not to. In Jesus, God’s divine goodness became flesh, so we’d have a living example on how to live into our true selves. If you want to know what to do, simply see what Jesus does and do that.
As Christ followers, we should make every effort to be like Jesus – loving others, being generous, and doing good. Like Peter points out, we have a responsibility to show others the goodness of God as it flows in and through us (1 Peter 2:9). This should be the distinguishing mark of Christ’s church - to be living examples of God’s goodness. So why then is it so hard to see God’s goodness in our world today?
This takes us to the next question: How can we demonstrate God’s goodness? According to the prophet Micah, we can demonstrate by doing justice, walking humbly, and loving God (Micah 6:8). Or by following the words of Isaiah who said,“cease to do evil, learn to do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow” (Is. 1:16-17).
Jesus simplified it down to one word: love. He tells us it’s in the way we love that we become the salt of the earth and light of the world. Love causes us to turn the other cheek, pray for our enemies, give without expecting anything in return. We express this love, the very goodness of God’s self, whenever we care for the hungry, the naked, the oppressed, and the sick.
So for any of you who think you can’t perform a miracle, remember that the foundation of your faith is love. Such miracles of love happen all the time – in our houses, and workplaces, and all around our communities. They happen as we listen to someone complain without judging them for doing so. They happen every time we check in with our neighbors who live alone. They happen when you support a local blood drive or volunteer to deliver food for Meals on Wheels. They happen every time you work in your community to create programs that plant more trees or offers safe havens for the homeless, or vote for a candidate who believes in strengthening gun control laws.
From the ordinary to the extraordinary, God works miracles through us to spread divine goodness into the world. It happens every time we choose to show love. We are God’s ambassadors, co-laborers in God’s kingdom. Just as we are made from love, we are made to give it away. Christian faith is not about waiting for God to act, it’s about taking action in God’s name – opening our hearts, our hands to bring God’s love to light just as Jesus did and called us to do as well.
Imagine the radical impact we can have on our communities if only we would respond to Jesus’ call to be a living, breathing example of God’s goodness in the world. We can sit around waiting for God to act. Or we can say yes to God who acts through us to transform the world.
This takes us back to that question of “Why does a God who is so good and loving allow bad things to happen?” Every time I get this question I answer honestly, “I don’t know.” But I suspect God could ask us the same question. Why do we allow it?
God is waiting on us, to speak goodness into impossible situations. God is waiting on us, to do good things that help the oppressed, hopeless, and lost. God is waiting on us, to cherish all of life so that all things can sing of God’s glory. God is waiting on us, to be like this early church who like Jesus himself, would become the visible presence of God’s love and grace in the world. God is waiting on us to share ourselves, our resources, our time and our hearts with one another.
There’s this prevalent belief that there’s not enough to go around. It’s not that there isn’t enough to share, but that there is too much greed and not enough love. The love of God given to us through Jesus Christ does not weigh and measure its portions, it just gives. Through Christ, God pours goodness into us until it spills out of us … all so that others can see and believe.
Mother Teresa upheld that belief faithfully as she devoted her entire life to caring for the neediest and most vulnerable of the world. Her work and love ethic remind us that, “Love cannot remain by itself – (otherwise) it has no meaning. Love has to be put into action, and that action is service.” Through her endless acts of faith, Mother Teresa was able to encounter God in the poor, sick and dying.
As she once said, “Not all of us can do great things, but we can do many small things with great love.We may not have the ability to feed a hundred people, but we can feed one.” We may never encounter a leper whose wounds need tending, but each one of us knows someone whose broken heart needs mending. As Mother Teresa would come to realize, the great paradox is this - “If you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.”
And so I leave you with this reminder: Wherever our love is present, so too is God’s goodness. We are made from love for the purpose of love. “At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. But by Jesus who said “I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless, and you took me in.”
As followers of Christ, we must never forget that whatever we do to one another, we do also to our Lord. “If you love me,” said Jesus, “then you will love one another.” Love is the goal. Love is our purpose. It’s how people will see our faith and come to know us, as individuals and as a church community.
