reflecting on the journey
The church isn’t changed by being made different, but by being loved!
By now, I’m sure you’ve seen the words. Flashing on. Scrolling across. Digital signs, in front of churches, all across town. “Love God. Love others.” They’re kind of a mantra, nowadays, used by congregations of every denomination. Conservative. Progressive. Everything in between. They serve as an unofficial creed. MissionStatement. Reason-for-being. “Love God. Love others.” Short. Sweet. Easy to remember. It comes from the story about the lawyer who asks Jesus what he had to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus asks him a question of his own. “What do you think?” The lawyer says, “Love God. Love others.” And Jesus says, “Amen!”
You’ve heard me talk about it, over the years. Criticize it, actually. All about us. Nothing about god. Truth is, if we were able to do either – love god or others – there’d be no need for Jesus. Just a few more cheerleaders. A motivational speaker or two. To encourage. Inspire. But we don’t … and we can’t … and we won’t … So, we need Jesus! To love us! Unconditionally! To save us! From ourselves! But in spite of that truth, the words are there. On church signs, all over town. “Love God. Love others.”
But I don’t know if you’ve noticed … There’s a third phrase that, usually, follows. Love God. Love others. Change the world! Love God. Love others. And change the world! And it’s that third phrase I’ve been thinking about, lately. Thinking about a lot. In fact, if there was – is – one word that describes my four decades in ministry, it has to be that word … change! Not so much changing the world. But changing the church. Transformation, we’ve called it. Redevelopment. Taking something with yesterdays and changing it into something with tomorrows.
That’s what the prayer – our prayer – is all about. Change! Change of attitude! Change of perspective! Change in priorities! Ventures without end! Paths untrodden! Perils unknown! Some of you who may have been there, back at the beginning, might remember. It all started by rearranging the furniture! Pulpit! Altar! Pews! We’ve come a long way, since then! Tweaking! Adjusting! Finetuning! Along the way! We’ve experimented! Dreamed! But here we are, twenty years later … smaller … grayer … meeting together, just two Sundays a month … in a rented ranchHouse … in a cityPark … Love God. Love others. Change the world.
Makes you wonder what happened. Makes you wonder what went wrong. We’ve said our prayers. Sung the songs. Read our bible. And yet, we’re pretty much the same as we’ve always been. The gospel of the Lord! Praise to you, O Christ! And by all accounts, we aren’t alone. We’re not the only ones. We, just, haven’t given up, yet! We believe god isn’t through with us! But you know, I’m, finally, realizing that’s not the way it works! That’s not how any of it works!
Changing the world – or the church in it – doesn’t mean magically and miraculously getting rid of all the problems! Wave a wand! Say the words! And all the changes and chances of life vanish in a puff of smoke! That lemons become lemonade! That every day in every way we get better and better! It might work that way in the movies. But movies have the luxury of writing their own scripts. They create their own happy ending! But it’s not like that in the real world. It’s not like that, here, in the kingdom of god.
Here, life remains life. Here, people stay people. At this moment, there are nearly eight billion people on this planet. Nameless. Faceless. None before or after. None greater or less. Everyone trying their best. To do more. To be better . But it’s difficult. Impossible. To be anything other than who, that what, we are. The hungry are always with us. Wars. Rumors. Nation against nation. Kingdom against kingdom. Famines. Earthquakes. All the rest. And nothing. Ever. Changes.
We want it to go away. We want it to disappear. But that’s not changing the world. That’s the kind of change the crowds want. The kind of change the crowds were looking for. That Friday morning. At the foot of the cross. “Save yourself,” they said! “Come down from the cross,” they said. “Love god! Love others! Change the world!” “Love god! Love others! Change the church!” Funny thing, though … that’s exactly how the world IS changed. How the church is changed. Not by making it different. Not by tuning it into something it’s never been. But by suffering for it! By dying for it! The world – the church – is changed, simply, by loving it! By loving all of it! The bad and the good! The darkness and the light! Loving the heartache AND the happiness. Loving every atom, every galaxy of it! Taking it into our arms and holding it close! Taking it into our arms and never letting go! Accepting! Appreciating! Respecting! Revering! Cherishing! Treasuring! Moved with pity! Moved with sympathy! Moved with compassion! “Change the way you look at things,” we’re told, “the things you look at change!” (Wayne Dyer)
It’s been two thousand years since the first Christmas. A hundred generations since the first Easter. And nothing’s really changed. Life’s not any better. People still grow old. People still die. Promises broken. Friends abandoned and betrayed. The innocent crucified, dying, buried. But the love … the love changes everything! The hungry are fed and the thirsty are given a cup of cold water! But it’s not the food or the drink that changes everything. It’s the love! Being love! Loving! Just like Jesus! For the world, it’s the seventy-times-seven that matters. For us, it’s the forgiving! For the world, it’s the extra mile, the other cheek, that are important. For us, it’s the going! And the turning!
Love god. Love others. Change the church. Change the world. More accurately, it’s not loving god that starts things off. It’s being love by god! Then, it’s loving others! And in that – in the beingLoved and in the loving – everything’s changed! The world! The church! Everything different! Everything new! It’s in beingLoved and in loving, my friends, that we’re changed! It’s in beingLoved and in loving that, at last, that we become what we were always meant to be!