Oct 15th: When Christianity Works: Loving and Serving Our Neighbor, with Rev. Dr. Steven Koski.
A Part of the Series:
When Christianity Works: Loving and Serving Our Neighbor with Rev. Dr. Steven Koski. Series: Postures for a Christ-Centered Life A Spacious Christianity, First Presbyterian Church of Bend, Oregon. Scripture: Matthew 22.36-40; 1 John 3.16-18; Matthew 22.24-27.
Christianity’s core is love and service, as exemplified by Jesus. When practiced authentically, it prioritizes serving others over self-interest. The church’s role is to embody this selfless love, especially during crises. Love and service are the ultimate tests of faith.
When Christianity is working, what we care passionately about is serving our neighbor. When Christianity isn’t working, what we care about is Christianity, and serving ourselves. Now the longer I live longer I’ve been in ministry, the less I believe, but what I do believe, I believe wholeheartedly, and I believe wholeheartedly wholeheartedly in the power of love. And that the purpose of our lives is to be servants of love, the kind of love revealed in Jesus. Friends, if we fail at love, we fail at everything else. Now, this isn’t a new idea. Jesus was once asked by a scholar out of the 623 commandments that make up the law of Moses, which one’s most important. Jesus said, Love. The greatest commandment is, is love. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. And the best way to do that is to love and serve your neighbor as yourself. First, John three, says this. This is how we know what love is. Jesus laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions, and sees a brother or sister in need, but has no compassion, how can the love of God be in that person? Do children let us not love with our words are speech, but with actions, and in truth. Now, the author of First John is writing this particular letter to some house churches in the early stages of formation. And he’s trying to teach them what’s most important. The Christianity is relatively new. In fact, they actually weren’t called Christians yet. They were called people of the way, you know, the way of Jesus the way of love. And this new religion occupied a very, very fragile place in the social structure of the first century. Just as Christianity Today seems to occupy a very fragile place in our world, so it was absolutely critical for the early church leaders to make to make sure the heart of the Gospel, the essence of our faith, the core of what it means to be a follower of Jesus, would be passed on. Now the author of First John had had no doubt at all, about what was most important. It wasn’t an understanding of the Trinitarian nature of God. It wasn’t a theology of sin and human nature. It wasn’t a more holistic view of human sexuality. It wasn’t the kind of church government they should follow. It wasn’t a description of the kind of worship they should practice and the kind of music that they should sing. What the author of First John felt, was more important than anything else to pass on from generation to generation. Was the commandment to love like Jesus. Love is this he said, just as Jesus lay down his life for us. So we ought to lay down our lives for one another. We ought to lay down our busy schedules. To serve those in need. We ought to lay down our prejudices and bias just to serve those who are different from us, even our enemies, we ought to lay down our comfort zones, go to the margin serve those who are marginalized, we ought to lay down our self centeredness and focus on the flourishing of others. Maybe even lay down our Bibles, or theology, or rules or regulations, and be servants of love. The kind of love patterned after the life of Jesus, when Christianity is working, what we care passionately about, is loving and serving our neighbor. When Christianity isn’t working, what we care about is Christianity and serving ourselves. Now a dispute arose among the disciples can actually imagine this argument happening happening in the church today, where they were arguing about which of them was considered to be the greatest. And Jesus responded the greatest among you must be like the one who serves. I am among you as one who serves. You know what I think of how the how the church today might take on a Christ like posture of servanthood I think of Nino’s. Nino’s is an ordinary family style restaurant on Canal Street in lower Manhattan. It’s nothing special. It’s a neighborhood place with with a friendly bar and plain wooden tables. Well, you could get a big bowl with a big a big bowl of spaghetti, and a bottle of Kiante for a decent price. If you’re looking for some trendy place written up in the New York Times bestseller list, you’d walk right past Nino’s without a second glance. This all changed 22 years ago, on September 11th, the day we call 911. EC 22 years ago on September 11, Nino’s which was near Ground Zero, closed its doors to the general public. And then it quickly opened its doors again to a whole new clientele. For months, months after that life changing event Nino’s with the help of countless volunteers served 7000 meals a day, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to