Nov 22 – In a world of “No”, keeping God’s “yes” alive
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Nov 22 – In a world of “No”, keeping God’s “yes” alive
Marshall Fields of the famous Marshall Field’s department stores donated a million dollars to the University of Chicago. Well, this really upset Northwestern University because Marshall Fields is an alumni of Northwestern. So they asked him, why did you give all of that money to the University of Chicago and not to us? And Marshall Fields responded, You didn’t ask? Well, I don’t want to repeat the Northwestern mistake. I’m asking I’m humbly asking. This is the time of year where we invite you to to generously invest in the mission and the ministries of First Presbyterian Church.
You know, if your only connection with us is online, maybe through Facebook or Instagram or our Web page or or maybe television, we are so glad that you connected with us and that we have this virtual community together. And I’m asking that you might consider a generous gift that will allow us to continue to bring a message of hope across the world in the year ahead. If you’re part of our congregation, if you’re a friend or a member of our congregation, if you are a partner in our mission here at First Presbyterian, this next year will be so critical.
I’m asking you to to generously invest in our mission in the challenging days that most certainly lie ahead.
I’m asking you to help us to be a beacon of hope in our mission statement here at First, Presbyterian is creating spaces of grace to cultivate hope, healing and purpose. You know, the tents scattered throughout our commons just on the other side of this wall and scattered around our Heritage Hall. Our old sanctuary to me could not be a more beautiful picture of a space of grace as we’ve opened our doors to allow our houseless friends to to get out of the freezing cold winter nights and have a safe and warm place to sleep.
And that’s only possible because of you, because of your generosity and your love, you know, First Presbyterian Church has been a strong and steady and reliable presence of Christ’s love in Bend and throughout the world for one hundred and seventeen years. Life is so hard right now. So many challenges, you know, life is is heartbreaking in so many ways. You know, it would be tempting to just simply retreat in fear. It’d be tempting right now to just do our best to survive this chapter that we’re living through.
That’s not who we are and that hope, that hope is far too small. This is no time to retreat in fear. This is the time to step forward and faith. This is the time to show how we love to love like never before. You know, this is such a time of uncertainty and things seem so kind of tenuous. What is certain — is God’s steadfast love. What is certain is the promise in scripture that God’s love endures forever.
What is certain is that First Presbyterian Church has always been counted on and will continue to be counted on to be a presence of that love where and when it is needed the most. What is certain is that promise in scripture that says you are created in the image of God’s goodness and there is a goodness and a love that resides within your heart that is stronger than any challenges we can possibly face. We turn the temperature up in the sanctuary, so that are our guests, because there’s also tents scattered around the sanctuary can keep warm.
I have to confess, I’m sweating. I was reading an article this past week that suggested that cynicism, there is this widespread cynicism in our culture right now, and this cynicism is creating a heartless culture. This article suggested that that cynicism is eating away at our collective soul and fueling a sense of despair.
You know, cynicism is framing the world in terms of what is wrong, framing the world in terms of what you are against. Cynicism is telling you why things won’t work. Cynicism is criticizing those who try to make it work. Cynicism is looking for who is to blame, who is the enemy? Cynicism is grounded in fear and self-preservation. Cynics always say no, you know, Proverbs 4:23 says diligently guard your heart from your heart, everything else flows.
Life is so impossibly hard right now, covid-19 seems to be spreading out of control.
We’re facing another another shut down kind of sheltering in place to try to flatten the curve, to protect those who are most vulnerable and at risk. You know, that’s really what love looks like, is making those kind of sacrifices for the common good. But it’s hard and life just feels so impossibly hard and heavy right now. I know. I feel it too. But what’s vital, what’s vital is to protect our hearts, to guard our hearts, to not give in to cynicism and despair.
I mean, one of the most brave and radical things that we can do right now, when all of our impulses might be to kind of close our hearts. Is to keep our hearts open. To remind ourselves and to remind each other that there is a goodness and goodness that lies in the very depths of our hearts. And that goodness is stronger than any challenge that we can possibly face. Guard your heart, don’t give in to despair and cynicism, you know, there is this beautiful passage in Second Corinthians, chapter one, verse 20, where it says. That Jesus is God’s great Amen, I mean, the word Amen means so be it, that Jesus is God’s way of saying so be it.
And I love this. It says that Jesus. Is God’s yes to the world and that we have been given that same spirit of yes, that in a world that shouts no around every corner. Our mission is to be God’s yes in this world. I mean, yes, has a completely different kind of energy about it. Yes begins things. Yes opens doors when others shut the door. Yes thinks that you can accomplish those things that others tell you can’t be done.
Yes opens the gate that mercy and compassion can flow. Yes not only sees the goodness in yourself but yes. Is able to see the goodness in others.
Friends, how can we keep that, yes, God’s yes, alive in our hearts, how can we as a church be a visible and loud expression of God’s yes in the world right now? I mean, I think of those tents scattered in our commons at this moment. That is God’s yes.
We’re welcoming into our doors folks who have been told a thousand and one times, no, no, no. But, maybe with a warm welcome, a comfortable place to sleep, food to eat, and people to let them know that that they’re valued and worthy, they might hear and experience God’s yes. That’s our job. So in these challenging times when the whole world seems to be shouting no right now, how can we keep that yes alive?
How can we encourage and nurture the “yes” in one another’s hearts? You know, one of my favorite my favorite disciples of Jesus is Peter, I so get Peter and in the Gospel of John, Chapter 21, The Risen Christ asked Peter, “Do you love me?” Now we can understand why Jesus was asked that question. On the night when Jesus was was arrested and taken away, it was Peter who who denied even knowing Jesus not once, but three times.
