The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire


  

    




Sermon - October 29, 2017
Scripture Reading:
Matthew 22:34-46 
Sermon Title: The Greatest Commandment



The Rev. Robert Vodra


     I have mentioned before that before I start writing a sermon I do a lot of reading.  It is only right that I give credit this week to Dr. Marcus Borg.  Dr. Borg was a New Testament scholar and theologian and was among the most widely known and influential voices in progressive Christianity.  This sermon is mine, but I have used many of his ideas in putting it together.  Dr. Borg just passed away in January 2015, and was writing up until shortly before he died.  Most sermons pull from many different sources, but in this one, I felt his views were exactly on target, so I relied on him more heavily than I normally rely on sources. 


     In our reading this morning we really reach a climax in Jesusís ministry.  He explains in a very concise way what Christianity is all about, what it means to be a Christian. 


     We have made it much more complicated than it needs to be.  Seems that all too often we think that being a Christian means having the right beliefs.  We are not the first Christians to make this mistake. 


     If we go back over 1,000 years, in 1054 there was an event known as ďThe Great Schism.Ē  This was when the Eastern Christian church and the Western Christian church split, resulting in the Roman Catholic church and the Eastern Orthodox church.  At that time the Bishop of Constantinople excommunicated the Pope and all of the Western church, and the Bishop of Rome excommunicated the Bishop of Constantinople and all of the Eastern church.  Some of you were Roman Catholic at one pointÖDo you remember what the issue was that caused this split?  The issue was the internal relationships among God.  The Western church felt that the Holy Spirit proceeds from God the Father and the Son.  The Eastern church felt that the Holy Spirit proceeds from God the Father only.  I would guess this is an issue few of you really spent anytime wondering about, but it was significant enough to split the Christian church in two. 


     In the 1600ís a similar event happened to the reformed church in the Netherlands, which almost split the Dutch reformed church.  That issue was Supralparaianism or Infralapsarianism. I am guessing this area of disagreement is a common discussion around your dining room table many nights.  But in case you have not talked about it lately, or forgotten exactly what the differences are, it has to do with the issue of when God decided to send a messiah.  Did God decide before the fall, when Adam and Eve got kicked out of the garden, because God knew that there would be that original sin and we would need a messiah, which would be Infralapsarianism, or did God decide to send a messiah only after the fall, when God knew that we needed a messiah, which would be Supralapsarianism.  Again, getting our beliefs right mattered and one wants to say, "How could you know that?"


     I recently heard a story, which I hope is true in a way.  In the 1800ís a man from the mountains of North Carolina went to Raleigh, and while he was there saw an ice maker, a recent invention.  This man thought this was a wonderful idea, ice could be made all summer long.  He went back to his hometown and told the members of his Baptist church about this amazing invention he had seen.  Soon the church split, because half felt this was a great thing, and the other half felt that if God had wanted us to have ice year round God would have raised the freezing temperature of water.  The theological argument was a violation of the natural order established by God. 


     But you donít even have to go that far back.  In 1957 the Congregational Christian Churches, mostly on the East Coast, merged with the Evangelical and Reformed Church located mainly in the Midwest to form the United Church of Christ.  In the E & R church, they had a hierarchy, so the leaders of that church sent notice to all E & R churches that they were now part of the United Christ of Christ.  The Congregational Christian Churches had the Congregational system, where the highest level of authority is the local congregation.   Each Congregational Christian Church had to vote if they wanted to join the United Church of Christ or not.  While this was several years before I was born, in Brookfield Connecticut they held their vote.  49% to join and 51% not to join.  ďBut my cousin/ brother/ any relative or friend who is a member of this church was not here this week.Ē  So a few months later they decided to hold a new vote.  From the stories I heard, everyone in town who had ever darkened the doors of the church showed up.  Everyone invited everyone they knew, and everyone in town came.  In the second vote 51% voted to join the United Church of Christ and 49% voted against it.  And it was a theological argument, does God want our church to be one body, even if we do have differences, or should lots of different churches exist because we all have slightly different beliefs.  On a side note, if you look in the United Church of Christ official directory, there is still a category of church listed who have not yet voted if they should join the United Church of Christ or not.  They are still listed because they never voted not to, but never voted to join either. 


