Students of Love

 

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I was really struck by the word ‘disciple’ in today’s reading. I’m not usually one given to doing word studies but this time I did. I looked over all the Greek and every instance in Matthew’s gospel where he used it and it seems to me that if we were to use a modern day term we would talk about students. This is a common and easily understood word so why do even our most modern translations continue the use of the word disciple? Now, most of you know that I’m engaged in trying to gentle and train to saddle a mustang and nothing seems more like the ancient arguments about whose disciple you are than trainers arguing about which method they follow. Some are disciples of Clinton Anderson, others Buck Brannaman, some follow Parelli or Lyons. But there is something beyond which horse trainer we are students of, or disciples of, and that is the love of the horse and the desire to shape and form a willing, working partner out of a scared, feisty, thousand pound animal.

 

Now, I’ve heard some critics say that today’s Christians are more followers of Paul than of Jesus and I’ve heard more arguments about wanting to institutionalize and mandate the laws of Moses than the way of Christ and so it behooves us (see what I did there?) to consider what undergirds our worship, our study, our discipleship. If the formation of a willing, happy partner undergirds all horse training, what undergirds our discipleship? What are we to create students of? And this brings us to Christ and the way of Christ and what it means to follow that path. What are we to be students of?

 

Our job is to love radically. To refuse to give up on people. to love the unlovable. To forgive. To accept. To create spaces of belonging where people can experience grace directly.

 

We ought to be strange and different. We are not of this world. We are supposed to be odd and weird. If we are just like the rest of the world, why would anyone bother to come in? Someone once said that, to all those outside the church it’s like a football huddle, we know something important is going on in there, but all we can see is their backsides. If we speak the Word of truth we have been given, we will be speaking against the dominant world paradigm. We will be living from a different place, and this will be apparent.

 

The world will tell you that all is hopeless and you ought to live in fear, you ought to dehumanize your enemies, you ought to competing fiercely for every little thing. But this is not what God tells us. The world will tell you, you are not good enough as you are, that you must change, shape, form yourself into something better, achieve, compete, win. But this is not what God tells us.

 

We are the opposing voice to the dominant paradigm. We are the ones inviting people to see that God and all that is good is stronger and more enduring than any evil the world can come up with.

 

We are not called to force the gospel, an ideology, or correct theology on anyone, but to love them, to love them with an unworldly, crazy love, without any prerequisite. When we hear people say, “those people aren’t even human” or “those people are evil,” or “those people don’t count,” we are called to be that opposing voice, that loving voice which says, “they, and you, are a beloved child of God, and nothing can change that.”

 

We are not called to make students of all nations because we have the right answers or the best worship, the most correct way of doing and being Christian, we are called only because we have decided to follow Jesus. We are welcomed with all our doubts intact and invited into a relationship with mystery and awe, with wonder and amazement. Love that is real, loves before any assurance, it does not demand that one conform or surrender their minds. Some doubted, some hesitated, and that’s okay. We are not called to enforce a particular theology or correct idea, we are called to love and let this love be a radical, life changing witness to all God has done. As Anne Lamott reminds us, the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty, it is rigidity, it is to lay hold of an ideology with such firmness that you forsake God in pursuit of being right and correct.

 

Last week we asked how we can possibly sit still with all that God has done and is doing! I hope that when you come to church you leave bothered and inspired, troubled and motivated, full of courage and without fear. Jesus said, You will do greater things than I, and perhaps he said that because he was working with 12 disciples and he left them with a legacy that changed the world! With an incredible story to tell, with the Holy Spirit running through their veins! If only 12 can change the world, what do you suppose 24 might do, or 48, or 96? If we attend closely to where the Spirit is leading us, if we allow the Holy Spirit, that life-giving breath of God, to live and breathe in us…what can’t we do? So yes, leave here disturbed and shaken because we have so much to do and we are so very capable of doing it! Each moment can be that moment when we launch into a spirit-guided, spirit-driven, radical life of witness and love! And that ought to disturb you a little.

 

Years ago I met a pastor whose congregation had confronted him. They thought he was going too far, too out there, too radical and so they confronted him. “How far do you intend to take this?” they asked. He held up the bible and said, “No farther than this.” Placated they left, feeling assured that he would stay within the bounds of good order and decency. He laughed as he recalled this, picked up the bible on his desk, and said, “Haven’t they ever read this?”

 

So yes, maybe we ought to be a little disturbed by this call to go and make disciples, go and to make students of God, students of love, mercy and justice. Go and turn people’s lives upside down, giving them a new rule by which to order their lives, a rule of mercy, grace and love, a rule of restoration and not retribution. It offends our sense of justice, there is no eye for an eye, no balancing of the scales, all debts are wiped clean. It is scandalous grace! So go, and make people students of this! Students of forgiveness, students of mercy, students of service, students of love.

 

Is it any wonder that we resist the urgings of the Holy Spirit when it wants to turn our lives this upside down? Yet if we live this way, if we really live this way, all of our neighbors will know. There will be no inward focused huddle, backsides to the world, seeking only our own good! The whole world will know what we are doing, will see it! because we will be living lives of active mission.

