Sunday, February 15, 2015

Service is the Next Step

Matthew 5:10-12   (NRSV)
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Proverbs 31:8-9   (NRSV)
Speak out for those who cannot speak,
    for the rights of all the destitute.
Speak out, judge righteously,
    defend the rights of the poor and needy.

If we want to experience REVIVAL in our lives, in our church, in our community and world it requires that we begin to look at the world differently

For me, it requires a return to innocence

A letting go of trying to be in control of everything around me and putting my trust --- putting my faith --- in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; the God of Jesus and Peter and Paul.

We have talked these last few weeks of what that means.
          Our need to turn back to God
Revelation 2: 5a    (NRSV)
Remember then from what you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first
          Our need to seek holiness
1 Peter 1:16   (NRSV)
as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
          Our need to fully embrace the GIFT of grace
Ephesians 2:8   (NRSV)
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God
          And finally to live out what Wesley called "Works of Mercy"

John Wesley believed that as one journeys through the "means of grace":
          Prevenient Grace ---- Justifying Grace ---- Sanctifying Grace
the proof is found in how we choose to live, love and interact with the world.

Adam Hamilton writes:
Too often, Christians have thought that the goal of faith is to be born anew and cultivate a "personal relationship with Jesus Christ."  Wesley considered this goal to be an essential part of the Christian life, but he also believed that focusing solely on one's personal relationship makes for an incomplete faith --- narcissism masquerading as Christian Spirituality.
He goes on and says:
As Christians, our salvation is FROM narcissism, indifference, sin and death, and it is FOR good works.

Wesley agreed with Paul who, in our passage from last week reminded us that we were made for good works.  Do you remember?
Ephesians 2:8-10   (NRSV)
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

Works and faith are inseparable

The key, however, for Wesley and Paul and for us is making sure we keep them in the proper order.

Works, doing good deeds, acts of mercy --- are always to be a response to faith ---- a response to the Grace that God has shared with us --- not a way of earning God's love.

Do you remember what Wesley said the goal of the Christian life was?
          SANCTIFICATION ---- being made perfect in Christian love
That for Wesley, and for us --- should be the goal of our Christian walk.

And do you remember what Sanctification looks like?
          Loving God with your whole heart, soul, mind and strength
          Loving your neighbor as much as you love yourself

There was a second way that Wesley described sanctification, and that was through what we often call the Golden Rule. 

That second great summary of Jewish law that is found in Matthew's Gospel
Matthew 7:12   (NRSV)
In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.

For Wesley ---- the Golden Rule should be evident in our lives as we move toward sanctification.
          We should experience what Paul called the Fruits of the Spirit in Galatians
Galatians 5:22-23   (NRSV)
the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

But it should also manifest itself in "Works of Mercy"

Now if we were to go back and look at Roman Catholic theology we would find that there are 14 defined works of mercy
          Seven are what they call "corporal acts of mercy"
          Seven are spiritual works of mercy

Wesley spoke of all of these and other acts of mercy in which we INTENTIONALLY care for and assist others who are in need.

The corporal acts of mercy are drawn from Jesus parable of the Sheep and the Goats
Feed the hungry
provide drink for the thirsty
clothe the naked
care for the homeless
visit the sick
minister to the prisoners
bury the dead

The Spiritual Works of mercy are:
instructing the ignorant
counseling those who doubt
admonishing sinners
bearing wrongs patiently
forgiving others willingly
comforting the afflicted
praying for others

It is through these acts of mercy that God is working in and through our lives

Revival --- personal and communal --- is found in living out those acts of mercy.

One of the things that Wesley really challenged us on is to make sure that we truly loved God with our WHOLE head, heart, soul, strength

Wesley understood that most of us struggle with loving God with ALL OF OUR BEING
Most of us are usually pretty good at either loving God with our heart or our head, but loving with both seems to be a challenge.

Every week I come across more and more news articles, surveys and polls that are showing that when our young people head off to college that more and more of them (than ever before) are turning away from organized religion.

