on John 14: 15–21
One the way to a burial I struck up a conversation with the driver of the hearse. He was raised an Orthodox Jew, but he confided to me that he no longer believed in organized religion. It’s too greedy he says.
I didn’t get a chance to ask him whether or not he believed in disorganized religion as an alternative. Lord, knows that I have done my share of disorganizing over the years.
What he meant, I think, is that organized religion has the potential to be all about itself. A self-feeding, self sustaining, self-preserving machine. One might struggle to find God there among the “us-first at any cost” mess.
It is always easy for a congregation to circle the wagons, turn a blind eye to those outside of its own members, fill the moat and raise the drawbridge.
Cynical? Yes.Honest? Definitely.
Back in the day Piper and I once attended a church for a brief period of time that never shared the peace (I guess they felt that it took too much time). Further, no one ever greeted us – not on the way in or the way out. We didn’t stay long – we just didn’t fit in in a community where had trouble welcoming people. We just weren’t feeling the love, you know what I mean?
While Jesus offers a clear vision on what a faith community can be, those same communities can chose to emulate the world instead. That is the tension in which faith communities must live: Living in the world, and not of it.
Listen:They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.
And when Jesus is asked what the two most important commandments are he says this:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment.”
But he is not finished for he continues: “And a second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' All of scripture,” Jesus says, “depends upon these two commandments.”
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' And 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
Seems pretty simple. Straightforward. Clean as it gets.
But Faith communities are messy.
That’s a fact.
Jesus, of course, always preferred messiness to simplicity.
Always preferred trouble, to a false peace that does not include justice.
Built a faith of community, not the individual.
And no doubt that he suffered for it.
No doubt he died for the sake of the community that he came to proclaim.
It flat out scared people.
Jesus says that communities built upon him and centered in the holy gospel shall be defined by love.
In 2004 Hope Lutheran Church in Port Saint Lucie was attacked by vandals who desecrated the church and set fire to it, destroying it nearly completely. Essentially, only the cross remained. St Andrews Lutheran, the other Lutheran church in town invited them to use their fellowship hall for worship. Hope was from the east end of town and
Was St Andrews looking out for its best interest? What if some of its members “switched sides?” Weren’t they giving space to the “competition?” We could imagine the thoughts that might go through some people’s heads.
Instead, these two congregations defined their relationship as bound up by love. Love for God and love for one another.
One of the cool things about being Lutheran is that we do not have to pretend to be perfect, but rather freed by God’s gift of grace in and through Christ Jesus we seek to live lives of daily repentance, of turning from sin and towards God; of asking for forgiveness and being forgiven. There is transformative power in such forgiveness because it forms the basis of reconciliation – of re-establishing close and grace-filled relationships.
But in the messy nature of a faith community, are we humble enough to heed God’s call to confess our wrongs, to ask God for forgiveness and to live lives of repentance – of turning from our ways and seeking God’s ways? And make no mistake, God’s ways are the ways of love.
This morning you have the opportunity to make an offering of prayer on your way up for communion. Every pew has slips of paper. If you wish, write the first name or an initial of the person that your are most struggling to love right now on that slip of paper and fold it in half. On your way up to communion there is a bowl filled with colored water – place that slip of paper, your own confession to God of your struggle to love that person, into the bow – and find as the Lord meets you in Holy Communion, God’s grace-filled response. Amen.