In the name of one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
We started the service by praying this: Almighty God … Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; …. That says a lot. Let’s look at what we are asking for today.
We want God’s grace – to love what God commands. According to Jesus, what God commands is simply this: that we love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength; and that we love our neighbors as ourselves. Jesus said that all the law and the prophets – in other words, everything else in the Bible – hangs on those two commandments. Jesus also said that we are supposed to love one another the same way the Jesus loves us. So today we asked for God’s grace that we be able to do those things. When we just read the words in Scripture, it seems pretty simple – and pretty easy. However, we know from experience that loving God and loving each other the way Jesus loves us, is much more complicated than it seems. So let’s see what else we prayed for.
We asked for God’s grace to desire what God promises. What promise might that be? In Jesus we learn that the promise He brought us was nothing short of everlasting life. In the single most famous line in Scripture, St. John tells us that Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, to the end that all who believe in Him should not perish but might have everlasting life.” God’s promise to us is: that we are beloved children of God the Father and that through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have been given entry into heaven as a result of God’s grace alone.
Finally, we prayed that, “among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found …” This is the one that is purely up to us. Sure, we asked for God’s grace that it might be accomplished, but make no mistake, this one is 100% on us. We have asked simply that God support us in all of the weirdness and uncertainty of our lives, and that we may open our hearts to the truth of Jesus Christ – where true joys are to be found.
Our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry uses the term, the Jesus Movement to describe what it means to fix our hearts where true joys are to be found. He calls all Episcopalians to be not only followers of Jesus, but lovers of Jesus as well. He talks often about how we are to come together as we are today, in order to be fed and nourished in order to carry out the work of the Jesus Movement in the world. He believes that we will indeed find true joy by going out beyond our church walls and engaging the community.
Now it is crucial to remember that what Bishop Curry is talking about is not the same thing as going on a traditional mission trip. Now please don’t get me wrong, there is NOTHING wrong with a traditional mission trip, in which people go and help another community by providing what that community needs, and perhaps giving a helping hand in deploying their newly received assistance. That is good and godly work. But Bishop Curry is talking about something else – something in addition to that other work.
He is talking about our going out and creating relationships with the people who are in need in our local communities. That means that we go out and meet them on the same plane they occupy, not as the people who have come to write checks and save them; but as the people who care about their day-to-day lives and want to partner with them in improving those lives. That is the work that Jim Lambert and his faithful group of men are doing with AMI Kids, and that is the work that St. Paul did when he traveled around.
In today’s reading from Philippians, Paul was writing from a prison cell, to the first Christian community he founded, in what is modern-day Greece. This church had been in his heart since the time that he gathered them together and became one of them. At the time of this writing, Paul had been gone from them for a while and there were other teachers who had come in and begun to tell them that the Law of Moses was as important (or more important) than the grace and love of Jesus Christ. So he wrote to assure them of his love for them, and to straighten out those things that might have begun to be confusing.
So, in inimitable Paul style, he told them why he was an authority on the things these new teachers were saying. He told them that he, Saul of Tarsus (before his name change) was a much better Jew than the ones who were bringing their message to the Church in Philippi. He said,
If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, (meaning the Law of Moses, or what we call the Old Testament) I have more: circumcised on the eighth day (in other words, Jewish from birth), a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin (inferring that he was from the same blood line as King Saul), a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee (Paul had studied under the leading Pharisaic scholar of the day, Gamaliel); as to zeal, a persecutor of the church (referring to what he did before Jesus came to him in a vision and converted him); as to righteousness under the law, blameless (clearly not true, but definitely an effective argument).
Paul wanted the people to know that there was no argument that their new Jewish teachers could make to him, that he had not already considered. His Jewish pedigree was better than any of theirs and whatever they could teach, he had already taught.
Then Paul went on to tell his loved ones in Philippi that, since his conversion, he had reevaluated everything in his old life and found no value in it whatsoever. He said,
I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.
To my way of thinking, St. Paul is the perfect example of what a person who is a part of the Jesus Movement does. He went to cities and became a partner with the people in creating community – a community that cared for one another and wanted only the best for each other. And by the way, loving one another as Jesus loved us means just that – that we genuinely care for and want the best for our neighbors.
So, we prayed today that God would grant us the grace to begin to love one another as Jesus loves us, and then to extend that grace so that we might become more like Jesus – to the end that we could find joy in being Christ-like. That, it seems to me, may be the best collect we have ever prayed.
Now, please look in your bulletin and let’s pray it one more time. Hopefully it will stick with us all this week and we will begin the process of accepting the grace of God that could make our prayer become reality.
O Almighty God, who alone canst order the unruly wills and affections of sinful men: Grant unto thy people that they may love the thing which thou commandest, and desire that which thou dost promise; that so, among the sundry and manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen..