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6:1 Now this is the commandment–the statutes and the ordinances–that the LORD your God charged me to teach you to observe in the land that you are about to cross into and occupy,
6:2 so that you and your children and your children’s children, may fear the LORD your God all the days of your life, and keep all his decrees and his commandments that I am commanding you, so that your days may be long.
6:3 Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe them diligently, so that it may go well with you, and so that you may multiply greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, as the LORD, the God of your ancestors, has promised you.
6:4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone.
6:5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.
6:6 Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart.
6:7 Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.
6:8 Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead,
6:9 and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?”
Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one;
you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’
The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’;
and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’ –this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.
I couldn’t ask for more appropriate texts as I kick off the first of the membership sermon series. I am used to referring to the lectionary for inspiration and guidance when I prepare the sermon, and I was surprised that the passage that was the theme of our church retreat last weekend was the lectionary passage for this week.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” and “love your neighbour as yourself,” Jesus said. “There are no greater commandment than these.”
We begin this trilogy of sermons asking ourselves, who are we? Or more accurately who are we, Free Community Church, called to be? What is our role in the context of God’s unfolding reality of peace, justice and love?
Being Christian isn’t just about believing – it is also about how we live out our Christian life.
If you go to our website or if you receive the weekly Sunday service announcement, you would have read this before:
“The FREE COMMUNITY CHURCH is a congregation of diverse individuals and families gathering to worship and grow as a Christian community. We desire to develop a vibrant heart relationship with God and a thinking-mind relationship with the Bible. We do not believe in easy answers to life’s challenging questions but in the wisdom of a great and loving God, who surpasses our human understanding. We aim to nurture Christ-centered communities so that members can develop a faith relevant to our times.”
Heart, Mind, Soul and Strength.
“You search much deeper within… you’re looking into my heart.” That’s the lyrics of Heart of Worship.
When we love God with all our heart – we are talking about our “vibrant Heart relationship with God.” Relationship is a two-way thing. It isn’t just about talking, but also listening, it isn’t just about asking for something from God, but also receiving. As Margaret Silf writes
That prayer is God’s initiative, not our achievement.
That prayer is about listening, more than about talking.
That prayer is about receiving, more than about asking for.
That prayer is about coming to rest in the direction of God.
When we talk about loving God with all our mind, we are talking about a “thinking-mind relationship with the Bible.” But it doesn’t stop with the Bible – this orientation – Loving God with all our mind – needs to be applied to the different situations around us, making us ask the question “Why is this happening?” This helps us dive deeper into the issues instead of only seeing what is on the surface. We look into the heart of the issues
We learn not only how to interpret the Scripture in its socio-cultural-historical context, but also interpret events that happen around us in their socio-cultural-historical context. The financial crisis, Hurricane Sandy, the political situations around the world – we examine them in context and we try and make sense of what is happening, so we can see what we are called to do in response.
Loving God with all our soul is to “believe in the wisdom of a great and loving God, who surpasses our human understanding, and not in easy answers to life’s challenging questions.” We don’t just believe that we are God’s beloved children – we KNOW we are God’s beloved children. Even though life can be challenging, and we can be facing many difficulties in our lives, but that does not change that fact. This is the faith we are to have, this is loving God with all our soul.
Like Job in the Bible, we recognize that the difficult situations we are in is not a result of God’s wrath on us, and we are not loved any less by God – whether we are facing issues at work, with our families, in our relationships, with our health.
Finally loving God with all our strength – to “nurture Christ-centered communities so that members can develop a faith relevant to our times. We want to help everyone here develop a Christ-centered life – a life committed to love mercy, do justice and walk humbly with God. Loving God needs to be manifested in action – in how we live our lives. Be it how we conduct ourselves, or taking action to fight injustice, or speak up for the marginalized, or serving those who are suffering, we seek to nurture, equip, and develop every single member as disciples of Jesus.
This four ways of loving God is the foundation of the first commandment and fundamental to how we live out our Christian life following Jesus.
In JR Woodward’s book, which Gary gave to each one of the council members, Woodward describes the 5 different environments that a church should have.
They are Healing – Welcoming – Learning – Liberating – Thriving
Woodward asks some questions that help us gauge how we perform in each environment.
• Are there regular times for people to be authentic with one another – with no masks?
• How well do people know each other and share life with one another?
• How many are experiencing healing from past hurts and moving toward wholeness spiritually, physically, mentally and emotionally?
Majority of us here at Free Community Church are LGBT. Some of us carry a lot of baggage and hurt, often by the churches we previously attended. Many of us have been bashed by the Bible. It is here that we often find healing and reconciliation – as many people who have attended Living Water and LUSH groups have experienced.
But there are many other things we go through in life that wounds us. Rejection, broken relationships – romantic or familial, or even platonic ones, loss, grief, suffering, loneliness. We hope that it is here in FCC that we can provide a safe environment where we can help each other be open and vulnerable about what we going through, and move towards wholeness.
• How many people genuinely welcome others into their tight community?
• How willing are people to sacrifice their own cultural comfort to meet people where they are?
• How many people willingly initiate with people who are different from them?
Welcome Home! That’s how we greet everyone every week. how can we live out what we say every single week and take the risk being out of our comfort zone to welcome someone into our family?
How do we open not just doors but also our hearts to let people in, so they can also become part of us?
• Is the community listening to God through the Scriptures and practicing in their everyday lives what they are learning? How?
• In what ways are people actively reflecting on what they are practicing?
• How many are actively interacting with God’s story as it relates to their local context and mission?
