Last Sermon

August 18, 2019

Summary

What do you say as you end your time in a congregation, in a community?  How do you sum up four years of ministry to, and with a community such as the ALC?

These are the questions that have been rumbling around in my brain for the past days.

How do I adequately sum up fifty months of sermons and worship?  Of, Bible studies and retreats?  Of  home visits and hospital prayers?  Of conversations during fellowship hour, Lenten soup suppers and workday lunches?  And for heaven’s sake, how does one sum up council meetings…oops, you can never sum up council meetings, they’re too long and convoluted!

Well, I can’t summarize.  Relationships and time as a community are not to be summed up, but rather lived and remembered.  We, all of you and me, have been living, and trying to live as Christ’s community, as the Kingdom of Heaven, here in this place.

The first word that Jesus gave to the people when he started his ministry was, “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.”

These are words that we often read over quickly and move on from for they do not seem to hold much meaning, yet they do, for these words contain the very essence of who Jesus is and why he came.

When Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of Heaven he was speaking about himself.  The kingdom exists wherever the King, wherever God is present, and so, wherever Jesus went there the kingdom was.  That’s cool and all, but what was even more important was that Jesus was calling for the people to enter into relationship with him, and in him, with each other.

For what is a kingdom, other than a community of people gathered together in the name of their king.

The Kingdom is not some place in the great ‘by and by’ but rather it exists right here, and right now because we believe that Jesus lives amongst us right here and right now.  We live as a part of the Kingdom of Heaven while we’re still living here on earth.  You see Jesus wanted to call people into true community, the type of community that the world had never seen or experienced before, a community based upon the ever-forgiving love of God.  This type of love was first seen in Jesus, and has only ever truly and fully been seen in Jesus.

What I mean is that Jesus gave, or shared, or lived out this love, the love called ‘agape’ in Greek, to all whom he met.  Read through the gospels.  Look deeply into Jesus’ interactions and relationships with the people whom he met once, and the people he spent most every day with, each of them were met by his love.

From the old woman whom had bled for seventeen years, to the gentile demoniac, to the boy who offered up his bread and fish to feed the people, Jesus met them in love, and though they only met him once, their lives were changed.  It was the same with his closest friends, Martha found grace, Peter found courage, and John found faith.

Each of these people, and so many more were transformed by the all-pervasive, ever-forgiving, never-ending love of Jesus.

I have a friend, a wise friend who is also a pastor.  He shared with me recently that upon being asked during a job interview what was his favorite verse, he answered, “John 3:16, For God so loved the world that he sent his only Son to die for us…”

And when asked why, he said, “I can never finish preaching the love of God.”

When I heard his response it was as if he had put words into my mouth.  Those of you who have been listening to me the last four years probably understand why I relate to my friend’s answer, for you have been hearing about the love of God, in Christ Jesus for four years.

Hopefully you have understood from me that this isn’t a love that is simply shared by drawing pink hearts on a card, or by walking by someone in need and saying, “God loves you.”  No, Jesus’ love is a bold, active, courageous love, full of forgiveness, humility, bravery, strength, care, gentleness, toughness, and grace.

And it’s a love that Jesus wants us to share with one another, and to live out and give to the world.

That’s why I chose these verses from John today, so that we might again hear Jesus teach his disciples, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

This is Jesus’ call to community, remember, I said Jesus wanted to create ‘true’ community, the likes of which the world had never seen?  Well, we’re supposed to be that model community.  To be frank, we often fail at it, it’s beyond our mortal, human capabilities really, but, that’s why we need Jesus.

Jesus is the one who makes his community, his kingdom possible.  Only Jesus can provide the forgiveness that we need to offer, and accept in our lives.  Only Jesus can help us to look beyond our own needs and desires, to the needs and desires of another human, again and again.  Only Jesus can fill us up with his ‘agape’ love.

Jesus died so that sin does not have the final word.  Jesus rose to new life that we might rise in our baptisms to new life in him.  Jesus loves God’s children, that we might love him and God’s children too.

Jesus came to call humanity into relationship with him, and each other, thus growing the Kingdom of Heaven.  He came offering everyone his gift of gracious love and salvation. His gift was received through belief, in faith.

Ultimately what Jesus wanted, what he wants, is for each of us to live in relationship with him.  He wants us to know that we are we are a part of him, not alone; that we are wanted, not forgotten; that we are loved, not hated.

This is Jesus’ desire for each of us, to know and believe that we the children of God, living in his gift of grace and salvation, can live out his love in the world.

That is why the church exists, to be a community of Godly, agape love.

Now, we know personally and by looking at the church around the world that too often that is not how the church lives out or acts.  Too often Christ’s church on earth simply appears to be; big, fractured, selfish, hateful, despising, conflict-ridden, power-hungry, and a bunch more negative adjectives, all of which can be mirrored in the local congregations of any denomination or theology.  Sadly, too often this is all that the world sees of the church, of God’s people, and so, of God.

Is this why Jesus called us to be a part of his kingdom?  Of course not!

Jesus did not call us to be perfect citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, he knows that is beyond our abilities as sinners.  No, rather Jesus calls us to be imperfect, forgiven and forgiving, saints who struggle in our faith, and simply need to turn to him again and again for what we need, which is his love.

Jesus’ Church, or God’s kingdom is not about perfection, either world-wide or here at the ALC.  Rather, it’s about a community of people loved by God, who are trying to love one another, trying to love the world, and trying to love their Lord, day-in-and-day-out.  It’s not about self-righteousness, or self-sanctification, both of which are impossible for us, but about living within Jesus’ righteousness and holiness.

To sum it all up, which if you remember I was trying to stay away from doing; we are imperfect, sinful people whom God loves anyway.  We can never make ourselves perfect or sinless, but Jesus loves us anyway.  No one else can ever make themselves perfect or sinless, but Jesus loves them anyway.

What we can do though, is live in Jesus’ forgiveness.  Learn to forgive others, as we learn to forgive ourselves.  We can go to the Lord for faith, hope and love every day, and pray that the Lord gives us the opportunities and then the courage and strength to love the people we share this world with, even while we are trying to love ourselves, ‘cause Jesus is going to love us all anyway.

The world will know that we are Christians by our love!

Amen.

Bible References

  • Hebrews 11:29 - 40
  • Hebrews 12:1 - 3
  • John 13 - 13

Topics

            


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