Lent 5 – Loving the world that God loves

Why Christian

Loving the world that God loves

They say, don’t ask a question you don’t want to hear the answer to.

So when the answers to the question, Why Christian, come back… It’s what we’ve always done…this is my family church…people seem bothered that there’s not a more reflective answer and I’m ok with that.  I’m ok even with the I don’t knows…how we walk in a certain direction into the mystery of faith, not really sure to what we’re being led.

But too often we believe we have to have all the answers.

I can’t tell you the number of times over the last few weeks that I was asked questions in faith study and wonderfully deep questions, or questions about scripture, and my response was I don’t know.  I learned long ago that I would never be one of those ministers who had all the answers to all the problems.  That’s God’s job…not mine.  The problem is that often the answers that come from the divine are just as mysterious as the one who lives and loves alongside us.  And so when I ask the question Why Christian, I’m pointed not just to God, but to the people of God, for I learn what it means to be Christian both from those who struggled with their faith while a flesh and blood Jesus walked alongside them, and those of us who do so today, (often) without such an immediate luxury.

As a person of faith though, we realize how difficult it is to name ourselves Christian, for the things done in the name of our faith.  And really, what do we mean by Christian?  There’s a myriad of churches out there who calls themselves Christian, who differ considerably.  Last week, I used the words of Marcus Borg to make it a little easier, as he describes two distinct definitions of Christians:[1] heaven and hell Christians, those whose ultimate concern is what happens after this life, and here-and-now[2] Christians whose ultimate concern is what happens during this life.

It is Borg’s position that our “goal is not escape from this world.  (We are to) love() this world and seek() to change it for the better.” [3]  We are to act for the here and now, the kingdom of heaven on earth, the in-breaking of love in the midst of us.  We are to “do what we can to move towards God’s dream for a transformed world.” [4]

Psalm 23 reminds us that God is all about transformation:  we are to walk through dark valleys…we are called to sit at tables and reconcile with our enemies…our souls will be restored.

Most people have heard these words, either at funerals, or in TV and Movies – these are what they go to if they’re trying to convey a scene about faith.  But I wonder why – why amongst the countless scriptural passages that exist, are these words chosen?  Tradition may be one reason, but I hope even more so, that it is because Psalm 23 talks to deeply about God’s dream for a transformed world.  Just look at the verbs: leads, restores, walks, prepare, anoint…they are the actions of God…implying it is our actions (and not necessarily our beliefs) which lead to a transformed world.  It’s what you do with your faith.

I grew up, as many in my generation did, with a wonderful babysitter.  When my mom was busy with my siblings, the tv showed me people that I would never experience in real life, but from whom I learned powerful lessons.  While the Canadian equivalents (Mr. Dressup and the Friendly Giant) would always have a soft spot in my heart, for me, Mister Rogers was, and is, a personal hero.

He was a man of routine: singing to his friends, putting on one of his trademark cardigans (that his mother knit for him), changing his shoes into awesome sneakers, all with this quaint 1950ish innocence and gentleness.  And as I mentioned in a previous sermon, it wasn’t until I was grown that I learned that he was a Presbyterian minister and his deep faith, and the seriousness with which he took his work and the efforts he and his crew went to explore child psychology and development.  It was how he lived his faith that transformed my life.  He taught children that they were loved, for who they were, an unconditional, divine love.  He called his show Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood, singing…won’t you be my neighbourand it’s only now I believe he took Jesus’ most profound teaching, to ‘Love the Lord your God ….and love your (say it with me) neighbour as yourself, to use that key word of Jesus’ commandment to remind Christians and non-Christians, that we are all neighbours of one another.  His faith wasn’t something he just preached from a pulpit, he lived it.  It wasn’t an act he put on for Sunday mornings or in front of a camera.

During the 1997 Daytime Emmys, the Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Mister Rogers and if you search youtube, you can actually find a copy of the show, but I’ll share the description of it from the magazine Esquire written by Tom Junod:

Mister Rogers went onstage to accept the award — and there, in front of all the soap opera stars and talk show (hosts)…he made his small bow and said into the microphone, “All of us have special ones who have loved us into being. Would you just take, along with me, ten seconds to think of the people who have helped you become who you are. Ten seconds of silence.”