As we enter Anamesa, as we move in that space between us and the other, we must do so by sowing the seeds of God’s love. When others divide, we must unite; creating communities of care. When others hoard, we must help; sharing the gifts and blessings we have received. When others deceive, we must stand up for truth; demanding fairness and justice for all so God’s glory can shine forth through and from all people.
When others are uncaring and overwhelmed, let’s be kind and respectful; loving fully and faithfully as if we are loving Christ himself.
This is God’s goodness at work through us.
This is how people will notice us.
This is God becomes glorified.
And the church becomes the living, breathing body of Christ.
“And day by day, God adds to the number of people being saved.”
Let us pray:
Blessed Creator, from you all things come into being. And by your goodness all things are made good. Through Christ you have shown us just how good your love is, and by your Spirit we are moved to live into that goodness. Guide us in the path of discipleship, so that, as you have blessed us, we may be a blessing for others, sowing the seeds of love throughout all of creation, by our words and deeds, for the glory of your holy name. Amen.
Kubrick, Kirk Allen. The Fourth Sunday of Easter Is. April 13, 2008 (accessed on June 25, 2021).
To begin I should acknowledge that it’s Father’s Day. We each have one. Whether or not we know him, acknowledge him, love him or like him we are here today partially because of him.
I love my dad fiercely. He's been a great father, mentor, and teacher. If you Google him, you’ll see that he was once a pediatrician among other things. As a doctor, he was always “on call” often rushing to the hospital to welcome a newborn baby. It wasn’t uncommon for him to miss dinner.
I mention this because when I was 10, my dad built this crazy dining room table out of these heavy wooden planks taken from an old ship. We still eat dinner from this table whenever we visit my parents. To this day, every meal at that table begins with a blessing of the food, followed by some story telling, laughter, and a few arguments thrown in for good measure.
During these heated debates, if my dad were there, he’d quote Jesus. It wasn’t the golden rule. Or the verse about turning the other cheek. It was the one where Jesus says, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Mt. 18:20)
I don’t remember if this ever stopped us from fighting, but it forever changed the way I look at that table - as a place to meet Christ in the flesh. Like the two faces hidden in that black and white picture, Jesus has been there all along. But it took my dad pointing it out before I could really see what that meant.
In these five short verses, Luke shows how Christ was present, in and all around these faithful believers – from the miracles they performed to their most mundane daily activities. Wherever, or however, they came together they believed Jesus was in their midst. This allowed them to make every place holy, and every act sacred. As Wendy Joyner notes, “These early believers opened themselves to God’s presence by being attentive to the seemingly small and sometimes mundane parts of daily life.”
Luke makes it a point to tell us that a simple act like eating dinner could lead others into a deeper relationship with God through Jesus Christ. What this tells me is that whether you are praying or washing the dishes or pulling weeds from your garden, God is with you when Christ is in you.
While looking at sacred practices in everyday life, Tish Warren writes, “How I spend this ordinary day in Christ is how I will spend my Christian life.”
Her words challenge us to ask ourselves, as individuals and as a church, what parts of our lives are bearing witness to Christ? And in what areas do we lack? Are we living into our faith in such a way that others will see the Christ in us and want to become a part of his holy body? I think this is what my dad was trying to show us every time we fought with one another.
As they came to better understand the Christ in them, and to see the Christ in others, this new community of believer were no longer afraid to show their faith. Instead, they made sure “it permeated every aspect of their lives as they acknowledged God in everything.” (Byrd) By their acts of generosity and devotion, people and communities were transformed. And the Church began to flourish.
If only today’s church still looked and acted like it first did. Instead of being a community living out its faith in imitation of Christ churches try to mimic successful businesses. We want our ministers to be more like CEO’s and less like shepherds.
When I took my first call, the search committee was super excited that I had a corporate background. One member went so far to suggest I run the church office like he ran his company. He wanted it to be profitable and not prophetic. I know in their hearts they loved the building and had a great desire to keep the church doors open. But here’s the thing. They had focused so much on the building that they had forgotten what it meant to be a church...a community gathered for the common good of God’s kingdom where the more you have the more you give away.
