Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Even Higher

Sermon preached June 26, 2011

Texts: Matthew 10:40-42

Don and Janet, my dad’s uncle and aunt, were among my favorite relatives growing up. They owned a modest home in Rice Lake, Wisconsin. Don worked in the maintenance department at the high school, Janet was a school cook. Whenever my family visited, they always had a place for us, were always glad to see us. When I was old enough to drive myself there, I went frequently. There was always food to share and a place to sleep. They were deeply welcoming. When I think about hospitality, I often think of Janet and Don.
I also know what it is to experience something like “unwelcome.” Last month I traveled to Indiana as a part of a denominational team assessing two non-United Methodist seminaries for their work in educating United Methodist clergy candidates. At one seminary, a faculty member who teaches some of the required courses in Methodist studies brought some copies of his books to give away. I knew of the person and had used one of his texts as a resource when I taught a seminary class on United Methodist history and organization. Anyway, he brought a copy of his latest book, and when no one else on the team picked it up, I expressed interest. You need to know that in sharing introductions I said I was a pastor in Minnesota and that I had also done doctoral work at Southern Methodist University. He said something like, “Well, this is a very academic work, but I guess you have done some of that work so you may like the book.” I smiled and said “thank you,” but inside knew I had been treated inhospitably and was rather angry about that.
“Welcome.” The word comes from words that mean a welcomed guest, one gladly received, something pleasurable. We find the word welcome all over our Scripture reading for this morning. Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous. Somehow our capacity for welcoming has something to do with our capacity for connecting with God through Jesus. And lest we think that welcoming is something ethereal or abstract, there is an illustration. And whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple – truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.
A related word that is often used in speaking about Christian faith and practice is the word “hospitality.” Hospitality merited a chapter in Diana Butler Bass’ Christianity For the Rest of Us which many of us read last fall. “Hospitality” comes from words meaning guest, and it has to do with the gracious and generous reception of guests.
Playing with words a little here, hospitality is also related to the word hospital. We have a sense of caring for those in need here - helping them get well, perhaps like the “well” in welcome! Hospitality and welcome are part of a healthy Christian faith and healthy Christian community.
We have already noted how important welcome and hospitality are in today’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew. A couple of contemporary sources add an “amen” to the importance of hospitality and welcome. Diana Butler Bass in Christianity for the Rest of Us defines hospitality as “welcoming strangers into community” (79). She goes on to assert that “the Christian practice of hospitality has reemerged as foundational to the spiritual life” (79).
Henri Nouwen, in his book Reaching Out: the three movements of the spiritual life describes hospitality as “the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend…. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place” (51). He argues that the need for such hospitality is great in our world today. In our world full of strangers, estranged from their own past, culture and country, from their neighbors, friends and family, from their deepest self and their God, we witness a painful search for a hospitable place where life can be lived without fear and where community can be found (46).
Welcome and hospitality have always been important to Christian faith. In our day and time, when our busyness can make us strangers to ourselves and where our fear can put distance between us and those who seem different from us, welcome and hospitality may be as important to our faith as ever if our faith is to be a source of healing in our lives and in our world. In the remaining few minutes of this sermon, I want to discuss a few dimensions of Christian welcome.
All of our welcoming, all of our hospitality is rooted in our being welcomed by God. “Christians welcome strangers as we ourselves have been welcomed into God through the love of Jesus Christ” (Diana Butler Bass, Christianity For the Rest of Us, 82). Earlier in the tenth chapter of Matthew, we read, “So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Jesus is talking about the deep love of God for us. God welcomes us in Jesus. God’s love creates space for change in our lives. We welcome because we have already been welcomed by none other than God, through the love of Jesus.
Knowing God’s welcome, one dimension of Christian hospitality is welcoming ourselves. That may sound strange to you, but see if these descriptions of the human condition resonate.
We are also separated from ourselves…. Man is split within himself…. It is that mixture of selfishness and self-hate that permanently pursues us, that prevents us from loving others, and that prohibits us from losing ourselves in the love with which we are loved eternally (Paul Tillich, The Shaking of the Foundations, 158).
