by Jeffrey Lindsay
February 23, 2019
Let us pray. God, grateful that you meet us wherever we turn our heads and look up a bit, there you are not far away. God who loves us, God who cares about us, God who is calling us. So God help us to be hearers in this hour, for we pray this in your name. Amen.
So if you’ve been around the last few weeks you know this is the last week of a sermon series called: “Love Moves into the Neighborhood.” We’ve been looking at the Gospel of John, chapterone — this notion that the Word became flesh and lived with us. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We’ve also pointed ourselves to Eugene Peterson’s, The Message, and his wording of this passage where it says “the word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.” Jesus became flesh and blood. God became flesh and blood and moved into our neighborhoods.
Have you thought about that recently? I mean, have you stopped to really think about what that means? God moved out of the heavenly realm, came to creation, earth, in human form for you, for me. Moved into our neighborhoods in intentional ways. Jesus moved into the neighborhood so that we could learn so many different things if we would but learn. If we’d but watch, pay attention, engage, lean into the life of Jesus. Jesus moved into the neighborhood to help us in so many ways. I’d just like to point out a few of those so that we can be thinking about it this Sunday. Jesus moved to the neighborhood to help us in so many ways. And the first was that we might discover what a relationship with God looks like. It’s hard for us to think about an infinite God as we think about our self. How can we believe in an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-engaged God from our limited understanding? We got glimpses of that in Jesus, a God that worked different than the world around him and gave us a model of what that looks like.
He showed us that our relationship with God is an intentional relationship. Jesus himself spent time with God, reading the words, praying the prayers, living the life, and Jesus moved into our neighborhoods to help us to better understand that, to discover what that literally could mean for you and for me. Jesus also moved into our neighborhoods to help us to identify how to be in relationship with others, with one another. And we see that, don’t we, as we look at the stories of the gospels, Jesus being intentional with those around him. His own disciples that he calls and those he meets along the journey. How do we relate to others if we follow the model that Jesus has given us, to love, to honor, to serve, to welcome, to engage in deep profound ways.
Jesus showed us how to do that by moving into our neighborhoods and modeling that for us. Jesus moving into our neighborhood helps us to learn from the model that he has given us, what our lives are to look like, what our lives are to look like as Christians, as followers of Jesus. We are to look more like Jesus each day, are we not? And that’s not easy, is it? A model for us to follow, to strive for, to lean towards, to be more like as best we’re able, trusting as God forgives and gives us new opportunities to start anew each day. Jesus moved into our neighborhoods to help us better understand how to care for the needs around us because Jesus was paying attention. Even when the people themselves didn’t understand their need, he recognized their need and offered support and encouragement, grace and mercy and invitations to new relationship.
Jesus moving into our neighborhood helps us understand how do we care for the need — by being caregivers, by caring, by desiring to be the hands and feet, as we often say about the church. And Jesus also moved into our neighborhood to help us know where to focus our attention. In a world that draws us in so many places and in so many ways, in so many different directions. It’s easy to get a bit lost, trying to figure it out. But in the life of Jesus, he gives us some understanding of that. He shows us how to focus our attention and even though he made it kind of easy, it’s also really hard. All we have to do is love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, body, soul, spirit, and then love our neighbors like ourselves. That’s all we have to do. That’s all we have to do, people. But it’s hard. It’s really, really hard.
I realize, as I am sharing these things with you… boy, I’ve got work to do. I may be leaning into one or two of these, but some of the other ones are falling short. It’s hard to live the life of faith. It’s hard to live the life of a disciple of Jesus because it means I have to change. I have to change from where I’ve been and where I found myself and where I get my hope and my peace and my sense of self and I have to turn that over. Change is hard. Change is hard.
If you were here last week, I use the facetious title of my sermon as “Changing Your Address in Seven Easy Steps.” There’s no such thing as easy steps. There’s just steps. And some can be more difficult than others. So where do we start? How do we begin to take this model of Jesus, this intentional move from the heavenly realm into our neighborhoods? How do we, how do we intentionally move towards that? I believe, as a church, God has been working ahead of us. I think a couple of years ago as we went through our ReForming process and we re-committed to our core values as a congregation, we had the opportunity to ask ourselves as individuals of this church, are they my core values as well? Is that how I want to live my life, or some version of that?
