Sermon: To Live In This World
Thank you for this time to worship together. Worship is always our God focus; we believe that the Spirit creates community and brings new life for us. We give thanks for these blessed moments.
I want you to know that our texts offer a very practical opportunity for us. We are called to live in this world – not to escape the world with our heavenly home in promise. Each day, that is our choice in faithfulness to God’s love and grace. I am firmly convinced that God loves us, God forgives us, and the Eternal One is always present within us. The Eternal Spirit brings insight to what we know, ability to make the best choices, and offers us the opportunity to learn to love and care.
Ours is the task to learn to live with this God focus in all that we do and say and think. That’s not easy. But like the text “Pray without ceasing”, we need to know that if we are driving the car, we had better pray with our eyes open, not closed in prayer.
The earliest Christians believed that Jesus would return soon, at any moment and at any day. But that was not to happen. By the time Luke witnesses in the gospel, or the Pauline community speaks to young leadership in I Timothy, we hear the Christian community endeavoring to learn to live in this world.
Listen to I Timothy again: “lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity”… “There is one mediator between God and humans Christ Jesus, himself human.” Thus Jesus learned what he needed to do, he grew with insight, he chose that which was the Father’s will with struggle, he learned to love and care for others. So when we follow Jesus, this is our life also.
In the gospel lesson, Luke commends the dishonest steward and concludes that children of this world do better than children of the light. We need to learn how to live in this world with the Eternal One in focus. That’s the direction of our time this morning. These words taken from our hymns speak to this understanding:
Finish then thy new creation.
Do it now and day by day.
Forth in thy name I go;
My daily witness to give in the work and in the relationships which are mine and ours together.
My wife, Gretta and I listened to the Pope address the English Parliament in Westminster Hall. Centuries ago, he would have had to fight to get in, and now he was welcomed with great applause. He spoke of a need for an “ethical foundation for political discourse”. I believe that is a necessary ingredient to live in this world. Indeed our ethical consideration is always needed. So what shall we say for Christians now?
I offer to you some ethical insights that help me in the daily witness of God’s presence in my life with others.
We live in the resurrection. That means ours is the victory eternally in life and life eternal. We may act in faith and live in faithfulness, knowing that God is always at work in us. The Spirit bears this witness with us always.
We need always to consider both person and community. Persons reflect God’s rich person, Spirit of the nature of person. I need carefully to consider how persons are created and how they are redeemed. The conversations, the communication which is ours is reflecting that which God gives to us. The cup of cold water, given in Jesus name, is that which is redeeming. Better said, the cup of coffee with a cookie is our holy communion with a neighbor or friend.
God also calls us to live in community. Family and friends are part of this holy relationship. Surely, the church needs to be the family of God offering redeeming grace and community service to everyone. Our city or community is the place where education helps all of us grow. The healing community is part of God’s way to keep all of us healthy. The commerce of our community brings the blessings of the whole world to us – and offers to us a way to give back to others that goodness we have known. We build community in many ways, and we need to discover new relationships which fulfill the Oneness to which we are called.
Our ethical response daily must include consideration of person and community at the same time.
Our decisions need to consider motive, means, and ends. We examine the reasons for our actions carefully. When I served at Hamline Church, I was pastor of a community that serves meals at the State Fair at the Hamline Dining Hall. “Why do you want to continue to do this?” I asked. “To make some money for the church” was the reply. “Now that’s not the best reason.” I responded. “To serve good food to hungry persons and to do it together with others” I responded, “Now that’s to consider persons needs and to build community,” “To give persons a clean place to sit down and eat”; that’s a good answer also. And then “to make some money”; “now, that’s about the right place for that reason.” We always need to consider our motive.
We need to consider the means or methods we use to act. There may be more than one way to accomplish what needs to be done. Especially in our complex society with many cultures, races, and life styles around us, this is true. Again at the Hamline Dining Hall, the fair health inspectors had a thermometer in the refrigerator. The temperature had to be right to keep things cold. Those in charge were greatly pleased when they found a refrigerator with a glass door. The women who cut the tomatoes and made the meat balls did not have to open the door to see when they needed to work at these tasks: and the refrigerator stayed cold which the health inspectors liked very much. How we do what needs to be done is always significant.
To look ahead to the outcome is necessary. We need to pursue the best for all. Again at the Hamline Dining Hall, a family came in and asked “Do you have a table for 8 and for one person with muscular dystrophy who is in a wheel chair?” “Yes,” we said. We asked a number of persons to move, and that made it possible for the family that had the need to eat for as long as the person in the wheel chair needed. We were long closed for the noon hour when they finally finished – with lots of time together and good food for all.
Motives, means or methods, and ends all need to be redeeming to act in God’s will day by day.
Now for one with which I endeavor to work. It is more important to be loving, than to be right. That means I need to walk away from some conversations if the person or persons insist on their answer, and they always have the answer. I need to care about persons and community. I need to care about discovery of new insights together. When I cannot do this, it is better to walk away. It is better and more important to be loving, than to be right.
I could tell stories that illustrate what I am trying to do. But they are not always good stories, so if you want to know them, you will have to ask. For we have much to do that transforms our world. We are not alone. Many persons share our vision of God’s presence in our world. We work together in redeeming ways.
All of us know Psalm 23. “He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” But righteousness needs to be understood in better ways for most of us. My Hebrew professor years ago helped with this understanding. When in the Exodus, God says “I have heard the cry of my people, and I have come to deliver them…” that’s righteousness. Our redeeming activity is that for which God asks; and is that to which God’s Spirit directs us. So every day: “He leads me in paths that are redeeming.” This is true in my redeeming, and in redeeming the lives of others. That is blessing indeed!!
Redeeming life is also our witness to the Jesus presence in us and with us. For this responsibility we give thanks and to this responsibility we commit ourselves today. We live in this world with the Spirit presence. Thanks be to God.