What Really Matters

Sermon by the Rev. Terry Elsberry on Sunday, September 27, 2020.
I

Has God turned His back on us? Has America made Him so angry He’s punishing us? So many people experiencing such terrible loss. From the pandemic. From forest fires and storms. From violence. Too much loss, too much suffering, too much anger, too much hate, too much.

The answer is, of course, no. We can turn our backs on Him, reject Him and His ways and His guidelines for living. We see people doing that all the time, don’t we? But He will never turn His back on us.

Having said that, as His people, as Christians, as Christian Americans, there are certain things you and I need to be doing in the face of trauma, injustice, corruption. We need to be playing our part in helping other people and ourselves hold the line and come through to bettertimes.

What are those things? Along with the essentials of caring for our families and ourselves, where do we need to be putting our emphasis, our energy, our focus? What really matters?

Because there are some things that really do matter. Matter in what it means to be the people of God, matter in what it means to live the lives He has for us, matter in what He expects us to show the world.

WHAT REALLY MATTERS? NUMBER ONE: LOVE

Love is the most important thing in the world. It’s the greatest power in the universe. Because God IS love. Out of love, He created the phantasmagorical reaches of outer space, the incalculable varieties of this planet—the wonders of nature, the wonders of creatures, the wonders of US.

And in response? How are we to respond to all these marvels of His unfathomable imagination? By loving. By loving Him, by loving His creation, by loving each other.

Actually, Jesus has already answered the What Really Matters question a long time ago. When a young lawyer asked Jesus what He considered the most important of all the commandments, Jesus without hesitating said: “You shall the love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind . . . and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

We hear it. A lot of us have been hearing it all our lives. But what do we do with it? How do we respond? How can I love God with all my heart? I’m no super spiritual person. I may have been to seminary, but I’m not super human. And to love Jesus this much seems super human.

And other people? Can’t love that yay-hoo who’s a supporter of THAT candidate. Can’t

love that little kid who was so mean to my grandchild in school. Can’t love that guy who beat me out of the job. Can’t love those awful people who . . . Can’t? Or WON’T?

What do you want us to learn about loving, Lord? Why is it so important to You? Can you help me love the unlovable?

OR TRY THIS: help me forgive the unforgivable. Think of people who have done you, or someone you love, wrong.

Because from love (the Jesus kind) naturally flows forgiveness. Not always easy being a Christian. Without His help, it sometimes seems impossible.

Lord Jesus, help us. Help us love, help us forgive as You would have us do. Because, Lord, we sure can’t do it on our own. LOVE.

NUMBER TWO: RESPECT

Hard on the heels of love, which includes forgiveness, comes respect. Respect the created order. Respect other people.

The Apostle Paul is talking to us today when he writes; “If there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Holy Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete; be of the same mind, having the same mind, having the same love.”

The same love as who? As Jesus. What Paul’s saying here is we’re supposed to love like Jesus. A love so extreme, so incomprehensible, He actually let Himself be nailed to a cross–for who? For me. For you.

WHEN I LOOK AT HIM UP THERE HANGING ON THAT CROSS, how can I NOT walk humbly through life? He did this for me. He did it for you. How could He? Because He loves and respects us that much.

So does He ask us to respect and cherish His creation. From the very beginning, when He’s created the world and created the first people, He says He wants them to partner with Him in cultivating and developing and caring for and guarding nature. He tells them to tend it not destroy it.

Then there’s people. He’s calling us to respect other people. That means no room for racism, or anti-Semitism, or anti-anything that has to do with race, color or religion or anything that makes them different from us.

If He can respect us to the point of dying for us, how can we not answer His call today and every day that we need to respect others?

In the musical motion picture “The Greatest Showman,” Hugh Jackman plays P. T. Barnum, founder of the circus. Barnum starts his circus in a hall he rents downtown in the City.

Part of the show’s initial success depends on the gallery of so-called “freaks” Barnum assembles. A lot of these people have been down and out all their lives, ridiculed, barely surviving, living on the edge. Barnum makes them stars!

