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We have talked very often about what kind of community we want to become. In fact, we spent a whole sermon series on it – Ecclesia: Being the Church Today!
One of the good things that have emerged is that it is so easy to archive our services online – and it is easily accessible to everyone on Youtube.
When I was preparing to preach at TEVO, I went through some old emails – and dug out some nuggets and I wanted to start today with two of them.
“There is no Church if you are not here. All of us chose to be here – to be part of this movement, invited to come and see, come and taste, and come and be part of God’s breaking in the Commonwealth of God into the world… this journey is a testimony to the miracle of God’s love for each one of us – God’s faithfulness, God’s presence, God’s provision.”
“Homecoming is as much about our return home, as it is about preparing for others to return home. Homecoming is reunion. Homecoming is reconciliation. Homecoming is healing. Homecoming is the prodigal hospitality that is the love of God poured out for all of us. Homecoming is Jesus’ invitation for us to come follow him. Welcome Home.”
That is who we hope we can become – a community of reunion, a community of reconciliation, a community of healing, a community of prodigal hospitality.
Before we think about who we are to become – it is just as important to think about how we get there.
Sometimes in our rush to get to our goals, we forget the journey – the how – is just as important.
If we took short-cuts, if we made some unhelpful compromises, then what’s the point?
One thing that is in the news is MP Raeesah Khan’s admission she lied in parliament about the police handling of a sexual assault case. I believe that she was not out to destroy public trust in the police, but rather passionate about improving the handling of sexual assault so that victims will not be retraumatised when they step forward to make the police report.
She had clarified that she heard about the alleged victim’s experience at the police station during a women’s support group instead of from knowing it when she accompanied the victim to a police station as she originally claimed. She said –
“I did not share that I was part of the group as I did not have the courage to publicly admit that I was part of it. I attended the support group because I myself am a survivor of sexual assault.”
Instead of helping improve police handling of sexual assault cases, she has diminished her own credibility as well as the credibility of victims who report sexual assault. She may have also violated confidentiality when she shared the incident without consent.
We have to ask ourselves – is achieving our goal so important that we sacrifice our values to get there?
And this is even more important when we are building community – because how we build community affects what the community becomes.
We are not saints. And if we dare to look back in our lives, there will be times we compromised, we sacrificed our values, we lied to achieve our goals or get what we want. It may be “just a white lie.”
And this is sin. And it would be good to confess to God – and even someone you trust – so you hold yourself accountable.
I cannot ask you to do something without first doing it myself. And this has weighed on my heart for a while.
Those of you who have attended our newcomers meeting will realise our meetings can sometimes be unusual. Sometimes, when we ask newcomers to share their lives, they are willing to share very deeply their stories, their struggles, their experiences. It is as something broke open, and we were witnessing God working in that circle of people to support each other through our struggles so healing may happen. And I think some folks feel like it is a feeling of homecoming – and they feel the beginning of reconciliation, healing, welcome and love.
It is a risky thing to share – and we often highlight that we should keep what was shared in that room confidential.
In some of the support groups I lead, i would ask participants if it is ok to share the story, minus the identifying details, if that story can help someone else some time in the future. But this is a newcomers meeting, and I didn’t ask.
So what happened was that during a counselling session, I shared some information about a situation, thinking that it was helpful for this person. There isn’t any identifying details because this wasn’t about the newcomer but about a situation that the newcomer was aware about. It didn’t cross my mind that I would be violating confidentiality – at that moment, all that was on my mind was this person in front of me I was counselling.
Little did I know, that this person would figure out that the source of the information was this newcomer, and asked the newcomer. The newcomer was very affected because they didn’t expect that the story they shared would be repeated elsewhere.
I apologised for my lapse in judgement. Even though it wasn’t a personal story that was shared – that damage is done. It will take time to repair the trust, and make this person feel safe again.
That is why I understand MP Raeesah Khan’s situation. Sometimes we cross lines and we don’t even realise because we are so focused on the goal in front of us.
So – how we get there, is as important as getting there. It will take more effort, it will definitely take more time – but this is critical when we are talking about who we are becoming – both as individuals and as a community – because the how affects what we become.
So how do we help people get to what God is calling them (or calling you) to be, to become?
When we want a child to behave in a certain way, or do a certain thing, how do we do it? (this can be triggering – because even for myself – I have my own traumas that I struggle with – during my time physical punishment is really real) and how even today, some of these trauma surface out.
What do you think is the best way? Why?
That was a trick question.
The best way is neither rewards nor punishment. The best way is to love a child into behaving.
Because what happens when there is no longer any reward? What happens when there is no longer any punishment?
When we are driven because of rewards, we are driven by selfishness
When we are driven because of punishment, we are driven by fear
This doesn’t happen just in parenting, but also in almost every human organisation / relationship.
And it happens in religion as well.
Instead of rewards and punishments – which does not transform us, God loves us into becoming.
Through love, we are transformed in the process. We are not driven by rewards (our selfishness) or by punishment (by fear), but we are driven by love. When we are driven by love, even when there is no reward, even when there is no punishment, we behave in the right way, we do the right thing.
That is how I understand grace. Grace isn’t just about us being loved by God even though we don’t deserve it. Grace is the process of God loving us into becoming more and more Christ-like.
We are loved into becoming, then we love others into becoming.
That’s the kin-dom of God.
Then, how does loving someone into becoming work in church?
This is connected to what we believe
Nobody is beyond redemption.
Radical love – even loving our enemies
“Love for Enemies
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[a] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Parent in heaven. God causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Parent is perfect.
We cannot say we love God if we do not love God’s creation.
