BE the church

This morning we find ourselves in the midst of a pretty familiar story.

It is a story of contrasts… the holy man on one hand and the sinful woman on the other.

It is a story of grace… and a man who doesn’t think he needs any and a woman who is begging to be forgiven.

It is a story of paradox… where the tables are turned as the holy man is proven to be not so and the sinful woman is shown to be the one who is in the right.

So let’s break this tale down just a little bit. Jesus has been invited into the home of a Pharisee. And we start to wonder… maybe this is a guy who gets it. Maybe this Simon fellow has his head on straight and not only lets Jesus into his home, but wants to invite him into his heart also. Way to go, Pharisee!

But then, this woman shows up… a woman that Luke makes clear is a sinner. We aren’t quite sure of what has classified her as a sinner. Perhaps it was sleeping with the wrong person. Or perhaps she milked a cow on the Sabbath. We don’t know. But whatever it was – it made her desperate for God’s grace.

And so, she seeks Christ out. It didn’t matter where he was, or how uncomfortable it was going to be for her to enter this holy man’s house. She sought out Jesus and wept and anointed him. She went to where he was and poured out her love upon him.

And by the end of the story, the tables are turned, and we find that this sinful woman is the one who has done right by Jesus. She is the one who receives grace, while the Pharisee receives a tongue lashing for his lack of hospitality.

So what do we take from this story? In our world today, we would be hard pressed to be able to issue a dinner invitation to our Lord and Savior. We might search and seek our whole lives and never encounter Jesus walking and talking among us.
But we do see the poor. We do see the homeless. We do see the hungry. We do see the sick. And in the back of my mind somewhere I remember that Jesus said – whatever you have done for the least of these… my brothers and sisters… you have done for me. (Matthew 25)
So let’s think about this gospel lesson from Luke again. Let’s imagine for just a second that we are talking about the Christ we meet in the eyes of the poor, in the groaning of the hungry, in the tears of the sick.
On the one hand, we have a holy man, a Pharisee who invites the poor, the hungry, the sick. over for dinner one night. The poor come in and sit down to eat. There is no welcome, there is no real hospitality, simply an invitation… the food has been provided, help yourself. It’s charity, plain and simple.
On the other hand, we have a sinner who goes out of her way to seek out the poor, the hungry, the sick. She sheds upon them her tears, she pours upon them lavish blessings, she soothes them with her offering. She gets down on her knees to take care of them. That is love, plain and simple. That is the beginning of a relationship.

Who are we as the church? Are we the holy ones who hole up inside of our buildings and invite the poor, the hungry the sick to come to us?

Or are we the ones who admit our sinful and broken natures – who know that we need Christ as much as the world needs Christ – and go out and share the grace we have been given?
As Mary and I experienced Annual Conference this year – there was one very simple message that we wanted to bring home to all of you:

Don’t just go to church, BE the church.

The message came at us from a thousand different directions. Preachers and presenters, lay delegates and pastors got up and spoke at microphones to the crowd and everywhere we heard the calling to not just go to church, but to BE the church.

It’s a subtle difference really. But it is the difference between the holy one who invites Jesus to come in and the sinful one who seeks Jesus out in the world. It is the transformation from a Sunday ritual to feed our souls into a daily living out of our faith beyond the four walls of the church.

A DAILY living out of our faith beyond the walls of this building.
I don’t know about all of you… but sometimes that daily living part is hard. Even as a pastor, even as someone called to this ministry, there are times when living out my faith is difficult! We slip into being content with our Sunday morning rituals and our Tuesday bible study and we give to the local food bank and think that is enough – that is all that is asked of us.
But we have a higher calling beyond our own personal salvation. Now, don’t get me wrong, our own personal salvation is important…. But once we believe – there is more that God wants us to do with our lives.

Recently, the United Methodist Church has been thinking about being church. For about a year now, the “Rethink Church” campaign has been going on to help us to ask the question… what if church was a verb? What if our faith was something we lived instead of thought? What if the love we experienced from God was shared with others?

At Annual Conference, we had the opportunity to see a music video put together by young people of the United Methodist Church who have found energy and passion around this idea of being church. And I want to share it with you this morning!

In that video, Mike Slaughter, pastor of Ginghamsburg UMC, says that the real focus of Jesus is not getting more people into the church, but getting the people who are already in the church into the world. Love one another as I have loved you… that is the command that Jesus gives us.

It is what we heard in our gospel reading from Luke this morning… Jesus asks who has loved Jesus more – the one who obeyed all the rules, but forgot hospitality or the one who was found to be in the wrong and yet bowed down before him in service.

As Jesus loved us, and died for us, the only appropriate response is to love with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength.

And it’s the same word that we hear from the first letter of Peter. Peter writes to a number of communities in order to encourage them in their daily living.

He doesn’t tell them to show up on Sunday mornings for worship, but to let the suffering and sacrifice of Christ be the example for their lives.
Peter doesn’t ask us to simply believe and accept that Christ died for us… he tells us to make the suffering of Christ the model for our lives. Or rather, to not run away from love when it is difficult… to love our neighbors like Christ loved them… even if it gets us into trouble.

Love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything. Be quick to give a meal to the hungry, a bed to the homeless – cheerfully! Be generous with the different things God gave you, passing them around so all get in on it: if words, let them be God’s words; if help, let it be God’s hearty help.

When Peter writes these things– he is not talking about a special set of rules we live under in the church… he is talking about how we should live our entire lives. In all things, everywhere that we go, at work, at the playground, at the city hall meetings, in the hospital where we volunteer… be a good steward of the manifold grace of God. Be generous with the grace and the love that God has given to you.

So, are you wondering why we are even here this morning? Why do we have worship at all – if God wants us to be out in the world loving others?

Because it is here in this fellowship of believers that we find the strength to go out there and to serve. It is here in this community of faith that we are fed the bread of life and the cup of salvation. It is here in the presence of God that we confess the failings of the past week and are able to let them go so we can love and serve anew.

A pastor of mine once described worship as a cup of cold water during a marathon. We stop and renew ourselves and we give thanks to the one who has provided. But then we go back out there and keep running. We keep serving. We keep loving. Thanks be to God! Amen.

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