the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

coreValue 3: CHURCH

Last Sunday, at this time, we were just getting up. It was 8:30 and we were in Victoria, BC, getting ready to head back to the States. Monday morning, Sherice and I were on our way back to Tacoma … by way of Olympic National Park. Everything was going pretty smoothly. Port Angeles. Forks. Ruby Beach. But sometime after Humptulips (population 255), things got kinda fuzzy. Siri told me to turn left, so I did … a road before the one I should have. And this time, she didn’t tell me to return to the route or that she was recalculating, she, simply, took me through one of the most rural parts of Washington state. I guess it was her way of teaching me a lesson. When she told me to turn, it wasn’t my using a route number or a street name. It was by rock or tree or creek. Well, it wasn’t that bad, but almost! Just ask my copilot.

But somewhere along those backroads, we passed a church. And there was a sign out front. And as we went past, I caught a glimpse of the message in bold, black capital letters. It said, “Turn your eyes toward Jesus”. At first, I thought we were back in West Texas. But then, I knew I had the gist of today’s sermon. That sign was popular religion at it’s best. As good as anything here in the Oil Patch. And it’s summed up in those words. “Turn your eyes toward Jesus”. For most of us Americans, faith, believing, is all about keeping our eyes on Jesus! Fixing our sight on him no matter what and never, ever letting go! You’ve heard the sermons. Especially the ones about Peter, walking on the water, until he turned his gaze to the waves. “Turn your eyes toward Jesus”.

And then, there’s coreValue # 3, CHURCH. Church not in the sense of building. Church not in the sense of worship, of one hour each and every Sunday morning. But church in the sense of people. Church in the sense of a people of charity. Church in the sense of a people of Christ. People who value, who treasure, who stake their lives on, those two things. Most churches around strive to turn your eyes toward Jesus. Their mission, their purpose, their reason for being? Loving god! Praising god! Focusing on god, heart and soul! And, to be honest, for most of my life, that’s what it meant to me.

What popular religion does is create god in our own image! Making god as insecure, as uncertain, as we are. But god isn’t like that. God doesn’t need our validation. We don’t justify god; god justifies us! Think about it! God doesn’t need our gifts – our time, our talents, our treasure! But our neighbors do! When we are loved, we are created – rather, recreated – in love’s own image! We’re here, not to talk to god, but to hear what god is saying to us! And then to god and share that word with the others not here! We’re not here to pat god on the back, to tell god what a great job god’s doing. God doesn’t need any of that. That’s not why god’s doing what god’s doing.

You see, there’s more to it than just loving god. Even if it is with our whole heart and all our strength and our entire being. More to it, even, than, simply, loving others. There’s being loved, above everything! And when we are loved – loved like god loves – our response isn’t worship and praise. It’s loving others the same way we’re loved! Freely! Without limit or measure! Without apology or exception or excuse! When we discover that we’re loved that way god loves us, we don’t stare back into god’s eyes. We look at what god is looking at! God loves, we love! God forgives, we forgive! God heals, we heal! We’re not here to turn our eyes toward Jesus, to fix our sight on Christ. We’re here to look where Jesus is looking. At the people around us! At the people around us who need Jesus! At the people around us who need us!

Back at the beginning of the Reform, Luther talked a lot about the difference between doing good works and believing. Good works, he told us, doesn’t save us. Faith saves us. And unfortunately, we’ve come to think because god loves us, we do nothing. That’s not true. What it comes down to is this. God doesn’t love us because we love god. God doesn’t love us because we love others. God loves us so that we can, finally, at last, begin to love! So that we are finally, at last, able to love!

Way back when, we were forgiven because we confessed. We thought we were forgiven because we said the Lord’s Prayer or said a Hail Mary. We believed we were forgiven because we fasted or went on a pilgrimage or because we climbed a stairway on our knees, praying every step along the way. We were forgiven because we bought an indulgence or venerated the bits and pieces of saints. Those were the things we thought saved us. And those were what Luther called “good works.” And none of them had any value to our neighbors. What we did, we did for god alone. The hungry remained hungry. The thirsty stayed thirsty. The naked, naked. The sick, sick. The lonely, lonely. Luther changed all that! We aren’t here for what we do for god. We’re here for what we do for each other.

Our neighbor doesn’t care if we say our prayers or not. Our neighbor doesn’t care what songs we sing when we get together. Our neighbor doesn’t care if we know our bible by heart. Our neighbor cares about one thing … whether or not we care about them! Faith isn’t the goal. It’s, merely, the starting point. Believing is a way of life, a way of living. It’s loving … just like Jesus! It’s setting aside all the dos and don’ts, all the shoulds and shouldn’ts, all the oughts and oughtn’ts, and caring for people just like god cares for us!
No one’s perfect! So, stop looking for perfection! In yourself! In others! And instead, simply love! Instead, love simply! Just like Jesus! Freely! Without limit or measure! Without apology or exception or excuse!

The way it works … CHARITY becomes CHRIST! And CHRIST become CHURCH! WE become CHRIST! Like Lutheran Pastor Albert Schweitzer said, “Our life is our argument!” You want to know if there is a god? Then look at us! “Wherever we turn,” the good doctor says, “we find someone who needs us!” We are the answer to their prayer! “It’s our neighbor,” Luther tells us, “who needs our service, not god!” “It’s the duty of every Christian to be Christ to his – to her – neighbor!” And it all starts with the CHARITY, pure and unbounded! And that charity takes on flesh-and-blood. In CHRIST! And in the CHURCH! One generation, after another, after another.

Our mission is not to construct, not to maintain, one more building. And we’re not here to grow one more flock. We’re here to proclaim CHARITY. We’re here to administer CHRIST! And, my friends, we’re here to become the very thing we proclaim, to be the very person we administer! We’re here to do one thing! Love! Love just like Jesus! No ifs! No ands! And definitely, no buts!