A long time ago, I moved into a small apartment in Hollywood. I wasn’t sure if I was going to take the place until I was greeted by beautiful young woman who would eventually become my wife. But there was something else that was special about the Formosa Ponderosa as we liked to call it. It would take me a few months before I could see that it was more than a bunch of rundown bungalows. There was something holy and divine that was real and present.
In the courtyard was a round metal table that sat weathering in the sun. Like many of us who sat around it, it too had been kicked to the curb, made to feel like trash. But some of the residents cleaned it up, and painted a weird galaxy of planets, stars and moons on its top. Around the perimeter they painted little children holding hands. It was as if these kids were inviting us to see the heavens from a different perspective.
This table was our small universe; one dwarfed by old buildings that, like many of its residents, had seen better days. Nearly every night, we’d gather around that table for dinner.And like the early church we broke bread with glad and sincere hearts.
We shared whatever was in our cupboards and refrigerators. Eating off mismatched plates, we passed around bowls of salad and sympathy, and platters full of pasta and promise. We filled our wine glasses with hope and tears, and laughter and pain.
For me, and many others, this was our church. Or at least how we imagined church should be. A place of hospitality, grace, and peace. It was inclusive and affirming. A safe haven to be – whether that meant being sad, confused, frustrated, or in the spotlight. At every meal, love was savored like the most delicious cut of beef money could buy. Kindness was offered with such gentleness and delight that no one dared to spill a drop.
This was our universe. It was our church, whose pews were a hodgepodge of abandoned chairs. Whose altar was adorned with dirty ashtrays and mounds of old candle wax encircled by children holding hands. In this sacred sanctuary, we confessed to one another and dispensed forgiveness like salt from a shaker. We played music, sang songs, told stories, and always put the needs of others before our own.
Dinner was a true form of worship. With each meal being the holy Eucharistic as God’s love became incarnate in us, through us and all around us. It was right there, in the flesh, for me and anyone else to see, feel, touch and taste it’s goodness.
Like the table itself, we came from different places but shared the same love. Love for our time together. Love for all our pets, gardens and assorted house plants. Love for our joys and broken hearts. And our love for cards, dominos and beer. We really loved our beer. And all who came to visit. But most importantly, we loved one another. No matter what. This was our blessing because we often had trouble loving ourselves.
This was church when church was good. Every time I enter that sacred and holy space, I could hear my father’s voice and see Christ sitting across the table from me. As we fed one another the spiritual food of God’s unconditional love, my personal faith began to grow again. Soon I found myself stepping back inside an actual church building. And before knew it, the church would literally become my home.
These first believers won people to Jesus because of their faith and devotion to one another. They showed it by sharing grace, love, joy and peace. And yes, by sharing a simple meal. It all started with Jesus, who sat at the table with his disciples to share what would be their last supper together. It was there he left them, not with doctrine or some creed to recite. Instead, like N.T. Wright points out, “He gave them a job. He gave them meal to share.”
The Church isn’t a building, or a right theology. It’s the living body of Christ. Its people who gather together, in his name; a community who lives out the gospel in every aspect of life, so others may come to see God’s glory.
The early church teaches us how to put our faith into practice – be it an ethic, an economy, or a culture. These few verses show us how living as if Christ is among us can actually transform us and others. It can change the way we respond to the needs and challenges of our community. They gave us a new way to see the everyday. And showed us how something as basic as eating a meal together can be a spiritual activity.
As Christ’s body, we are led by his heart to live a life of love whether we are folding laundry or holding the hand of a heartbroken friend. Whenever or wherever we gather, when the love of God is revealed through us – Jesus becomes visible. People take notice. God becomes glorified. And the church comes to life. “And day by day, God adds to the number of people being saved.”
My father was right. Where two or three are gathered in the name of Christ, love and peace will be found.
Bartlett, David L and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol 2. (Knoxville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010.