 

These days it seems like one can hardly look at the daily news without one more horror story and it can be tempting to give in to the idea that evil and hatred are too powerful to oppose, but we must not. A friend of mine, the Reverend Dr. Steven Koski, wrote this week that, “we are in the midst of a daily onslaught of violence, tragedy, hate, discord, injustice and pain. What will be our reply? There is a temptation to allow fear, despair and division to lay claim to our hearts… Now, more than ever, we need to lean into love.”  Now more than ever we need to study love, mercy and grace. Now more than ever we need to be devout students of the way of Jesus.

 

We are called to be students of love, to love radically. To refuse to give up on people. to love the unlovable. To forgive. To accept. To create spaces of belonging where people can experience grace directly.

 

Scripture tells us that we can have lots and lots of wonderful things, but if don’t have love, we have missed the mark, we have stumbled and lost our way. We are not called to go and make students of great philosophy, ideology, or even theology, we are not called to maintain big, beautiful church buildings. We are called to make students of Jesus’ way, the way of mercy, love, and grace, the way of healing and feeding, the way of inclusion, the way of love. We are called not to our own salvation and healing, but for the salvation and healing of the whole world.

 

So it is fitting and wonderful synchoncity that the great commission was on the lectionary the day that we get to bless and send a mission to New Orleans.

 

Pentecost Reading and Reflection

Pentecost

 

 

 

 

Reader 1, It was a marvelous time. A time of wonders and confusion. We never knew what was coming. I mean, Jesus had died. Some of us were there and we saw it. But then he came to us. It was crazy! Can you imagine? We had seen him die and then he was here, alive again with us!

He ate with us. He talked and laughed with us. We didn’t know what to make of it. It seemed like the end of the world to some, to others it was a new beginning. For forty days he was with us, eating, talking, laughing, just like he always had done.

Reader 2-But then he was taken up, in this cloud. It blew us away, watching him rise. His last words to us were to wait, to stay in Jerusalem and wait. So we did.

Reader 3-We waited and we waited. We decided that Judas had to be replaced; that we needed to have twelve disciples, just like when he was here. We missed Jesus the moment he was gone and to be honest we just wanted things to be the same again. The way it had been, so we cast lots and chose Matthias to take Judas’ place. And we waited some more.

 

 

Sermon —have you ever wanted to catch hold of a moment in time, to keep it the way it was? To stop time in its tracks and not let a thing be changed? Or maybe the future seemed too frightening to go it alone. So you did what you could to preserve things just the way they were, you waited for rescue and you hoped that somehow those golden days would return, that things would be all right again.

When trauma happens, when crisis changes everything it’s OK to pull back from the world, to take a moment, to breathe deep and recenter yourself. This is a good thing. But it can be tempting to stay there, to not move on. Jesus’ last words were to wait, to take some time and just be, just be together.

Imagine the shift these people had been through, the trauma they had witnessed, the powerlessness they must have felt and the incredible surprise that somehow in the midst of that it was OK. It was OK because Jesus was still with them. For forty days he was with them and then he left promising to send an advocate, a helper in his place. If ever a group of people needed to take a moment to figure things out it was these people. How confusing it must have been to be waiting in Jerusalem for this breath of God, this holy wind to come and to, well to do what? They really didn’t know. They had been told to wait and so they did.Confused, astonished, inspired and still confused they waited. And while they waited they hung on to what little they could, those things that made them feel normal, made things make sense as much as possible. It’s what we do as people isn’t it? To try and maintain normality in the midst of transition. But this time of waiting can’t be all we are here for. This time of waiting comes to an end.

 

 

Reader 4-We were careful not to make waves. I mean things had settled down a bit after Jesus’ death but we didn’t want to draw attention to ourselves. What good would it do if we were all killed?

Reader 2-We met often in the upper room. Careful not to be seen as we gathered. We talked about what we had seen when he was here; we talked about what he had said. We talked and talked but mostly we just waited.

Reader 1,That’s where we were on Pentecost. The city was filled with visitors who had come to celebrate the giving of the law on Sinai. There was so much to do, so much going on in the city, it was a festival! I love festivals!!

Reader 3,So here we were in the house, listening to James talk. It was early in the day, the heat hadn’t yet penetrated the shadows.

Reader 4, Suddenly there was this sound like a rushing wind, like a hurricane. It was terrifying! People were screaming and ducking for cover.

It was like fire! I swear there was fire though nothing burned! Fire, lighting up each person, lighting us all up! We were filled with the Holy Spirit! It filled the whole building!

Reader 1, This had to be it! The thing we were waiting for!! There was no more waiting, it was time! We were overflowing with words, with love, with freedom, with joy, we couldn’t contain it!

Reader 3—I never felt so alive and we couldn’t sit still! We ran out into the streets and just started telling everyone about this wonderful thing!

Reader 2, and the words we were speaking! Who knew I could talk like this!

Reader 4—they all heard us! We were so full of joy, I wanted to sing and dance and oh man it was crazy! I couldn’t keep quiet I told everyone and then, and then I realized I wasn’t speaking my own language! But everyone I spoke to, they heard me as if my words were meant just for them!