     The point is that Christians, or maybe Protestant Christians in particular, have been very concerned about believing the right things: infant baptism versus adult baptism, wine vs. juice, you can probably think of other examples.  Sometimes we have made being Christian very complex, as if it's about getting our beliefs right. But being Christian is actually very simple.


Three statements to explain what I mean:


     First: being Christian is about loving God and loving what God loves. Loving God, of course, that's the main point of text that we read this morning.  Jesus quotes a passage from the sixth chapter of Deuteronomy--"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.  This is central to both our Jewish roots, and also this new Christian faith that was just starting. 


     In addition to loving God, we are to love what God loves. And what does God love? John 3:16, has the answer. "For God so loved the world...." God loves the world, not just me, not just you, not just Christians, not even just human beings, but the whole of creation.  Do you remember the creation story we read a few weeks ago? At the end of each day God proclaims that it is good, and then on the last day God declares it very good. 


     This does not mean that God is done with you, or me, or Christians, or humanity, or even creation yet.  When I was teaching pottery, I recycled a lot of clay.  Before it is fired, you can always take it, throw it back into a bucket of water and it turns back into workable clay.  Often I would demonstrate something for a class, it would be things that were OK, but not anything I really wanted to keep.  This can be done probably forever, if you never fire clay, you just soak it in water and it will go back to workable clay.  I really like the image of God as the potter.  We never go away, but we can be reformed, shaped in a different way, over and over and over again.  I donít know if we ever get fired.  Will we ever be perfect? I donít think so.  As long as I am not fired, if I get broken, I just get built into something new, something better. 

 

     The second thing, Being Christian is about becoming the kind of person who can love God and love what God loves. We need transformation. The process of growing up does not lead us to that deep love of God and that deep love of what God loves. The growing up process leads us to be concerned about ourselves in many cases.


     Christianity is a way of transformation. It's not about beliefs, although there are some.  The earliest follows of Jesus, shortly after the resurrection called themselves followers of the way.  This implies action, becoming more and more attuned to who God is, the God we see in Jesus. 


     Our relationship with God is not that different than our relationship with other humans.  When I do pre-marital counselling, or marital counselling, often I find an area for growth is that couples often do not spend much time together.  Often they are trying to make ends meet.  Childcare, if they have children, is expensive, so often one will work during the day, the other will work at night.  Even if they donít have children, often their schedules will be different for work, so when one has a day off, the other does not.  It is hard to make a relationship work when you donít spend time with each other. 


     The same is true for our relationship with God.  Church is important, it is the time in which we collectively gather to worship, to learn, to praise.  We spend time together building our relationship with God.  Prayer is also important, that is your individual practice that brings you closer to God.  It is important to have both those collective experiences and also individual experiences that together lead toward transformation.   


     And the last thing: Being Christian is about being part of a community of transformation. It's about living within the Christian tradition and Christian community as a means to the end of transformation. This is church as a community of formation and reformation and all of us need this. We grow up in a culture that has values very, very different from what is most central to the Bible. That was our first socialization, our first formation. And so Christian community is about becoming involved in a process of re-socialization, so that our sense of ourselves, our identity, is shaped by involvement in Christian community.


     Christianity, when you think about it, is not very much about believing, even though many people think of it that way. Believing, when you think about it, has very little transformative power. You can believe all the right things and still be quite untransformed. You can believe all the right things and still be mean. Rather, Christianity is about entering into this process of transformation.


     Said another way, being Christian is about passion.  Now letís be honest, even in this church we often donít feel passion.  Sunday morning is often not the most passionate time of the week, but when you really start to think about it, being Christian is about passion.  St. Augustine said  "Our hearts are restless until they find their home in you."


     And Christianity is also about God's passion for the world, that the world itself--the humanly constructed world in particular--be transformed in the direction of God's dream, a world of justice and peace.


     And so, finally, being Christian is also about participating in God's passion.  Not believing in a certain way.  This is what we are called to - Ultimately, being Christian is about loving God and changing the world. It's as simple and challenging as that, and it is the way of life.


Amen.


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