reflecting on the journey
The church is here … to be loved and to love!
“If you died tonight, where would you spend eternity?”
“If you died tonight, where would you spend eternity?”
For churches across American, that’s the $64,000 question. That’s the reason for revivals! The reason for altar calls! Receiving Jesus as a personal Lord and Savior! Inviting him into heart! “Just as I Am” playing softly and tenderly in the background! That’s the reason there’s a church, at all! So, we can know – without a doubt – where we’ll spend eternity … if we died tonight! But for lutheranChristians, it’s a question that doesn’t come up, all that often. Not one we ask. Not once we’re asked. Sure, we see the bumperStickers. We notice the billboards. But we just don’t lose much sleep over it.
Well, about six sermons back, if you remember, I talked some about my mom. About my mom and my family’s struggle with her dementia. And I guess that sermon stirred up old memories. There’s one memory, in particular. After she died. When the dust settled and we had a chance to catch our breath. I got to thinking about what we went through … from the perspective of a pastor. Called. Ordained. You see, one of the things that stood out was that couldn’t remember my mom and dad’s pastor having ever been to see them. Having ever stopped by their house. Having dropped in at the store. So, I asked my dad if I’d missed anything. Had the pastor been there and I, simply, hadn’t known. My dad said, “No.”
Then, I asked another question. About when my mom’s mom – my grandma – was sick. I was two years old, at the time. She had breast cancer, back in the day people didn’t say the word. She lived with us, that last year, until she died. “Did a pastor ever come to see her? Again, my dad said, matter-of-factly, “No.”
Well, I had a third question. One I wasn’t sure I wanted to ask. One I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear the answer to. “How’d you feel about that?”
I was expecting anger. Hurt. But he surprised me. Humbled me, actually. Without so much as a pause, he asked me a question. “What could they have done? What difference would it’ve made? It was our job, not his! (They were all “his,” back then.) It was our job to take care of your mom! To take care of your grandma!” He went on. “Theirs was to have something on Sunday morning that would get us through the next week!” And this from a man I’d never heard say a prayer! From a man I’d never seen reading a bible!
“If you died tonight, where would you spend eternity?” The question didn’t mean anything to him! To us! Not as we walked through the valley! Among the shadows! If anything, it was a distraction, an interference. One of those shiny things that changed the subject. That got in the way. “It’s our job! And no one can do it but us!” Bottom line, for him, believing was love. Believing was loving! Especially our dearest and nearest! Especially, when they needed us most! And the basis, the foundation, for that love? It’s this! It’s Sunday morning! When god’s love is proclaimed! When god’s love is administered! That’s church! That’s faith! First, to be loved by god. Then, to love each other! Every sister! Every brother!
We’re not here to go to heaven. We’re not here to live forever. We’re here to be loved by god and, then, here to love each other. We’re not here to build temples and then fill them. Singing hymns. Saying prayers. Patting god on the back. Telling god how grateful, how thankful, we are. We’re not here to read the bible. Over and over. Again and again. Until we can quote it chapter and verse. We’re here to be loved … and we’re here to love. Fire and brimstone have nothing to do with it. Any more than do halos and harps. We’re not here to be saved from eternal punishment. From damnation forever. We’re here to be saved from a shallow, empty existence! We’re here to be saved from a life without love!
We’re here to be called! We’re here to be chosen! We’re here to become what we’ve always been! We’re here to become love! Right from the start! From the very beginning! Gathered! Enlightened! Made holy! Set free! That’s what my dad meant when he said, “It’s our job!” And what we do here, what we do now, gets us ready! To turn the other! To go the extra! To do unto! And the important question – the essential question – isn’t where we’ll go … if tonight we die. But what’ll we do? Tomorrow morning? When we get up? What’ll we do with every heartbeat? What’ll we do with every breath? We’re here to be loved! And we leave here to love, the exact, same way! So that those we love can go – will go – and do the same! Just! Like! Us!
It was our job, he said! To take care of my grandmother! My mom! To care for each other! It’s that simple! That straightforward! Being god’s own! Our job … our duty … our responsibility … is to love. But we can do that only … we can do that ONLY … after god has done god’s job! We can do that ONLY after god has first – has FIRST – loved us! Love, here in the church, isn’t a moral, or an ethic. Love’s not a rule or a commandment to obey. And Christ? Christ’s more than a model, more than an example. So much more than a do-unto-others, love-god-love-others kind of thing.
Love is a gift! Unearned! Undeserved! Pressed down! Shaken together! Overflowing! Without love none of this would happen! Without love none of this COULD happen! Love’s the “goodMeasure” god drops into our lap! The “goodMeasure” we drop – in turn – into the laps of the people around us! And none of it depends on whether we believe or not! On whether we pray or don’t pray! Sing or don’t sing! Read the bible or don’t read the bible! And none of it depends on where we spend forever! It depends on love. It all depends on love! Being loved and, then, loving!
It begins with god loving us! With all god’s heart! With all god’s being! With all god’s strength! With all god’s mind! And it continues with us! Loving each other! Our enemies! Our neighbors! Just! Like! Jesus! My friends, Christianity isn’t where we spend our tomorrows … It’s how we live our life, today!