I read those articles and frankly I am not too surprised.

Christianity like the rest of our country has become more and more polarized

Fundamental Christianity has established a pretty clear --- TAKE IT OR LEAVE it stance on many social issues.

And our young people are taking them up on the offer and leaving.

I am shocked by the things that people post and say on places like FaceBook and Twitter --- it seems often that we feel like loving God completely means it is OK to speak with venom against those whom we disagree.

And I see, and hear to many of the young people who have grown up in this church, and other churches throwing up their hands and saying: "I don't need it!"

But do you know what the craziest thing is . . .
          While they don't GO to church --- they are actually BEING the CHURCH

They are living out those acts of mercy
          They are filled with compassion and caring

They are engaged in serving others and trying to make a difference in the world --- trying to make the world a better place for EVERYBODY

How are you doing at doing at loving God with your heart, your soul, your mind and your strength --- and at loving your neighbor as much as you love yourself?

Monday night Nancy and I were at a TradeWinds Bowling event.

What makes this event special is that the sponsors who come out to bowl only bring out three people for their team.
That is because we add a consumer to be the fourth member of each team

We call it a Fundraiser --- but that really isn't what it is all about.

It's about you and me getting to meet and interact with some very special people

We served pizza and pop and gave out a few prizes.

But the night was all about new friends.

This was Michael's first day at TradeWinds --- he moved into a group home that morning.

Keith when he came to TradeWinds would not communicate with anyone.
Today he struggles to speak --- and he is very hard to understand
But the week before he was telling me about going bowling and the next day after the event --- he told me about how much fun he had

But the highlight for me was Sara
Sara is one of those special people who is FILLED with joy
One of her nicknames is giggles --- because she loves to giggle
At one point during the evening she came up to me
threw her hands in the air and said
"This is the best day of my life"  and then as an afterthought she added "Up till now"
Because EVERY DAY --- Every moment is the best day of her life!

Let me ask you:
          Who was blessed that night?

The truth is --- when we forge those kinds of relationships --- when we live in service to others --- we BOTH are blessed!

I came across the most amazing story this week.
It was probably on someone's facebook page --- and I often don't click on things that people have shared on their page --- but for whatever reason --- this time I did.

It was a story about two young wrestlers in Georgia --- and I wish I could show you the video, but I couldn't get it to work.

Demetrius de Moor's father was killed in action in Iraq.

Demetrius is an up an coming Wrestler and he was busy preparing for the second most important wrestling tournament in Georgia each year.
The most important --- is of course the State Finals --- but the oldest running wrestling tournament in Georgia is the South Metro Tourny.

Michael Lind is also a wrestler --- he is a member of his HS wrestling team
          He loves the sport but has never participated in an actual meet.

Michael's coach went to Demetrius' coach to see if someone on their team would be willing to wrestle against Michael.

Demetrius volunteered.

Of course, what made the match interesting was Michael suffers from Down's Syndrome

Demetrius could have creamed him, but instead he wrestled with him and he forced Michael to earn a hard fought victory.

It was the greatest day in Michael's life.
But maybe not surprisingly ---- also in Demetrius' life.

Because he learned the most important lesson --- it's not about winning or losing --- there are some things that are more important.

If you were to ask Demetrius who won that day --- he would tell you he did!

But what really shocked me was reading the comments people wrote about the video.

While 90% were amazed at what Demetrius did --- there were quite a few who took exception that he "let" Michael win.

Our heads know that it was crazy --- but when we temper our heads with our hearts --- when they are really working in tandem we know that what Demetrius did was an act of grace and mercy!
Demetrius didn't let Michael win
Michael let Demetrius win!

So, how about you?

How are you on the journey toward perfection?

If you haven't started, I invite you to take a moment RIGHT NOW and invite Jesus into your head and heart.
Ask Jesus to help you love him FULLY --- and to love your neighbor like you love yourself.

If you do that --- you are well on your way toward perfection!

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