Sunday, May 17, 2015

Quality of Life

1 JOHN 5:9-13
9If we receive human testimony, the testimony of God is greater; for this is the testimony of God that he has testified to his Son. 10Those who believe in the Son of God have the testimony in their hearts. Those who do not believe in God have made him a liar by not believing in the testimony that God has given concerning his Son. 11And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
13I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.

What brought you to church this morning?

You could be at a diner eating too much for breakfast or at at a coffee shop with a newspaper. Why did you get up, get dressed and come here to church?

Maybe you read the news this week about the Pew study that shows the number of Christians in the United States continues to decline while the number of religiously unaffiliated people continues to go up.

How did you feel when you heard that news? Does it make you sad? Angry? Does it inspire you to go out into the world and share God's love? Does it make you want to retreat further into the church?

As we close out our study of 1 John we remember that its written to a community of believers in a world where Christianity was a minority faith. Jesus and the early Christians were living in a world where Jews (and soon to be Christians) were not politically powerful. The 1 John letter that we have been studying is to a small group of believers that was being criticized by people on the outside. 

Those who remained in the church seem to have been confused and bewildered. Like us, they did not quite know what to think. In the past month, we've discovered that the book of 1 John reminds the little congregation of three things:

  • They are God’s beloved.
  • Perfect love casts out fear.
  • They are to be love in the world.

Today’s verses remind us that it’s important to believe that Jesus is a testimony of God’s love for us. 1 John says:

God’s testimony is this: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.

The idea of testimony or witness has been part of the Christian church since Mary Magdalene first ran to the disciples breathless with the news, He is risen! The disciples witnessed to Jesus' post-resurrection appearances on the Road to Emmaus and the seaside fish-fry. Today we remember Jesus' ascension, his rising up into the sky to return to heaven. Christians are known for their testimonies of some pretty crazy-sounding stuff.  

But, faithful and personal witness is foundational to what we do as a church. And so today, that’s what I would like to do today.

Some sermons are meant to teach, some to convict, some are meant to evangelize, some to inspire. This sermon is one of witness. It’s me sharing where I have seen God, Scripture and the church swirling around in my life. It’s a testimony that, I hope, points to God’s testimony in Jesus Christ.

When I read news about the number of people who are indifferent to Christianity, it makes me sad. As someone who has been raised in the church, challenged by the church, loved by the church and, yes, hurt by the church I can say without a doubt that my life has been enriched by the body of Christ that is the church. It has made me feel like I live a quality life.

And so I want to thank my parents, who took me to a church where I felt –as John says—beloved. I have memories of my mom and dad singing out the hymns that they knew, sometimes with a line or two harmony. My babysitter Anita worked the nightshift at the convenience store and would always fall asleep during the sermon.

My grandmother would listen critically to the sermon and, if I remember correctly, refused to say the prayer of confession because she didn't believe it was necessary.

My sister would belly crawl under the pews as a young child, avoiding people’s feet in order to escape out the back door.

I remember being an acolyte, probably in late elementary school. Acolyting was a big responsibility because after we carried in the Bible and lit the candles we had to sit in the front of the church in full view of the congregation for an entire hour.

One day I lit the candle and watched as my co-acolyte put the Bible in the pulpit. She plopped down in her chair. A few minutes into the service I heard a r-r-r-i-i-i-p-p-p as she tore a long strip from her bulletin and folded it carefully into an origami frog. Then she did it again and again and again. Pretty soon she had a choir of frogs on the hymnal sitting on her lap and church was only ½ over. So then she pretended that she was the choir director leading them with her fingers. She was so engrossed with what she was doing that she didn’t notice that everyone in the sanctuary was watching her instead of listening to the service.

These childhood experiences taught me that church is a safe place. A place where I and others were be-loved for our far from perfect selves. The showed me that God is loving and forgiving. In Matthew, Jesus says I have come to call not the righteous but sinners. I believe that.

A few years later my youth leader taught me that a journey of faith is about the questions, not the easy answers. Like Jacob in the Old Testament, it sometimes it takes a good wresting match with God to help us grow in faith. And teenagers and young adults have questions in abundance. Questions like:

  • What if we just made up this God story? Or Is God a universal consciousness?
  • If we don’t believe in a literal six-day creation, why do we have to believe a literal resurrection?
  • Would God create people just to predestine them to hell?
  • Would you be willing to go to hell so that someone else could experience heaven?

