Rocherty UMC June 26th, 2022
“A Church That Shares” Sermon Manuscript
Psalm 133; Acts 2:36-47; Romans 14:1-23

 

          When I was originally planning this sermon that I’m going to give to you today, I had simply entitled it “A Church That Shares” because of the impending reality that you will very soon have to share me with another church; I start at Iona next Sunday. But as the week went on, news, world events, and my prayer and meditation time have added, expanded, re-focused, and guided me to change course for the sermon—at least just a little bit. A noted preacher once said that faithful preachers need to preach with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. In other words, preachers, just like the biblical prophets, are to pay attention to the headlines of the world as well as continuing to deepen their understanding of God. What this means is that we should interpret the events of our day through the lens of Scripture.

          And so, here we are. We are here standing in the midst of a time that will be remembered in history books. Some people today are cheering—crowing, really if I’m honest—about the news that has come from the Supreme Court’s move to overturn Roe vs. Wade. And then there are those that are chomping at the bit to watch every juicy detail of the January 6th Hearings, to hear how people plotted against the democratic institutions of our government and cheer as they get punished.

          I am often sad and depressed at the state of the world these days. To be honest, there are days that I just don’t want to even log in to social media, or check in on the latest headlines. There are times when I would just like to bury my head in the sand, take a plane to some far-flung beach to sip a few umbrella drinks and take a break from the world. And maybe you feel that way sometimes, too.

          But then, we are reminded that that is not the way of Jesus, not part of the life of a Christian. We have people we made commitments to. We have ministries we are responsible for. We have Christ’s work to still do. What message is God trying to send to us today? What are we to do with this land of confusion, this sea of contradictory and mutually hostile ideologies that we find ourselves in today? And what are our pastors, our Christian leaders, and others in positions of power, privilege, and responsibility supposed to do?

          I hope that you notice that I am very intentional about not telling you what to think. I hope also that you notice that I am very careful, not attempting even in a round about way, of mixing secular politics in with the Kingdom of God. If there is one thing I take very seriously as your pastor it is my sacred duty to speak to you, as best as I can with the limited resources I have of mind and vocabulary, of an alternate vision to what any secular government would have us think, regardless of party. In short, it is my goal to give you a vision into the Kingdom of God. A realm that transcends the peculiarities and peccadilloes of earthly politics and values. A place where the currency isn’t money, gold, power, or good looks. A world where women and children are invited to sit and learn at the feet of Jesus in the same way men did, where widows are more highly praised than the rich, and where death, violence, power, law, and fear do not have the last word.

          The heart of the values that operate in the Kingdom of God is this: At the heart of the Kingdom of God lies the supreme power of the Love of God. This is revealed to us in the saving and atoning death that Jesus willingly bore, and in the resurrection and glorious exaltation of Jesus Christ after that. This is the essence of the Gospel. The good news is that humans aren’t the final say-so. The gospel is that the ruler of all heaven and earth isn’t a man. The message of salvation is that God-IS-Love. This alone serves as the constitution of the Kingdom of God.

          The Kingdom of God is something we hear about all the time. But do we really know what it means when we hear it or say it? Given what I see from popular preachers on television and on the news, I have to say no. For far too often the particular aims of “my” political party (speaking from the perspective of any particular television personality) get embedded in the definition of the Kingdom so as that we cannot separate the two. In fact, a wise woman once said to beware of those who are so sure what it is that God thinks or says or commands such-and-such, for it always seems to line up EXACTLY with the personal values and goals of the speaker.

          So, in order for us to talk about sharing today, in order for us to talk about the Love of God, that idea, that concept, that vision… we must remember what lies at the center of all of Scripture in the work of Jesus. We must know about the Kingdom. For it is the Kingdom of God that Jesus came to announce. Jesus didn’t make it up. It was already there in the Hebrew scriptures, but they missed seeing it because of all the layers of rules and laws, because they tried to EARN the gift, because they forgot what their mission was all about. The older scriptures open the way for the coming of the Kingdom of God, and it is the working out and ultimate consummation of that Kingdom in Glory that the New Testament prepares us for.

