|Posted by chesterlanducc on March 1, 2017 at 6:05 PM|
(For the Sunday before Lent as we celebrat Mardi Gras)
For our benediction at the end of worship today we are going to sing This Little Light of Mine and there is a second verse that we are going to sing that goes… “This Joy I have the World Didn’t Give to Me—This Joy I have the World Didn’t Give to Me—This Joy I have the World Didn’t Give to Me—No, the World Didn’t Give it, the World Can’t Take it Away.”
Today’s service is a celebration of this joy that comes from that deep and unknowable source of love and life that we often refer to simply as God and that we encounter in the life and ministry of Jesus.
As we prepare for Lent, we prepare to journey with Jesus through the villages and towns in Ancient Judea, along the dusty roads, encountering all kinds of people, and ultimately making our way to Jerusalem and the final solemn days of his ministry.
As we prepare for this journey, it is helpful to think of the gospels as really just four versions of the same story—a story about journey—each version told a little differently. And as we hear this ancient journey unfold, we see Jesus encountering on his journey those who society has thrown away or who have been labeled as unclean or untouchable or as pagans. And Jesus eats and drinks with them, and he touches them, and he heals them, and he spends time with them, and he loves them.
Now Jesus was a product of his culture and time, so we must always read the scriptures in this context, and we must always apply the over-arching truths of the Gospels to our own lived experiences in this world today.
For me at least, this means that the central truth of Jesus is that God is love and that God has made us for loving. When I take this truth with me on the journey, when I encounter people who are different than I am—if I take this truth and I love those people and I allow them to love me—than I, like Jesus, am transformed in God’s love.
And I remember those words… This Joy I have the World Didn’t Give to Me—This Joy I have the World Didn’t Give to Me—This Joy I have the World Didn’t Give to Me—No, the World Didn’t Give it, the World Can’t Take it Away.”
As I read and hear and imagine those Jesus meets on his journey, I can, as I imagine many of you can as well, relate to the people I have met along the way, the people who in some ways were different than me, and some of whom some in our society today might dismiss as lesser, or who some might hate or view with disgust because of their skin or their accent or their religion or their sexuality.
If you allow me, I am going to boast for a moment that I have been so lucky as to have loved and have been loved by some of these people who are in some ways different than I am, people I too have met along the journey—Muslims and Jews and Hindus and Atheists and even Christians. And I have been so fortunate to at different points in my life to have had best friends who are black and Hispanic and white. And I have had and still have deep and personal relationships with folks who are gay and lesbian and straight. I have loved and been loved by poor and wealthy people alike. I have been humbled by the love and generosity of individuals with developmental disabilities. And none of this, none of this love, none of these relationships, is strictly my own doing—it is always the result of simply trying to follow the example of Jesus.
In fact, there are all kinds of people I have met along my journey who I might have at one point in my life disliked or hated or thought they were immoral or lesser than myself based on their race, or sexuality, or class, or intellectual ability, or gender. And somehow, I have been lucky enough to have had my prejudices and biases challenged through relationships with others. And of course, each and every time I have gotten to know someone who I thought I knew because of the labels they carried, because they were Muslim or gay or black or disabled, because I have had the example of Jesus’ love, I have encountered the divine in those people and in those relationships and I have been humbled and transformed.
I think this is what Jesus’ journey is about—it is about the people he meets along the way to Jerusalem—on the journey—who through love transform him, and who he transforms through loving them. The ministry of Jesus is one of bringing wholeness to those who are in one way or another broken or cast away by society. And by loving and healing and being in relationships with these people, Jesus pushed the very boundaries of his religion and culture to the brink.
But even then, even despite the brutality of his death, love somehow found a way—love broke through the brokenness—love broke through the fear and oppression, and the life and the ministry of Jesus lived on. And we celebrate. We celebrate this love and this truth that God is love and that God has made us for loving. And we seek to love like Jesus loved. To love in ways that break down the walls of hate and fear and prejudice in our world.
And again, I remember these words… This Joy I have the World Didn’t Give to Me—This Joy I have the World Didn’t Give to Me—This Joy I have the World Didn’t Give to Me—No, the World Didn’t Give it, the World Can’t Take it Away.”
Indeed the world can’t take this Joy we have away, and today, in this holy space, we the members of Community Church, have made a commitment to love everyone—not just some of the people and not just some of the time—not just when it is convenient or easy or fits our values and understandings. We are a community of faith that affirms everyone as being in the image of God. And this means we seek to love you, not despite your race, or despite your sexuality, or despite your age, or despite your disability, but rather we seek to love all of who you are—to affirm all of the parts that make you precious to God.
This past week, Natalie, the leader of Our True Selves, a trans-gender support organization which has begun meeting monthly in our Church stopped in to chat with me and she stayed to have coffee with book group. I met Natalie last fall after she inquired about using our church as a meeting space for their group. We had lunch together and I have to admit I haven’t had a lot of experiences with transgender individuals—I’ve known transgender people but I have never sat down and broken bread with someone who is transgender.
Natalie is wonderful and funny and strong and I was lucky to have met her. But she is also a reminder to me that there are probably always going to be people on my journey who are in some ways different than myself that I will have to make an effort to let go of my prejudices and biases against, and to just as much as I can, just try to be as open to loving and being loved by those people as Jesus would.
It isn’t that it is always easy and it isn’t that it’s always simple. But we gather in this holy space to proclaim that God is love and that God has made us for loving, and that on our journey, like Jesus, we are going to meet people who are different than us, people who society has cast away, people who the world has done its damnest to break and to ruin and to hurt, and we must remember all the stories in the gospels where Jesus welcomes and heals and eats with and forgives all the various types of people who were shut out of his society. We must remember how Jesus loved and how Jesus calls us to love.
Now I know you have probably heard me preach a sermon like this before, and probably lately, but I at least need to be reminded all of the time that life is a journey and that on this journey we encounter opportunities to love and to be transformed by others. And we need to get out into the world and risk a bit because we were built, we were made, we were created in the image of God, to love and to be loved, and it is through this practice of loving others that we connect most fully to God.
Before I wrap up I just want to share one story about loving someone. We all have unlikely people in our lives we have loved or who have loved us. As some of you know, for about six or seven months between being a College Chaplain and being called as the minister here, I was the farm manager and Hiram Farm which services adults on the Autism Spectrum.
I will share one story, for their privacy I can’t share names, but during my second or third week at the Hiram I was working in the greenhouse and a young man, not much younger than me, who is Autistic, came over and gave me a big smile and a kiss on the cheek. This man, who can’t express his feelings in the same ways many of us in society can, found a way to express a deep truth about love to me. And it wasn’t despite his differences that he touched me, it was because of his differences that he was able to express love in such an intimate and powerful way. The only other man who I can remember ever kissing me on the cheek was priest expressing the peace of Christ.
I imagine we all have had had relationships with unlikely people who have reminded us that life is a journey and that God is love and God has created us for loving. And I say it one last time… This Joy I have the World Didn’t Give to Me—This Joy I have the World Didn’t Give to Me—This Joy I have the World Didn’t Give to Me—No, the World Didn’t Give it, the World Can’t Take it Away.”
Thanks be to God for God’s still speaking voice. Amen.