We seek to be a thinking church – and I have said before – we do not want you to leave your brains at the door – we want you to ask difficult questions, and connect what you learn here with how you live outside of these walls. Imagine what it would be like if you lived, talked, behaved outside of church as though you are in church. Would you be more loving, more patient, more gentle, and kinder? Imagine how the world will look like if everyone did the same? Isn’t that what the Kin-dom of God is about? About the reign of God on Earth? That everyone lives loving God with all their hearts, their minds, their souls and their strength, and loving their neighbours as themselves?
• Is the congregation walking alongside the poor and the oppressed? In what ways?
• How is the congregation speaking to the powers and subverting systems that perpetuate injustice?
• How much of the congregation seeks to be good stewards of all creation for the sake of the whole world?
Jesus’ ministry on Earth was about liberation. He stood up for the marginalized, he spoke against the institutions and systems that perpetuated injustice, and his ministry was in the midst of the poor and those who suffer.
Our calling as a church too is to witness against injustice, thirst for righteousness, and to stand up and be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. We are to participate fully in God’s salvation of the world – it is a process that is still happening – we participate in it to bring the kin-dom of God closer.
Jesus is God Incarnated. The Church now, as the Body of Christ, is Christ Incarnated. We are Christ’s hands, Christ’s feet – and it is through this body – us – that we bless and transform the world.
We are the FREE Community Church – FREE is also an acronym for First Realize Everyone’s Equal. How do we live this out and see our fellow siblings as our equal, and work towards the liberation for all people who are oppressed, all those who are suffering?
Our participation in activities beyond FCC – whether it is collaborating with HOME, or TWC2, or PLHIV, is how we live this calling to liberate – we are, after all the FREE Community Church!
• How many people are discovering their calling and living it out with great passion?
• How many people see their work as sacred vocation by which they are able to serve their neighbour?
• What percentage of people have a sense of ownership in the congregation?
In the past few months, there were several people in FCC who made career changes. Some left jobs that they felt were unfulfilling. Some, are figuring out what is God’s calling in their lives. This, I think, will be a trend that continues. Because discovering who we are is a process, and sometimes we follow not the stirrings of the Spirit within us, but we follow what the World tells us.
Get a job that pays well! Why? To make lots of money! Why? So that we can buy stuff! Why? Because stuff makes us happy!
Many of us have begun to reexamine our lives – and we are seeking to make meaning and sense of who we are, and what God is calling us to become.
I hope that we can all truly grow in that way – Irenaeus, the Bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul from the 2nd Century wrote – The Glory of God is the human fully alive.
How can we help everyone be fully alive? Because that is what is God’s will for us!
So this is the 5 environments – Healing – Welcoming – Learning – Liberating – Thriving. Some we do well here in FCC, some we don’t . We are not perfect, but we will work towards improving in all these areas as we grow, as we journey together.
As I was reading the book, and I went “YES!” That’s what FCC should be, could be, and must be.
This 5 environments is WHAT we do in and out of church.
The third (and last) concept I want to share in context of who we are as Free Community Church is Henri Nouwen’s idea – from solitude to community to ministry. It is important because it is the HOW we do WHAT we do. Woodward’s 5 environments is WHAT we do, while Nouwen’s idea helps us understand HOW we do it, and grounds what we do in God.
Nouwen, in his essay “From Solitude to Community to Ministry,” writes:
“The word discipleship and the word discipline are the same word – that has always fascinated me. Once you have made the choice to say, “Yes, I want to follow Jesus,” the question is, “What disciplines will help me remain faithful to that choice?” If we want to be disciples of Jesus, we have to live a disciplined life.
By discipline, I do not mean control. If I know the discipline of psychology or of economics, I have a certain control over a body of knowledge. If I discipline my children, I want to have a little control over them.
But in the spiritual life, the word discipline means “the effort to create some space in which God can act.” Discipline means to prevent everything in your life from being filled up. Discipline means that somewhere you’re not occupied, and certainty not preoccupied. In the spiritual life, discipline means to create that space in which something can happen that you hadn’t planned or counted on.”
We move from our solitude with God into our community into the ministry we do.
We cannot be alone in what we do – it is in community that we are held accountable, that we are able to examine our motivations and our inspiration.
There are times we think we hear God’s voice, the prompting of the Spirit – but we cannot be sure. Sometimes it is the voice of our own Ego. It is our community – our friends, our fellow seekers – who help us discern.
Our community calls us out when we are letting Ego lead the way, and not let God lead the way. Our community reminds us when they see Ego instead of God.
Our community also calls us to be accountable – sometimes we walk away from what we are called to do. Sometimes we do not do what we are called to do. Whether we are discouraged, demotivated, despondent. But it is our community that encourages us, sustains us, inspires us, energizes us, and reminds us what we have to do.
Our cell groups are where solitude and community overlap, and we hope that in this place that we can create space for God to act. Some of us move from solitude straight into ministry – but that can be draining, and we may suffer from burn-out if we do not have the support of our community. Some projects we do here in FCC – be it outreach, our Christmas service, our various involvement in other marginalized communities like HOME and TWC2, is where we move from community to ministry.
We hope that FCC can be where these three – solitude, community and ministry – intersect, so we can truly live out our call to be the Body of Christ, to love God with all our hearts, minds, souls and strength and to love our neighbours as ourselves.
Jesus said, we judge the tree by its fruits. What fruits do we bear at FCC, individually and as a community?
As we begin our tenth year, it is time for us to take stock of where we are, what we have done, where is there room for improvement? Looking at the 5 environments, which ones are we doing well? Which ones do we need to put more effort into? When our computers hang, or have some problems, we press control-alternate-delete, and we reboot the system. We, too, need to reboot FCC, so we can be more aligned in God’s direction and be grounded in God.
So this is easy to remember – 3, 4 and 5.
3 – From Solitude, to Community to Ministry.
4 – Love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength.
5 – The 5 environments we create in church – Healing, Welcoming, Learning, Liberating and Thriving.
Let us pray.