The Least, First

Monte Asbury's blog

Be the change you want to see (sermon of May 13)

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Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 13, 2007
Acts 16:9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:10, 22:1-5; John 14:23-29
Music: Shout to the North; Open the Eyes of My Heart, Lord; Bind Us Together; The Reconciliation Song; Song for the Nations

In last week’s readings, Jesus was talking about a new command. It was to be the way Jesus’ disciples would be known. It was to be the signature characteristic God wanted from his people and his church. And we saw how it ripped its way out of the temple to the cross, and burst from the from the hearts of the Jewish disciples of Jesus into the house of Cornelius, a non-Jew. God’s plan, according to the New Testament, was and is a world propelled by love for others.

Today is Mothers’ Day. Julia Ward Howe . . . was the first to seek an annual Mothers’ Day in the USA, beginning in 1870. What’s happening in 1870 USA? It’s shortly after the close of the civil war. 3% of the population has been killed, a third of those civilians. In today’s Washington County (and we’re a small county of 20,000), that would be six hundred dead. See if this doesn’t reflect what Jesus was talking about in John 13. [text of this remarkable proclamation is posted here; four of its sentences were posted on the video screen behind me while I read out the entire piece:]

Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.

Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession.

Whereby the great human family can live in peace,
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God.

“The sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God.” And what might that impress be?

John 14:23-29
23Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

25″All this I have spoken while still with you. 26But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

28″You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe.

(New International Version) Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

How do we show our love for God? By keeping his commands. And what are his commands? He just gave one – we read it last week: “A new command … love one another.” And in just a little while he’ll give another: “Go into all the world.” Mt 28:19 “The sacred impress” – that mark left by God on those who follow him – is love for others.

Paul, in our Acts Scripture, began to do just that.
[CUE map Mediterranean – point out Bosporus – CUE map Paulmap2; Read Acts 16:6-8]

Here are Paul and Silas loving God – keeping his words:

Read Acts 16:9-12, tell 13-15
It’s happening, see? The love of God going to a new culture. We’ll hear more of what happens in Philippi in two weeks. But for now, look for God’s love for all nations in today’s Psalm:

Psalm 67 – Pastor Victoria reads (I interrupt with emphases on nations)

1 May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face shine upon us …

2 that your ways may be known on earth,
your salvation among all nations.

3 May the peoples praise you, O God;
may all the peoples praise you.

4 May the nations be glad and sing for joy,
for you rule the peoples justly
and guide the nations of the earth.

5 May the peoples praise you, O God;
may all the peoples praise you.

6 Then the land will yield its harvest,
and God, our God, will bless us.

7 God will bless us,
and all the ends of the earth will fear him.

Psalm 67 (New International Version)
New International Version (NIV) Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

Note that they’re not just Jewish nations he’s talking about. And they’re not Christian nations, either (if ever there were such a thing). All nations. Do we dare let the Scripture say what it says? Or must we filter the Bible through our parochial views?

See the nations again in Revelation:

Revelation 21:10
10And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.
22:1Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations [do the nations need healing in heaven – or could it be the healing of nations in this world of which he speaks?]. 3No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. 4They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

And how does this happen? As Jesus said, and we earlier read: “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.

CUE: Ghandi: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

I’ve been realizing how easily de-stabilized I am. If one of my kids comes to me with a “but Dad you know I can’t do that” in an exclamatory voice, I am stirred. I respond, “Yes you can do that and it’s your job to do that so go do it.”

But when Iran’s President says something insulting about America, and politicians react, I want them to cool down.

I need to be the change I want to see in the world.
I need to bring the new command of Jesus home in a new way, until it drenches all I do and begins to explode out the windows of the church into my home, my work, my politics, my business.

Listen to historian Howard Zinn:

* Revolutionary change does not come as one cataclysmic moment (beware of such moments!) but as an endless succession of surprises, moving zig-zag towards a more decent society.
* We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.

To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. …

If we remember those times and places- and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.
(Zinn, Howard: You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times, 206-208)

See, if I want peace in the world, if I want people to stop hating and start loving each other, my challenge is to be one man who lives a life of love. At home. With my spouse. On the job. With my colleagues. Most of us are in a mess of one kind or another. And since we walk through life with free people, we can’t fix every mess we’re in. And maybe that’s not even the point.

Maybe the point for me is simply to become the kind of person who responds courageously, wisely, lovingly – like Jesus would – to my particular mess.

And by this, Jesus said, all people will know you are my disciples.

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Written by Monte

May 21, 2007 at 4:44 pm

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