Sunday Message, 20th November – ‘Missional Communities live the Great Commandment’

by Rev Rowena Francis, URC Moderator, Northern Synod.

Matthew 22:36-40

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”  37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

There is in church circles a famous bit of graffiti where a poster on a church notice-board read ‘Jesus saves’ and someone had scrawled underneath it ‘with the Woolwich.’ Paul, the great first century follower of Jesus wrote to one of the churches he had founded in Corinth; in the second bible
reading we listened today, and said ‘Today is the day to be saved – now is the day of salvation’.

But what does it mean to say that Jesus saves? What does it mean to be part of a community, the church that has at its heart sharing in this mission of Jesus to save people and all creation, whose purpose is to proclaim the day of salvation? What does it mean for Trinity to be a missional community that shares in this saving work of Jesus?

Firstly a missional community that shares in the saving work of Jesus is about each one being a faithful follower of Jesus and learning from Christ what it means to live our lives 24/7 in the saving grace of God. This is what the life shapes that have been explored in different ways over recent months here at Trinity are all about. The life shapes are tools to enable us to follow closely the way of Jesus.

Secondly, a missional community that shares in the saving work of Jesus in one that is being transformed from enemies to friends of God and one another. It is about being reconciled to God and one another. Jesus dying on the cross shows us the way.

The vertical beam of the cross is God coming to us on earth as Jesus, God vulnerably giving of God-self to humanity – as a baby dependent on Mary, Joseph and many others to raise him. Jesus said ‘greater love have no one than this that they are willing to lay down their life for their friends.’ Jesus willingly gave his life for us and declares us friends.

Only last week we commemorated this as we journeyed through Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday giving thanks and remembering those who gave their lives not for their friends but for their nation. The hope is that transformed life in a better peaceful world will result from such sacrifice.

Christians believe that by Jesus being born, dying on the cross and being resurrected from the dead by God the earth is transformed into the kingdom of heaven where love, peace, joy and justice prevail. This means that war, evil, death and sin (that is when we go our own way) -can no longer separate us from the love of God for us now unless we allow them to – even though God’s will and purposes are not yet realised on earth as fully as I hope and believe they one day will be. For we as humans often choose our own way rather than the way of vulnerable self-giving love revealed in Jesus.  We create enemies rather than making friends, even of ourselves – for example through addictions and unloving resentful behaviour. We sometimes choose to remain distant or apathetic or even an enemy of God rather than responding to the love of God for us shown on the cross in Jesus. That is the freedom we have.

Yet Christ when he opened his arms on the cross beam potentially embraced each of us with love and thereby joined us once more with God. When we live in response to this we walk in the way of love with Jesus rather than doing our own thing; determined by our selfish desires.

It is as we wrestle and struggle with being a community of friends willing to care and love, die and be there for one another that the saving power of Jesus, the grace of God is experienced and is not wasted.

Think of a great chasm – on one side is God and on the other creation including all of us. Then lodge the cross in the chasm so that the cross of
Jesus forms a bridge. Through Jesus then we can be reconciled with God and with one another.  As we cross back and forth, dying with Jesus and being raised into the abundant life of God’s grace and love then we are transformed from enemies of God into friends and thus are reconciled with God.

The grace of God changes us from enemies to friends and this must not be wasted or accepted in vain. Rather this grace, this transforming love is to be shared so that we along with many others are saved. A missional community does not waste or accept in vain God’s grace. It tacks in the Holy Spirit’s breeze so the sails of the boat of the church are filled and there is a movement of reconciliation and friendship. A missional community rides the waves of God’s love so that others experience the awesomeness of such profound friendship and therefore find life transformed.

Or to put it in a simplistic way; a father, reading his Sunday paper and wishing to not be disturbed by his little girl, cut up a map of the world, gave it to her, and told her to put it together. He thought that this would keep her quiet for some time. After a short while she returned with it and
every piece was in its place.  Very much surprised, the father said: “Why, how did you do it? You don’t know much about geography!” The little girl replied, “There was a picture of Jesus on the other side, and I knew when I had Jesus in the right place, the whole world would be all right.”

