Stayed on Jesus

(A sermon for Dedication Sunday–November 4, 2012–Hebrews 12:1-2, Mark 12:28-34)

Woke up this morning with my mind
Stayed on Jesus
Woke up this morning with my mind
Stayed on Jesus
Woke up with morning with my mind—

Well, if you want the truth, I woke up yesterday morning with my mind stayed on polyurethane.

How it looked with ONE coat.

The other day my kitchen floor was sanded and refinished. I was ready for the sanders to return on Thursday, and honestly, I couldn’t tell for sure they hadn’t, and since I didn’t hear from them, I spent Friday putting the furniture back and getting the kitchen staged for showing to prospective buyers. I was proudly surveying my handiwork when the doorbell rang late Friday afternoon. Two men whose van had the name of the sanding company announced that they had one more coat of polyurethane to put down.

Out came the table and chairs again.

Early yesterday morning, they came to do their work. The smell is strong, and my nose is full of it, and it was the last thing I thought of when I went to sleep and the first thing on my mind this morning, too…followed by wondering if I dared tiptoe into the kitchen in my stocking feet to make coffee.

Life provides plenty of distractions from Jesus.

Just this week, if we had power and turned on our televisions, we were inundated with hurricane stories and political advertisements. Ask me what I think about the New Hampshire governor’s race! (Actually, don’t.) But just let me say this: when I hear something that makes no sense to me, whether it’s a question about a candidate’s property taxes or the rumor of a rat apocalypse in storm-struck New York City, I have to look it up. I need to know the answers.

Woke up this morning with my mind—I’m trying, Lord. I’m trying.

The answers are, you don’t pay property taxes on a house you don’t own, and there was no major appearance of rats in the street, because they mostly drowned.

(I told you. Don’t ask me.)

Woke up this morning with my

We’re distractible creatures. We see something shiny going by and can’t remember where we were headed a moment ago. We lose track of where we are going. It happens even when we’re trying to get it right as faithful people.

Distraction was a technique used against Jesus. Scribes and Pharisees would team up to try and catch him in an error. In today’s gospel lesson, we hear a classic attempt. Everyone knew what the Greatest Commandment was, the most important rule of all. It’s part of the Old Testament reading for today, and Jesus, and his disciples and all the scribes and Pharisees would have known it well.

Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6:4-5, NRSV)

Jesus adds the prescription to love your neighbor as yourself, and the scribe agrees. Instead of tripping Jesus, he trips himself, saying, “this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

Our verses from Hebrews, which we have heard in varied forms over the past four weeks, ask us to look on Jesus, to fix our eyes on him, as the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. Jesus came and lived among us and brought us a new view on an old idea: love God, love others, love yourself. It’s the foundation of all the great religions. It was all there, in the ancient texts, but those same texts also contained a lot of rules telling the people how to ACT faithful.

Imagine if, instead of being free to work out for yourself what to put on your pledge card, you had to consult a list of requirements for your giving through the year. If you work full time, give a set percentage on pay day. If you’re unemployed, wash the coffee cups after church as your contribution – and be sure you do it right and get them sanitized. If you are raising cows, bring one to the Deacons quarterly for their barbecue. If you are raising sheep, bring a fleece for the prayer shawl knitters. If you bake your own bread, bring the pastor a loaf each week.
Actually, that last one sounds pretty good. Let me make a note…

There are lots of people who do things not unlike the list above, but they don’t do them because they are following rules. They do them out of love, freely. Jesus came to perfect an expression of faith that had gotten tangled up in rules and laws and practices, distracting people from loving God and loving their neighbors. Jesus came to show us that God cares more about being loved than about the way we worship. It was a dangerous and revolutionary idea that threatened to upset the way things were done. It upset the people who were in power. The system of sacrifices and taxes worked well for them. So they came to challenge the man who challenged them.

We don’t live according to specific rules of religious practice in this faith community. We may have habits around where we sit or how we greet each other, but on the whole this is a remarkably elastic group of people, able to adjust and try something new and incorporate ideas for doing things a little differently. That’s a strength.

And it’s a strength of our Congregational tradition is that we can agree to disagree on things that aren’t essential. No church leader or pastor can tell you how to vote or where to shop or what your work ought to be or … what to give.

We each have to work out our understanding of what it means to be a follower of Jesus, what it means to run the course he laid for us.

But here is something I will tell you. This is my conviction. The foundation for working out all the questions is the faith pioneered and perfected by Jesus. We call him a pioneer because he leads us in new directions. We call him a perfecter because he reclaimed historic understandings of the faith and made them matter in their essentials again. It’s all there in the Great Commandment. Jesus taught and lived the call to be in loving relationship with God. He taught and lived the call to be in loving relationship with others.

This is the work of each Christian.

But I woke up this morning with my mind stayed on polyurethane.

This is the work of every collective group of Christians.

But we gather this morning with our minds stayed on – it might be the budget, or, or how we’ll ever get the steeple painted, or what the future holds, or … you fill in the blank. We may worry about both known challenges and unknown outcomes. How are we to live faithfully? What is the right way to move forward?

Staying our minds on Jesus requires us to look seriously at the way we live, the things we do, the decisions we make, and the way we treat others. Staying our minds on Jesus leads us to a deeper love for God and for others. And maybe living a deeper lover for God and others will keep our minds stayed on Jesus.

The Reverend Ann Kansfield of Greenpoint Reformed Church, Brooklyn, NY.

The Greenpoint Reformed Church in Brooklyn, New York, is not a big church, but it is a church committed to showing Christ’s love to those in the neighborhood. The congregation gathers in what used to be a mansion, not a church building. From that location, they operate a soup kitchen and food pantry and serve 6000 people each month.* Thankfully, they did not lose power during Hurricane Sandy. Because they have what Pastor Ann Kansfield calls “boots on the ground,” they were able to start feeding people again right away, both on their site and with brown bag meals sent to the hurricane shelter at Coney Island.

And they are doing more. The United Church of Christ awarded Greenpoint Church a grant to help church neighbors who get SNAP benefits, which are food stamps. They are spreading the word about replacement benefits for those who lost perishable food in the blackout, and now through the grant will have the person-power to help with the application forms and the use of a computer and a fax machine, needed to get the paperwork done.

This is the work not of one faithful person alone, but of a faithful community supported by the wider church. It’s an expression of love for God made manifest in love for neighbor. May we all do the same, and

Wake up tomorrow with our minds
Stayed on Jesus
Hallelu, hallelu, hallelu-u-jah.

Amen.

 

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  1. […] finally, “Stayed on Jesus” was Martha Spong’s sermon title for November 4.  I’m going to return to this one […]

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