SCRIPTURE: Acts 4:5-11; John 10:11-18
In the name of the God who creates us, redeems us, and gives us life. Amen!
As we look at another “What Next” issue after Easter, let me invite you as a congregation to “Trade Up.” Let us raise our vision, our perspective of what it means to be the church today.
Have we lost some of the spiritual roots that makes us less than God wishes us to be? If we think this way, then we tend to see ourselves as victims, “They took away our country.” We become aggressors, “we’re going to take it back.” We become defensive, “Circle the wagons.”
As aggressive, defensive, victims we can hardly carry the posture of Christ who came to seek and save the lost. Our faith calls us to see the world as needy neighbors who haven’t found the grace that has found us. We offer our love to others because as John 3:16 states, God loved them enough to send his Son to give them eternal life.
There are times and occasions in the spiritual life when we want to and need to look deeply inward. A periodic spiritual self-examination is essential. Yet to completely focus inward is to miss the whole thrust of Jesus’ life which was outward toward others. The greatest commandment, he said, was to love God and our neighbors. This is the fundamental quality of our faith.
Our faith raises our vision, from our self, our needs, our demons, to others, to the world, to God. We trade up in our perspective.
What next? I hope that as you continue your spiritual journey, that the Church will draw us to intimacy with God through prayer, meditation, and contemplation. I hope the Church will be an environment in which we can hear God’s word directed to our souls, to experiencing God’s call upon our lives now.
In the words of Paul, “the upward call of God in Jesus Christ.” (Phil. 3:14) However, intimacy with God is not just about God and me. It is about God calling you and me to share the joy of the Lord with others, to trade up. We lead by following God’s lead. God’s lead is to love all creation, the entire world. Whether we focus on the immensity of God or the intimacy of God, we are trading up because we are focused on God.
In the Acts passage for today, the disciples are challenged by the religious authorities, “By what power or authority did you heal this man?” They are being confronted with questions of motive: “Are you doing this for your own ego’s sake? Are you seeking advancement in some organization? Is this an act of religious showmanship? Are you seeking political power and influence? Are you seeking to trade up in position in God’s Kingdom?
The answer is they do these things in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Jesus is the expression of God’s life-giving love for all. It is the power, as the Gospel of John states, of the one who identifies himself as the good shepherd. He is the one who knows God intimately and God knows him.
His followers know him in the same way and he lays down his life for them, and he draws us all together in one flock to head us to an experience of God. In Jesus, we are traded-up into the presence of God. This is the one who by his words and work, by his teachings and actions, and now in our time by the presence of the Holy Spirit, leads us to trade up by demonstrating our relationship with God through life-giving love for our neighbors, the world.
The tenth chapter of the Gospel of John has Jesus mixing his metaphors – he’s the shepherd. No, he’s the gatekeeper. Actually, he’s the gate. He’s just so full of life. However, this description is clear: He is abundant life (10:10), overflowing, running off to others. Not fear, not blame, just nothing but life.
There is a short story entitled Parker’s Back by Flannery O’Conner. When the story begins, Parker is an adult, married, but not happily so, to a woman, Sarah Ruth, who is bland, one dimensional, a “flesh of evil” type.
Parker is a troubled man, puzzled, ashamed of himself, can’t understand himself. He has served in the military but now is a farm hand for an old woman who “looks at him the same way she looks at her old tractor-as if she had to put up with it because it was all she had.”
Parker has many tattoos on his body, everywhere except for his back. In a flashback, he remembers vividly seeing his first tattoo. At fourteen he saw a man at the fair with a tattoo. Parker had never “felt the least notion of wonder in himself” until then. Slowly but surely, he begins to accumulate tattoos. He has a couple of obscenities tattooed on his abdomen. He felt such things came from our appetites. Parker’s tattoos seemed to trace his inward search.
One day he rolls the tractor in the middle of the field. As he is thrown into the air he shouts, “God above!” The tractor and the lone tree in the field burst into flame. It is a kind of Moses’ burning bush experience for Parker. He then goes to town and gets a tattoo of Jesus on his back.
Afterward, “Parker sat for a long time on the ground in the alley behind the pool hall, examining his soul. He saw it as a spider web of facts and lies that was not at all important to him but which appeared to be necessary despite his opinion. The eyes of Jesus that were forever on his back were eyes to be obeyed.” (Parker’s Back, Flannery O’Conner, The Complete Stories, p. 527)
Through all his experiences Parker is trying to recognize the presence of God in his life. He is trying to understand his call. He is trying to draw the reckless, overpowering parts of his life together as a whole. He is about the task of trading up. It may not be in the form of a tattoo, for most people it isn’t, but God does put a mark on our lives, and provides markers for our journey.
In this congregation, we seek to trade up to be a stronger more dynamic community in relationship with God. Isn’t it interesting that creation starts in Genesis with two people in a garden, and the new creation in the Book of Revelation is a city.
The image we are pressing toward, our upward call, our drawing point of trading upward is a pulsating, life-giving, justice-affirming, creation-nurturing community that shares the joy of the Lord.
As we gather as a church here, may we come with a humble spirit, seeking to experience more of God so we can share more of God with others. That’s our true calling to trade up, to share the joy of the Lord with all the world. It’s what God did, “For God so loved the world…” And so shall we.
MAY THESE THOUGHTS GIVE YOU STRENGTH