Series: Wings of Transformation
Sermon: Love and Connection
Pastor Diane Gordon
Mt Pleasant FUMC
March 26, 2017
Scriptures: Ephesians 5:8-14 and 1Samuel 16:1-13 NRSV
††††††††† In the story of Samuel and David we are told that ďthe Lord looks on the heart.Ē God doesnít just see whatís on the outside, judging by outward appearance as people so often do, but sees beyond our faÁade. God knows your story. God knows your character, your history, and what youíve come through. But it doesnít stop there. God desires that we will make wise choices and live in the light of Christ. God seeks to connect us through grace and love, regardless of our history or our doubts.
††††††††† Last year, Tom and I got hooked on watching a television show called Shameless, starring William H. Macy. It had a very interesting story line, good acting and a great ensemble of young actors, but itís rough. The family at the center of the story is poor, with the oldest sister caring for five younger siblings, while the drug addicted swindler of a father (Macy) causes continual havoc. Neighbors and friends support the children, but chaos reigns. Ethics and morals are largely questionable. It was fascinating, like watching a train wreck.
You know that people are suffering but itís hard to take your eyes away. The levels of sex, violence and foul language are high. This is not a show for young people to watch. What I noticed was that, as objective as I considered myself, watching a show that surely depicts a measure of truth about the lives of real people, it was a bad influence on me, too. My choice of language was effected for a time. Bad language. Not good for a pastor.
††††††††† Parents tell their kids to watch out for peer pressure and that they will be known by the company they keep. Truth is, itís not just adolescents that need to be mindful of this. We all need to be aware, because environment influences us. Attitudes and language influence us. Our behavior and thinking is influenced by our surroundings, regardless of our age.
††††††††† This is no surprise to advertisers. They capitalize on our need to belong and be accepted. We are regularly influenced, more than we know.
††††††††† All humans have an innate need for love and connection. We want to belong. We want to fit in and be accepted. The key is choosing wisely. We can belong to a youth group or we can belong to a street gang. The influences will take us in different directions, but we will feel like our needs are being met. We know that there is a myriad of other choices people could make as to where they invest themselves, but any of those will influence who we become later in life Ė some positively, some negatively, and others in neutral Ė stuck where we were or pushed by the whim or fashion of the day.
††††††††† God sees whatís in your heart. God knows that humans have a need to belong. God sends us healing grace to help us move past things that have left us wounded and lonely, and offers us opportunities to follow the path that Jesus mapped out for us.
The original church/Body of Christ was comprised of Jesusí followers and those who saw this now Spirit-filled mish-mosh of people from all walks of life, none having lived a perfect life.† The very nature of how they treated one another was attractive. People wanted to belong when they saw the Spirit at work in this group.
Their main activity was praising and worshiping; praying, singing, and breaking bread together. And beyond that, they did their work and they cared for the widows and orphans, the sick, the poor, and the outcast. They expanded their care from biological family to spiritual family: people who also loved Jesus and had received the blessing of the Holy Spirit.
Itís easy to romanticize this body of believers. Iím sure they had many of the same problems churches today have. We can tell by Paulís letters to churches around the Mediterranean. They were quarreling and dividing over things like control and religious practices, old versus new. Inevitably, Paulís response to them was to re-tell the story of Jesus, restating the good news of the resurrection, the proof that Jesus was who he said he was, Godís incarnation here on earth for a time.
Living a Jesus-centered faith keeps the main thing the main thing. To love and serve Godís kingdom purposes focuses our efforts and keeps us living in the light of Christ. This is what I signed up for. This is what Iíve longed to be a part of my whole life.
Belonging to this kind of group, this kind of church, comes with expectations. Itís a continual give and take. When you have, you give freely and unreservedly. When you need, you take, but only as much as you truly need, so there is some left for the next one in need. There is no room for selfishness or greed. We care for those with the least power, knowing that the odds are stacked against them. We all pitch in to do what needs doing, humbling ourselves to serve in the lowest places. And while we serve this way, we praise God for supplying us everything we need to do the work God has set before us.
God blesses those who live in the light of Christ. They are blessed with a joy that comes out of knowing that they are claimed. They belong, and because they belong they behave in ways that can surprise even themselves. Where once they might have been fearful or judgmental, now they are caring and compassionate. Where once they would have shunned any contact with the poor or dysfunctional, now they seek to establish relationship with them, in order to offer them the love of Christ.
Those who live in the light of Christ are mindful that the work is never-ending, and the power needed to do the work must come from God, lest they burn out trying to save the world. Jesus has already done that. Our job is to offer Jesus to the world.
When we believe in the power of the cross, in Jesusí power to save us from sin and death Ė the second death Ė giving us eternal life with Christ, we have absolutely nothing to fear. When we place our trust in Jesus, God fills us with hope. Our faith will not be disappointed. Ever.
Belonging to the Body of Christ, his church, offers us the opportunity to live in the light of Christ. That body holds its members accountable to using the gifts God has birthed in them for Godís purposes. The challenge comes when some would rather back away than be held accountable. Thatís when prayer and faith in Godís power to redeem and transform comes into play. We humans can only do so much, but God can work wonders, taking the one farthest gone and lifting them out of the pit and into new life. We count on that transforming power and offer our praise and thanksgiving to the Source, our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.
God sees whatís in our hearts, what we love and what we give our lifeís energy to. When that reveals the love of Christ, we have nothing to fear. Surrounding ourselves with spiritually mature people helps us on our journey, because their influence rubs off on us. Their faith lights the way for us when we travel through difficult, dark times. God provides everything we truly need, when we humble ourselves and live in the light. Amen.