Sermon – 06-02-19 – Easter 7 – Cycle C
Scripture – Acts 16:16-34; Psalm 97;
Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21; John 17:20-26
Sermon Title – “The Unity Circle”
Barbara says to me, “I am really tired of hearing about love in every sermon for weeks on end!” I say, “O, I am sorry that we seem to be in a groove or ditch, if you will, when it comes to overusing the idea of love.” Barbara goes on, “I guess love is a good subject once in a while, but aren’t there other things on which we should focus?”
I say, “Sure. We could focus on the ministry of Paul. He will be a good model for how we could be starting new churches. You know we need to let the phrase from the Bible about God ‘making all things new’ be part of our thinking and living. New church starts. New kinds of worship. New neighbors around the church. New neighbors around the church! Did I hear myself saying that? New neighbors?”
Barbara says, “Well, why don’t we see them in church?” I say, “Why don’t I go into the local bar?” “Oh,” says Barbara, “Why don’t you?” I say, “Well, I did not grow up going to bars.” “Oh,” says Barbara. Aren’t you curious about what happens in a bar?” I say, “Well, I have seen people come out of bars in worse shape than when they went in. They don’t really look happy at all. Why would I want to do that to myself?”
Barbara says, “Well, you could be inviting the unhappy people in the bar to try church.” “Oh-h-h-h!” I say. “What wisdom! Barbara you took the wind right out of my sails! Where was I?” Barbara’s turn, “You were talking about new things, weren’t you?” “Yes,” I say. “Okay, the next project I try is to walk into the closest bar to the church and use my portable microphone to invite everyone in the house to our church service which starts in a half hour.”
“Wait,” Barbara practically screams at me. “Would Jesus do it that way?” Then she adds, “Well, maybe Jesus would do it that way. Jesus surely did new things while he lived on earth.” Barbara goes on in a questioning way, “If I were the pastor and I wanted to enliven the lives of our neighbors in the bar, I would just climb on a stool beside someone who looked lonely, and I would just start a casual conversation like ‘Did you have a rough day?’ Then I would wait for an answer. Oh, I forgot, Barbara says. You should order something so you don’t make an enemy of the bartender from the start.”
“Good advice,” I say. “Will he be okay if I just order ginger ale?” Barbara says, “That should be okay.” Barbara continues with her directions to me. “Just drop in whenever you have a chance and find an empty stool beside a different person each time, if there are empty stools” You will hear some sad stories. Just listen. Nod your head. Or, shake your head. Look genuinely interested. You may be surprised when a bond happens. When people realize you have something that the bar cannot give them. Don’t forget to invite them to church or better still take church to the park.”
I say, “Barbara, that sounds like love to me. We do have this love that isn’t fluffy, sugary love but deep-down caring. How did we get this love? Jesus prayed for us to have this love in oneness with himself and the Father.”
But then I remember that not all of our new neighbors would be in bars. I picture all of those children and young people getting off the bus right at the church. I see them getting off the bus and walking toward their homes. I think, where do these young people live? Why don’t we see them except when they are getting off the bus? I say hello. They reply hello. What else could I be asking to develop some kind of conversation? How could I be sharing this love I am supposed to have which is tied with the love of the Father and of Jesus? I have a fixation about having a basketball and a net available on a patch of macadam. I have a picture of some of us having a snack and a cold drink ready for these young ones who have yet to see the inside of a church.
While I was sitting in air-conditioning appreciating a seminar on love being not the band-aid but the necessary ingredient for saving the world, you were taking the church out to the sidewalk and drawing people into the church even if not a word was said about God. You were increasing the feeling of neighbor. You were being Jesus to the neighbors probably even the young ones who get off the bus and disappear. I am assuming that the strawberry festival attracted them to a church. I am guessing that you had on your especially friendly faces. Even if today we wonder where these people are, you have made a difference. These experiences add up, they accumulate over time and, one day in the future, something may trigger that good experience and the person’s life is changed.
Changed lives. While you were having the strawberry festival and I was listening to Brian McLaren, more people were being killed by a senseless gunman. A woman being interviewed said, “Why would anyone do that?” Somewhere along the line, any loving experiences that person had in his life were swallowed by evil. The loving experiences were too sparse or not real enough to overcome Satan and his winning ways. This is my perception of what is happening in our social climate. Harsh treatment, scaring people, bullying people, putting down instead of building up. Punishment and threats do not improve behavior. Love and kindness and gentleness will transform lives.
Let us open our circle of love. Let us offer our hands without looking what kind of hand it is or how the rest of the body looks. Let us form a unity circle – a circle that includes the people in the bar, the young people getting off the school bus, the person living under the bridge, the persons in jail, the mentally ill people, the bullied person who was never loved, the wealthy person who never thinks of sharing, the person in power who does not know that he or she holds the power to improve the world or produce a chaotic society. So we have this huge, gigantic circle.
This circle will soon disband unless God is in the middle, and encircling joined hands, and in the hearts of increasing numbers of people. From Revelation, “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’” And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone, who wishes, take the water of life as a gift.” This gift of the water of life and the gift of sharing the love of the Father and the Son are not just for us. They are not ours to horde. They are not ours to keep secret. Let us share them or lose them!
Oh God! Bind us together with your love that we may all be one. Amen