Stop Going To Church - Week One
Today we are going to be sharing the first of a two-part sermon series entitled "Stop Going to Church."
We're going to be focused on one passage of Scripture for both installments of the series, so you can think of this as just one long sermon stretched out over two weeks, if that helps you think with me more clearly.
I'm going to say something that you probably have never heard from a pastor before... are you ready?
I want you to stop going to church.
Bet you never thought you'd hear a pastor say that, right?
Seriously. Stop going to church.
There's a bit of twist with what comes next. You probably knew that was coming, though right?
You definitely need to stop going to church---just BE the Church.
Because the church is not a place you go to... it's who you are. The church isn't a building, it's a people.
In fact, the word that is translated as "church" in the New Testament is the Greek word ecclesia which means assembly, or gathering. It isn't about a location, it's about a mindset.
So this is how we "Be" the Church here at Shepherd. Here's how we live out our understanding of what it means to be part of a family of faith, an ecclesia, if you will.
Our vision, our driving force, our true north as a congregation is simply this:
Love God, Love Everybody.
This isn't some touchy-feely, politically correct statement designed to make people feel comfortable, warm and fuzzy. Not by a long shot. This is one of the most challenging things that Jesus ever said.
And yes... Jesus said this. We're going to read this in a moment.
It's one thing to say that you love God, right? Lots of churches claim that. But to make the connection between loving God, and loving everybody... now that's pretty freaking hard to do.
Loving everybody. Who does that?
Because loving everybody would take a lot of divine intervention, am I right? There are a lot of people out there who are pretty dang hard to love.
So we're going to spend a couple of Sundays talking about how we live into this as followers of Jesus, and as members and friends of this particular family of faith.
Today, we're going to be focused on this one big idea:
When we truly love God, we get to do what we want.
Let's go to our Scripture passage, which comes to us from the Gospel of Matthew 22:36-40. Before we dig into this, let me give you a bit of background on what is happening in this scene from Matthew.
Jesus upset the religious elites of his day because he taught that God was a whole lot more loving and accepting than they imagined God.
And he backed up his claims by healing people, raising people from the dead, feeding thousands of people with just a bit of food... you know, the usual way you piss off religious people.
So they were always trying to show him up, catch him off guard. Right before this passage that we are about to read, some of the Sadducees, which was a religious sect in first-century Judaism, tried to out-argue him and they failed.
So the Pharisees, which was a rival sect of religious types, took their shot--only they got an "expert in the law" to go and argue with Jesus on their behalf. A lawyer in other words.
I thought about making a lawyer joke here when I was writing this, but then I remembered that I am married to a lawyer... so I asked her what her favorite lawyer joke was and she gave me this one:
What's the difference between a lawyer and God? God doesn't think he's a lawyer.
So this poor lawyer comes to argue with Jesus about what the greatest commandment in the law is---which is a trap. If they can pin Jesus down to one particular tradition, the Pharisees know they can put him in a box and dismiss him. Here's what happens:
36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”Jesus did something here that is called the Kobayashi Maru. Nerd alert. This is from Star Trek, which is a TV and movie-verse filled with deep theological lessons.
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Kobayashi Maru was the no-win test that all Starfleet cadets had to take in order to prove their ability to have courage in no-win situations where death was imminent. The only cadet to ever pass the test was James Tiberias Kirk.
Kirk reprogrammed the computer for the test so that it gave him a way out, a way to beat the no-win situation and survive. He cheated, in other words.
Jesus does the same thing. He starts off by saying, "Oh, yeah. For sure I'll weigh in on this. The greatest commandment is to Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind."
Then he says...
And the second is like it... Wait, what?
There's the greatest commandment, and then there's the other greatest commandment. Jesus mashed them together and said, "There you go."
What he says here is if you love God, you will love everybody. And if you don't love everybody, then you might not be loving God.
Jesus knew how exclusive the faith of the religious elites of his day had become. They had a narrow circle of people who were chosen, accepted, loved... everyone else wasn't even worth their time.
And he started everything with this basic command... "Love God."
Let's unpack what Jesus meant by this. Because he unequivocally states that the way you love God is with all of yourself--your heart, your mind, your very soul.
And when you do this---you do whatever you want.
It's true. In fact, St. Augustine one of the most important Christian thinkers of all time once said this: "Love God and do what you want."
How great is that?
But how do we love God and do whatever we want, really? St. Augustine was basically saying this: When you truly love God, the things you want to do are the things that God wants... so when you love God and do what you want, you are actually doing what God wants.
Is your mind blown? Just confused? Stick with me. Here's how we figure this out:
First, we get to do whatever we want when it's life-giving.
Are your actions the kinds of things that will bring about human-flourishing, are they joy-bringing are they peace-making? Or are your actions the kinds of actions that tear things apart, kill joy and peace and otherwise suck the life out of life?
You ever wonder why so many Christians are the angriest people around? I wonder that. Because they always seem to find their way on some TV show or another, or a news broadcast, or one of those talk shows.
Or they go off on social media with all kinds of angry rants.
I knew this guy once who was all meek and mild when he was in person, but when that sucker got online he became like the nastiest, angriest, most vile radio talk show host you can think of.
And of course, he was always posting Bible verses and stuff. Thanks, fella.
Here's the thing. If the way you are doing religion brings people down, destroys friendships, holds people at arm's length, is intolerant, racist, homophobic, chauvinistic and such. You're doing it wrong.
If you love God, then whatever you want to do will be life-giving, peace-filled, merciful, joyous and loving.
Second, we get to do whatever we want when it's kingdom-building.
Jesus told his followers, "You are the salt of the earth..." "You are the light of the world..." He wanted his followers to know a couple of things.
They were supposed to be the kind of people who brought out the God-flavors in the world. He taught them that when they were around, people would actually taste God better, if that makes sense.
And then he said that they were to be lights in the world. When you are around, he basically said, people ought to be able to see God better.
So, are you the kind of person who brings the tasty when it comes to God? Are you the umami when it comes to how people taste the Divine flavors in the world around us?
Or do you give off bitterness, sour grapes, a bland flavorless bite?
If it's true that you are what you eat? When you take in the body of Christ at Holy Communion, is that something that you actually believe that you carry out the door with you? Can people see that you have tasted and seen that the Lord is good?
Listen, it's up to you to bring out the God-flavors. You shine the light. That's how you know you are doing whatever you want because you love God and can't help but be salty and shiny. Come on!
Finally, we get to do whatever we want when it's servant-minded.
Let me show you something Jesus said:
25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.
26 That's how it needs to be with you. Listen, whoever wants to become great among you, must focus on themselves, and forget everyone else. Just do your thing, man. Get ahead. It's a dog eat dog world, fellas.
27 Seriously, whoever wants to be first—you have to chase that stuff, man. If you aren't first, verily, verily you will be last. 28 You know why I came, I came not to serve, but to be served... now someone get me some iced tea and a pillow.
Jesus did not, in fact, say that. But if we are being honest, that passage sounds a bit like it comes from our own personal interpretation of the Bible.
Here's what Jesus actually said:
25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
In other words... It's not about you, and all about everybody else.
You will know that you are doing whatever you want, and whatever you want is what God wants when whatever it is that you are doing is all about others and not about you.
It's not about your gain, your success, your influence, your brand, the number of likes and shares you got on your Instagram story, your money, possessions, status...
It's about other people flourishing, finding life, feeling God's love through you.
Love God, Love Everybody.
It's that simple and that difficult. You can't have one without the other. This is how we are the Church together. It's time for us to stop going to church and learn what it means to BE the Church. And it starts with this...
When we truly love God we get to do whatever we want.