Selfishness and excessive self-concern really come from an inner self-hatred…. The person who inwardly feels worthless is the one who must build himself up by selfish aggrandizement (Rollo May, Man’s Search For Himself, 101)
The most dangerous traitor of all is the one every man has in his own breast (Soren Kierkegaard, Anthology, ed. Bretall, 290)
There is a great deal of psychological work which suggests that we often don’t feel very good about ourselves, or at least some part of ourselves. There are times when we may even hate some things about our lives, and we believe that if only we despise this enough we will change. Positive change, however, is more likely to come from a realistic acceptance of who we are and where we are, along with enough of a positive sense that we are worth the effort to change. In light of God’s loving welcome of us, we can learn to welcome all of who we are, even as we work to change some aspects of ourselves. The Danish theologian Soren Kierkegaard put it well, I think: This was the commandment, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,” but when the commandment is rightly understood it also says the converse, “Thou shalt love thyself in the right way.” (Kierkegaard, A Kierkegaard Anthology, ed. Bretall, 289). Welcome and hospitality need to include welcoming ourselves.
Hospitality toward oneself is a necessary, but insufficient movement in the Christian spirituality of welcoming. We are moved to welcome others, to create space for them to grow, change, flourish, become a part of community. We desire to create here, in this church a place of genuine welcome and hospitality. Simple acts like greeting someone we have not met before, along with long-time friends, is a part of our hospitality. Praying with and for others is a part of creating community.
Recently I had a wonderful experience of church as welcoming community in another setting. I was asked by the directors at Camp Amnicon if I would help lead their summer staff commissioning service. We have used Camp Amincon frequently as a congregation, and so I said “yes.” When I arrived for lunch, it was pretty clear that this staff group, who had been in training together for about ten days, was a close knit community. I appreciated that. What amazed me is how wonderful they were in making me feel, in such a short time, like a part of their community, their family. It was simple things – warm smiles, showing genuine interest, table etiquette, making sure I knew the song, sharing the camp stole with me as I led worship. During a few moments of reflection I told them that the best way to share faith comes beyond words. It comes in action, in relationships, and I said if they could welcome their campers as well as they welcomed me, those campers might find the space to be welcomed in a new way by the God of Jesus Christ. We can do that, here, too. And we do, as with offering hospitality this week to the family of Tim Bearheart in their time of grief and need.
But our welcoming is not confined to our faith community, but pushes into the world community. Christian hospitality has a broader social dimension to it. We seek to create community where society has erected barriers. One way our congregation has chosen to live this dimension of welcoming and hospitality is through the “Drop the i-word” campaign. Our church council endorsed this on Monday night. The drop the i-word campaign is simply an attempt to make us aware of how language can be hurtful and dehumanizing. The focus of the campaign is on the i-word – “illegal” or “illegals” used as nouns. Because of significant issues around undocumented workers, the language of illegals has found our way into our vocabulary. Groups of people are labeled illegals, and it becomes a broad stereotype used against persons. When I have spoken with some people about this, they are a little confused. They don’t hear the word used that way much. I was in Denver this week, and while on a treadmill after my meeting, I say a news story scroll across the tv screen. A new ordinance related to impounded cars was aimed at “illegals.”
Immigration issues are a real concern. The presence of millions of undocumented persons in our country is a significant issue. The issues are not made clearer by the use of a phrase like “illegals” for a group of people. There will be more about this in the upcoming newsletter, but I see our action at church council as a way we are trying to live out Christian hospitality and welcome, offering the cool water of more healing language to an often parched conversation.
A Jewish congregation was mystified and intrigued when their rabbi disappeared each week on the eve of the Sabbath. They suspected he was secretly meeting with the Almighty, so they sent one of their members to follow the rabbi. Spying on the rabbi, this is what the man observed: the rabbi disguised himself in peasant clothes and served a paralyzed Gentile woman in her cottage, cleaning out her room and preparing a Sabbath meal for her.
When the spy got back, the congregation asked, “Where did the rabbi go? Did he ascend into heaven?”
“No,” the spy replied, “he went even higher.” (DeMillo, Taking Flight, 162; see also p. 161 story about recognizing a brother)
Welcoming that takes us even higher. Hospitality brings a little heaven to earth. Amen.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Dance With Me

Sermon preached June 19, 2011

Texts: Genesis 1:1-5, 26-31; 2:1-4; Matthew 28:16-20

Dance With Me, Orleans, 1975

So… How did I get from Genesis 1 and Matthew 28 to a song from 1975 stuck in the jukebox in my brain? We may not have sufficient time this morning to solve that mystery, but I am going to make a connection.
Genesis 1. It is important to remember that Genesis 1 is neither biology nor geology. The controversies that have swirled around this passage are most often based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the kind of literature we are reading here, and many of those misunderstandings have come from the church side of things. I recall awhile back hearing a radio preacher, in a radio preacher voice tell, his listeners that if the first chapter of Genesis were not literally true, that if God did not literally create the world in seven days, the whole Christian faith crumbles. Hogwash. Genesis 1 is not biology or geology it is theology. It makes claims in the language of poetry about God’s creativity and God’s relationship with that which God creates.
But if we sometimes miss that this is theology, we also misunderstand what it may mean to claim that God is creator and creative. We misunderstand the theology.
The God of Genesis 1, and of the Bible, is a creating and creative God. Artistic language is often appropriate when trying to understand God – the language of painting, poetry, dance. Reading Genesis 1 you have a sense of God painting the skies, sculpting the earth. The creation of human beings has the feel of a dance. “Let us make humankind in our image.” Who is the us? And then humankind comes out male and female – multiple - - - the dance of creativity. The very beautiful poetic writing of the author of Genesis 1 is a reflection of the image of God in him.
So where do we misunderstand the theology? We often make two mistakes in thinking about God as creator. The first mistake is that we think of God as having created once, setting everything in motion, and then sort of walking away and letting us figure it all out from there. It is the image of God as the clock maker. God created the world, much like a clock, and it keeps ticking according to the pattern God established. Our job is to figure out the pattern and make choices that fit it. God can be caring, but God is distant – the man upstairs who never comes downstairs, so to speak.
The other theological mistake that we make in considering God as creator is that God is constantly involved in all that happens in creation so that nothing happens that God does not ultimately cause or allow to happen. The concept of a God who is all-powerful, causing all that happens leaves no room for human choice and freedom, yet we experience ourselves as having choice and freedom. Is this sheer illusion? Perhaps God steps back and gives us some freedom while retaining the right to overturn any of our decisions? This, too, is problematic. Why doesn’t God stop the drunken driver from killing the young child? Why doesn’t God hide the weapon from the inebriated person who in a blur of alcohol sees no purpose for his life? Why doesn’t God limit the reproductivity of the human race which threatens the planet?
The vision of God as creator and creating is neither the clock-maker God who winds things up and leaves them to their own devices, nor is it a vision of God the the absolute ruler, the emperor of the universe. The vision of God most compatible with the theological poetry of Genesis 1 is of a God whose purpose is on-going creative transformation and who is always at work in our lives and in the world through persuasive love. I like the way the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead put it when he wrote that God is “the poet of the world, with tender patience leading it by his vision of truth, beauty and goodness” (Process and Reality).
The creative God is, then, always inviting our own creativity. The painting God invites our brushstrokes. The poet God invites us to share our verses. The dancing God invites us – dance with me. I bet you were wondering when I would get back to the song. “Dance With Me” is not simply a pop song from 1975, it is one way to consider the voice of God in our lives. Dance with me. God, in love, invites us to match God’s creativity with our own to make our lives better, to make the world better. God is always working with the world as it is – creating and re-creating – to move it to a better place.
This vision of God works well as we try and connect Genesis 1 with Matthew 28. God does not create the world and walk away. God does not have all the power there is. God creates, and continues in an on-going relationship with that which God creates. God is always at work, the work of creative transformation, by way of persuasive love. When the time required it, God touched the world in a unique way in Jesus. In our baptismal liturgy, in the prayer over the water we will pray: “And in the fullness of time, you sent Jesus, nurtured in the water of a womb.” Jesus invites us to dance with God in a new way. If Jesus is our vision of God, God is neither a disengaged clock maker nor an imperial ruler. Jesus engaged with the range of humanity, and was especially concerned to reach out with God’s love to those often considered unlovable. Caesar was in Rome. Jesus was born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth.
God is creative, persuasive love and our task in life is to be open and responsive to God’s creative love. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is to seek to dance with the God of Jesus in God’s work of love, justice, reconciliation, peace, compassion. The creative God who created us in God’s own image invites us to be creative artists in our own lives.
We work creatively with God as we shape who we are. Each of us is born in a certain place and time, with certain parents. We cannot change any of that. I am taller than both my parents. Both my grandfathers were fairly bald. I was born in Duluth in 1959. My parents divorced when I was in my early 20s. God invites me to use my creativity to develop kindness, care, concern – but these qualities of character will be unique in me, as they will be in you. God invites us all to weave together our experiences in such a way that we become loving, caring persons, persons with sensitive hearts and generous spirits. God invites us to dance in this work of developing who we are.
We work creatively with God as we shape what kind of life we will lead. Qualities of character need to be embodied in the decisions we make about our lives – decisions about things like career and relationships. Perhaps some career choices are less helpful to our own development and to the good of the world. Choices about marriage and children need to be made wisely and well, and God is always persuading us toward choices that strengthen persons and families and that provide good environments for children.
We work creatively with God as we answer the question, “how will we contribute to the world?” Frederick Buechner, writer and theologian, says that what we most need to do in the world is find that place where our deep joy meets some deep need in the world. Finding that place is a creative act and finding out how best to match our joy and the world’s need is a creative act.
Today is Father’s Day, and what I am saying about God’s creative love and our response to it helps me understand the image of God as father. Father should not be our only image of God, but it is a helpful image of God if we think of fathers as providing love, encouragement, and teaching, but in their loving teaching and encouragement wanting their children to be able to dance on their own. Yes, father’s will be there when there is a fall – to pick a child up, to encourage them to try again. A father’s great joy is seeing his children become their creative best. There is something of the God of Genesis 1 and Matthew 28 in this picture.
A final image. In one of his poems, Walt Whitman ponders what life can mean in the face of difficulty and struggle: O me! O life!... who more foolish than I… What good amid these, O me, O life? And his poem ends with an answer:

That you are here – that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may
contribute a verse.

God’s creativity surpasses ours, and it stretches through eternity. The powerful play of God’s creative love will continue on. We each have a verse to contribute. And the next time you hear “dance with me” may it not be just on the oldies station, but deep in your heart whispered by the Spirit of God. Amen.

Friday, June 17, 2011


Sermon Preached June 12, 2011

Texts: John 7:37-39; Acts 2:1-21

Look! He’s not wearing a tie, not even a dress shirt. Sure he’s trying to cover it up with that sport coat, but we know. We can see. I guess now that the bishop has appointed him as our pastor for a seventh year he’s getting a bit careless, a bit too relaxed. What’s next? Is this church?
And is this a sermon if I read from a book? Robert Fulgham, It Was Fire When I Lay Down on It: A tabloid newspaper carried the story, stating simply that a small-town emergency squad was summoned to a house where smoke was pouring from an upstairs window. The crew broke in and found a man in a smoldering bed. After the man was rescued and the mattress doused, the obvious question was asked: “How did this happen?” “I don’t know. It was fire when I lay down on it.”
The story stuck like a bur to my mental socks…. It was fire when I lay down on it. A lot of us could settle for that on our tombstones. A life-story in a sentence. Out of the frying pan and into the hot water. I was looking for trouble and got into it as soon as I found it. The devil made me do it the first time, and after that I did it on my own. (3-4)
Life can be like that sometimes. Out of the frying pan and into the hot water. It was fire when I lay down on it. From the wind into the whirlwind. The doctor comes back into the examination room with a serious look on her face. Your boss comes to your desk and begins by talking about a down turn in the economy. Your spouse begins a conversation with, “I’m not sure about my feelings.” You find that you owe more on your house than it is worth. A bill arrives for $300 and you have $150 in your checkbook. A child is in a pickle, a parent in a predicament. The nightly news is like a nightmare. It was fire when I lay down on it.
Life can be like that, and maybe we have all had moments where it is – only moments if we are fortunate. We look to God, church, faith as a place of comfort and safety and care – a shelter in the storm, dry land in the flood of life, a rock in a weary land. On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand. And grace my fears relieved. Jesus cries out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me” (John 7:37).
There is truth here. Today we are, among other things, celebrating the work of The First United Methodist Church Foundation. It is like an endowment fund for our church, helping provide a more solid financial foundation for us. And we like to think of our church as a foundation for our lives – steady, solid. And so it is. After the wild ride of the crucifixion and the resurrection and Jesus leaving again, we find the disciples “all together in one place.”
But to see the church as a place of safety and our faith as a comfort is to see only in part. The church should always be a place where we are safe from harm, but not “safe” from being challenged. Our faith should comfort us in our afflictions, but when we are comfortable, our faith sometimes needs to move us. God the Spirit is a warm, gentle breeze, and also the rush of a mighty wind.
God the Spirit rushes, gushes, sweeps through, shakes, rattles and rolls. When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability…. All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
God the Spirit comes as fire, burning hot and bright, but not consuming.
“Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.” Now Jesus said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive.
God the Spirit comes as water, water that flows and overflows, living, flowing, rushing water that smooths rough places, carves channels for love and grace, flows through us to the world.