Years later, when simultaneously the circus comes on hard times and Barnum hits rock bottom both financially and in his marriage, he comes to the end of himself. He gives up, shuts down the circus. One afternoon he’s drinking alone in a bar when suddenly he hears something.

He looks up, turns around. Into the bar solemnly march his so-called “freaks.” One by one they come in and surround him:

The 500-pound Man. The Bearded Lady. Tom Thumb the midget. Mrs. Thumb. The Irish Giant. Dog Boy. The Siamese Twins. The Albino girls. The Horned Boy. The Three-Legged Man. The Elephant-Skinned Man.

They tell Barnum they’re not going to let him fail. They’re not going to let the circus stay closed. He has for the first time in their lives given them respect. He’s given them jobs, made them stars in the entertainment world. They’re willing to work without pay for as long as it takes to get the circus going again.

IDEA! If we can’t afford to rent a building, we’ll put the show in a TENT. Novel idea: circus in a tent. We’ll take the show on the road!

Across the country they go. And an American entertainment institution is born. And it happened, partly, because Barnum showed respect for a bunch of people no one has ever respected before.

And if from love comes forgiveness and from love and forgiveness comes respect, also from love comes helping others. Look for people you can help in these times, find ways to show them you care, help those who are down get a leg up. There’s always somebody who can use some kind of help. Let’s make it happen. LOVE. RESPECT.

NUMBER THREE: SHINE

God is calling us to shine. Shine? What’s that mean? As His people, He wants us to stand out in a crowd. Stand out? I was taught to never put myself forward. We know the importance of humility.

When He asks us to shine, the Lord’s not calling us to show off or be full of ourselves or put ourselves ahead of others.

To shine is to shine with the very persona of Jesus Himself. You and I need to show Jesus to the world. How? By being good.

Ooh, who wants to be good? That’s what I would have said when I was a much younger man. Good. That’s no fun. Why do you think when I was a kid my nickname was “Terry the Terrible?”

But when I say shine with goodness, I mean things like never lie. Never, NEVER lie. Tell the truth. Always. Stand for the so-called old-fashioned values. Things like truth, yes, and justice and integrity and honor. Shine by being trustworthy, faithful, true to your word. Shine by being courageous in standing up for what you know is right even when a whole lot of people are laying down their values and going with what’s expedient. We need to be shining with goodness. We need to show the world a better way—the Jesus way–to live.

It’s not all about getting ahead, not all about winning, not all about success, not all about SELF. It’s about building a life on the foundation of values that are going to last forever. We need to be showing our children and grandchildren what it means to shine with values like these. The future of this country depends on it. SHINE.

The other day on the news I saw a happy story—an actual cheer-up. It’s the story of The Red Truck.

A handful of young musicians from the Metropolitan Opera, out of work because of the Pandemic, have decided to take music to the streets of Manhattan. For several weeks now, a small group of vocalists and violinists pile into the truck every morning and bring the joy, the delight, the wonder of the great music to unsuspecting people around the city.

They drive around, see a few people on park benches or gathered in clumps, stop the truck, jump out and spontaneously begin playing the must unbelievably beautiful music. You should see the looks of relief, of joy on the listeners’ faces as for even a few minutes they’re transported by the music.

The newscast even showed one couple dancing to the stains of Puccini, their faces lit briefly with sheer happiness.

When you and I shine with the light of goodness, the light of attitudes and actions based on the teachings of Jesus, we will automatically lift up the people around us, make others feel better, even in times like these. We need to pull together and do our best to lighten each other’s load.

We’re not all musicians, but we can love others, show them respect and shine with the light of Christ. LOVE. RESPECT. SHINE.

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So, what is the Lord asking of us? The same thing He’s always asked of His people, the same thing He had His prophet Micah tell His people 2700 years ago when he said, “What does the Lord require of you,” asked Micah, “but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.”

I wonder . . . were they able to do it all those years ago? What do you think? Can we do it now?