Loving the Creator without loving the Creator’s creations
Who we may see as “our enemies” – is also God’s creation, God’s beloved child. Even if they have done something wrong, even if they annoy us, hurt us.
Radical love requires us to forgive one another.
Forgiveness (Pope John Paul II – forgiving his would-be assassin) – Fr James Martin – posted this picture of Pope John Paul II
That’s Megmet Ali Ağca (ajcah) with Pope John Paul II. He who shot the Pope four times in on 13 May 1981. He was sentenced to life imprisonment, but upon the request of Pope John Paul II, the president of Italy pardoned him in 2000 and deported him to Turkey.
Fr James Martin wrote “Even with his many encyclicals and other writings, his pastoral trips around the world, and his countless other important achievements, here, to me, is his greatest moment: meeting with and forgiving his would-be assassin. May we all learn to forgive.”
Pope John Paul II was loving the person who wanted to kill him into becoming something new.
For us, however, the people who hurt us the most usually are the people who mean the most to us, who are the closest to us.
In church, we often hurt one another.
It is not easy to forgive. It requires us to work through it. It is not just a matter of saying it.
But it is core to our faith – it is embedded in the Lord’s prayer – and when Peter asked Jesus how many times should be forgive someone, Jesus replied “seventy times seven times.”
One of the hardest things to believe is that God has already forgiven us. We constantly fear being punished, and we constantly live as though we need to earn God’s love.
We are worried that if we somehow make a mistake, God will come after us.
And when something bad happens to us, when things don’t go our way, we quickly assume it is because we have done something wrong and God is displeased with us and we are punished for it.
But the God Jesus revealed is a God who loves us into being. God whose goodness is always running after us.
I love You Lord
Oh Your mercy never fails me
All my days
I’ve been held in Your hands
From the moment that I wake up
Until I lay my head
I will sing of the goodness of God
All my life You have been faithful
All my life You have been so, so good
With every breath that I am able
I will sing of the goodness of God
We are the unfaithful ones. We are the ones who struggle to believe in God’s love, God’s grace, that God has already forgiven us.
I have talked often about how unforgiveness affects us. What happens when we are unforgiving – it eats us from within. It builds up resentment. But there is the other side as well. What if we have already been forgiven, but we have not asked for forgiveness?
In the Lord’s prayer – the prayer that Jesus taught – “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Asking for forgiveness – even when we have been forgiven – also does something to us. It restores us. It restores relationship.
Have you ever had a falling out with a friend, and you bump into each other – and you try to avoid seeing each other? Maybe your friend has already forgiven you, or maybe you have forgiven your friend, but somehow the reconciliation has not happened because the other party is not aware of that they have been forgiven.
When we ask God for forgiveness – we are coming to awareness of God’s grace and forgiveness.
I don’t know how many of you know Fred Rogers. Fred Rogers was huge in the US – his children’s television show ran for 33 years. He passed away in 2003 but his work continues to impact lives. There is a movie starring Tom Hanks based on his life – “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.”
On “Mr Rogers’ Neighbourhood,” he uses neither the carrot or the stick to teach children. He used love. There is much we can learn from Mr Rogers still.
One of Fred Rogers quotes struck me – “The only thing evil can’t stand is forgiveness.”
Fred Rogers shared the impact of his seminary professor William Orr.
One Sunday, after visiting Dr. Orr at a nursing home (which Fred and his wife did every week), after singing the hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” Fred asked him about the verse that included “the prince of darkness grim.”
Fred recalled: “ ‘What is that one thing that would wipe out evil?’ Dr. Orr said, ‘Evil simply disintegrates in the presence of forgiveness. When you look with accusing eyes at your neighbor, that is what evil would want, because the more the Accuser can spread the accusing spirit, the greater evil spreads. On the other hand, if you can look with the eyes of the Advocate on your neighbor, those are the eyes of Jesus.’ I’ve never forgotten that.”
I will warn though – forgiveness is not the same as not holding someone accountable. We can do both at the same time. If I have made a mistake, I should be held accountable, and have to take actions to repent and make amends. That is separate from being forgiven. I may have hurt someone by my actions – that person may have forgiven me, but I am still accountable for my actions – I still have to do something to fix the situation, I still have to make restitution.
Eg – if, while driving, I knocked into someone else’s car – that person may have forgiven me, but I still have to pay for repairs for their car.
As a church we should move away from
And move towards love.
I tried to think of giving an answer to how to do that – and I struggled. And then I realised – you know the answer to this question.
Because there are people in your life who have loved you into being, instead of punishing, shaming or coercing you into being.
So I want to end with an exercise that Fred Rogers did
“I’d like to give you all an invisible gift. A gift of a silent minute to think about those who have helped you become who you are today. Someone who has loved you into being.
Some of them may be here right now. Some may be far away. Some, like my astronomy professor, may even be in Heaven. But wherever they are, if they’ve loved you, and encouraged you, and wanted what was best in life for you, they’re right inside your self. And I feel that you deserve quiet time to devote some thought to them. So, let’s just take a minute, in honor of those that have cared about us all along the way. One silent minute. I’ll watch the time.
Whomever you’ve been thinking about, imagine how grateful they must be, that during your silent times, you remember how important they are to you. It’s not the honors and the prizes, and the fancy outsides of life which ultimately nourish our souls. It’s the knowing that we can be trusted. That we never have to fear the truth. That the bedrock of our lives, from which we make our choices, is very good stuff. – Fred Rogers.
We all need someone to believe in us. I know God believes in us. Are we able to believe in each other, so we love each other into being? Are you able to love each other into being, are you able to believe in yourself and each other – that you all – we all – are capable of becoming who God is inviting us to be?