God as fire. God as water. A paradoxical combination. Water douses fire. But to grasp something of the God we worship, we need to learn to live with paradoxes and polarities. The God who loves us enough to comfort us loves us enough to shake us up and move us. With God, fire and water become firewater, new wine. In The Cotton Patch Version of Acts 2:13 reads “They’re tanked up on white lightening.” With God the waters of baptism become living waters flowing, overflowing, rushing. The waters of baptism become a kind of firewater, new wine, white lightening.
The God who loves us enough to comfort us loves us enough to shake us up and move us. I think of the description of Aslan, the Christ character in C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia: Is he safe? Of course he’s not safe; but he’s good. God’s goodness can be safety in the storm, but also a storm when we have made life too safe by narrowing our thinking, by closing our perception, by limiting our love. Robert Fulgham had a colleague who complained that he had the same darn thing in his lunch day after day after day. “So who makes your lunch?” I asked. “I do,” says he. (It Was Fire When I Lay Down on It, 4) Sometimes the safety and familiarity of our usual ways of being in the world, of seeing the world, need to be shaken up, rattled, because they are no longer life giving for us or for the world.
I mentioned before that this is a day when we are celebrating our Foundation, and saying thanks, in particular, to some who helped get that foundation going. All this talk about the Spirit as rushing wind and living water and firewater seems an odd choice. We want foundations to be staid, steady, stable, rock solid. We want our Foundation to be that for the church and we want the church to be that for our lives. But if we are to really get to know the God of Jesus Christ more deeply and live the Jesus way more fully, we need to become more comfortable with paradox and some new images. Foundations provide stability and solidity, but perhaps they can also be launching pads. We want our church to be solid and we want it to launch us – launch us more deeply into our souls and more widely into the world with outreaching love.
God the Spirit rushes, gushes, sweeps through, shakes, rattles and rolls. The God who loves us enough to comfort us loves us enough to shake us up and move us. I think about my own life – a quiet, shy kid for whom public speaking was something of a terror and being out front a guarantor of anxiety, now speaking publically all the time and leading even in national church organizations. I think of John Wesley, fearfully traveling back to England after a less-than-successful US mission, being encouraged to preach faith until he had it – later finding his heart strangely warmed. I think of Wesley the conventional church priest, being pushed to preaching in the fields outside the mines to reach people who would not normally show up in a church. I think of Martin Luther King, Jr., fresh from his Ph. D. at Boston University hired at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama because the previous pastor had been too controversial and too prophetic, then becoming the leader of the Montgomery bus boycott.
God as Spirit is sympathy and warmth, comfort and care. God as Spirit is fire, living water, fire water, white lightening, new wine. Theologian Dorothee Soelle in her book Theology for Skeptics writes this: God does not come with cheap consolation, like a comforting lollipop from heaven…. God does not want to pacify us but to encourage us so that we may share in God’s power…. No man is too small or too large, no woman is too young or too old, too educated or too ignorant. God has given all of us a part, God comforts us, and we prepare God’s way. God’s voice calls to us and we answer. God’s spirit wants to make us courageous and capable of truth. God wants to be born in us. (125, 126)
Our lives in God’s Spirit are carried in the flow of living water. Our lives in God’s Spirit are burning as with fire. God’s Spirit sweeps in us and through us to be born into the world. On this solid foundation we build our wind-swept lives. Amen.