And then he lifted his wrist, looked at the audience, looked at his watch, and said, “I’ll watch the time.” …(Here he was) an authority figure who actually expected them to do what he asked. And so they did. One second, two seconds, seven seconds — and now the jaws clenched, and the bosoms heaved, and the mascara ran, and the tears fell upon the beglittered gathering like rain leaking down a crystal chandelier. And Mister Rogers finally looked up from his watch and said softly “May God be with you…” [5] [6]

To be a Christian means loving the world that God loves.

It is an all-the-time, in front of the cameras and behind the scenes, living out of God’s hope for the world.   It’s not about believing the right things, or saying the words of the Lord’s prayer right, or the Creeds, or coming to church just to be seen, or anything like that.  It’s not about having all the answers to the questions, or even memorizing scripture.  But it is about loving those whom God puts in your path – loving creation for its brokenness as much as its wholeness.

Someone said at faith study this week that one of the core concepts of Christianity that they admired the most was when Christian aid workers helped in his life, they demonstrated their faith, and their compassion, living what they believed without any judgmental preaching or underhanded attempts at conversion.  He learned about Christianity because of what people did to love the world that God loves, to live out their hope as they envisioned a new world, and the work they did to bring it about.

It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the great need of our world.  It’s easy to become overwhelmed if we are trying to imitate Jesus.  Jesus loved when he was busy[7]: walking through a crowd, healing a woman reaching out just to touch him; he loved when he was annoyed[8]: when the Syrophoenician woman argued with him what was proper; he loved even when his life was at stake[9]: healing the ear of the soldier after it was cut off in the struggle to arrest Jesus.

Instead, Hans Küng says in his book Why I am Still a Christian, our faith

“calls for personal discipleship, not in imitation (of Jesus) but in correlation, in correspondence.  That means I commit myself to Jesus and pursue my own way in accordance with his direction – for each of us has her or his own path to follow…(and living out our faith) does not of course aim merely at providing internal, spiritual and mental comfort.  It involves a conversion of the heart: a new attitude which can change the world!”[10]

He goes on to say, that this new attitude “enables us to cope even with the negative” aspects of our world.  We do not “seek out the negative, but (endure) it; not merely enduring it, but fighting against it”[11]

For we as people of faith,

“struggle to ensure respect for human dignity…
struggle for freedom for all oppressed…
struggle for justice against all injustice…
struggle against selfishness…
struggle for peace against all strife…”[12]

We struggle because God struggles, against the humanly instituted systems of oppression and injustice which create valleys of shadows and death.  For we walk through the valleys of the shadows of death…and not lament and linger within, but persevere to the other side, to new life. Why Christian?  Because our world needs people of faith, people of the Christian faith to embody a positivity, a belief in hope, a Jesus-like love for all people, and not only the world needs it, but our own backyard as well.

For those that read The Record this week read about the fears some neighbours held of those of Muslims wanting to build a prayer centre in our community.[13] [14]  We cannot let fear and mistrust be the dominant voice of our time.  We cannot let our social awkwardness and isolation drive us away from our neighbours.  We cannot let negativity and sarcasm be the only voice we hear.  We cannot let Christianity become all about making sure that we’re taken care of in the next life, leaving the problems of this world to those who will come next.

So what can we do?

We can live for here and now,
love the world God loves, but even this seems daunting.

We start,
by hearing the cries of those in need, and not turn a deaf ear.

We make this the start of our compassion,
walking alongside others in their valleys of death.

We seek out to know our neighbours,
before the difficult task of loving them.

We can bear compassion
when others in our world bear contempt[15].

We hear the voices of the vulnerable.

We listen to the lambs.

[1] Borg, Marcus, Speaking Christian

[2] This isn’t really Borg’s term, but more my own creation, that describes his alternate view of Christianity

[3] Borg, Marcus, Speaking Christian

[4] Borg, Marcus, Speaking Christian

[5]  http://www.pittsburghinwords.org/tom_junod.html

[6] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZGHKAWdmGvI

[7] Matthew 9:20

[8] Matthew 15:21-28

[9] Luke 22:51

[10] Küng, Hans, Why I am Still a Christian, p40/41.

[11] Küng, Hans, Why I am Still a Christian, p45.

[12] Ibid, 46.

[13] http://m.therecord.com/news-story/7211206-waterloo-s-muslim-prayer-centre-proposal-met-with-unreasonable-opposition

[14] http://m.therecord.com/opinion-story/7213871-d-amato-anti-muslim-bigotry-is-alive-in-waterloo

[15] http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/senator-lynn-beyak-suffered-residential-schools-1.4042627


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