Byrd, Joseph. Anatomy of a Spirit-Filled Church, Abingdon Preaching Annual 1999 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998).
Harris Warren, Tish. Liturgy of the Ordinary: sacred practices in everyday life. (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2016).
Joyner, Wendy. Day by Day, Abingdon Preaching Annual 2002 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001).
Shauf, Scott. Commentary on Acts 2:42-47. May 11, 2014 (accessed on June17, 2021).
I want to begin with a little test. It’s nothing too difficult.
I will say a word, and you just have to give me it’s partner. For example, if I said, “Ma” then you’d say “Pa.” Got it? Let’s give it a try.
If I say peanut butter, you say _____?
His and _____?
Bacon and _____?
Socks and _____?
Pen and _____?
Here’s a tough one: Ben Afflict and _____? J. Lo, Jennifer Gardner, and Matt Daman all would be accepted.
As we see by these few examples there are some things in life just naturally go together, like bread and butter. But there are some things that simply don’t. In my opinionated opinion nothing goes well with mayonnaise except the trash can.
From clothing to technology to setting up our single friends, we humans love to put things together. We do it with marriage. Or grouping people by age or skill level. Every time I get in my car, my cellphone automatically pairs with the radio.
Society is obsessed lately with proclaiming which binary system they belong to. Race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, special interests, and even by our love of sports. I’m a Dodgers fan. My wife likes the Giants. And some how we’ve stayed together. Which isn’t always the case with some.
When we lived in Michigan, it was not uncommon to see a single mitten in the snow, which everyone knows only ruins a perfect pair. And for years I would name my socks, so that I could make sure the two which came together … stayed together. I like to think that is why we were made in God’s image. So that we would be forever connected to our creator. As the Apostle Paul put it, “I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love.” (Rom. 8:38)
After doing a little word searching, I learned the word “pair” is derived from the Latin word “paria” which means equal things. This is a no-brainer if you’re talking about a pair of socks. It gets a little more complicated when it comes to people.
The Corona Virus helped us see how unequal the world and even our own communities are. Many of us don’t want to come together - not even when there is a vaccination that can stop the virus from shutting us down, and claiming more lives. All signs point to some normalcy if we can reach herd immunity. But this will only happen if we work together.
When the first church gathered, they did so by joining one another in a new way of living. One that leveled the playing field so no one would have an advantage over the other.
Rich and poor, Jews and gentiles, men and women, free and slave alike were all welcome with open arms. Everyone had a place at the table of fellowship. Everyone had access to food, shelter, and yes, health care. It was an inclusive community. Built upon the way of Jesus. A way that lead people back to God’s redemptive love. No judgements, and questions asked.
As we return to the second chapter of Acts, I want to focus on how a diverse group came together to take Jesus’ mission and move it outward into the world. I hope that we will get a better sense of what it means to come together as a church, as the living, breathing body of Christ.
READ: Acts 2:43-47
“And all who believed were together and had all things in common. They would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all who had need.” It’s hard to imagine a group of people living together in wonderful harmony, sharing everything.
This idea not only continues to upset many religious leaders. But also, a big group of politicians who claim the name of Christ. They want you to believe this is socialism, or some corrupt system, and not the very thing that the church was and is to be built upon.
Now before we get on our own high horse, I should point out that I haven’t seen anyone from this humble house church hustle to sell their prized possessions so that everyone can be taken care of.
But that's exactly what this new church did. They built their faith upon a communal life where the rich gladly sold property and shared with the needy. They came together not as collaborators, co-workers, or church friends, but as equal partners for a common purpose. To share the gospel like Jesus did, in all the ways they lived it in the world.
Together they created a community committed to supporting one another in fellowship and prayer; sharing their goods, talents, pain, and joy. Bound by a single heart and soul, they lived in anamesa, that space between the earthly and divine. By looking to them and the examples they gave us, we too will understand how to be a new kind of community, and how to thrive in that space between where God comes to meet us.
We sometimes think because we gather in different places that we’re really not together. Pre-pandemic, I was told by other ministers that this is not really a church… but a show. But togetherness is about a new kind of family, not some old facility.
