Be the Church: Love God

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A few weeks ago, I was driving on Veterans Memorial Parkway in Davenport when I saw something that made me deeply angry… maybe even furious.

If you don’t know Veterans Memorial Parkway, it’s between 53rd Street (to its south) and I-80 (to its north). It’s kind of a long winding edge-of-town road with fields on one side and occasional new developments on the other. And, as 53rd Street has gotten built up, Veterans is the fastest way to get from one side of town to the other.

And as I’m driving along, a car in front of me, going the same direction but one lane over, pulls over to the grassy median, slows down a bit, and tosses a plastic to go cup filled with punch out their window onto the grass. And I get mad. Because it’s normal car trash… and they could’ve just taken it wherever they were going and thrown it away there… and they slowed down to toss it, as though they were making a point by throwing their garbage away in the grass.

So as I pass them, I flip them off. I am a pastor, but I am also a person, and we do that sometimes.

And as they pass me and get ahead, the passenger puts his arm out the window and makes a show of doing the same thing to me. And I don’t know what these litterers do for a living, but they are people, and we do that sometimes.

And now I am seething. I don’t know why they did what they did. And they probably don’t know why I did what I did. And now, they are making rude gestures at me. And don’t they know that they shouldn’t throw their trash on the side of the road? I mean, c’mon. We’re trying to live in a society here!

But there’s nothing I can do. They go on ahead. I take my turn. I run my errands. And I spend some time being angry… maybe even furious.

And then… I caught myself.

I don’t like to be angry. I don’t want to be angry. And I certainly don’t want to be furious about a small-but-inconsiderate act that took all of a few seconds. In that moment when I flipped off some strangers who had dumped their trash on the side of the road, I was not being who I am called to be. I was not being who I am, deep down, where I am the most me.

Today, we’re continuing our sermon series titled Be the Church, about that list that the United Church of Christ has. And we’re almost at the end.

Be the Church. Protect the environment. Care for the poor. Forgive often. Reject racism. Fight for the powerless. Share earthly and spiritual resources. Embrace diversity. Love God. Enjoy this life.

And this week, we’re on this: Be the church; love God.

And our reading is from the book of Deuteronomy.

The Israelites lived in slavery in Egypt… until God called to Moses and said, “Bring my people out of Egypt to the land that I will give them. For I will make them a great people.”

And when God brought the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt—when God brought the Israelites into Canaan to have a nation of their own—God called Moses up the mountain and gave him a law for the people. God set them apart. God said, “You will not be like your neighbors in Canaan. You will be like this.”

And Moses took the law to the people. And he said,

“Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

And, sometimes, some of the people followed the law. And, sometimes, some of the people did not. And time passed; and the people remembered. Jewish people today pray while wearing tefillin—little boxes that hold little pieces of parchment with parts of the law written on them—on their foreheads and on their arms. And Jewish people today hang mezuzot—bits of parchment with parts of the law written on them—in decorative cases on their doorposts.

Of course, the point isn’t to literally recite the law to your children, or to talk about the law all the time, or to strap them to your hand or your forehead, or to engrave them on your doorposts. 

It’s to remember

It’s to love God with our words. It’s to love God with our actions. It’s to fix our thoughts on God and to make our homes into holy places.

Love God with all our hearts, and with all our souls, and with all our might. Love our neighbors as ourselves. Everywhere. All the time.

One of the hard things about being a pastor is that a pastor isn’t just a pastor on Sunday mornings… or during office hours… or when we’re visiting someone in a hospital room. A pastor is a pastor… all the time. Even when we don’t want to be. Even when someone just pulled over to the grassy median, slowed down a bit, and tossed a plastic to go cup filled with punch out their window onto the grass.

And one of the hard things about being a Christian is that a Christian isn’t just a Christian on Sunday mornings… or during committee meetings… or on mission trips. A Christian is a Christian… all the time.

We are called to love God with all our hearts, and with all our souls, and with all our might. We are called to love our neighbors as ourselves. We are called to love God by loving our neighbors… and by protecting the environment and caring for the poor and forgiving often and rejecting racism and fighting for the powerless and sharing earthly and spiritual resources and embracing diversity… and so much more.

We are called to called to love God with our words and our actions and our thoughts. We are called to make our homes and our businesses and our schools and our town halls and our communities into holy places. We are called to make our world into a holy place.

Everywhere. All the time.

And I know… that’s hard. I fail at it. Everywhere. All the time.

And it would be nice if being a Christian was like having a Netflix account. Where we could just kind of do this thing when we felt like it. Where we could just get the content that we want. Where I could say that, in that moment, I wasn’t acting as a Christian.

But it’s not. Being a Christian is like joining the Peace Corps. It gives so much. And it asks a lot: all of our hearts and all of our souls and all of our might. 

It asks a lot: our commitment to follow the God who loved the world by becoming one of us, by teaching us to love and live and be human, by going to the cross and the tomb, by rising again.

It asks a lot: our work to sow love where there is hatred, pardon where there is offense, union where there is discord, truth where there is error, faith where there is doubt, hope where there is despair, light where there is darkness, and joy where there is sorrow.

It asks a lot. It asks everything. And, in that moment when I was driving along Veterans Memorial Parkway, I was failing to live up to my calling. Not just my calling as a pastor, the calling that I affirmed when I took my ordination vows; but my calling as a Christian, the calling that I affirmed when I made promises to a congregation and to God at my confirmation.

And that happens. And we get up. And we do better.

And that is a big, bold, wild, dangerous, grace-filled thing to do. So thank God I know some people who can do big, bold, wild, dangerous, grace-filled things. Thank God I know some people who can be leaders in doing big, bold, wild, dangerous, grace-filled things. Thank God I know some folks who can be the church.

Everywhere. All the time. Amen.

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I’m a pastor, an author, and a nonprofit development and communications professional. My passion, my mission, and my calling is bringing people together to do good, with a particular focus on serving people who are experiencing poverty and other forms of marginalization.

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