the eighth sunday after pentecost …

smallCatechism, the Creed, article 2
The reason for believing isn’t, simply, to believe; it’s to love!

July 19th was a Tuesday, that year. I’d finished up a third year at Arizona State. It was that night when a chain of thunderstorms swept over my hometown in Western PA. Twelve inches of rain in ten hours. The water filled the streams. The streams filled the rivers. The rivers filled the valleys. And the city paid the price. By morning, seventy-eight people were dead. Billions of dollars in damage. And Johnstown would never be the same, again. My immediate family was in Phoenix, by then. Mom. Dad. My brother and I. My aunts, uncles, and cousins, though, were still there. We watched it all unfold on television, the next day.

It took my brother and I a couple days to get ready. But, by the weekend, we were on the road. Twenty-two hundred miles. Fifty-five miles per hour. It took us two-and-a-half days to get there. We didn’t stay more than ten days. Truth be told, I don’t know how helpful we were. If we made much of a difference. But for me, that trip was a turning point! First, by the time we were heading back to Phoenix, I’d decided to go to seminary. Second, one other thing left its imprint on me. That changed what I thought. About god. About church. About believing. It was the Mennonites I saw, there in town, in those days after.

I didn’t know a whole lot about them, back then. Where they came from. What they believed. If you’d have asked me, I would have said, Mennonites were simple, humble. Which is true. But as I watched the men. Sloshing through the mud. Walking down the street. Two-by-two. Shovel in one hand. Bucket in the other. Going door-to-door. Simply asking if they could help! There was nothing flashy about them. Literally or figuratively. In fact, they just kind of blended into it all. Not so much blended, as belonged. And I was impressed. I was inspired. Moved.

There was nothing religious about those men. They weren’t carrying a bible around with them, not that I could see. They weren’t singing hymns or saying prayers, not that I could tell. They were just going through the town doing what needed done, one door at a time. Mucking out basements. Scraping off sidewalks. Helping people get to the place where they could start over. And when they were done at one house, they’d move on to the next. No big deal. No trumpet blast. No ulterior motive. No hidden agenda.

I never heard them trying to convert anyone. Invite them to church. Get them into heaven. They were, simply, lending a hand. Helping out. Whoever. However. And to me, it looked and sounded and felt like real faith. No gospel tracts. No evangelism booklets. Nothing to hang on doorknobs. Nothing to slide under wiper blades. And for me, then … for me, fifty years later … that’s believing! Believing in Jesus! Believing in god!

It was on that trip that I realized everything we do on Sunday morning … here … now … it isn’t the end, but merely a means to the end! Sunday mornings aren’t the reason for church. They’re just the way to it! Our problem, nowadays, as church, is that we forget why we’re here! We forget why we’re church! And all this – the song-singing, the prayer-saying, the bible-reading, listening to the preacher drone on and on and on – this isn’t it! God didn’t call us just to sit on benches. God didn’t gather us simply to huddle beneath steeples. We’re here to do things like those Mennonites did! We’re here to care about people! We’re here to walk through the mud, shovel in one hand, bucket in the other. Door-to-door. Street-by-street. Neighborhood after neighborhood. Seeking out who, how, we can help!

This isn’t the end; this is the way, the means! That’s how the goodDoctor puts it in the smallCatechism. In his explanation of article two of the creed, the part about believing in Jesus Christ, he writes …

[We] believe that Jesus Christ … has redeemed [us], lost and condemned human beings [and] has purchased and freed [us] from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death. He has done all this IN ORDER THAT – did you hear those words? – IN ORDER THAT – [we] may belong to him, live under him, and serve him ….

In other words, Jesus loves us! Loves us IN ORDER THAT we can go and do the same! Jesus loves us IN ORDER THAT we can love others! Just! Like! Jesus! Sunday morning isn’t the why we believe! It’s only how we get there!

The gospel’s proclaimed and the goodNews is administered NOT so we can come here each and every Sunday morning to hear what’s proclaimed and to receive what’s administered. The gospel’s proclaimed and the goodNews is administered NOT so we can sing our songs and say our prayers and all the rest. The gospel’s proclaimed and the goodNews is administered so we can, finally, go to the people who need us! So we can, finally, go to the people who have no one else! This – all this worship stuff – isn’t our reason-for-being. It’s the process! This isn’t the journey’s end; this is the journey to that end!

Jesus forgives us. Our trespasses. Our sins. Our debts. Not so we can be forgiven, but so we can learn how it’s done! So we can learn how it happens! The same is true with salvation, with love. We learn how to save, by beingSaved! We learn how to love, by beingLoved! Who we are, what we become, is nothing less than an echo, a reflection, of Christ! But make no mistake, Jesus always comes first! He’s the light we reflect and the sound we re-sound! Before he’s, ever, roleModel, or example, he’s gift. Foremost! First!

Saved by grace! Saved for Christ’s sake! Saved through faith! All that’s still true! Always true! But that’s only the beginning! Faith goes on from there! Down the street! Through the mud! Door-to-door. Street-by-street. Neighborhood after neighborhood. Shovel in one hand. Bucket in the other. It’s the gospel that inspires all that! It’s the goodNews that incites it! That happens, here! Now! But, my friends, we were meant for other things! We were meant for greater things! Turning the other! Going the extra! Doing unto! Forgiving! Not just seven times, but seventy times seven! Feeding the hungry! Sheltering the homeless! Welcoming exile and refugee! Even mopping up what remains after the flood has come and gone! And that’s why we’re here! That’s why we’re church! That’s the reason Jesus has done what he has done. The reason Jesus continues doing what he does. It begins here! It starts now! But rest assured, there’s more! Much, much more …

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Midland Lutheran Church