It’s not about being in the same workspace, schoolroom or even church building. It’s about making a choice to share the joys of our hearts and bear the pain of our souls. This is how the divine breaks into our everyday earthly world – when we choose to be together for something greater than ourselves.
While the pandemic kept most of us away from one another, we still found ways to be together, didn’t we? We came together on Sunday for worship. And Tuesday for bible study. I know many of you also reached out to others who were sheltering in place. You shared stories and feelings, and some of you even prayed with them. The Bible says, that’s church.
There were times that we dropped food off to our neighbors and shared our avocados with people who passed by. Some even dropped off loaves of fresh baked bread to our house. That’s church.
As the pandemic lingered on, we kept an eye on people’s social media accounts to make sure they were managing and coping well. That’s church. We video chatted and lived streamed so people would feel connected. Though it’s not the same as being face-to-face, it’s church nonetheless.
This pandemic taught me that while we have been apart, we were never alone. In Christ we are always together. He is our proof of how far God is willing to go to love us and be with us. And nothing, not time or space, virus or death can stop this divine relationship from happening.
These first Christians were compelled by God’s love and desire to be with them. They understood that they were better together – deeply connected through this love and a shared conviction that changed lives and transformed the world around them.
As we transition into The Anamesa Communion we need to look at how our separate churches will come together, in that space between where God comes to meet us, despite being physically apart.
This first church grew out of the rich faith these early Christ followers showed. Together they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and fellowship, worshipped at the temple, ate their meals, and prayed with one another. It was not faith alone that helped them grow, but faith practiced together, as one body sharing one heart.
They came together, as equals, to proclaim the good news of God’s redemptive love because they knew, firsthand, the effectiveness of love’s power to transform the world. Love is the bridge that connects heaven to earth, us to them, me to you.
Togetherness is built on love, not location. It’s forged by God’s love for us and how we respond to that love in the way we share it. As Jesus himself showed us, love is the most dangerous part of our faith because it requires us to be vulnerable, completely unguarded, raw and a willingness to risk being hurt.
Divine love is risky for those who choose to accept it. And yet, as Jesus showed us as well, it is also the most rewarding.
Out of love, the rich sold what they had which made them vulnerable to losing their status and power in the world. What they gained was priceless, worth more than anything their money could buy.
Out of love, the community gave away what little they had to ensure no one was without. And the more they gave, the more God added to their numbers.
Out of love, drunks, hookers, abusers, thieves and swindlers were forgiven. What looked like foolishness and folly to the world, has been God’s plan since the beginning.
Love is the bridge that bring people together. But it’s forgiveness that gets people to cross it. Jesus redeemed the world back to God by loving us and forgiving us of our transgressions. As his followers, his church and body, we too are called to do the same.
Togetherness is about our conviction, and the character by which we confess Jesus as Lord – the basis that makes our church the church. We declare this simple truth every time we share the joys and pains of a common life together. And it comes to life every time we give and receive love.
To quote Pope John-Paul II who once said, "Nobody is so poor that he or she has nothing to give, and nobody is so rich that he or she has nothing to receive."
His words offer us a powerful reminder of who and what the church is. The body of Christ that gives itself freely, even to the point of death on a cross. These words also remind us of where the church is. Here, in our hearts.
Just as we receive God’s love we have been chosen and blessed to give that love away – no matter where we are, no matter the cost. By this simple act the threads of our separate, private lives are woven together into a fabric of true fellowship in which Christ makes all things new.
On earth. And in ______? (heaven)
Now. And _____? (forever)
Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year A. Vol 2. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010.
Byassee, Jason. "Living in the Word: To all the world" Sojourners, May 2017: 44.
Kim, Ray. The Power of Togetherness. deepspirituality.com. April 8, 2021 (accessed on June 11, 2021).
Moore, Charles. Called To Community. Walden: Plough Publishing House, 2016.
has been blogging under the name: Jesus not Jesús: Looking for Christ in the face of strangers. You can read his posts and browse his archives by clicking here.
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