I think God has been working ahead of us, giving us those opportunities. Our core values are displayed on our platform, we have been preaching through them all year as a way for us to re-think and re-commit and re-own these values as a church, and as individuals. And here’s also some good news. The fact that Jesus has moved into our neighborhood means that we have help with these core values as well! Jesus, in his life, has shown us how to live these out and that’s good news, isn’t it? Jesus has shown us how to be a welcoming people. He welcomed all who would come. All those who pursued him and all those he pursued, he welcomed them all. He invited them into relationship with himself and said, I love you. And he showed that by the way he treated them, by the way he had concern for them and the way that he left them better than they’d known themselves from the beginning. Jesus showed us how to be welcoming to the beloved and we can follow.
Jesus certainly showed us how to take risks. His whole life was a risk. His whole life was uphill, wasn’t it? Facing the challenges of a world that was broken, realizing that the way the system was working wasn’t working for everybody and the way they had understood their relationship with God had taken a turn. He invited them back,
in very risky ways, to produce the changes that God invites us to experience. He took risks that led to his own death. And Jesus immersed himself completely in this world. We know that, right? God leaves the heavens to come to this world, immerses himself in this world yet in the world, but not of the world.
There’s the challenge. As we immerse ourselves in the sacred practices of the church, as we immerse ourselves in relationships with one another, as we immerse ourselves in the presence of God, maybe we will start to get it. Just as Jesus has shown us. And Jesus wrestled. He wrestled with the status quo that wasn’t working and invited the world to be different. And we know that Jesus did good. Man, did he do good. There’s some really exciting news in the fact that Jesus did really good things because he said to his disciples as he was about to leave and go back to the heavenly realm, “you’re going to do better than I, disciples.” He did good in showing us the way, and then invited us to do it even better, by using grace and mercy and hope and purpose, and not only our relationship with him, but in our relationship with others. See, Jesus came into our neighborhoods that we might truly understand who we are, what we’re called to be and to do.
I want to introduce another piece of scripture to our service today. It’s from Matthew chapter four. It talks about the disciples as followers of Jesus. Consider this: We are the modern day disciples. We are the ones that are making choices to follow Jesus. From Matthew four it says, “walking along the beach of Lake Galilee, Jesus saw two brothers, Simon, later called Peter and Andrew. They were fishing, throwing their nets into the Lake. It was their regular work, and Jesus said to them, come with me. I’ll make a new kind of fishermen out of you. I’ll show you how to catch men and women instead of perch and bass. They didn’t ask questions, but simply dropped their nets and followed. A short distance down the beach that came upon another pair of brothers, James and John, Zebedee’s sons. These two were sitting in a boat with their father Zebedee, mending their fish nets, and Jesus made the same offer to them and they were just as quick to follow, abandoning boat and father.
“From there, they went out all over Galilee. He used synagogues for meeting places and taught people the truth of God. God’s kingdom was his theme. That beginning right now that they were under God’s government, a good government, and he also healed people of their diseases and of the bad effects of their bad lives and word got around the entire Roman Providence of Syria. People brought anybody with an ailment whether mental, emotional or physical, and Jesus healed them one and all. More and more people came. The momentum gathering beside those from Galilee, crowds came from the 10 towns across the lake, others up from Jerusalem and Judea, still others from across the Jordan.”
I love this passage. It’s good for us to ponder this passage for a few minutes because the invitation that Jesus gave to those disciples 2000 years ago is the invitation that Jesus continues to give to us each day. Come with me. Come follow me. Come do what I have already shown you to do. But the question will be, will always be, will we? Will we drop our nets and follow? Will we let go of the things that we’ve been holding onto that are keeping us from following and follow? Will we let go of those things where we think we have our security well placed and find the security we can have, the hope that we can have, in a relationship with Jesus?
