John 6. 24-35
Everything is because god first loved us!
Since March-a-year-ago, this is the fifth or sixth time we’ve been together. Side by side. Face to face. And the way it looks, at this moment, things will remain, for a while, pretty much as they are. At least, through the end of the year. The first Sunday of each month, in Beal Park. And the other three or four Sundays of the month, here on Facebook. Unless something changes! In which case, you’ll be the first to know!
We’re doing it, primarily, for two reasons. First, of course, is covid and its variants. I’d originally written that hopefully, the worst is over … at least, for the vaccinated. But that’s changed, pretty quickly. Fortunately, the congregationCouncil isn’t ready, quite yet, to let down our guard. And the other reason is that – even without the virus – we aren’t ready to put down roots, again. We’re still trying to figure out who we are as a people of god. To make out what we’re all about. And until that happens, the best place for us is here. In the wilderness. Where we can discuss and discern and discover. Without squirrels. Without shiny things. To change the subject. To get us off the point. Right now, we’re not ready for a place of our own. We’re not ready for the challenge. For the dare. So, we’ll just keep moving. Step by step. From one oasis to the next.
Of course, the pandemic hasn‘t made things easier. Especially the physical distancing part of it. It’s been difficult to talk with each other. To discuss things that matter. Sharing questions and concerns. Suggestions and ideas. For us “boomers,” technology – even in the best of times – doesn’t always facilitate. Often, it gets in the way. But we’ve tried. And actually, we’ve done pretty well. Better than I expected. As a council, we talked more. Monthly meetings. A couple, three, Saturdays. And I’ve shared insights … in sermons … newsletters … classes … Wherever, whenever, I’ve had the chance. But it hasn’t been enough. It’s hard to do … separated as we are from each other. A lot falls through the cracks. A lot’s lost in translation. And we Americans don’t do all that well with patience. We’re more into immediate gratification.
Anyway, the past few weeks, I’ve been … taken aback. The dust’s settled. We’ve gotten back on our feet. And after a year on hold, we’re rarin’ to go! But after seventy-two weeks apart, we’re all coming at it from different vantage points. Each of us has our own set of expectations. Our own collection of assumptions. We want to do something. Anything. Enough thinking. Enough talking. It’s time to act. To make our move! To take the bull by the horns! However …
As a called and ordained minister of the church of Christ, I have to tell you … the beginning isn’t in the doing! It’s in the believing! Truth is, that’s the only thing that makes us church! The only thing that makes us different! That sets us apart! Not so much the believing itself. But what – whom – we believe in!
So far, we’ve discovered it isn’t the building that makes us church. If that was the case, we’d have stopped being church, a couple years back. It’s not the building and it’s not the prayers and it’s not the bibles or the songs. And contrary to popular opinion, it’s not how we vote, either. It’s not feeding the hungry or giving the thirsty something to drink. It’s not the clothes we give the naked or the roof we provide the homeless. It’s not caring for the sick. It’s not visiting the lost and alone. It’s not doing any of a hundred other things that pop into our minds when we think church. Everyone does those things! Church or not!
The one thing – the only thing – that makes us different, that makes us unlike anyone else, is the believing! The trusting! The faith! Or rather, the object of that believing, the focus of that faith! Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But it’s not. Believing isn’t what we think it is! It’s not what we expect! Believing, here in the church, isn’t like believing in santaClaus and the easterBunny. Faith isn’t just believing that god exists! And faith doesn’t make heaven real! We don’t believe in miracles! We don’t believe in angels! We don’t believe in the bible! We believe in love! We believe in god’s love!
Luther writes, “Faith is a living, daring confidence in god’s grace!” Let me repeat that. “Faith is a living, daring confidence in god’s grace!” One more time. “Faith is a living, daring confidence in god’s grace!” It’s not a choice. Or a decision. We don’t open our heart’s door. We don’t receive Jesus as our personal lord and savior. “Faith is a living, daring confidence in god’s grace … so sure and certain we stake our life [- we stake our lives -] on it a thousand times!” And that faith, that grace, that believing changes us! We’re never the same!
That’s what makes us Christian! That’s what makes us church! It’s the grace we believe in! It’s the charity in which we have faith! It’s the love we trust! And everything else comes from that, as well! It’s all anchored, all rooted, in god’s commitment to us! In god’s devotion to creation! We’re not sinners in the hands of an angry god! We never were! We’re people – just people – cradled in the arms of god!
“Faith is a living, daring confidence in god’s grace,” the good doctor tells us! Do we, still, care about the hungry, about the thirsty? Of course! Do we care about the naked and the stranger, the sick and the lonely? Absolutely! But that concern – like faith itself – doesn’t come from in us. From our desires. From our decisions. It, too, is nothing more – is nothing less – than an expression, an extension, of god’s amazing grace! We believe because god first loved us! And we love one others for the same reason! Because god first loved!
The “pious desires” of the church aren’t prayers we offer or songs we sing. Our “pious desires” aren’t, even, the gifts we offer. Time. Talents. Treasures. Our “pious desires” can be summed up in one word … believing! Believing in the grace, in the charity, in the love of god! For each and every! For one and all! Staking our life on it! Staking all our lives on it! Staking the life of the church! The life of creation itself!
“This is the work of god,” says Jesus, “that you believe in him whom [God} has sent! “This is the work of god, that you believe in me!” My friends, the work of god isn’t something we do. It’s what we are!