BE WHO YOU SAY YOU ARE
April 15, 2010
I Thessalonians 5:12-24
Matthew 13: 10-13
We are Easter People! Seven days ago we were responding to each other, “He is risen! He is risen, indeed!” And just last week I was watching the CBS program Sunday Morning before church listening to a young man say that he can prove that the resurrection did NOT happen, that it was manipulated. In the space for an hour my heart was pondering both statements.
But we do believe! We believe that Jesus was crucified on the cross, died for us, and beat the evil in the world by beating death. We can say with certainty, I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth. You know this… we’ll get to it later.
But what does it mean to believe? Does it make a difference in our lives day to day? How do we put together what we believe?
There are several points in our scripture reading today that help us….
First, we are a Covenant People. Going back to Noah, God made a covenant with God’s people to never again wipe out the human race. Regardless of the story of Noah, the bottom line is that God love God’s creation and will walk with us forever, until the end of the earth. We are a covenant people.
In the 1970’s the symbol of the rainbow set forth in Genesis was hijacked by the conservative evangelical Christians. Those who had the “gift of the Holy Spirit” were encouraged to purchase a rainbow sticker for our cars and sun chasers for our homes… to show to the world “whose we were” and that we were “true Christians.” Rest assured I had the stickers everywhere! I didn’t want someone to think I was a charlatan! But if the truth be known…
Within a very few years the rainbow symbol began showing up at Gay Pride Parades. I don’t even want to know what some Christians think about that! But the significance is more than imaginable.
God’s love is for all of humankind – all people – created by God. So it comes back to God, doesn’t it? God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.”
So it doesn’t matter if you are an Evangelical calling yourself conservative or if you are a participant in Gay pride identifying with the more liberal Christians. God loves you forever and thoroughly.
Let me tell you about our friend, Tom Kittleman. Tom is a medically retired Presbyterian pastor, in his 50′s. Every day deals with the debilitation of A.L.S. Diagnosed a couple of years ago, A.L.S. has stolen Tom’s ability to speak, which (obviously) has forced him to be medically retired as a pastor.
Tom is amazing! He is a big strong man who loves to minister, to write, do things with his family, elk hunt and ice fish with his buddies. A few years ago Tom and his wife Virginia even built their own home.
God pulled Tom into ministry. It was not his plan but he did love the Lord and the Lord didn’t let go.
Now Tom holds on to the Lord in new ways that have, truthfully, been forced by his disease. Though we might not have such dramatic challenges in our lives, looking toward total physical impairment and likely a much earlier death than he had planned on, we each can identify with Tom’s most new spiritual journey.
In his blog Tom writes of a recent service of healing where a sanctuary full of elders and clergy (at a presbytery meeting, no less) laid hands on him for healing. This is his reaction…
I felt nothing. Not a twitch. No sudden restoration of bodily strength, no overwhelming peace or sense of well being, no inexplicable warmness. Not a thing. Oddly, I didn’t return to my seat with a sense of let down or disappointment. I just had a quiet confidence that God’s will was being done.
But Tom writes on… It is one thing to believe in the theology of God’s love, and the corresponding love of believers for one another. It’s overwhelming to be immersed in the midst of that love not as an abstract truth, but as a concrete affirmation. I don’t want this affirmation to roll off my back, but to pierce me to the heart, becoming my reality, and the reality of us Presbyterians in our state, a blazing warmth that the breath of the Spirit will blow into a conflagration that envelopes our families, neighbors, churches, and communities. Lord, start with me.
Tom has every right to be angry with God. He was struck down by disease in the prime of his pastoral ministry with two teenage girls and a wonderful wife with whom he had plans for the long years they would spend together. But Tom isn’t angry. Instead he has launched on a new spiritual journey focusing his life on where God is working, where God loves him, and where/how he is called to love another.
I strongly suspect that our friend Tom is a rainbow believer with the knowledge that God has made a covenant with God’s people and will never break that commitment of love. Tom has chosen to live out what he has so long and lovingly believed… that God loves him.
So far I think that I have skimmed the surface of being who we say we are as Christians. Society consistently lulls us into the false thinking that our faith is a private affair that we don’t need anyone else to tell us how it should be, rather than what it is.
The Apostle Paul would beg to differ! Thus our second point: If we are Easter People, then we are called to live in community – a community that works together, lives together, encouraging and admonishing growth in our faith.
Living in community, perhaps especially one that calls itself “Christian,” is a real challenge. If we are to be true to Christ, we are called to engage with others is ways that can be quite uncomfortable.
We need to work with those who would cause trouble. Comfort and engage with those who have become discouraged about life or the church or the state of the world. We are to uphold the weak, to teach them what is right, to not be so quick to judge.
Many years ago in Louisville KY I had the opportunity to help birth a program in the community through our church that pared young white women with young black women with families in the welfare system.
Yes, you can jump to conclusions! At that time, the women in the system were very often stymied as they sought to gain the services due and necessary for a healthy life for their families. Unfortunately, white women would be listened to by the system. And we were very successful.
I personally said “yes” to this program more out of fear than my commitment to love. I learned far more than I ever wanted about prejudice in the South. But I also came face to face with my own. From that point on I was no longer so quick to judge. I had entered into a community that struggled with real hate and discouragement and helped to offer hope.
Remember your first summer camp experience or swimming lessons at a YM/WCA? Ones that were weaker swimmers were assigned to stronger swimmers to ensure their safety – it was called a buddy system. That’s what we do as Easter People – we uphold others in treacherous waters.
Oh, but Paul challenges us further. We are to do this with patience – patience with both situations and with people. Whew! That is a true challenge for we who are so steeped in society, which constantly pulls us into the fallacy that we come first, then others.
This living in community is a tall order! How do you fit in? Are you committed to the good of all OR looking out for your own feelings and position?
Be who you say your are!
Take care of your actions first – are they productive? Are they spiritual? Are they uplifting to both yourself and the community?
I don’t know about you but I fail quite often on all these fronts. But we are Easter People! We acknowledge our failures but we do so with the confidence that we are loved by God and forgiven by Christ… to the end of the earth!
Finally, Paul leaves us with some marching orders – rejoice, pray, and give thanks.
Remember that God in Christ wills us to make our faith so much a part of our lives that we have the sense of God so deep in our beings that we always rely on God.
This is soooo counter cultural!
Rejoice, pray, and always give thanks. These admonitions in Greek are found in the imperative mood. We are to so internalize our faith and joy of the salvation of Christ that it has a profound impact on our attitude, our daily living.
Be who you say you are.
To God be the glory in the living Christ, amen.