Rev. Ben Campbell | 10.25.20

Count on God, Act like Jesus

A Big Moment

I think all of us realize this morning that we are in the midst of a Big Moment.

It is a moment of world history that is so big everyone is affected by it.  Big things are happening.  Big, unstoppable changes are underway.  It is far bigger than any of us singly, so we know our lives will change. But each of us has some power as time move forward.  Each of us is invited to choose.  Each of us must also take initiative.

Here are three of the major pieces of this Big Moment :

  1. First, the whole World is in a Pandemic. People are dying.  Nations are disrupted.
  2. Second, America is in a Racial Revolution called Black Lives Matter: The renewed exposure of our deeply structural racism and, crippling, racially tinged chronic poverty.
  3. Third, in a deeply divided nation we are nine days away from an American Election whose results will have dramatic implications for the future of this nation and the world.

There’s more, much more.  But that’s enough for this morning.

Jesus stood in a Big Moment too.  The Roman Empire’s conquests and consolidation forced the world together.  Ethnic nations were becoming multiracial.  In Palestine, Herod the Great had presided over a political/economic settlement which kept an economically privileged, corrupt elite in religiously sanctioned power.  Competing sectarian elites quarreled over scriptural interpretation, a privilege unavailable to the largely impoverished population.  Rebellion threatened.

As Jesus stood in Jerusalem, facing that generation’s Big Moment, he stood firmly on the two Big Commandments.  Here’s Matthew’s telling of it:

When the Pharisees heard that [Jesus] had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”  (Matthew 22:34-40)

In the Big Moment Jesus went back to basics.  That’s where we must go this October 25th, 2020.  We need to go, as he did, to the Big Commandments: Love God and Neighbor.  Or, more directly for us: Count on God, Act Like Jesus.

Count on God, Act like Jesus.

Count on God.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.

Nothing could be more important in this Big Moment.  To love God is the timeless, eternal act.  God was there yesterday, he is there today, and he will be there tomorrow.  When you don’t know what is coming, when you are seeking your own part in what is to be, there is nothing more fundamental than counting on God.

God is timeless, eternal.  Each of us carries timelessness within. You know your own timeless self.  You are your own timeless, eternal self.  That self is living within you, the foundation of your own being.  I think that may be why the Commandment uses words like heart and soul to describe our loving of God.  We do it beneath our own mind and understanding.  From the beginning we long for God.

One of the most difficult things about loving God in the post-Enlightenment Western World is the habitual intellectual chatter about whether or not there is a God.  The problem is this: our sense of God does not come primarily from our minds, but from somewhere deeper than that – from our own inner being.  Long before we love God with our minds, long before we admit that God exists, we are seeking to know him, perhaps unconsciously loving him, with our hearts and souls.  God is in the realm of heart and soul – and only later, in the realm of thought.

Alcoholics Anonymous recognizes the intellectual difficulty of God in the Western World by the language of its third step.  AA says: “We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.”  We can depend on God without fully understanding God.  Such an important decision – knowledge, or dependence, or love of God — comes from within; the mind is only a commentator on it.

Count on God.

It is far more important to ask, “What is God like?” than to ask “Is there a God?”  If you tell me God is some heavenly being who makes everything happen like a puppetmaster; if you tell me God is an angry, punitive judge who is involved in sending human beings into eternal fiery punishment; or if you tell me God is a world-starter who set this earth going and then went away to another project; or if you tell me God is some vague, enormous blob – if you tell me those things, I don’t think I believe in God.

But if you tell me that God is like Jesus, I believe in God.  He doesn’t control, but he loves.  He may not fix it the way I want, but he cares and will always support. God lets me use the pronoun “he,” and lets you use the pronoun “she,” because God is just glad we’re using any pronoun at all.  Jesus said, “No one has ever seen God.” But he added, “if you have seen me, you’ve seen the Father.”  God feels, cares, loves, like Jesus.  That is the absolute core of Jesus’ good news.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. Count on God.  In this Big Moment, when everything is on the line, when the world is changing and we must change — Count on God.  ….  And Act Like Jesus.

Act like Jesus.

              Loving the Lord your God is the first and greatest commandment.  And there’s a second that is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

Love your neighbor; Act like Jesus.  God is timeless; Jesus was timely.  He was as deeply embedded in Galilee and Jerusalem in the First Century as we are in Richmond in the Twenty-first.  His actions were in direct response to the society, the historical situation, the people he encountered.  They may have had long-term, even eternal, value, but in the beginning they were appropriate, responsive, and took place on specific days and in specific places.

So acting like Jesus is to act in our own time and place, in direct response to specific insight and knowledge that we are given.  No one else has our precise perspective and placement.  No one else stands where we stand.  No one has.  No one will.

Jesus’ action is our model for carrying out the second great commandment to love your neighbor as yourself.  His action is twofold – and this is often not recognized.  One part of his action is direct relationship with another person or persons.  The other is advocacy for justice for persons.  Both are essential parts of his ministry of love of neighbor.

The neighbor whom I relate to directly is a member of my family, someone who lives near me, someone whom God puts in my sights, or someone whom I am able to serve through the mediation of a church or social service opportunity.  St. Paul’s Emmaus program is such a brokering program, enabling a kind of neighbor-loving in Twenty-first-century America.

The neighbor for whom I advocate justice is anyone affected by systemic injustice, ineffective economic structures, poor legislation, bad policy, or institutionalized greed.  Truth-telling is the great weapon here.  The neighbor-love of advocacy builds coalitions and support for change.  It makes real in the community the equity which God has in his heart.

If you’re not sure the establishment of justice is a part of love of neighbor, please just take a look at Jesus.  Look at what he said, whom he challenged, what he taught.  He was earnest and true in personal relationships that redeemed and healed.  And he was unrelenting and tireless in his quest for social justice. Jesus was not executed because he healed a blind man.  But his crucifixion by the unjust set off a quest for justice that continues here in Metropolitan Richmond right now, today.

In this Big Moment we need to grab hold of the two Big Commandments – Count on God.  Act Like Jesus.  On these two commandments, Jesus says in Matthew’s Gospel, hang all the law and the prophets.

Count on God.  Act Like Jesus.  And one more thing, I think, can be said:

Hang with the Prophets.
A Big Moment like this is a time of impending change.  Whether we are talking about the elections, or the changes in the world order, or the challenge to structural racism, or the deep social disruption surfaced by the pandemic, or this moment in the life of St. Paul’s, we stand at a crucial moment, on the edge of the cliff of the future, and things have already begun to change dramatically.

Time is short.  If we miss the opportunity to help shape the future, the future will happen without us.  It is, I think, a time for risk-taking, for faithful and courageous investment to help shape an unknown future.

You can have a bucket list that represents the things you haven’t done in the past.  But the bucket list of justice deals with the future.  With accumulated experience and resources, and with a time that is quickly shortening, how can we, both personally and collectively, launch testimonies and strategies for justice into the next decades?  How can we provide healthy seed for the next harvest of justice?

For if in the Big Moments we do nothing, the chaos when it settles will settle back into the old patterns, harder than ever to dislodge.  We aren’t sure what’s needed – that’s why pressing for justice is risky.  And we aren’t sure what the results of our actions will be – that may come long after our time.  But I think we may see – pray God – that there are things each of us can do for the next generation, for persons, and for the sake of justice.  We’d be hanging with the prophets.

In this Big Moment,

Count on God.

Act like Jesus.

Hang with the Prophets.                                                                                AMEN.