Reader 1—I grabbed this one man and just gave him a hug! I told him God loved him and had accepted him as if he were God’s very own child! He stared at me and then laughed.

Reader 3 people were coming from everywhere, a huge crowd gathered and they were shocked and surprised because each one of them heard us speaking in their own native language. This wasn’t coming from us!!

 

Sermon — no it wasn’t coming from them. It was something new, something unexpected. God calls us into new places, into new situations that we cannot anticipate. We are called and sent. This was the birth of the church. It was “ecclesia” the calling out of the church out from the private sector into the world, out from individual salvation to expression of God’s love for the whole world. God had come to reconcile the world to God’s self, not a select few. God had come. It was not that we had to work our way up to God. God had come. How could these people sit still? How can we? The unanticipated grace and love of God is still so hard to grasp to accept. It not only calls us but sends us, sends us out into the world. Just as the disciples found themselves in the street contrary to the best advice of friends and strangers, so we are called to and sent.

Here in this moment of Pentecost, fearing death and persecution, these people were so overcome by grace that they lived, if even for a moment, from that place of knowing, of knowing that God has come and everything will be OK. They rushed into the streets and they shouted and they sang and they spread the news!

And they did it in a personal and individual way. Each person was met exactly where they were. Spoken to in such a way that they might hear and understand. How do we do that today? Do we not allow for diversity in the spoken word? Some need dialogue and need to enter into the conversation, others need to be taught with authority, still others “hear” best through music or art. Even today we speak many languages. We speak the language of youth and restlessness, we speak the language of age and new revelation, we speak the language of solidarity and tradition. We speak many languages! And in each language we seek to be faithful. In each manifestation we seek only to manifest God.

And how can we sit still how can we keep from singing and dancing and proclaiming when there is such deep need in the world? Church is born anew each time we find ourselves driven out by the Spirit to the other. We may rest,briefly, hiding behind our walls, seeking security and certainty, some reprieve from the crazy chaos of the world but church is expressed when we are so filled with joy, filled with grace and love that we cannot help but reach out to those in need. When we find ourselves so excited by the change and the transformation that is going on within us that we are driven by the Spirit to invite others along for the ride. “Come and see what God has done!” If there is any mission of the church it is not to get our theology correct, as if we might grasp and contain God within our concepts, it is not to fill our pews that this organization might continue, it is to spread the word of God that everyone might know, might experience and perceive God’s gracious gift. God did not call us to sustain ourselves, nor to attain some great intellectual insight, but to love one another, to be the light of Christ in the world, to all people.

 

 

Reader 4—the crowd around us began to be filled with laughter, some excited by what was happening, others in disbelief. Some wondered aloud if we were followers of the dead Jew Jesus and if we too would soon be dead being as bold as we were.

Reader—1 some began to say we were drunk. If only they knew! We were drunk on something, but not wine, no! We were filled with the Holy Spirit. We were consumed with God!

Reader 2—Peter, he came out and talked to them. He told them we weren’t drunk, that it was God working in us, that something awesome and amazing had happened.

Reader 3—some believed and they too accepted the Holy Spirit, a whole lot of them in fact. We just told them what God had done and it changed their lives too!

Sermon—We told them what had happened and it changed their lives. Changed their lives. Can you imagine? Can you believe? We have a Word that changes peoples’ lives. A Word that invites them to live from a different place. A transformative Word. We like to put that off on other people, some people, the mother Theresa’s amongst us, they might have a Word but me? Who am I to change people’s lives? Who am I to invite people into a new way a being. To invite them into that transformative moment when the divine impacts them, changes them forever.

Who are we not to? We are Church, called and sent. Filled with the Holy Spirit, consumed with God, freed to new life. Yes, sometimes we wait, we anticipate, we hold our breath and re-center ourselves. We take deep breathes and replenish ourselves, but then we breathe out too. As we have received so we give. It is in the giving that we become Christ’s body in the world. It is in the giving that we become Church.

What we are called to is counter-cultural. It is to step outside the norm, the expectations for how life is. It is to understand that we only have what we give away. It is in attempting to own or contain the truth, capital T truth, that we lose it. We become Church as we participate in the self-giving action of Christ.   Yes we do withdraw into ourselves at times, we find our foundation in prayer and contemplation, in scripture and study, but we don’t stay there. We participate in the respiration of the Spirit, breathing in the nurturing, loving, life-giving, Spirit and breathing out the Word, the missional, evangelical, sending and calling Word. The Word that says “come to me, all who are weary,” The Word that says, “I would gather you as a mother hen gathers her chicks,” The Word that says, “I stand at the door and knock.”

Today is the birthday of the church. Not as those who have a unique and special experience, or the right understanding, not as those who withdraw from the world seeking only their own salvation, but as those who are sent as carriers of God’s love to embrace the world. Those who are sent as messengers of the good news, God has come. God has come and embraced us, even in our darkest and meanest moments, God has come that we might know God. And nothing will ever be the same again. God has come. And we are forever changed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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