How We do things is as Important as What we do

How many of you have experienced your faith journey…the journey of your life as a straight linear path?  How many of you might say your faith journey has been more of a wild roller coaster ride?  How many of you might say that your faith journey has been more of a spiral of moving a couple of steps forward and then shifting backwards to more familiar territory and then plunging forward and circling back time and time again?

When I think back to the first time I acknowledged the presence of God in my life and was conscious of my spiritual journey, I was 5 and in the Methodist church.  The church I grew up in and the family I was born into were very conservative politically and in their interpretation of the scriptures.  As a young child, I watched my dad have a spiritual experience that closed out one chapter of his life as a nightclub owner and shifted into spending time and energy at the church. With this change, he gave up alcohol and was sober for 20 years. This was an amazing transformation.  But over the years of spending time in church life, he lost his ability to celebrate God in all human beings because of the church’s conservative reading of scripture. As you would imagine, my journey was greatly impacted by my family of origin and the church home I was raised in. My journey has been more like a spiral where I can name people like Melanie, Jenni, and Charlie who loved me in my more conservative stances and this love propelled me forward in seeing God in all of life. Then, I had to go back and do the theological work to recreate a foundation that included reading the history of our tradition, the study of scripture, and allowing all of this study to be in conversation with my experience of life.

Philip Clayton in his book How I found God in Everyone and Everywhere talks about how he grew up in a home that did not speak of God and that when he became a Christian as a young teenager that this was the most effective form of rebellion that his parents could dream of.  They could handle drugs, alcohol, etc, but become a Christian? They did not know what to do for him. In his young adult life, he grew increasingly more fundamentalist. And it was not until he dove into studying every word of the bible, his views were challenged. He realized that not every word made sense in light of other scriptures.  He finally broke out of the fundamentalist mode when he met an academic who guided him to see that studying and wrestling with the questions of life is more important than nailing down the answers.  Answers make us feel comfortable, but questions make us do the hard work of wrestling with scripture, tradition and life experience.  He finally found a home in the Quaker tradition and he writes, “A central conviction for Quakers is that there is That of God in Every One.” If there is That of God in a Muslim, you don’t kill him; in a black man, you don’t imprison him unjustly (or shoot him); in an animal, you don’t torture or eat her; in nature, you don’t rape and pillage it for your own pleasure. Because of That of God in the person before me, I strive to hear her as deeply as possible, whatever her color, culture, or creed.” And then he asks us 2 questions, “Imagine what would happen if members of each religion listened for That of God in all the others and held themselves to nonviolence in thought, word and deed? Imagine what would happen if we learned to see and hear That of God in every part of the natural world around us?”

Turn over to the back of your bulletin and I invite you to take a moment and think about your faith journey, the journey of your life, and write a couple of names, places, animals, natural elements where you have encountered God’s love in a more expansive way than you were used to at that particular time. Which experiences were surprising? Which ones were slow coming?

(Pause)

Seeing that of God in the people, places, animals, and natural elements that you have listed on the back of your bulletin, makes the next statement all that more relevant. If you see God in your experiences with people, then people are looking to see that of God in you.

Today, we are focusing on Stewardship of the Gospel. The scripture is clear: you are I are God’s plan for sharing the Good News of God’s love in Jesus Christ with the whole world. In 2 Corinthians 4:7 that we read a few weeks ago, we are reminded that we have the treasure of the Good News within us and that this Good News is not so that we might think highly of ourselves but it is so that our words and actions point to the power of God’s love for all God’s creation. So, what it means to be good stewards of the gospel is that we have this precious treasure of the Good news with in us. We are responsible for how we embody the Good News and for how we share the Good News. As Christians our desire is that our light shines brightly so that we might see our own path more clearly and we hope that others see their path more clearly in our presence. Which makes the distinction that our path may not be their path to God and that is not for us to judge or worry about the outcome of sharing God’s love.

As Christians, our intention is to share our light and our love that all might be refreshed, renewed, and restored from the experience.

A part of being good stewards of the gospel is sharing our faith with our words. Jesus said that we are to go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation (Mark 16:15).

Now gospel or good news is actually a political statement and not a religious term.  In the first centuries, the good news referred to an announcement about Ceasar Augustus and his era of prosperity and peace that was won through brutal and bloody violence.  Later after a civil war, Caesar’s adopted nephew Octavian won the war and restored stability and peace.  The announcement of his victory and the peace he brought was called gospel, or good news.  Jesus would have been aware of this meaning and so he used it to say how God’s vision for this world could and should be. 

Jesus said that God anointed him to proclaim good news to the poor, to free the prisoner, heal the blind and to set the oppressed free. (Luke 4:18) So, the good news is transformative of us and of our world. It sets us free and we share it that others might be set free. It gives us sight in areas that we are blind and we share it that others might be healed of their blindness. The Good News desires that we flourish and then the good news in us desires to see all of God’s creation flourish no matter the religious path they have chosen or not chosen to follow.