hungry customers who didn’t pay a dime, customers hungry for sustenance, to replenish their worn out bodies, customers hungry, hungry for hope. In the midst of of sheer and unspeakable devastation, customers hungry, hungry for a place to weep. And for people to weep with. Now these new customers being served. We’re in New York’s finest police officers, firefighters, members of the Port Authority construction workers, Red Cross workers, disaster relief volunteers, all of those serving on the front lines of Ground Zero. Now, if you found yourself at Nino’s 22 years ago, you’d see a police officer unable to keep his eyes open one moment longer, fast asleep over his food. You’d see a six foot five inch fireman on his way in with only tracks of tears, revealing his true color of skin beneath a suit smeared face. You’d hear the Southern accents of a church group from South Carolina who had come for two weeks to wash the walls of strangers apartments. You you’d see several times a day trucks arriving from everywhere, all around the country with donations of food and drink to resupply the tables freely given to those who need it the most. you’d notice a strange sort of bond between the 1000s who came to eat each day. And those who volunteered to serve them. You’d hear stories in hushed and reverent tones. Speaking of the courage and selflessness of the real heroes, the truly great those who die trying to save the lives of others. You know, you’d realize it would be hard to tell who was the most impressive who who among them was the most important who among them was that was the greatest? Was it the mayor who stopped by to offer words of encouragement sitting at the table over there? Or the young widow from Queens who was pouring his coffee was at the Harvard Graduate washing dishes in the kitchen. Or the construction worker sipping soup who had dropped out of the 10th grade Nino’s nothing special really, certainly not in the top 10 places to eat But now and then a light breaks through the smoky air of this troubled world. And we get a glimpse of what the kingdom of God really looks like. I remember in a previous church, I was visiting an elderly woman who had fallen and broken her hip. We talked and then we, we prayed together. As I was getting up to leave, I asked, Is there anything I can do for you? Without hesitating, without hesitating, she said, Can you do my dishes? I’m not actually able to stand and, and they’re beginning to pile up. So would you mind washing my dishes? I was not expecting that request. When I asked if there was anything I could do to help, but honestly, I think I was just being polite, and nice. I really, I really didn’t expect her to take me up on my offer. And the reality is, she probably needed me to wash your dishes. A whole lot more than she needed my prayers in that moment. You know, as my sleeves are rolled up, and as I was washing her dishes, while she stayed in the other room watching television, I realized that we church folks place a high value on being polite, and being nice, you know, saying the right things, believing the right things. But does our behavior reflect the one we say we believe in? Are we more focused on serving Christianity and ourselves than we are? On serving our neighbors? This question reminds me of a story told by Fawad bought in an Arab Christian pasture in Beirut in 1983. During the Arab Israeli war, Israel’s armies drove into Lebanon, and members of banabans Christian Church began, they began to buy up all of the canned goods that they could, so that they would survive a rumored Israeli search. And it happened it did happen. West Bay route was totally cut off. And so the session of the church met to decide how to how to distribute the food that they had collected. Two proposals were put on the table. The first was to distribute the food to church members, and then other Christians. And last if if there was any left, to their Muslim neighbors. Now the other proposal was quite quite different. First, food would be given to their Muslim neighbors, then to other Christians. And finally, really, there was any leftover to church members. And that was a Presbyterian Church. So you wouldn’t be surprised that the meeting lasted six hours. But it ended when an older quiet, much respected elder. A woman stood up and said if we do not demonstrate the love of Christ, in this place, who will? And so the second motion giving food to their Muslim neighbors first past friends may may that be the burning question that guides us if we do not demonstrate the love of Christ in this place at this time who will? If we fail at love, we fail at everything else. Would you pray with me? Holy God you know in the end of our days we long to hear those words. Well done. My good and faithful servant. We asked you to change our hearts rather than focusing on on what? What we’d like you to do for us May we be those who ask what can we do for you? How can we be servants of your love? May the Spirit of Christ’s love who was among us as one who serves me that spirit of love dwells deep in our hearts, that we might become the servants of that love. Amen.