I mean, Jesus was arrested. Peter feared for his own life. I mean, who can blame Peter? You know, what I suspect is that Peter blamed himself on the night of the Last Supper, remember the night of the Last Supper, Peter declared, Jesus, I I’m the one I will never, ever betray you.
But there on that night when Jesus needed him the most. Peter retreated in fear not once, but three times. I suspect it was Peter who was disappointed in himself. You know, I don’t know about you, but I get that. I know that feeling of not living up to your own expectations of yourself. I know that feeling of not being able to live up to others expectations of you.
I know that feeling of just being ashamed, disappointed in yourself. Do you know that feeling? I mean, Peter, I love Peter. He’s so human. So here Peter was on this grand adventure with Jesus of love and and healing and hope and in that critical moment when Jesus needed him the most. He retreated in fear, not once, but three times. You know, I think that really is the challenge. The challenge we face every day, the challenge to choose love over fear.
One hundred and one times a day, we’re presented this opportunity to either fold into fear, or to lean a little closer into love.
One hundred and one times a day we’re faced with this challenge. Will we succumb to despair?
Will we trust that goodness? That goodness is stronger than the challenges we face? So on the beach after the resurrection, Jesus asked Peter three times, Do you love me? Now, on the night that Jesus was arrested. Three times, Peter denied Jesus. And in this moment on the beach, Jesus just makes all of that undone, he frees Peter from all of that. Now, what I want you to notice is that Jesus doesn’t demand that Peter explain himself.
Justify yourself, justify your behavior. Jesus doesn’t condemn Peter, doesn’t make him apologize promise to never do it again. Jesus spends no time shaming Peter or making him feel guilty. You know, I want to repeat that just in case you might carry with you some some wounds from your religious your religious experience in the past. Jesus spends no time shaming Peter or making him feel guilty. Jesus loves Peter, believes in Peter, affirms Peter, trusts Peter as imperfect and human, unbelievably human as Peter is.
Jesus trusts Peter with the mission of his life. If you love me, Jesus says to Peter, attend my lambs, feed my sheep, carry on my work, be God’s yes to the world.
Here’s what I want us to remember today, that just like Christ came to Peter, Christ comes to us.
Not in condemnation, but wanting to remind us even now that we are the beloved children of God, we are created in the image of God’s own goodness. It is so important to remember that, to claim that, to believe that, to trust that, to allow the truth of that to seep into your bones right now that you are created in the image of God’s own goodness.
When you can hold the truth of that, you can’t help but embody that goodness in the world. Christ doesn’t come to us in judgment telling us how small and unworthy and insignificant we are.
Christ comes to remind us how important we are to God’s purposes that we are God’s partner. Christ comes to remind us, as Jesus said, you are light for all the world. He doesn’t point a finger at us. You know, you should be light. You could have been light if you tried harder.
You are light. Christ doesn’t come to us saying, no. Christ comes to us reminding us in this moment at this time. We are God’s “yes”, to the world. Christ comes to remind us that God’s people are hungry. Hungry for food, hungry for love, hungry for acceptance, hungry for friendship. Hungry for justice. Hungry for hope.
“Do you love me?”, Jesus asked. Feed my sheep, you know, we open the doors to invite our houseless neighbors and friends to have a safe place to sleep at night.
This past week reminds me of the story of Father Greg Boyle told of the church. He served that open their doors and allowed the houseless to sleep in their church at night. And Father Boyle said that there was this faint evidence of a smell that the houseless, those who have no access to showers, no access to laundry. When the congregation would gather for worship on Sunday morning. There was always this kind of a faint evidence that the houseless had slept there the night before.
Now, the smell was never overwhelming, but it was kind of an undeniably there and it didn’t take long. It’s a church, didn’t take long for grumbling to settle in, and people started to talk about going to church elsewhere. So Father Boyle decided to confront the situation. So in his sermon on a Sunday morning, he looks at the congregation and asks, what does the church smell like? People were shocked. They got really uncomfortable. Their eyes looked down. They started to get kind of fidgety in their seats.
So he asked again, what does the church smell like? Now, Don Rafael, who always spoke his mind and could care less what other people thought, kind of shouted from the back, it smells like feet.
And Father Boyle said, exactly. “Why does the church smell like feet?”, he asked. And one woman said, Because we invited the houseless to spend the night and sleep in these pews last night. And Father Boyle said, yes, so why on God’s earth would we allow that to happen in this beautiful and sacred sanctuary? And somebody responded, “it’s because that’s what Jesus would do”. That’s what our commitment is…. And, Father Boyle smiled and said, “exactly”.
So tell me again, what does the church smell like? And somebody bellowed from the back, “it smells like Jesus”. “It smells like our commitment”, and the congregation cheered.
And there was one woman kind of waving her arms to get everybody’s attention. And when everyone was quiet, she said. It smells like roses. It smells like love. Friends, this is no time to retreat in fear. This is the time to step forward and faith to love like never before, to be God’s yes in the world. You know, the days ahead are uncertain, things very well could get worse before they get better.
But here’s what I’m certain of. I’m certain that God’s love is steadfast, that God’s love endures forever, a love we’re promised from which we can never be separated, a love revealed in Jesus stronger than even death itself. And here’s what I’m certain of, first Presbyterian Church can be counted on to be a presence of that love where and when it is needed the most. And I’m certain of that because of you, because of the goodness and generosity that resides in your heart. So guard your hearts, my friends.
Allow that, yes, to stay alive in your heart and remember, love wins, love always wins. And if love isn’t winning, it just simply means the story isn’t over. You are God’s yes to the world, may it be so.