“Jesus said to Judas (not Iscariot), “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” “Those who love me …”
In trying to find an adequate theological reference that illustrates this love that we are called to show God, I discovered Nan, a theologian of little renown and a profound understanding of the gospel. “Dear God, Nan writes, “I bet it’s hard for you to love all of everybody in the world. There are only 4 people in our family and I can never do it.”
I have never met Nan, but I like her. Nan is a second grader, and I think that she struggles just as we do. “Those who love me …, Jesus says…” but how am I supposed to do THAT? What is a Christian to do? How do we show that we love God?
And how do we as Christians show our love to the world when we cannot love our own families? The early church was full of enthusiasm and recognized quite clearly the voice of the Holy Spirit. Paul had a vision and immediately followed his call to go to Macedonia. The early church spread with the help of the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus had told them. “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” Our predecessors knew the voice of the Holy Spirit and were informed by it.
How easy faith sounds when we know for sure that we are hearing the Holy Spirit. How easy it is to love God the Father when we have the very recent reassurance that God is with us! We remember Jesus, or at least people who knew him, saw him, as a friend, teacher, one who committed treason … he was not far away from our lives. How far away we feel now … removed … maybe even complacent. Yes, we’re Christians, yes, we believe in Christ crucified and raised for us. You just have to believe us. Come to church, and believe.
How different this is from Paul’s journey as described by Rev. Suzanne E. Watson:
A few first-century travelers set out on a journey. They are on fire with the Holy Spirit. Their traveling conditions are tough, funds are tight, and there is frightening opposition to the group they represent in some of the places they plan to visit. Despite all this, they set out with conviction and faith. They’ve mapped out where they will go, retracing the steps that one of them took on a previous journey. Then one night, one of them has a vision. Because they believe the vision is calling them to proclaim the Good News in a way different than they had initially thought, they immediately change their plans and set off in a new direction.
What faith. What dedication. What a commitment to sharing the message, story and life of Jesus Christ with others.
What is the difference between those early followers and members of our church today? “They are on fire with the Holy Spirit.”
Early Christians gathered in secret or travelled a long way in order to share the gospel message. In NY today we do not live in fear about practicing our faith; we are able to come to church and not face punishment or death. We do not have to take voyages of many months; we can find fellow Christians next door, or down the street, at work and at restaurants. We gather in an easy manner, glad to be together and without fear of violent attacks on – or for – our beliefs.
In Paul’s time, travel was both necessary for the spread of the gospel, and it was uncertain and dangerous. There was no guarantee of safety or of finding fellow Christians at the end. In fact, Paul and Jesus’ other followers were “church planters,” sharing a new message wherever they went. Imagine their joy at meeting Lydia! Lydia met them, talked with them, then housed – read “financed” – them. She supported these courageous Christians in a very tangible way. She showed them the love of God that they were proclaiming, and she helped to spread the Christian kingdom.
Danger, uncertainty, and lack of finances were a problem in the early Church. Some of those problems are with us today. I propose that one big difference between the early church members showing love for God and for Jesus, however, is the level of passion involved. Early Christians were ON FIRE for love of Christ!! Are you on fire? How many of us are on fire with passion, love for the gospel message of our risen Lord?
Our forefathers had a clear message to tell; they were certain of their mission and their task. Their task was to tell of the redeeming power and love of Jesus Christ. We have the same task today! We have the same clear message, which is Truth. When we get lost in details, squabble about who does what, who sits in which pew, “forget” to pray, we run the risk of forgetting to share the gospel. It is the gospel that informs and transforms everything that we as Christians do. Do not forget the fire, lest we lose focus on our mission.
So what? There is a link between the Christianity of long ago and the Christianity today. It is the same faith, handed down generation after generation, millennium after millennium. And – the fire of the Holy Spirit is still burning! God longs for us to be God’s enthisiastic children, to become alive again in His love and in the love of Christ for us. When we have that love, we cannot help but show it to others, in the way we live, the way we worship, and the way that we are stewards of all that we have been give. You know, there are times when our faith is alive and strong, a constant on which other people rely, on which other people find strength, even when we do not recognize the growth that is happening. The Lord opened Lydia’s heart to the message that Paul brought: “The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul.” We are supposed to put ourselves in places and situations in which God and Jesus Christ can open our ears and our hearts so that we can listen eagerly to our message of hope and salvation. Sometimes it takes many years for us to be ready to receive and to respond to God’s messages. Sometimes the messages are there and we shut our ears to them; we are not ready. God waits. God waits for us to be messengers of God’s love, for us to be ready to share this love with the world. Our sharing is our showing of God’s love in our lives.
HOW we show this love will be like others in that we share a common liturgy with Episcopalians and Anglicans throughout the world. How we show this love will be unique in the way that we at St. Peter’s embodies the message and calls it forth. Catherine of Siena wrote: “be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” So we carry out our love for God and our thankfulness in a way that only St. Peter’s can do. We know that we feed people way. It is a strength in our ministry to the world. We may know that our building is at use almost every day, from those who rent our brick and mortar and those to whom we offer it as outreach. You may not know that over a dozen of our parishioners have a ministry in caring for the elderly, through their long-time volunteer work with the Episcopal Senior Life Center. We are called to fan the flame of who we already are with the fire and power of the Holy Spirit.
To whom are we supposed to show our love of God? (Everybody.) Paul travelled far away in order to baptize Lydia and her family. We have people who seek God who are close to home. Invite them to join us for a meal, a breakfast forum, coffee in our homes or some convenient place; invite them to talk with me; invite someone to church. Offer to pick them up and bring them here and we’ll all go out to lunch afterwards. These are ways that we grow the church, living into who we are and what we are called to do. We find ways to bring them into our family. Might someone want to walk with us this afternoon or for a lifetime? Together let’s find those with strong faith who can ignite the faith of others. Together let’s find and nurture those who are waiting to be filled with Christ.
It is in our faith that we find our strength, our joy, and our peace. Help one another find the peace that only God can give. Ignite the fire of the Holy Spirit through prayer, study, and evangelism. Yes, evangelism; the action of bringing a friend to church or to walk or to share coffee (and faith along the way) is evangelism. It is that easy and that hard. Help us share the lasting presence and eternal peace of God.
Let’s be who God meant for us to be and set the world on fire.