Friday, June 10, 2011

After Jesus

Sermon preached June 5, 2011

Text: Luke 24:44-53

This past week I attended Annual Conference. It is the annual meeting of clergy members of the Minnesota Conference of The United Methodist Church, mostly pastors but chaplains as well, and lay members from every United Methodist congregation in Minnesota. Dale Stahl represents you well as our lay member.
One moving part of every annual conference is the marking of life transitions for clergy. The ordination service with the clergy processional is a joy. We celebrate retirements and we mourn colleagues who have died. Three retirements were particularly significant – the retirement of the first female district superintendent who had been my superintendent in my first appointment as a pastor and later became a friend, and two colleagues just a little older than me who were retiring early. Friends retiring? Two deaths this year were particularly poignant for me – Toby Horst long-time pastor of First UMC in St. Cloud and a beloved mentor, and Loren Nelson who was one of my first mentors and then later someone with whom I worked as a district superintendent.
I was reminded of a Linda Pasten poem called “The Death of a Parent”: Move to the front/of the line/ a voice says, and suddenly/ there is nobody/ left stan ding between you/ and the world, to take/ the first blows/ on their shoulders./ This is the place in books/ where part one ends, and/ part two begins,/ and there is no part three.(Beloved On the Earth, 145).
We get a flavor of that in this morning’s Scripture reading. Jesus is leaving, then he is gone. “While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.”
Now it is us. There is nobody standing between us and the world. Part two, the part after Jesus is beginning. So what do we followers of Jesus do after Jesus? This text gives us some answers about what it means to be followers of Jesus, a community sharing the Jesus way.
Proclaim. “Repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all.” As followers of Jesus we are to help make Christian faith relevant to people. We are to share God’s love in ways that make it more real to people. We are to create space where God’s Spirit can touch lives.
Proclaim. We usually think of that in terms of things we say, but Christian proclamation, while it is, can be, needs to be words, also needs to be deeds. St. Francis once said, “proclaim the gospel at all times, when necessary use words.”
We are a people, a community, formed around the message of God’s love, which we see with particular vividness in Jesus the Christ. This love heals. This love frees. This love forgives. This love is the power for change in our lives and the world – repentance is just a churchy word for change. This love makes strangers friends. This love challenges us to embrace all creation with care. This is a love that not even death can kill – the Messiah suffers and rises from death. We are to share this love in what we do. We are to share this love in what we say. We are to share this love by who we are. Church consultant Gil Rendle has written that congregations will find their way in this wilderness time by moving toward becoming more purposeful organizations. A membership organization will ask if the members are satisfied. A purposeful organization will ask if people’s lives are being changed. (Journey in the Wilderness, 55) Our proclamation is found in changed lives and stories of changed lives – our own and those we reach out to in love with food, with an embrace, with justice.
After Jesus our work is proclamation in this broad sense. And it begins where we are – “beginning from Jerusalem.” We are not perfect, but we still proclaim the Jesus way. We would like to be bigger, but still we proclaim the Jesus way. There are policies in our denomination we want to change, but still we proclaim the Jesus way. Mainline churches are sidelined in our society more than ever, but still we proclaim the Jesus way. The challenges of being the church in our day and time are significant. With each challenge there is, perhaps, a new opportunity to understand our faith in new ways, to live our faith in new ways, to share our faith in new ways.
We are in that time after Jesus, but not exactly. Before he leaves, Jesus promises “power from on high.” The followers of Jesus know that his love is a living and powerful presence in our lives. We are not simply left alone to do our best. We do our best as we are empowered by a living Jesus.
This illustration is probably being used in countless Minnesota United Methodist churches this week, because it was shared by our speaker, Kenda Creasy Dean, at Annual Conference. Imagine this pitcher of water as God’s love. We sometimes imagine our job as Christians and as church to get filled up a little and then dump Jesus into the world. This model works whether our idea of “dumping Jesus” is some form of evangelism or some form of good work. It can be exhausting, even as we do some good. The model for our lives as followers of Jesus “clothed with power from on high” is to have our lives filled with God’s love – a love that is abundant, endless, rich, dynamic – and then let that love do its work of overflowing through us to the world.
We live after Jesus. Yet Jesus is with us. After Jesus, with Jesus, we are Jesus for the world. Our job is to share God’s love because we have known it deeply ourselves. We know forgiveness so we share it. We know being embraced in love, so we embrace. We see that God’s love is for all, and it breaks our hearts to see other lives lacking in love – whether that is in the form of bread or books or kindness. We understand that God loved the world and it breaks our hearts to see the very planet which helps sustain us damaged in our use of it. After Jesus, with Jesus, we are Jesus for the world.
And here is good news. Jesus love is a present power. And here is good news, “discipleship means joy” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, 41). Amen.