Monday, October 05, 2015

The Ministry of all Christians, II: Speaking the Truth in Love

Malachi 2:13-17
Ephesians 4:1-6, 11-16
John 15:1-8

“As servants of Christ we are sent into the world to engage in the struggle for justice and reconciliation.  We seek to reveal the love of God for men, women, and children of all ethnic, racial, cultural, and national backgrounds and to demonstrate the healing power of the Gospel with those who suffer.”  UM Book of Discipline 2012, ¶124, pg 93

To “demonstrate” the Gospel’s power – not just talk about it.  So when Paul encouraged the people of the Ephesian Church to “speak the Truth in love”, he was not telling them to “straighten out” those who were engaged in immoral conduct.  There is that, of course, which requires the people of the Church to stand in the integrity of the Gospel and the Moral Law.  There is another side of “speaking the Truth in love”, however, and it requires not only a working knowledge of the doctrines of the Church but also a deeper understanding of what is actually written in the Scripture so we may faithfully “demonstrate” the Gospel’s real power.

“Speaking the Truth in love” is entirely about the Good News, the Gospel of The Lord.  That is, we are not charged with making people afraid of hell; rather we have the privilege of helping people to yearn for Heaven by “demonstrating” Heaven’s mercy.

So in that charge we must not be strictly of a mind to criticize the thinking or behavior of those with whom we disagree; there must be a positive alternative to negative behavior.  Rather than to criticize others, we have to make the case for The Word of The Lord.  And we do this by “demonstrating” the positive rather than criticizing the negative.

“We affirm our unity in Christ, and take faithful steps to live more fully into what it means to be a worldwide church in mission for the transformation of the world” (¶125), “in covenant with our God and with each other”. 

Now I will grant you that the “transformation of the world” is a lofty goal – not unworthy of our consideration, of course, but not worthy of our sole focus to the point that we are overwhelmed with a seemingly impossible task.  Before we can mean anything to the whole world, we must first have meaning for the communities we are called to serve.  The churches are not strictly ‘meeting places’ for like-minded people who “fit the mold”; we have a charge and a calling to those who don’t.  But before we can have real meaning to the community at large, our faith in action must have meaning within the congregation of which we become a part by baptism.  No one is so “personally” saved as to be excused from one’s active role in that Covenant.

Sometimes, however, we become distracted especially by tragedy.  Like many of you, I have been thinking a lot about the recent tragedy in Oregon.  A young man went off his hinges, armed himself, and invaded a college campus with evil intentions.  Innocent persons were wounded or killed, and we’re left in the wake of this tragedy to deal with the aftermath.

Politicians on both “sides” have shamelessly invoked this most recent tragedy to further their own political interests.  Some have been made afraid because of the sensationalism of the shooter allegedly having designs only on killing Christians.  There is confusion and anger and a profound sense of helplessness among those who survived.  And of course there is the clarion call to arm ourselves to prevent similar tragedies in the future – while others insist further efforts to control the flow of weapons in this country is our only reasonable recourse.

I cannot help but to wonder, however, where has been the call for our collective need to mourn?  Where has been the call for us to go to the Gospel of The Lord for answers?  For comfort?  For safety?  For guidance? 

Our Lord Jesus lamented that His desire to gather His people and protect them was rejected by their unwillingness to trust Him (Matthew 23:37).  I submit this passage is as meaningful for us today as it still is for our Lord.

You may recall that immediately after 9/11 people were flocking to the churches.  Out of fear, out of uncertainty, looking for … answers?  I don’t think many were earnestly seeking The Lord Himself because in a matter of only a couple of weeks, the pews were left empty again.  Because these mass shootings now seem to have become so commonplace, we are skipping the church thing and the necessary mourning and the tears and are going straight to anger so much so that retribution and vengeance have become our national doctrine.  And while these are perfectly natural and understandable human responses, these do not “demonstrate” our Christian faith nor the power of the Gospel.

Jesus says HE is the Vine, and we of our respective churches are a branch of that Vine (John 15:5).  It is that Vine alone from which goodness and mercy and justice and righteousness flow.  And even though we may claim “righteous anger” (again, perfectly normal and understandable), how many of us have actually turned to The Lord for answers?  For guidance?  For instruction on what we must do next?  How many among us who call ourselves Christians have actually asked The Lord to show us our individual roles in the collective Church to assuage the grief and calm the fear so many feel?  How have we come to understand the need to “speak the Truth in love” especially in the face of tragedy and evil?

The truth probably is that we have not done so.  And because we have not done so, because we have chosen to arm ourselves and stock up on ammo, because we bravely thump our chests and declare we will kill anyone who threatens our families, we are bearing no fruit whatsoever.  And because we are deliberately choosing not to bear fruit for the Kingdom, we as a “branch” of the Eternal Vine are slowing withering into nothingness and are in danger of being cut off completely (vs 6).

As far as we may have slipped, however, there is still hope because there is still the Gospel and there is still the Church charged with “demonstrating” the power of that Gospel.  We who have slipped so far away and have only begun to wither can be “pruned” to fruit-bearing fullness!  And this may be exactly what is happening now!  This is the real power of the Gospel of our Lord; and it is that power we are called and equipped to “demonstrate” to a world still searching for answers they may never find without us. 

Being a Christian does not prevent tragedy nor does the Gospel make suffering go away.  Being a Christian devoted to the Gospel, however, gives us the only reason we have to rise above the ashes of human despair and “demonstrate” to an unbelieving world what the fullness of Life is about.  It is the fullness of what it means to “speak the Truth in love”, and it is the difference between trembling in fear and walking in faith.  For as long as we are afraid, we will never be truly free of evil.

It is past time to stop giving the devil his due, and to begin “demonstrating” the power of the Gospel of our Lord and Savior as we faithfully “speak the Truth in love”.   The doctrine of the Church is not only about knowing that Truth; it is entirely about “demonstrating” the Truth.  For that is the Life we are called to.  Nothing less will do.

In the Eternal Word to the Glory of our God and King, let us say – amen.

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