Scripture Passages: Acts 1:8, Galatians 5:13 and Isaiah 43:18-20

Prayer: “The Kingdom of God is justice and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Come Lord, and open in us the gates of Your kingdom.” Taize Song

Some people, Christians and non-Christians alike, often as the question, “Where is God?” when brought face to face with the need, despair, loneliness, and pain that exists in the world.  However, as I read the Scriptures and grow in my understanding of Who God has been, is and promises to be, I cannot help but wonder if that is the right question. 

When I look at the witness of God at work in the world from the first line of Genesis to September 20, 2009, I join in the chorus of those who do not believe God has decided to back off from and abandon the world. We have been told, and I believe it to be true, through the Holy Spirit God is intimately involved in the world. God loves the world, and longs deeply for the redemption of all of creation. The Scriptures and life have bared witness to this over my 31 years of life over and over again, and I believe in God’s promise to be with us always.

When standing in the midst of situations in life that break God’s heart as well as our own is, sometimes I wonder if the question is not “Where is God, but “Where is the Church?”

Leroy Barber, President of Mission Year, writes, “The church has lost its place in the heart of the neighborhood and not many people seem to care. What used to be the center of the community is now an afterthought to most people, if a thought at all.”

So perhaps it is us, the followers, and not God who have decided to retreat. Perhaps we are the ones who have forgotten the words of Acts reminding us that we have received the power of the Holy Spirit  to bear witness to another way, or the words of Galatians’ reminding us that we have been freed through  the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ to love abundantly. Maybe we are the ones who have forgotten the words of Prophet Isaiah calling us to come and see that the God is creating a new thing and has invited us to share in it. God has invited and daily invites us to move past life-stifling complacency and business as usual, to a life of world changing imagination and transforming love through Jesus Christ.

As I interact with people, non-Christians and Christians alike, I hear them at different times asking in their own way if the Church suffers at times from a loss of memory. They question if we have forgotten the message that God so loved the world, the whole world.  They know a little something about Jesus and wonder if we have forgotten we worship a Risen Lord who spent time with the outcasts, provided food for those who were hungry, offered life for those who were dying, gave sight to those who could not see? Have we forgotten we have chosen to follow a Lord who said, “Let the children come to me and do not hinder them, but let them know life, life abundantly”, who cared about those whom societal & political narratives told him not to care about, whose love knew no geographical or  national boundaries, who prayed and spent time alone with God, who studied the Scriptures… knew the Story and who, while hanging on a cross waiting to die, forgave the very ones who had put him there.

After hearing story after story and question after question, I wonder with them if the Church is suffering from a slight memory loss?

Have we forgotten we follow a Savior who desires not to be contained inside of the doors of our church buildings, but who longs to also flow upon the streets of our neighborhoods where we live & work, the hallways & cafeterias of the schools we attend, the rooms of our homes, and cities all around the world. For way too long we have let the Good News of Jesus Christ settle into buildings and pews when it was meant to be lived and proclaimed as good news to the poor, freedom for the oppressed, and hope for the hopeless in and outside of the church walls.

 

When we choose to follow Jesus Christ, the Word that became flesh and made His dwelling among us, we are sharing in the new thing God is creating.  Jesus didn’t retreat from the world around Him; he moved right into our neighborhood and got to loving. He engaged the world around Him, learning the stories & needs of those he encountered along the way, praying & giving thanks and loving people.

Church, it is time for us to remember. Time for us to remember we are the Body of Christ, called not to retreat from the world around us and hide away in our church building but to move right into our neighborhoods and get to loving in bold, radical and what the world may call “foolish” ways.  

The Good News is, just like you, people of faith all around the world are choosing to remember. Their memory is leading them to living Eucharistic lives (thankful), offering themselves to others with unconditional and radical love that resembles the love and way of Jesus.

There is a community in South Africa, Come Back Missions, choosing to meet the needs various needs of the people in their local community. They journey with people as they fight to overcome their addictions, provide primary education for children in an impoverished Jo’Burg community, feed those who are hungry, pull their resources to meet the urgent needs of their neighbors, extend hospitality to the stranger and are constantly imagining and creating new opportunities to better the lives of their neighbors.

Heavenly Valley Pre-School in Jo'Burg, South Africa

Just yesterday I spent two-hours of play and fellowship with a youth group from Whitehouse, TN, that chose to remember by entering into the lives of children and youth who are seeking refuge from the Golden Triangle of Asia. Before I knew it, it was an all out apartment block party. There were children and youth from three different continents and various faith communities drawing on the sidewalk, playing a soccer game, blowing bubbles, throwing a frisbee, conversing about religious holidays & school, eating goldfish, working on various crafts, laughing together, singing together and beginning to get to know each other.

Religion, language, nationality, and socio-economic status did not hinder love from giving birth to something new in the lives of all there. There were definitely moments of discomfort and frustration, however it didn’t long to settle into the moment with grace and surrender.  I watched with eyes of thanksgiving, play, hospitality and fellowship gave birth to new memories of joy and friendship. There were young people and older person who began to see life in community a little differently, and you could hear in their words and actions that God was springing forth something new. There were a number of moments I sat back thinking, “The kingdom of God has to look a little something like this. Lord I anticipate with joy what you are creating right now in this moment. Thank you for letting me share it in, in some small way.”

 

Experiences like these, participating in God’s work of redemption and compassion in the world, changes us. As God works through us to be agents of change in the world, we are transformed. We begin to see, live and breathe differently in the world. We begin to see we are called to be active participants in the world around us, living lives of thanksgiving and love in response to God’s love for us.

 Who are your neighbors? Do you know them? Do you know their names, their stories, their needs?

Every day we encounter opportunities to love God and love people around us, and it is our responsibility, our calling, to receive these opportunities with faithfulness, joy, humility, and grace.

My question for us this morning, as I come to a close is not “Where is God?” or “where is the church?”

My question is, “How is God calling you to remember? How is God calling you to be the hands and feet of Christ daily in your neighborhood, city and global community?”

May you wake up every day remembering God loves the world and God loves you.

May you wake up every day remembering you are called to follow Jesus Christ, every single minute of every single day; and as you struggle to do this the grace of Lord goes before you, behind you and walks beside you.

May you wake up every day next to all kinds of injustice that breaks God’s heart; and may you seek God’s love and grace to help you be God’s hands and feet to your neighbors.

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