When we hear ALL do we think ME?

Psalm 148: 1-6 and 11-14
JOHN 13: 31-35

May 17, 2020 – THE PANDEMIC continues

Praise God ALL of you! … Every single person … every single ruler … do the same young men – young women too … you who are old together with you who are young.”

We have heard this before haven’t we? Those of us who have attended church have heard the directives from God; God’s expectations … the behavior pattern that verifies faith and belief in the Creator, “Let all of these praise the Lord’s name because only ONLY God’s name is high over all. Only God’s majesty is over earth and heaven. God raised the strength of God’s people … PRAISE THE LORD!”

Bible study struck home with me this week as I remembered a special day in my life when a little girl woke me up to my self absorption … but truthfully as I witness the screaming scorching voices of the ME ME ME folks out amongst our cities and states demanding that it’s their right to infect others with COVID 19 because wearing a mask takes away their precious rights to flaunt their faces … I again am faced with the challenge that reality all too often presents to us in life but a reality that challenges those of us who identify with the Creator of the universe … those of us who claim the name of Jesus Christ. What does it mean to believe? What are God’s expectations for those who walk in the Light of Jesus Christ? To whom or to what do we declare our loyalties to?

This morning we sang Matt Redman’s powerful anthem of faith that the children of this church sang in Vacation Bible School, “The sun comes up; it’s a new day dawning. It’s time to sing Your song again. God, You’re rich in love and Your name is great and You’re heart is kind.” We sang about our God … “TO GOD BE THE GLORY great things God has done!” Are you focused on the praise? Is God the driving force in your life? Are you doing what Jesus said we must do?

But, friends of St Paul’s from around the world … this morning when you heard Molly quote Jesus the Son of God … Jesus the Christ … Jesus whose death on that dark Friday took away our sins giving us an easy path to eternal salvation and a place with God in heaven just by believing and changing who we are are to become people of THE LIGHT rejecting the world’s expectations and taking on God’s … when you heard Jesus say to love “EACH other; just as He loved” were you thinking that He just meant you and those in your hood? That the Son of God was directing you to only love those who are just like you or who live where you live or sound like you sound or look like your mirrored image? Or did you get the focused and clear message from all of Scripture that God calls true believers to LOVE ALL. That our lives are to be focused on the ALL. WHEN WE HEAR ALL … the question is … DO WE THINK ME?

Heck it is easy to say we are a Christian because all we have to do is type Christian on our life’s resumes declaring that we have taken credit for our membership. After all, who is going to challenge us especially if in those days of packing our cars with package after package making sure we give and get all the things we want … we are the ones demanding that the Jewish or Muslim or Hindu store clerks say Merry Christmas to us. I have been struck through the passing time of my life as to the number of folks whose focus during the Advent season is on the lists, the decorations, and yes the Christmas overload of shopping even when Scripture is clear that the Holy Spirit is bringing God’s message to believers that our responsibility is give what we have to the poor and to care for those who are hurting or to welcome strangers in our land. To care for the prisoners … nothing in the Holy Book about ribbons and bows diminishing the one who took the blows on Calvary’s Hill.

I paused yesterday before seeing Megan and Donna to put a Philadelphia Phillies cap on my head because I knew that would make Megan smile. You see …Megan and I are members of that exclusive society called Phillies’ fans just as many members of this church are. We don’t want a Mets’ fan in our midst … we are Phillies’ fans … it’s us not them. And, actually that’s the mindset that we have pushed throughout my lifetime … I cannot claim to have solid knowledge of the generations before me but clearly since the arrival of the baby boomers the concept of ME ME ME and MINE MINE MINE has been a focal point on how to live life.

We must find identifiers whether they are football jersey’s, hats, tattoo’s, flags, or even songs that separate us into cliques/gangs/disrupters rather than proclaiming as the song from the Eighties did in that one all too short and bright shining moment that WE ARE THE WORLD! Of course we don’t want to be for the world … we want to be self focused and self absorbed and state firmly that we are the best and most favored and many seem to think that God is right on board with our ‘box God in’ thought process.

Bible Study reminded me of a mission trip to Uganda when I was certainly full of myself. On your first day in country mission teams visit babies rescued by the Watoto Children’s ministry. I was sure that the visit to the clinic where babies lives are saved throughout the year was a public relations’ stunt to raise money. Dave Delaney did not need to see babies … Dave Delaney did not want to waste my time looking at babies and when I watched members of my team coo-cooing the babies through the window … saying how cute these babies were … Dave Delaney’s thoughts were ‘come on … you are acting like you are in a zoo.’ So, I just took pictures while anxiously awaiting our departure … until … while I was kneeling on the ground with my camera to my face I felt a tug on my hat. My Buffalo Bills’ cap by the way … and suddenly my hat was off and I turned to see this Ugandan baby girl placing my Buffalo Bills’ hat on her head smiling back at me with love. She had blended my separation from all those babies into a partnership … African child … American pastor … and then she put a pebble into the palm of my hand and closed my fingers around it giggling as she did it. Just this little girl and me. She opened my fingers and took the pebble … then she put it back in my hand smiling this beautiful smile with her head adorned with my Bills’ cap. Esther stayed in my arms until we left but I discovered something in that moment … God was bigger than Dave Delaney. God wanted to show me a miracle of faith that I didn’t want to see in this African capital city. No one sent Esther to me … no Watoto staff members were nudging her to me … it was this older white man and this little black baby at the start of her life … together as one … we are the world! We are the children! And, it took Esther’s open love for me to get me to understand that the story of the babies of the Bullrush clinic was to demonstrate to folks coming to do mission work as a resume credit that God is bigger and mightier than Australians, Canadians, Brits, Americans, French, and all the others who travel to Uganda declaring they are Christians.