Jesus says, come with me, and they dropped their nets. They turned away from where they were and they followed and they got to see miracle after miracle. They taught the good news, the truth that Jesus had come to bring and people’s lives were changed forever. They literally healed people from all of their issues and because of it, people kept coming. People kept coming. People will come when they see God at work. People keep coming when they see God in action. People will keep coming when they see God’s people doing likewise, following the model that Jesus has shown us. But it’s hard. It’s hard because change is hard. So you know what? We need to practice. We can’t just keep saying it’s hard. It’s hard. It’s really hard. It’s really, really hard. It’s so hard. We’ve got to stop saying it’s hard, even though we know it’s hard and start.
We’ve got to start by practicing changing. So my friends, today is moving day. (You might wish you hadn’t shown up today!) But first before I explain what that means, I need to talk just to the visitors for a second. If you’re visiting with us today, this isn’t how it usually works. Not only are you going to feel a bit uncomfortable, but others around you who are here all the time are going to feel uncomfortable and so I’m going to invite you to just stay where you are, visitors. Just stay where you are. But I’m going to invite the rest of the congregation, because it’s moving day, to move to a new spot in the meetinghouse!
I invite you to get up from where you are and move, leaving what has been familiar and understood and move. Now, as soon as you get there, I’m going to tell you what to do next. All right. Once you get to your new spot –and we need to move a little quicker guys—we’ve got stuff to do. Once you get there, I want you to introduce yourself… stay standing. Now turn and introduce yourselves to three people. Use your name… don’t assume that they know your name! If there are people sitting by themselves, make sure you move towards where they are.
Hopefully you’ve had a chance to introduce yourselves to three folks, some of which you’ve known, some you haven’t known. Now while you’re still standing, I want you to follow the steps to moving day, right there. You’ve already moved. You’ve already introduced yourself. Now share with one other person what you spend the majority of your time doing. So now I’m going to invite you to share with the same person (or choose a new person) what are the core values that you’ve leaned into and are feeling comfortable with or perhaps share one that you’re struggling with a bit. Ooh, uncomfortable. Share that core value that you are embracing and share the one you’re struggling with. I’m going to give you one more minute for that.
All right. Now I’d like to give you a chance to reflect on what we’ve just experienced. This is not about anyone judging anyone else. This is not about evaluating how far anybody moved or didn’t move or whether they moved in pairs or by themselves. It’s not about any of that. It’s about now, for you, a chance to reflect about what that experience was like. I’ve given you a few questions that you can think about that can begin to guide you. Now, this is just about you. We’re not sharing this with anybody else. This is just between you and the Lord, to think about what that experience was like and then I’ll come back with a couple of closing thoughts.
I’ve known that I was going to do this for a couple of weeks and I promise you it has not felt good because I didn’t know if it was going to work. I didn’t know how you were going to react. Being that this is my candidating sermon –probably not the best idea to shake it all up! Change doesn’t always feel good. We have a reluctance to change because we don’t know what we don’t know. The unknown is scary at times and you may harbor a bit of resentment for me. I know that I harbor some resentment when God calls me to those hard places that I don’t want to go. Those places where I feel the most conviction, the places where I know I need to go, but I don’t want to go. Change is hard. Deciding that we’re not going to live as we have chosen to live, but to live as the example has been given to us as Jesus moved into our neighborhoods to show us. This was kind of easy. It gave us a bit of a taste of the reality of what it’s like. Reminds us of how we need to pray and how we need to think and how we need to be open and then to just do it and see what God might do.
Here’s good news, friends! You can sit anywhere you want next week. This is not your permanent spot, but I want you to know, and we did this intentionally, that the meetinghouse looks different. It looks different and it’s going to sound different in a bit when we sing our hymn together. Why? Because there’s a whole bunch of purple robed people that have left their spot in the choir loft and now are amongst you. This is what it looks like when new people come and take our spots and sit next to us! People that we don’t often get to talk to or see or know. So my friends, let’s not go back to the old way. Let’s embrace change. Let’s be open to how God longs to lead us and together, together, let’s be the church that God calls us to be. Amen.