Sermon for Oct. 28, 2018 -- Reaching Out


A sermon preached by Terry McGinley `10-28-2018 Pardeeville

(John 15:5-17 and Matthew 25:31-40)

     We continue this morning to look more closely at our church’s mission statement…words that serve as a measuring stick for the projects we undertake and as a description of what we are about both to ourselves and to others.  Last week, we offered examples of good mission statements and not so good mission statements.  Here’s two more.  A good mission statement is like the one that Kickstarter® has.  Kickstarter® is a crowdfunding site on the Internet.  Their mission statement is simply this:  To help bring creative projects to life.  Concise and to the point!  A mission statement that could use some more work belongs to MGM Resorts International® who says, "MGM Resorts International is the leader in entertainment & hospitality--a diverse collection of extraordinary people, distinctive brands and best in class destinations."  I would say this isn’t really a mission statement but nothing more than a favorable description of the company.

     We’ve already looked into what “a caring community of God’s people” says about our church’s mission.  We are God’s people in the largest possible sense…encompassing a group that stretches around the world but we are also God’s people right here in Pardeeville.  And one of the reasons the words “a caring community of God’s people” comes at the beginning of our mission statement is because we first learn about God here…before we spread out to share it with others.  We first discover how Jesus treated people here…before we go out to tell anyone else.

     This brings us to the middle section of our mission statement:  “living by Christ’s teaching and reaching out to others to share the love of God.”  Christ taught us how to live many times and in many ways…not only by the words he spoke but also by the things he did.  All of those actions and words can be summarized in a phrase from the reading we heard this morning from the Gospel according to John.  “Love each other just as I have loved you.”  Jesus described our relationship with him using the analogy of a vine and its branches.  The vine is the source of life as Jesus is the source of our life.  The only way we are going to bear fruit…to make things happen…to advance the kingdom of God… is by staying connected to the vine.  There’s something else going on here though.  Because we stay connected to Jesus, we are able to see the way that Jesus loved others, including us.  We are able to love others because Jesus loves us.  He spoke in this passage about the love he has for us…love that allowed him to give up his life for us, whom he calls his friends.  That’s another example from Jesus about how to treat others.  What’s wrong with treating other people as friends?!  Rather than treat others as servants who must cater to our every whim, when we treat those we meet as friends, we make it easier to truly love them. 

     Our mission statement also encourages us to reach out to others to share the love of God.  This is re-gifting but in a good way.  Those of you who are fans of the TV show Seinfeld may remember an episode in which Elaine gives her dentist a label maker for Christmas.  A month later, that same dentist gives Jerry the very same label maker and the word “regifter” is reintroduced into our vocabulary as a person who gives the something they have received to someone else…taking undeserved credit for doing so.  Used in this context, the word “regifter” has a negative connotation.  It’s something one should avoid.  While it is true that we first receive love from Jesus, regifting that love might better be described as sharing Jesus’ love.

     The action words in this part of our church’s mission statement though, are the words “reaching out”.  Those two words indicate a willingness on our part to be proactive in loving others.  We don’t wait to be asked.  We extend Christ’s love willingly to others, mainly because we understand how welcome it has been in our lives.  Just as Jesus compared our relationship to him using the vine and the branches, the reading we heard this morning from the Gospel according to Matthew gives us specific categories…ways in which we can reach out to others.  This is the only real description we have from scripture about what the last day will be like…judgment day if you will.  If you continue reading this passage though, you’ll see that Jesus also addressed the other group assembled on the last day.  He asked them the opposite question:  why DIDN’T you help me?  Some of this story we could have guessed, right?  We should know that, on judgment day, there would be some sort of separation of good and bad.  Then there would be certain criteria on which a judgment would be based.  And that the good would go to heaven and the bad would go somewhere else.  Now it is entirely up to God to save and it is entirely up to God to decide who will go to which destination.  But I think this passage gives us insight as to what matters to God and what may positively or negatively influence how God decides for each of us.

     Jesus reviews the list with each group.  I was hungry; I was thirsty; I was a stranger; I was naked; I was sick; I was in prison.  Almost all of these things were typical Jewish acts of mercy.  And, after speaking to each group, Jesus invites the righteous to heaven but discharges the others to eternal punishment.  What I find interesting about this passage are the answers from the two groups.  Not so much the way the bad group protests and asks, “When did we see you in all these conditions and not help you?”  This group was not looking out for other people.  They did not see the face of Christ in anyone else.  Had Jesus himself needed something they might have acted but when Christ told them “I was hungry, I was thirsty”…they took it very literally and answered, “When did we see YOU?”

     The real surprise, for me, comes in the answer that the righteous people offer.  Mainly because it’s the same answer!  I found it odd at first that this group would not equate helping others around them, whom Jesus called “the least of these”, with helping Christ.  How could anyone miss that?  Well, I think I understand their answer a bit differently now.  This group acted to feed and visit and clothe and welcome intentionally at first…following Jesus’ example and reaching out to others.  But the activities soon became habits.  They continued to offer others what they needed but perhaps only made a subconscious connection to doing the same for Christ.  They began to do these things not because Jesus said so…not because someone might be watching.  They reached out to others because it was the right thing to do.  This is the way habits develop. 

     You’ve probably experienced this in your own life…something that was difficult for you to do at first that has become a habit, something that you do naturally.  For me, it was wearing a seatbelt!  Do you remember when the state of Wisconsin adopted a mandatory seat belt law back in the 1980s?  I honestly don’t remember how often I used a seat belt before that law but I know it was not 100 percent of the time.  I was in the business of repairing cars then.  I might drive six or more cars a day so I had to force myself to buckle up every single time I went somewhere.  Part of the reason for doing this was to avoid paying the fine I suppose but soon it made sense to wear a seatbelt so that, if I were to get into an accident, I would have a much better chance at survival.  At first, I had to remind myself to use a seat belt when I got into a car…any car.  And there were plenty of times when I forgot and just blasted off.  It’s not nearly as easy to put on a seatbelt while you’re driving!  But then it happened.  I remember I was driving home from work one day.  I was half way there when I remembered to put on my seatbelt…but my seat belt was already on!  Buckling up was now a part of my normal routine.  I’d say it took about three weeks but putting on a seatbelt when I get into a vehicle is now as natural as turning the key to get it started.  I don’t really think about it being a safety issue anymore.  It’s just a habit.  I do it automatically.  So I think the folks that Jesus is welcoming into heaven in today’s Gospel text may not have consciously recognized Jesus in those they helped.  It may have become a habit for them to do those things.  It’s reminiscent of the Jeremiah passage we looked at last week, when God promises to write God’s law on the hearts of the people.  By doing so, God’s law will become a part of their nature…which is now our nature.

     Our affirmation of faith this morning comes from the Confession of 1967 and is one of my all-time favorites.  It speaks to several ways members of the church go out.  People gather at the church for several reasons but, if there is no response to what happens while we’re here, well, what’s the point?  Look at the ways our affirmation of faith describes how we go out and what they mean in the big picture.  The way we witness to our beliefs is our evangelism.  What we do in our day to day lives is the way we are missionaries to our communities and to the world.  And the big one…the way we treat other people is the measure of the church’s fidelity.  It’s one way we can determine how faithful we are to what Jesus has taught us to do…not because someone might be looking…but rather because it’s the right thing to do!  Thanks be to God!