          What then is the Kingdom? The Kingdom of God then is nothing short of God becoming King of the universe. But hold on, you might say. Isn’t that already happening? Isn’t God really King of the Universe right now? And isn’t Jesus sitting on the throne right now? And don’t we have the Holy Spirit reigning in our hearts? Well, the answer to that question is: it’s a bit complicated. So we need to walk through this in several steps.

          First, because God created the world and everything in it, including me and you, God gets to be the ruler of what God created. God is the Great King because God made the world. And we know from Scripture that God made the world and that God made humans especially, for a purpose. God made the world to display the Glory of God as far as the waters cover the sea. How does water cover the sea? It IS the sea! So the world is to BE the glory of God. And God created human beings in the Image of God to be co-rulers of this world with God.

          Secondly, God granted agency to the creatures called humans. That is what we, in the Wesleyan tradition, call the gift of free will. We believe that human beings can really make moral choices for or against the will of the Creator. We can choose love or hate. We can choose violence or peace. We can choose to build up or tear down.

          And thirdly, we believe that human beings have become tainted in their ability to choose the good because of this infection, this disease, this tendency we all have with us from our earliest days to seek self, to seek our own will above all others, and to impose that will on others without regard to the consequences of our actions. And that is what we call sin.

          Fourthly though, we believe that God, in and through this thing we call grace, has gifted us with the ability, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to turn from seeking self and self-righteousness to seeking the good of others. This grace comes to us even before we’re really aware of God or God’s actions in the world. That’s what John Wesley called Prevenient Grace, the grace that comes before we’re even looking for it to open our eyes to our sorry condition and to a new possibility of love, honor, and respect for God and others. That’s why we can find goodness and kindness even in those who don’t confess Jesus as Lord—because they are choosing the VALUES of the kingdom of God even before they understand or become aware of it.

          And fifthly, this grace doesn’t just stop at opening our eyes. In other words it doesn’t stop at the moment we answer an altar call and say yes to God through Jesus. No, it continues on in this life as we keep in step with the Spirit of God through what we call Sanctifying Grace. This is the operation of God through the Holy Spirit that makes us more and more like Jesus. God’s Grace helps us fulfill those ten words we’ve been talking about: loving God and loving neighbor. And it helps us do that more and more.

          And finally, here is the punchline of this sermon: THIS is what we are to share with others. This message of grace is the Really Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That we no longer have to be slaves to sin, slaves to self, slaves to unruly passions and desires. That we can live lives focused toward the good of other people, even so far as Christ did when accepting violence that meant his death. That we can live lives of sharing the love that bubbles up inside of us and overflows into the lives of other people even so far as giving more than we keep, sacrificing our own comfort or gain or wealth for the good of another being.

          And now you might be saying to yourself—and believe me, I’ve asked myself this same question too—if that is the case, then why don’t we see more of this? Why don’t we really see transformation in society? Why don’t we see the glory of God covering the earth as the waters cover the sea?

          And here is where I need to tread carefully, lest I offend. But speak I must as I believe it has been laid on my heart. It is my conviction that the reason we do not see much in the way of victory, unity, progress, and growth in the church today is because we have replaced our focus on the authentic vision of the Kingdom of God, which transcends things like nation states, denominations, etc. with a counterfeit and more narrow vision.

          In short, brothers and sisters, we have replaced a vision for the Kingdom of God with a vision in which we seek for earthly power, position, and prestige. We seek the quick victories. We try to score rhetorical points against those we disagree with. We establish voting blocs, rival publications, even rival schools that pit clergy against clergy, the church against the state, and even pit human against human in the search for power—earthly power.

          I have worked in ministry long enough to have seen incredibly wonderful things. I have seen true healing, spiritual restoration, and lives be transformed for the better. But I have also seen, and experienced personally, the underside of this phenomenon that I am talking about. I have seen pastors do unethical things to build their churches. I have seen money be misappropriated. I have seen people jockey for position like Indy 500 drivers at denominational gatherings! It makes me sick. And it especially makes me sick when I see myself trying to do it.

          But there is a better way. There is a way of living the Christian life that honors both God and neighbor. It is a life we heard modeled in our Scriptures today. I purposely chose these three Scriptures to challenge us with the vision of the Kingdom of God that we so desperately need to hear.