Christ’s church was willing to stand in the questions with me, to welcome my participation even though my beliefs were still being formed. It was because I knew that I belonged that my belief grew stronger. Church showed me the God who self-identifies as merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding is steadfast love. And I believe in that God.

As an adult, the questions, the inspiration and the forgiveness keep coming. So many people have challenged me in faith and love. We've shared gallons of coffee and hundreds of hours talking theology, church and salvation. So many people who have been generous with their prayer, their time and their pulpits. They have shown me that God calls people who don't think they are ready or able to participate in the kingdom. 

In my life the church of Jesus Christ has engraved the testimony of God on my heart: God gave us eternal life and the life is in his Son.

When I think about my eternal life, I know I'm in it. I experience communion with Jesus and other people in and through the church. This life not something I qualify for by having the right theology about the doctrine of creation or predestination. It’s not something that I earn after a life of good deeds. My eternity isn’t an expansion of days that goes on forever with all of the things I have ever wanted in life. My eternal life isn’t even about me—it’s about Jesus who brought God's kingdom to us.

1 John says: God gives us eternal life in the Son. Our eternal life is in Jesus not a never-ending Disney visit, beach vacation or even family reunion.  Eternal life is a deep relationship with God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Our eternal life is “in the son” not in the self and everything self desires.

We have the opportunity to experience a little of that “in the son-ness” right now. We can experience communion with Christ through our sacraments, prayer, mission and study. We can be the body of Christ. We can bear witness to Christ.  We can taste that eternity.

Too often we want eternity to be a quantity of life—extending endlessly. But eternity can be about quality of life, too. It can be about discovering hints of the richness and depth of living in Christ today, at this moment. And discovering it more fully in heaven. 

A women noticed that it was 8:30 on a Sunday morning and her husband still wasn’t up and ready for church. She touched him gently on the arm.

“Honey, get up, you’ll be late for church.”

He pulled the covers over his head. “I’m just going to have a cup of coffee on the deck, listen to the birds and say a prayer.”

The woman went and got a cup of coffee.

“Here’s your coffee, c’mon get up. It’s time for church.”

He opened on eye. “There will be other people there. Nobody will miss me. I can read the Bible here at home.”

She put her hands on her hips, frustrated. “Get up. It’s time for church.”

Both his eyes were open now. “Why?” he said. “Give me one reason why I should go to church!”

She threw his clothes at him. “Because you’re the pastor.”

What brought you to church this morning?

What brings me here week after week is the belief that God the church is the body of Christ given for the world. We aren’t here to stand in judgment, but we are here to do what Jesus did.

When we read the news about the decline of Christianity, we can do three things. One, we can blame the people “out there” who go to soccer and brunch and sleep in.

We can blame the people “in here” for being hypocritical, irrelevant and unwilling to accommodate new people and ideas.

Or, we can trust that God is calling us as God works out all things for the good. We can trust that what looks like an ending is really a new beginning. Jesus' church did not have an easy start. As they nailed him and later some of his disciples to crosses, it looked more like an ending than a beginning. But, that’s how God works, isn’t it?

The last shall be first.
The poor shall be rich.
The hungry will be fed.  
Death leads to life.

We are called to trust and participate in the endings and beginnings of God. We are here to reflect who God is to a world that is full of injustice or pain. We are to be gracious and merciful and slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

I’m here because early on I was taught that the body of Christ is rooted in love. The church is a way of making a difference in the world.

I’m here because the body of Christ offers hope, not just an endless parade of days for me, but hope for all of humanity.

I’m here because the alternative is die of despair and heartbreak when I look at the way we humans hurt ourselves and one another.

I’m here because I believe that God so loved the world that he gave us Christ.

I'm here because I believe God so loves the world that he sends people like you and me to live out what Jesus started.

I’m here because I believe the promise of scripture that one day we will beat our swords into plowshares, that we will learn to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us and the words of Revelation will ring true:

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes.

Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”

So I ask again, What brought you to church this morning? 

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