October 16, 2022
Scripture Reading: Matthew 22:34-40
Before our vacation, I started a sermon series on the 21st Century Church and the first sermon in the series was on the first Sunday in September. My purpose in that sermon was this: I wanted you to know that the essential church was God’s idea and it will never go away. That is permanent and you can count on that. On the other hand, there is a whole set of things that make up the Institutional church and all of that – buildings, methods, structure, shapes and forms are all human ideas that, in spite of those who cling to them, are temporary and THEY WILL CHANGE.
For example in Europe, we saw some grand cathedrals built before 1200 and they are still standing and adored. They are stunning and enormous pieces of art. But THEY WILL GO AWAY. Eg: The fire in the great Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris April 2019.
It is important to know what is the permanent essence of the church which we must hold tightly with all of our strength. But, we also need to know what we must hold with a light grip – ready to let go when the time comes.
More importantly, we must forever keep in the forefront of our minds what is essential. If you were paying attention as Sarah read the scripture this morning, you know what that one essential ingredient is because Jesus clarified it for us. It is this: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind and Love your neighbor as yourself.
As I see it, the church was designed to be a laboratory where a group of people commit themselves to practice the theory of love.
A number of academic disciplines draw on the difference between theory (an idea that has been worked over in one’s mind about how something ought to work) and praxis (the ACT of intentionally transferring those ideas into practice to see how they work in everyday life). The church is about both and the subject is LOVE: 1) for God, and 2) for each other and our neighbors.
So exactly how do we do that? What situations call on us to practice what we think we know about love?
- We practice on one another. We should be thinking about how well we are doing in showing and living out love for each other in the Beloved Community. Showing up on Sunday is a good thing and a good start. I don’t know how you truly love others without being in their presence whenever you can!
Since we are Christian and claim, because of our relationship to Jesus, to love one another then we surely ought to know how to do that! I mean, the Kiwanis Club or the Eagles don’t specialize in loving each other, but we do! Do we actually live that out at least as well as any other club around?
True, we’re not exactly in competition with them or with a sports team, or the people in the office, but surely it should be obvious that those folks there at St. Johns know what they are doing when it comes to practicing love for each other.
- One of the times where we ought to excel at the business of loving is when we disagree or get crosswise with one another. It is no surprise that we do get crosswise, but the proof of the loving is how we behave when it happens!
If we aren’t disagreeing, then we aren’t being honest or authentic with each other! That’s not loving. We can’t give up on loving or disengage when we squabble. ANYONE can do that! The Crips or the Bloods gang does that! We don’t get much credit because we don’t shoot one another when we get angry with one another. The question is: does love survive when we squabble?
- How well do we love the stranger? Did you know that the Bible is full (from cover to cover) with words about loving the stranger because anybody can love a friend they’ve had for 20 years! It takes great skill and intentionality to love the stranger!
If we were honest, we’d have to admit that we don’t know some of the people we’ve gone to church with for 20 or more years very well! If that’s true, how much more is it true that we don’t know the folks that we just met a week or month ago very well. And the stranger includes people we’ve never met yet. People in our actual neighborhood we have only met once or twice.
When we think about these things, there is something that we must face if we’re ever going to get better at it. It is this: I don’t know how to love you who are different from me. I only know how I want to be loved. And only you can tell me how best to love you! This is where the church becomes a laboratory – a people who engage in praxis around the theory of loving.
Questions we can ask one another: What do you need? How can I be a better friend? What am I missing? I’m trying really hard, but don’t feel like I’m doing very well. Can you help me?
It is like Edison in the laboratory trying to invent the light bulb, trying and failing, trying and failing until we get it right but never giving up!.
Jesus said: the greatest commandments are 1) loving God with all our hearts, souls, and minds and 2) love your neighbor as yourself.
If you want to know what the church is about, there it is. This is the bottom line. There is nothing more. We should have no project, no program, no structure unless in some way it leads us to loving God or love one another better. If you need more motivation than that, it is what Jesus said next: “All the law and the prophets hang on those two commandments.” Just think about that!
If there is any sermon, any message that you take away from my time among you, I hope it is this one. Nothing we do is more critical or more important than those two things. It is so simple and yet so complex. It is job one – job two and three and three hundred and three. And we will be learning how to do it better for as long as we live.