          Sisters and Brothers, the church in the United States is in steep decline.  The numbers of new believers coming into church buildings is low. The number of people wanting to serve in active, full-time ministry is even lower. The number of people even willing to show up on a Sunday in a physical location is plummeting. And the public reputation of Christianity, rocked as it is by scandal after scandal, is being effaced daily.

          Friends, I will not lie to you. The future of small churches like Rocherty is perilous. Churches that cannot transcend this cultural moment will, inevitably, succumb to the force of numbers and age. They will, in a few years, perhaps a few decades, disappear, if we as the church at large do not change the way we view power, position, and prestige.

          We cannot hope to witness to the power of God in the world if we ourselves are constantly fighting. We must seek unity. Behold how good and pleasant it is when sisters and brothers live together as one, as the psalm says.

          And you might say to this: well, that was easy for Israel to do, they had the words of God to guide them into what to do and what to believe! But you and I friends, are not without a witness to the truth. We have the power of the Holy Spirit living inside of us today that guides us toward all truth.

          But there come times when we cannot agree. That we reach impasse. That we have fundamentally opposing ideas about what is right and what is wrong. What do we do then? Do we split, make separate kingdoms and divide along ideological lines? That is essentially what has happened all throughout church history. When believers could not agree, someone left, started their own thing. And then the pattern repeated in the daughter churches born of the split. They split, and split again. That’s why we have literally thousands of denominations today.

          So, this idea of splitting to solve our problems, to maintain what we believe to be truth It has been tried. And it has never worked. All splitting churches ever does is increase the animosity and dissension, and weakens the will and resolve of the body of Christ to do its work in the world.

          Now, please here what I’m not saying. I am not telling you as a local church how to think about what is happening in the United Methodist Church, or even what is going on in our country. All I am wanting to point out to you is this: let’s look at history so that we do not repeat it.

          Jesus’ last prayer, as recorded in the Gospel of John, was that the believers he left behind in the world would be one, as the Father and Son are one. And here is the key. Is God the Father exactly like the Son or the Son like the Spirit? No! They are three separate persons with distinct personhood. But they are in one in essence, one in substance. That is the mystery that stands at the heart of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity: Unity in Diversity.

          And here, as I close, I want to point out one of the most helpful words of John Wesley. John was known for the large amount of people he had as friends and companions in his journey of revival. He had friends who believed things that he found disturbing and even offensive. And yet. And yet he worked with them. And yet he did not break fellowship with them. And yet he shared with them. And he boiled it down to this simple phrase in his sermon that was titled, Catholic Spirit, which means United Spirit: “Even though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike?”

          In the message this is a rhetorical question. A question asked for effect. But today, in the present moment in the polarized church environment that we find ourselves in, the question is no longer rhetorical. It is eminently practical. Can we all, though we not believe alike, still love alike? Can we see first our common commitment to the Kingdom of God and seek for its righteousness, and not ever again cast aspersions on our brother or sister and in so doing weaken both our witness.

          Let me say this clearly as I conclude. God has called each and every one of us to be Christians right here right now for such a time as this. We cannot choose the time we are born, to whom we are born, and into what circumstances we begin life. But we can choose what we do with them.

          As for me and my house, we choose to build up. We choose not to tear down. We choose unity over division. We choose the tough conversations and the awkward answers in place of the easy way out, segregating ourselves by ideology and belief. We choose to be friends of all and ministers of all because as John Wesley said, the world is our parish.

          Sisters and brothers, I say these things not to convince you of one particular way of seeing the world, but to realize that there are many people in the world who view the world through the lenses of their experiences, their prejudices, their life experiences. And it is up to us to share with all of them the vision of the Kingdom of God. And as we do so, as we share the love we have as revealed from God in Christ, THAT is how we help them live into God’s unique vision and calling for them, not as citizens of an earthly Kingdom but of a heavenly one. As the author of Hebrews reminds us, on earth we have no city to call our own, but we look for a heavenly city, a vision that will come when Christ returns in final victory.

          Until then brothers and sisters, let it be our vision to share the love of God revealed in Christ to all we meet. Amen.