When we are made right with God through our friendship with Jesus then we are reunited with others. This is why a missional community that lives by God’s grace is open and welcoming and seeks to be friends with all. Hannah has today been welcomed. We hope that Jack and Laura will know the love and friendship of God for their family through the welcome received here. For we hope to offer friendship as Christ does.

Thirdly a missional community that shares in the saving work of Jesus lives the greatest commandments. Jesus taught that the greatest commandment is to love God with all of ones being, deep down with one’s true inner self and not just on the surface or with a mask. Jesus said the second commandment is like it – indeed you cannot have one without the other – so the second law is to love your neighbour as you love yourself. The cross is meaningless with only the vertical beam or only the horizontal one – it needs to span the downward dimension between God and creation with transforming love and also the cross beam of each person in their relationships one with another.  Keep these commands says Jesus – love as I love you, be friends with one another as I am friends with you and God’s mission and purposes will be realised.

When we manage to keep this law and love God and our neighbour as ourselves then people feel good including us. For to be loved in a deep real way, as who we are, is transforming and life giving. When the church manages to do this then people experience the saving power of God who is love and realise that the earth is a friendly place where each is valued and held in the love of God.  As people come to know they are loved and experience that in the welcome and friendship of a community like Trinity then they will come to know they are loved by God

Robert Newell, an American author, tells the story of how he was driving along a lonely road late one night when his car petered out. A friendly traveller came along, took a rope from the boot of his car, and towed Newell’s stalled car nearly 20 miles to a garage. “When I insisted that he accept payment,” Newell writes, “he refused. He rejected my offer to fill his tank with petrol. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘I must in some way return your kindness.’ The stranger replied: ‘If you really want to show your gratitude, buy a tow rope and always carry it in your car.'”

If we want to accept and enjoy the love of Jesus; if we want it to be meaningful, if we want it to be real – we must go on living in it. We must learn to care as Jesus cared and carry the cross. We must seek the highest good for others as God seeks our highest good. We are to love people as Jesus did – warts and all.

This is not easy to do in our families amongst those who know us well and it is not easy to do in church families, where different generations and different parts of the family think things should be done differently, or are hurt and annoyed by things said or not said. And it certainly is not easy between nations when food, water and energy are scarce across the earth.

So what does it look like to live as a missional community, to live as friends of God not enemies and make friends of others in such situations?

A little girl told a friend who was visiting her father that her brothers set traps to catch the birds in the days when this was common and not against the law. He asked her what she did. She replied, “I prayed that the traps might not catch the birds.”  “Anything else?” “Yes,” she said.  “I prayed that God would keep the birds out of the traps.” “Anything else?” Yes, then I went and kicked the traps all to pieces.”

Yes we are to pray, for ourselves, for our enemies, for understanding and wisdom in situations that are complex. But then we are to faithfully serve
keeping the greatest commandment of loving God and our neighbour as ourselves – and this might mean challenging big brother, standing up for the weak and marginalised whether they be birds of the feathered variety or the starving, poor and abused. It means welcoming, listening and forgiving and acting in love particularly in caring for the weak and vulnerable.

Being a missional community – showing the saving power of God who is love means loving God and loving your neighbour as yourself. And your neighbour is everyone on this small planet. Your neighbour may be the stranger, the foreigner, the youngsters who hang about near your local shop whoever they are even if they are not your sort of person and even if they irritate you to the nth degree. Being a missional community means welcoming and loving your neighbour – the other as you love yourself.

It becomes possible to do so when we recognise that this is how God loves us. This we can grow in knowledge of because Jesus has called us friend and reconciled us in the love of God through the cross.

Love God and love your neighbour as yourself and by so doing the saving transforming power of Jesus will come to be known across the earth and all humanity be made friends of one another and of God. This is God’s saving power and it is offered through us when we live as a missional community.

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