Lenten Series: Giving It Up
Sermon: Giving Up: Our Lives
Pastor Diane Gordon
Mt Pleasant FUMC
March 18, 2018
Scriptures: Jeremiah 31:31-34 CEB, Psalm 51:1-12 CEB and John 12:20-33 CEB
††††††††††† Like the wheat that must die to its former self in order to flourish, we too are called to give our lives to God. The seed finds itself in a very dark place, confined, which is not a place many of us would want to be. But that is where it needs to be in order to grow.
The Psalmist reminds us to ask God to ďsustain me with a willing spirit.Ē Being willing to surrender our lives to Godís kingdom work is always the first step. We canít give up our lives though, if we canít first imagine a better life. The willingness we require comes best when we can envision life lived the way Jesus taught us to live.
We look for the day that everyone knows the Lord, from the least to the greatest, everyone knows the love of God and has claimed it for their salvation. God says, ďI will put my instructions within them and engrave them on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people.Ē †Oh, what a day!
Weíre not there yet, are we? We wish it were simple; that we could just push a button, take a pill, travel to some magical place, and poof, all the brokenness and corruption in the world would be fixed, all the pain and suffering gone. We long for the day when that will be, but continue to ask, ďHow long, O Lord?Ē
Throughout this season of Lent we have been considering the things we need to give up; things like control, superiority, idolatry, and disobedience. When we insist on trying to control every factor in our lives, we shut ourselves off to the rest of the world because we cannot control it. We isolate ourselves in boxes big and small, routinely moving farther from the center in order to maintain the illusion that we can be individuals who protect our privacy and rights without hurting the whole. As Americans have moved to the suburbs in an attempt to control our lives by creating imaginarily perfect communities we have lost the connection to real community. And now with digital communications we donít even talk to each other but share opinions through likes and emoji, often while sitting in the same room.
When we insist on maintaining the illusion that we are superior, we are stuck judging others as inferior and we miss the gifts that they bring us. When we worship idols like wealth and power we place ourselves continually in a position of inferiority, lack and longing for what most of us will never have or at least never have enough to give us the sense of superiority we long for. Or we use that desire as our justification to take advantage of our neighbor in order to profit off their misery. And all of this is in direct disobedience to the will of God who expects, no, demands that we love our neighbor the same way we love ourselves. We cannot take advantage of and love at the same time. We cannot profit off of and provide for the needs of at the same time. We cannot say we are good and participate in evil. We cannot call ourselves Christians when we refuse to give our lives up in the act of following Jesus and obeying everything he taught us.
That was the Great Commission Ė that we go into the world, not to conquer it, but to offer it the love of Christ. Jesus told his followers to teach everyone all that he had taught them, and we cannot do that well without modeling that life. Jesus did not claim power over even when he could have. He had it but didnít use it to his advantage. He willingly surrendered in the Garden when the soldiers came to arrest him, even has he demonstrated the power to heal and told his followers that those who live by the sword will die by the sword.
What does the Lord require of us, but that we love mercy, justice and live humbly? This is not what we see being modeled in the world. News agencies are not reporting on the faithful acts of mercy and justice being lived out around the world because that is not what the world worships. Lord have mercy.
So where do we turn? What should we do? How do we live if we want to live the way Jesus taught? First, we turn to God, giving thanks for all that we have been given; the gifts from the Spirit, the traditions of the faithful who have passed down through the centuries the practices of worship, prayer, fasting, communion, study of the scriptures, and a way of life that sets us apart and teaches us that there is another way, a holy way of living in community.
Then, we take up these practices for ourselves, praying, worshiping God, and being good stewards of all that God has created and given us for a life filled with beauty, joy and wonder. We create community by getting to know each other, by being kind to one another, and appreciating the light of Christ that shines in every child of God. We reserve judgment, leaving that to God, and love one another. We feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, give water to the thirsty and visit those who are sick and imprisoned. We do what Jesus told us to do. We value people more than things. We share so there is enough to go around. We honor God with the way we live our lives.
And what do we do when we have messed up? When we have broken Godís laws? When we have fallen to temptation, gotten greedy and hurt others? We repent and ask forgiveness. We stop doing those things and make amends, where possible. We accept Godís gift of grace, which was the thing that drew us back from the abyss, because of Godís great love for us.
God loves us even when we are not perfect, but that doesnít mean we have permission to go on hurting one another. It means we have a chance to try again. And again, and again, if thatís what it takes. Giving our lives to God so that we can live for Godís purposes, using the gifts God has born into us through the Holy Spirit, is the way to eternal life. And the first step of the journey into eternal life begins while we are still alive. Heaven starts here and now.
What are you willing to give up to God? What are you willing to take up for God?
Imagine that Jesus is sitting beside you. What would you say to him? What might he say to you? Keep having that conversation this week. Have it every day. Let it shape what you value, how you live, and who you love. Amen.