I treasure the photographs and wonder what ever happened to that beautiful little girl.

So, on this Sunday in May when we have been separated from the hugs and face-to-face love with family and friends it is my question of faith that we each need to consider …

When we hear all in Scripture are we thinking that we love the medical teams and scientists in Wuhan China with the same love we have for the strangers who serve in New York City’s hospitals and are working to find a vaccine in the science labs across North Jersey? When we hear love all in God’s Word are we thinking how much love we have for the poorest homeless person addicted by drugs who is consumed by the confusion of mental illness and stumbling along the streets of the Kensington section of Philadelphia. Do you love the wealthiest person in the world just as you love the homeless person? The command to love all becomes a challenge when the person we are asked to love is not part of our own unique club with our banners, flags, and coded membership pledges.

But there was Jesus after being betrayed by one of his trusted 12 declaring “I give you a new commandment.” Now, I am sure that got the attention of those who were with him. It was not like Jesus was telling a parable … another story for them to figure out the meaning … here was Jesus who would then clarify everything when He stated, “The words I have spoken to you I don’t speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me does His works. Trust me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.”

Now, I am sure none of you were wondering who Jesus was speaking for … you and I were already singing this morning The sun comes up; it’s a new day dawning. It’s time to sing Your song again. God, You’re rich in love and Your name is great and You’re heart is kind.” And, TO GOD BE THE GLORY GREAT THINGS GOD HAS DONE …” You are one who praises the Lord as the psalmist declares, right?

So, here’s Jesus … speaking for God … telling His disciples that His words matter. Matthew 25’s directions to care for the poor … those came from God. The story of the Good Samaritan … GOD … the “he who is without sin throw the first stone” message to the angry religious piously focused men ready to stone a woman to death … that was from God too.

And here we are on this Sunday in May … and we heard the Gospel read to us. Most of us have heard this Gospel before … it’s the last days of Jesus’ walk on earth after the Last Supper … Here Jesus is actually providing the world with an understanding of who really is a Christian and who isn’t … “This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples … WHEN YOU LOVE ALL … when it is clear that you love each other.” His new commandment, which really is one of the two Commandments Jesus emphasized throughout His ministry and that is also emphasized in the Old Testament of Scripture … “LOVE EACH OTHER” but Jesus clarifies what love for each other is … of course the story of the Good Samaritan showed how the politically focused religious leader didn’t love … the rich and powerful didn’t love but the Samaritan who crossed the road to care for a stranger showed love but in this moment in the Upper Room Jesus says that those in the room and any of us how truly is a disciple of Jesus Christ MUST love as Jesus loved and we know that story don’t we.

The times we live in are not easy … but during the times we live in we can demonstrate our love for all through our words and actions. Are we joining the shouting self absorbed spreading a virus or are we showing our love by wearing our masks? Are we using words of hate or love on our social media and in our conversations. Are we focused on God’s World … could you sing with those singers who in 1985 came together to raise millions of dollars to feed the hungry in Africa; singers who were told by Quincy Jones to “check their egos at the door” “There comes a time when we heed a certain call. When the world must come together as one? There are people dying and it’s time to lend a hand to life; the greatest gift of all. We’re all part of God’s great big family and the truth you know, love is all we need. We are the world! We are the children! We are the ones who make a brighter day so let’s start giving. Send them your heart so they know someone cares.”

When you hear all … who are you leaving out? When you hear love … who do you immediate decide you won’t love?

God has given us the amazing loving gift of Jesus Christ. He came to share God’s expectations that humanity had not figured out before Jesus’ birth. There’s simplicity in raising your hand to say you believe but to change … to understand that through your faith you no longer belong to any one segment of humanity’s divisions but instead you are part of God’s world is challenging because the human condition wants us to divide things up and set borders.

We are the world … we’re all part of God’s great big family!

Praise God ALL of you! … Every single person … every single ruler … do the same young men – young women too … you who are old together with you who are young.”

Let all of these praise the Lord’s name because only ONLY God’s name is high over all. Only God’s majesty is over earth and heaven. God raised the strength of God’s people … PRAISE THE LORD!”

PRAISE the LORD and LOVE ALL of our NEIGHBORS … it’s the SCRIPTURAL THING TO DO … God’s expectations for all of us who believe!AMEN!

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