Now, for me, this definition of the Good News makes the word evangelism, the sharing of the Good News, less scary. This word evangelism is a loaded word because it reminds us of people who have exploited the gospel for personal power or gain. It brings up images of people beating people over the head with the bible in the name of Jesus or being pushy or judging or churchy. All those things can be true and yet we are not let off the hook in speaking the Good News. 

Our scripture passage today tells us that we will speak and when we speak we must do so as one speaking the very words of God; So, sharing God’s love with our words is not a special skill for some, it is a basic foundation of Christian faith for all. You might say, “But I do other good things for people!” Our denomination does a good job with showing the gospel through our actions which is especially important because words have not been backed by actions with some in our faith tradition. And Yet…we need words ready to explain why we do the good things we do so that we are pointing to God at work in our lives as the strength and the reason by which we serve. The ending of our scripture passage today said, “we will serve and when we serve we must do so with the strength that God supplies, SO THAT God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ.”

It is important to reflect on what words are meaningful for you to share.  Our speaking about the Good News is important and needs to be authentic in its expression which means that not one person in this room will use the same words or speak the gospel in the same way that another person might. What is similar for all of us is that the good news is about transformation. It’s about my being loved into being more open and loving. It’s about Philip Clayton being set free from trying to fit God into a nice and tidy box.

So, take a moment, turn over to the back of your bulletin and see if you can fill in the blank, “Being a Christian has changed my life because…..”  You can even just jot down a few key words that would be important for you to include as you craft your sentence. Think about what difference Christ makes in your daily life. Is it forgiveness that speaks to you? Comfort in tough times? Unexplainable joy? Peace that passes all understanding? What are your key words?

(Pause)

I have said this for 8 weeks straight…so much so that I expect that you have it memorized. 

With what is happening in our world today, our people, the people in our communities that we may or may not know yet, are crying out to find ways to shift their internal state of being away from mirroring the fear, anger, and anxiety that is present all around us. They want to know how we are transforming to live lives full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. 

Now, let me turn this statement in a new direction…With what is happening in our world today, our people, the people in our communities that we may or may not know yet, need to hear the Good News in a way that does not mirror the fear, anger and anxiety that is present all around us. 

Here is the part that really matters to me…How we do things is as important to me as What we do.  If we speak words or serve others mirroring the fear, anger, anxiety, or arrogance that is present all around us, then we are not faithfully glorifying God in all things. Because God is not fear, anger, and anxiety or arrogance. God is love. Jesus is humble of heart.

 This doesn’t mean we have to be perfect or there is only one way to do things.  Just think about love for instance.  Some people’s gift of love is gentle and tender like my sister who brings home every stray cat, pig, chicken, and goat.  She nurses them to health and loves them to the end. That is not how I show love. My way of loving is to listen, dry your tears, feed you a good meal and then say, “Now, let’s get moving!” My love lets you rest and then cheers you on as you continue the journey.  And then you get every form of love in between.

There is no one way with the gift of love, but there is the way that God has gifted you to share with those around you. Remember that as you speak and as you serve that you are glorifying God.  How you do it matters. And as it relates to our speaking, how we share the gospel with our words is something we must reflect on, write out, experiment with, and regroup if we feel it is not authentic to who we are as God’s beloved.

This is not easy work! Being stewards of the gospel is in some ways an unanswerable call, because we are supposed to be stewarding something we don’t fully understand. We might understand the gospel by using certain words today, but with life experience and reading scripture, we might change our wording tomorrow, next month or next year!  Being stewards of the Good News is unanswerable and is a never-ending calling. The question, “How has Jesus changed my life?” is a question that we must answer today and keep wrestling with for the rest of our lives. 

This week I read a book about the journey of one of our sister churches. In this book, the author points out that when they came to the church that they recognized that the church had a great reputation for caring for the community. It was a great start to be a part of a church known to the community as a place of love and care. And yet the church was in decline. Another moment of celebration was when people in the church became so excited about what is happening in their own lives and in the life of the church that they wanted to tell the stories. Then it all came together for this church when the community who has felt loved by the church became open to hearing the stories and the church members were eager, exited, loved to tell the story.

This reminds me of the song, “I love to tell the story.” In the song the writer expresses how much they love to tell the story. We energetically sing along the words, “I love to tell the story; of unseen things above, of Jesus and his glory of Jesus and his love. I love to tell the story because I know tis true; it satisfies my longings as nothing else can do!” My friends, each of our stories tells the story of Jesus and his love, so let us speak and when we speak let us tell our stories as one speaking the very words of God.

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