May 4, 2009

Sermon for Easter 4B

    Do you remember those four letters?  The buzz that surrounded them a decade ago?  Long before Lance Armstrong and Nike were reminding us the "Live Strong" the Christian Marketing Gurus were selling us bracelets, lanyards, license plate covers, anything they thought we'd buy that would remind us of what seems to be a very simple question - What Would Jesus Do?
    If you promise to not tell anyone I went to seminary with, I'll admit that I remember walking into Provident Bookstore in Lancaster with my lawn mowing money ready to buy a polyester knit bracelet that would forever call me to task - What Would Jesus Do?
    The question is a valid one.  Having it on your wrist or around your neck on on your car makes you pause and think, how am I acting?  How would Jesus act?  It is a question worth thinking about.
    The question, however, seems to be tensed incorrectly.  As it stands it is a highly speculative question.  We don't know what Jesus would do about Stem Cell Research.  We have no idea how he would tip a bad waiter at a fancy restaurant.  Forward looking questions are only as helpful as the history underlying them.  We need not necessarily wonder about the future, what would Jesus do.  Instead, for the question to really be informative, it ought to be backward looking, What Did Jesus Do? And the answer to that question, Jesus tells us and the author of First John reminds us, is that he laid down his life out of his unfailing love for us.  What did Jesus do?  He stooped down from his seat at the right hand of God and was born into first century Palestine.  He lived as a man and worked as a carpenter and taught as a Rabbi and died as the traitor.  He did all of that so we might know God's love for us.  What did Jesus do?  He loved.
    But the questioning cannot end there.  Knowing what God did in the person of Jesus is not enough because in every word and action of Jesus he called his disciples and he calls us to do what he did.  While it is a valid question to wonder of Jesus did, it is of more importance to ask, What would Jesus have me do?  What would Jesus have us do?  As you might guess, the answer to both questions is the same.  Jesus loved and Jesus calls us to love.
    So what is love?  John tells us that Jesus' love was made perfect in his death.  He died for us that we might live.  So too, our love can only be made perfect in death.  Our love must be willing to go the whole way to the grave.  We die that he might live through us.  But death is not often required of Jesus' followers in 21st century America.  What loves means for us here and now is to love actively - in truth and action.  It means reaching out to family, friend, neighbor, stranger, and enemy alike.  At the very least it means laying down our own lifestyle so another might have bread on their table.  In the end, it means laying down our lives for the Kingdom which Christ himself offers.
    "Let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action."  John writes this almost matter-of-factly to his community.  It is obvious to him - if you have love and you have resources then you offer help to those who are in need.  Love means, as far as you are able, never allowing a brother or a sister go without shelter.  Love means giving a child the chance to learn to read even if whoever is at home is too busy trying to keep food on the table to help.  Love means a phone call of encouragement to a neighbor who has been struggling.  Love means a prayer shawl mailed halfway across the globe to a stranger battling cancer.  This isn't difficult stuff, and yet it is so counter-cultural that it often feels strange, often elicits fear, often goes undone.  
    Yet I believe that here at St. Paul's we are living out the commandment to love.  From Family Promise to Foley Elementary school.  From the Episcopal Church Women to Coastal Cleanup.  St. Paul's Foley reaches beyond itself and loves, and for that, today and everyday, I give thanks.  Thank you for being willing to stretch outside your comfort zone.  Thank you for allowing God to use you in ways you never thought possible.  Thank you for listening for his voice, knowing when he calls, and following where he leads.
    I believe that your willingness to reach out has resulted in God pouring out his blessings upon us.  If you look at our budget, you know that outpouring of blessings is not in the way of great material riches, but instead, He has allowed us to know with clarity that we are his.  It is by his blessing that we come to know, without a doubt, that we abide in his love as he abides in us.  And because of that blessing, we are able to proclaim with boldness in our community that the love of God can be found here.  We can offer his love because we experience it every single day.  We receive it as the affirmation of our faith.
    On the Sunday's when I lead the liturgy, I always introduce the Nicene Creed by saying, "let us stand and affirm our faith in the words of the Nicene Creed."  This week, however, I've been convicted.  What these words from First John have taught me is that our faith is not affirmed our allegiance is not professed in words about God, but in service toward God.  We stand and affirm our faith in the dismissal when we vow to go in peace to love [pause] and serve the Lord.
    So, this Sunday, I ask that we be sure that we don't affirm our faith in words, but in deed.  I pray that we might choose love.  I hope that we are empowered to proclaim the love which we know so well - love that lays down ones life for another.
    On Saturday, May 16th in Foley Park St. Paul's will have a booth at Foley's Community Resource Expo.  I believe that the love of God is a resource that Foley can always use more of.  From 10am until 2pm that Saturday, I hope many of you will come out and spend some time at the St. Paul's booth sharing the love of God, not in word and speech, but in action and truth.  We will, of course, have pictures and bulletin boards and handouts that tell about what we do, and I hope you will help me make these, because mine is terrible thus far.  These will, no doubt, be helpful.  But, it will be the real stories, your stories of how God has made his love known to you, how you have seen his love alive in your community, and how others might come to know that same life giving love that will make the real difference.  To paraphrase John, "Who has the richness of God's grace and sees another brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help?"

So maybe WWJD? is the wrong question.

Maybe even WDJD? What did Jesus do? isn't quite it.

WDJCUTD? What does Jesus call us to do?  He calls us to share his love indescrimantly and with wreckless abandon.  My friends, let us love, not in word and speech but in truth and action.  Amen.

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