January 27, 2019 – “The Gospel Life: Your Gospel Story” by Rev. Cody Sandahl

Lay Reader = Micah 6:8

He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Matthew 22:36-40

36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 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.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

[Stories from Lynda and Ben]

What Story?

Thank you Lynda, and thank you Ben. It takes great courage to stand up here and share your story.

Our denomination has a group associated with it that builds and manages Christ-like care for the elderly. It’s called Presbyterian Senior Living. And a number of years ago, Presbyterian Senior Living was debating whether they could serve more people if they dropped the word “Presbyterian.” Does it discourage, for example, a Methodist from living at the Presbyterian Senior Living facility? Or what about – GASP – an atheist?

So PSL conducted a survey to see what people associate with the word “Presbyterian.” And this is fascinating. Any guesses what they found out, the #1 association people have with the word “Presbyterian?” Any guesses? “They handle their money well.”

Of course, I wonder if the people responding to that survey had seen the finances of a Presbyterian church before…

But is that the association you want? That actually works totally fine for a senior living facility. But what about a church? Is “they handle their money well” the story we want to tell? Is that our Gospel story?

A pastor friend of mine had a church-goer who was a doctor. And this doctor cared deeply about his faith, he was very involved at the church. But my pastor friend found out from a nurse that the nurses kept a hidden picture of this doctor in their nurse station. It was their dart board. The way he treated the nurses meant he was “the guy on the dartboard.” Is that the story we want to tell?

What’s your story? What story do others tell about you? And what story does God tell about you? A lot of times that story isn’t based on what you’ve done but on how you did it.

One of my favorite authors wrote a pithy little saying to capture this. He wrote, “If you do something stupid and it works, it was still stupid and you were lucky.”

Community Dinner

When Lynda came to me a few years ago with this vision for the Community Dinner, I loved her vision not just because of the what but especially the how. We’re not using disposable plates, because we aren’t serving disposable people. They have value.

We aren’t just presenting people with a serve-yourself buffet and you better be grateful. We’re serving them food. And we have people who sit down and eat with them. Talk with them. Show that they’re valuable as people, not just another faceless person in need.

That’s a big difference. That matters. That’s what makes the Community Dinner not just another story of serving. That’s what makes the Community Dinner a Gospel story. Jesus didn’t just hand out food. He sat down and ate with people. Talked with them. Valued them.

That’s a way better story.

So I love that the Community Dinner isn’t just doing what Jesus wants us to do, but doing it in a way that reflects the very heart of Jesus. How we do it is essential.

We’re going to hear from other groups throughout the year, and it’s the same story with them. I don’t just want to lift up what we’re doing, I want to celebrate how we are reflecting the heart of Christ. That’s a better story.

Love Is the Why

So that’s the what – do the things Jesus wants us to do.

That’s the how – do things in a way that reflects the very heart of Christ.

What about the why? Why do we do things like the Community Dinner and why do we do them in a way that reflects the heart of Christ even if it makes it harder or more expensive?

Well let’s circle back to the passage Lynda read. How does Jesus summarize the entire Bible? Love God with all you’ve got, and love your neighbor as yourself.

Why serve? Why serve in a more difficult manner that requires more volunteers to sit at tables and wash plates and utensils instead of just throwing it all away?

Love. That’s why.

Love for the cash-strapped family.

Love for the quiet widow or widower.

Love for the person who could afford their own meal but was too lonely to go home.

Love for those who are grateful…and love for those who aren’t.

Love for the person who easily converses…and love for the person who sits silently or says things that are abrasive.

Love for the person who brings a smile to our face…and love for the person that makes us internally dread the evening.

Love.

That’s the greatest commandment according to Jesus.

Love.

And so we don’t serve people food because it’s a nice service project. We don’t tutor the Whiz Kids because it’s a way to keep our math skills fresh. We don’t spend time with our youth group or the Boy Scout troops at this church because we want more families here. We don’t get to know our neighbors and invite them to church because we need more members.

We do these things out of love. We do these things because we care. We do these things because we want to know and support and encourage these real people – not just statistics, not just another feather in our cap. Real. Loved. People.

That’s the greatest commandment. Love.

Hopefully that’s the story people associate with this church.

And hopefully that’s the story people associate with you personally.

What’s your Gospel story? How are you BEING the Good News of Jesus Christ to someone? That’s a story worth telling. And it doesn’t have to be all that complicated.

Henri Nouwen, a well-known author and priest at a facility for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities, told about an encounter he had with Mother Teresa. I think it was Carol that shared this at one of our staff meeting devotionals.

“Once, quite a few years ago, I had the opportunity of meeting Mother Teresa of Calcutta. I was struggling with many things at the time and decided to use the occasion to ask Mother Teresa’s advice. As soon as we sat down I started explaining all my problems and difficulties – trying to convince her of how complicated it all was! When, after ten minutes of elaborate explanation, I finally became silent, Mother Teresa looked at me quietly and said,: “Well, when you spend one hour a day adoring your Lord and never do anything which you know is wrong . . . you will be fine!” . . . Reflecting on this brief but decisive encounter, I realize that I had raised a question from below and that she had given an answer from above. At first, her answer didn’t seem to fit my question, but then I began to see that her answer came from God’s place and not from the place of my complaints. Most of the time we respond to questions from below with answers from below. The result is more questions and more answers and, often, more confusion. Mother Teresa’s answer was like a flash of lightning in my darkness. I suddenly knew the truth about myself.”

Spend time adoring God. Don’t do things you know are wrong. Show love, not self-interest, toward other people. That’s the good news of Jesus Christ, and that’s a story worth telling. May it be true of us. Amen.