Last weekend, after I had spent the entire morning contorted in one uncomfortable position after another under the kitchen sink, wrestling an old, rusted, leaking faucet fixture off my old, rusted cast iron sink, and replacing it with a shiny new one, I went out to my backyard with my husband to enjoy the beautiful fall day. Scot sat down on one of our Adirondack chairs, guitar in hands, and began to play a tune to accompany the lovely sound of the breeze rustling through the orange and yellow canopy of leaves shading our patio.
I did not sit down. Instead, I immediately noticed the broken air conditioner that I had removed from a window the day before and snarled at Scot, “We need to take that to the dump.” Then I continued on, adding to our never-ending list of projects we needed to work on in our backyard and inside our house.
Scot stopped strumming and looked angrily at me. And then, my mild-mannered, always patient and understanding husband began to spew harsh words: “There is always more and more things to be done! It is always do, Do, DO!! Why can’t we just DO nothing! Don’t you think we’ve done enough today?”
He’s right. I am a doer, and I have trouble stopping. I confessed to my covenant group the next day that because of Scot’s words, I realized that I have not been completely honest about my weekly report of taking Sabbath time over the weekends. I understood taking Sabbath to mean not working on work stuff. I had not considered that spending the entire weekend working on home improvement projects probably did not count as taking Sabbath.
I don’t think I’m alone in calling myself a doer. I think lots of people are doers. Americans are doers, prompted along, no doubt, by the Protestant work ethic. I may be a Methodist in name, but when it comes to my practices, I behave more like a Calvinist.
And furthermore, it isn’t that doing is wrong. When Jesus says that he has not come to abolish the law or the prophets, he is affirming that there is a place for law in this world. The law is about doing. It is about practicing righteous living by following the commandments of God. We need the law, so we can know what to do and what not to do.
When Jesus says he has come not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it, I think he is suggesting that being his disciple is not as much a matter of DOING as it is a matter of BEING.
The people of Israel were facing a period of enormous theological and social change during the time of Jesus. The temple in Jerusalem was gone. Parties and factions within the faith community had different ideas about the future of Judaism, and they were often in conflict with one another. The present was unstable, and the future seemed uncertain.
Likewise, you and I are living in a time of enormous theological and social change. The number of people joining the Christian faith is in decline. The United Methodist Church has parties and factions with very different ideas about the future of the denomination, often in conflict with one another. Congregations are shrinking, and buildings are being sold. People are forming faith communities and worshiping in different places and spaces and redefining what it means to be Christian and Methodist in an increasingly diverse and rapidly changing culture. The present is unstable, and the future seems uncertain.
How are we, the disciples of Jesus Christ today, to be in this situation? How are we to live? How are we to practice our faith? How are we to share it with others?
Jesus says we are to be salt, intensifying the flavor of the world around us. Jesus says we are to be light, shining God’s grace into the despair and fear many people feel. Our goodness is to be so obvious, so in evidence, that, through our presence, the very presence of God’s love and grace is felt in those around us.
So many of our congregations get caught up in the do, Do, DO that we ignore the importance of the “be.”
What does it mean to be a disciple? How do we as disciples let God’s light shine through us? How do our lives enhance the flavor of God’s love in the world? (As you consider these questions, focus on staying away from “do” answers.)
These are good questions to discuss, both in terms of how we can be disciples as individuals, and how we as congregations can be lamps through which God’s love and grace shine into our communities, and how we can be salt that intensifies God’s presence in the world.
As I ponder these questions, I am reminded of my time in clinical pastoral education. Anyone who has been through this type of education knows that, as a chaplain, when you go into a room to visit a patient, your role is not to do something. Your role is to be a comforting presence. Your role is to listen if a family or an individual needs to talk. Your role is to offer prayer if it is appropriate, but not to force your religious views on anyone. As my CPE instructor used to tell us, our role not to do; it is to be.
The good news we need to hear out of this teaching from our Lord and Savior is that it isn’t our job or our responsibility to bring someone into a relationship with the living Lord. It is God’s job alone to convert a heart. Our role is simply to be witnesses, vessels through which God’s love and grace and flow, and lamps through which God’s light can be seen.
Maybe the the best way to witness to the saving power of Christ in our lives is simply to be transparent and open windows through which the love that comes from the heart of God can freely pass.
As you close your sermon, invite the members of the gathered worshiping community to come to the Table of the Lord in a spirit of gratitude, giving thanks to God for planting the seeds of grace in their hearts and calling them to be disciples of Jesus Christ and praying that, through them, in the coming week, the light of God’s grace may shine brightly upon someone who needs to know Christ’s saving love.
In his book, Evangelism for Non-Evangelists: Sharing the Gospel Authentically, Mark Teasdale spends some time on the need to unleash our creativity for the task of letting God’s light shine through us as we seek to share the good news of Jesus Christ with others:
. . .the goal is to fire our imaginations so that we can be creative in developing our practices of evangelism. We are freed from the constraints of a reduced range of evangelistic activity. In this freedom we can let our practices flow creatively out of our authentic beliefs, embodying the good news that we treasure and would like others to receive.
One of the best ways to unleash this creativity is to make use of the experiences we have had being evangelized. Think about how the evangelist treated you and how you responded. If you could rewrite that moment of history, how would you improve on what happened? Take into account everything you have articulated about the good news through your theological reflection and contextual sensitivity in reimagining the scenario. Would the encounter have taken place in a different location? Would it have happened over several days, weeks or months rather than in a single setting? Would it have involved the evangelist speaking or acting differently? Would the message itself have been articulated differently? — Mark Teasdale, Evangelism for Non-Evangelists: Sharing the Gospel Authentically (Downers Grove, Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 2016), 86
If you are not able to find a way to address this from the pulpit, are there ways in which these questions and Dr. Teasdale’s book might be discussed and studied in small groups or in Sunday School classes or through other church programs as part of a churchwide effort to equip people for faith sharing?
by Taylor Burton-Edwards
Next week our theme is “This, not That.” It represents the way Jesus teaches (this) over the way people had normally taught the law and the prophets (that).
“This” and “that” are “pronomial adjectives,” or adjectives that may be used as pronouns. They are also both four letter words. And they are related to each other as distinguishers. “This” (plural, these) usually points toward what’s right in front, right here, or about to come next. “That” (plural, those) usually refers to something that is somewhere else, over there, or back in time.
The distinction between “this” and “that” we have in English is not unique to English. It exists in many other languages, including Greek. And it is operative in Matthew 5:19. “So, whoever loosens one of the least of these commandments and teaches other people to do so shall be called least in the kingdom of the heavens.”
Did you catch that? These commandments. If Jesus (or Matthew) had intended to say “those commandments,” there is a different Greek pronomial adjective (ekeinwn) to describe them. He didn’t. He used “toutwn” (these). So the direction of Jesus’ reference to “one of the least of these commandments” is not backward toward the aforementioned law and prophets. It is instead forward toward the teaching (commandments) he is about to offer, a teaching that will truly lead people to have a righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees (verse 20) and fulfills both the law and the prophets, even down to the jot and tittle (vs. 17-18).