By Pastor Linda Dolby
Sanctuary – defined as a place of refuge and safety. We all entered this sanctuary – this place of refuge and safety this morning to sing praises to our God, to pray to our God, to hear the word of God. Last Sunday, people just like you and me entered the sanctuary of the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs Texas. Sanctuary – a place of refuge and safety - became to site of a terror attack. 26 people were killed with a Ruger AR-556 rifle.
The sanctuary became site of terror. Makes you a little afraid, doesn’t it. Yes, this morning you have overcome your fears and you are here – trusting in the sanctuary of this space. Scripture says perfect love casts out all fear. You see, we have a choice to make: shall we live a life of love or fear? We are here because we know God loves us and we hope to live a life in that love.
Responding to a question put to him by the preachers and theologians of his day: "Which command in the law is the greatest, Jesus said “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
This is known to us as the Golden Rule. Love God. Love your neighbor. But today I want to focus not so much on love - a much overused and abused word: we love our pets, we love ice cream, we love a beautiful day, we love our families. Today I want us to look at Jesus' other words in these verses: "with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind." Or, as Eugene Peterson puts it in his version of the Bible called The Message, "with all your passion, your prayer, your intelligence."
You have probably seen and read this overused words: "dance as though no one is watching you, love as though you have never been hurt before, sing as though no one can hear you, live as though heaven is on earth." Passion. That's what these words are talking about. Passion, which causes us to dance, to love, to sing, to live - as though heaven is on earth, which is true on these glorious autumn days. That's what Jesus is talking about in our gospel lesson for this day.
If we were to poll people who don't go to church and ask: "What do you think of the church?" they might say a lot of different things. But one answer probably will be quite common - they will answer that it is boring. Christians are boring, church is boring, most sermons are boring, the music is boring.
How did this happen? When did Christianity, in the eyes of unbelievers, become boring? If you look at the ministry of Jesus, it was a lot of things, but no one would ever accuse him of being boring! Wherever He went He was ruffling feathers. There was an energy, there was a passion - He was living on the edge. There was a supernatural power that was there. There was passion there.
Jesus says this: "here is what the whole sum of my life is about: Take everything that you are about, all of your mind, all of your heart, all of your soul, and all of your strength, in other words, everything that you are, and pour it into loving God, living for God, being invested in God. Live passionately to the glory of God. Give God everything you've got. Don't hold back on anything." This is the opposite of doing religion, going through the motions, just sort of doing something because it just sort of suits you every once in a while. This is pouring your whole being into something - that's what Jesus was saying. That is what life is all about, pour your whole being into loving God, live fully, - for the glory of God.
A theologian of the second century, named Irenaeus said, "The glory of God is a human being fully alive." Instead, we try to domesticate Jesus, making him into our own image instead of making ourselves into his image. I got an email this week describing this. It was called the ethnicity of Jesus. Full of stereotypes, it made the case why Jesus was Black, or why Jesus was Californian, and then it said: "There are 3 equally good arguments that Jesus was Italian: he talked with his hands, he had wine with every meal, he used olive oil. There are also arguments that Jesus was Irish: he never got married, he was always telling stories, he loved green pastures. But the most compelling evidence of all - proof that Jesus was a woman: he had to feed a crowd at a moment's notice when there was no food, he kept trying to get a message across to a bunch of men who just didn't get it, and even when he was dead, He had to get up because there was more work to do!
We want to tame Jesus, to make him like us, when salvation means that we are freed from our sins so that we may become like him - one who lived and loved passionately, with his whole heart, mind, and soul. Once I heard another clergyperson say, "The church is a swimming pool where most of the noise is from the shallow end." The shallow end, where it is safe and secure, where people just dip in their toes. He went on to say, "and people see Jesus as their lifejacket. " Have you ever tried to swim while wearing a life jacket? It's possible, but it's uncomfortable, bulky. Then he said, "I would rather think of Jesus as my life guard, so that when I dive in the deep end, he is there watching, protecting, ready to save me if I get in over my head."
As I was thinking about the shooting in Texas, I remembered this story - a true story - that was told by Bishop Will Willimon. He says, “It all started early one morning when Louise Degrafinried's husband Nathan got up from bed in Mason, Tennessee, to let out the cat. The cat stood at the edge of the porch, his hair bristled up on his arched back, and he hissed. Nathan asked, ''What do you see out there, cat? A big man stepped from around the corner of the house and pointed a shotgun at Mr. Degrafinried. "Lord, Honey, open the door, he's got a gun."
The man with the gun shoved Nathan inside, pushing him and Louise against the wall. "Don't make me kill you!" he shouted. The couple knew immediately that the intruder was one of the escaped inmates from Fort Pillow State Prison. He and 4 others had been loose since the previous Saturday.
Louise Degrafinried, a 73 year old grandmother stood her ground. "Young man," she said, "I'm a Christian and we don't believe in no violence. Put that gun down and you sit down." The man relaxed his grip on the gun, then laid it on the couch. "Lady," he said quietly, "I'm so hungry. I haven't had nothing to eat for 3 days." ''Young man, you just sit down there and I'll fix you breakfast." "Nathan," she said to her husband, "go get this young man some dry socks."
With that, Louise went to work. She fixed bacon, eggs, white bread toast, milk and coffee. Then she got out her best napkins and set her kitchen table. She says, “when we sat down, I took that young man by the hand and said, "Let's give thanks that you came here and that you are safe." I said a prayer and then asked him if he would like to say something to the Lord. He didn't say anything, so I said, "Just say, "Jesus wept." Then we all ate breakfast.
"After breakfast, we sat there and I began to pray. I held his hand and kept patting him on the leg. He trembled all over. I said, "Young man, I love you and God loves you. God loves us all, every one of us, especially you. Jesus died for you because he loves you so much."
"You sound just like my grandmother," he said. "She's dead." One tear fell down his cheek. About that time, we heard police cars coming down the road. "They gonna kill me when they get here," he said.
"No, young man, they aren't going to hurt you. You done wrong, but God loves you." Then me and Nathan took him by the arms, and took him out of the kitchen toward the door. "You let me do all the talking," I told him. The police got out of their cars. They had their guns out. I shouted to them, "Y'all put those guns away. I don't allow no violence here This young man wants to go back." Nathan," I said, "you bring the young man out to the car." Then they put the handcuffs on him and took him back to the prison."
That afternoon, two of the other escapees entered a backyard where a couple was barbecuing. The husband went into his house and came out with gun. The prisoners shot and killed him and took his wife hostage. They released her the next day.
Mrs. Degrafinried lived her faith, which led her to take a risk. She risked loving. I’m sure we afraid, but she lived out of love. She was prepared to do that from a lifetime of following her Savior, someone she loved with all her heart, with all her soul, with all her mind - which led her to love her neighbor as herself.
So, my friends, let's dance as though no one is watching, love as though we've never been hurt, sing as though no one can hear, and live as though heaven is on earth." That's passion. That's the Golden Rule. May it be so. Amen.
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