Sunday, June 8, 2008

Sermon - June 8

We’re talking about Micah 8 in terms of Core Values – Remember that statement that defines core values? It came from the National Park Service’s website:
“The core values of an organization are those values we hold which form the foundation on which we perform work and conduct ourselves. In an ever-changing world, core values are constant. Core values underlie our work, how we interact with each other, and which strategies we employ to fulfill our mission. They are the practices we use (or should be using) every day in everything we do.”
Micah 6:8 can be understood as a statement of the core values of God’s people. These three things undergird our life of faith: To do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God.
How does the core value of loving kindness shape our life of faith? The word from Micah is translated, throughout the Old Testament variously as compassion, mercy, loyalty, the capacity to relent, but most commonly as steadfast love. For the next few minutes, let’s think together about what that means for us and how that core value
Govern personal relationships
Guide us in making decisions
Help explain why we do business the way we do
Underpin the whole organization
One place to begin is to notice how important loving kindness was to Jesus. Because there’s no question that loving kindness was one of Jesus’ core values. When Jesus was asked by a lawyer to name the most important of all the commandments, the story is in Matthew 22:34-40, Jesus immediately answered that the most important law was that of love – You shall LOVE the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” AND, Jesus added, right behind that one is “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
It was the core value of Love that guided Jesus’ in his every day dealings with God in Heaven, and with other human beings.
How did Jesus show his love for God?
He prayed – he often went off by himself and spent time alone with God.
He worshipped in the synagogues and at the Temple – Jesus never separated himself from His community of faith. His parents took him to the Temple as a baby, he went as a young teenager, he continued to go and was there the week before his death. He participated in worship as a member of God's people throughout his life.
He studied God’s Word as it was found in the Scriptures.
We know that because he quoted scripture all the time. The Great Commandment and the Love your neighbor as yourself commandment are both found in the scriptures that Jesus knew. He didn't make those things up. He was quoting the book of Deuteronomy. As he studied that book, he would have waded through about 500 other “Laws” that the Pharisees thought were every bit as important: Laws about food, laws about how to arrange the temple, laws about washing, laws about the Sabbath, laws about all kinds of good stuff.
The Pharisees, who also loved the scriptures, tried to show God their love by keeping every one of those laws. We can’t imagine their individual motives. Were they afraid of God? Were they afraid of God’s punishment? Were they afraid of themselves? Did they fear that without all those laws, their lives would be unmanageable? It’s hard to know. But what we do know is that Jesus understood the core value of steadfast love more fully than they.
And he challenged them about it.
And they challenged him.
The Gospel text that the lectionary assigns for today is about the call of Matthew the tax collector to be one of Jesus’ disciples. The night that Matthew said “yes” to Jesus, there was a party at his house. And the taxcollectors and sinners came. And Jesus came. And because they wanted to be where Jesus was, the other disciples came. In order to be with Jesus, they had to sit with the sinners. But the Pharisees didn’t come. Oh No! They just poked their heads in, saw what was going on and motioned for a couple of the disciples to come outside. “What is your teacher doing in there, eating with tax collectors and sinners?” But when they asked Jesus about it, he just said, “I go where people need me.” And then he quoted what sounds like Micah, chapter 6, but is probably from Hosea – What do you think it means when God says, “I desire compassion, not sacrifice.” Have a little compassion. Have a little mercy. For God’s mercy, as shown through Jesus Christ, is wider than our own. And we know that, because God’s mercy has been wide enough to include each one of us.
One of Jesus’ most famous parables, the Parable of the Good Samaritan, was a brilliant exposition of what compassion means, what love for neighbor means, what having mercy means. It is found in Luke, chapter 10, and it still challenges us to live by the core value of compassion/steadfast love.
There was a famous sociology experiment, conducted; I am embarrassed to say, at the seminary where I earned my degree – Princeton Theological Seminary, though not, I hasten to add, while I was there. Researchers took seminarians, gave them a questionnaire and a copy of the parable of the Good Samaritan, and then sent them to an adjoining building. There they were to deliver an impromptu speech on the text. Some of them were told that they’d taken too much time on the questionnaire, and would soon be late to the next step. Others were congratulated on being prompt and told they had just enough time to get to the next building to stay on schedule. Others were told they had plenty of time. In order to get to correct room in the second building, the seminarians had to pass by a person slumped in the hallway, who coughed, moaned and seemed to be in some distress. Sadly, only 40% of the pastors in training stopped to offer assistance. Not surprisingly, the majority of those who helped were those who thought they had plenty of time.
But maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. After all, when Jesus told the story, it wasn’t the priest or the religious leader who stopped to help the man by the side of the road. It was the Samaritan, the outsider, the one upon whom all the good religious folk looked down, who dressed the man’s wounds, took him to an inn and nursed him back to health at his own expense. This is the one who lived out the core value of compassionate love.
Lovingkindness. Steadfast love. Compassion. Mercy.
How do we see this core value being lived out among us?
I think of Betty Lauchner, and Marlene, and Lou going shopping at Bed, Bath and Beyond for the bedroom for linens for the bedroom of the Women in Transition house. Looking at every kind of sheet, comparing prices and value, as carefully as if they were buying these things for one of their daughters or the daughter of a friend.
I think of Terry Pratt, who takes care of generations of her family so carefully, but still volunteers for Vacation Bible School, because she knows how important VBS is to her kids and she wants that for other people’s children, too.
I think of those of you who visit our elderly and shut ins, letting them know that they are still important to us, that they are still part of this congregation and that we love them.
These acts of steadfast loving kindness lie at the core of our life together as a church, just as compassion and mercy lay at the heart of Jesus’ life and ministry.
These words describe what lies at the heart of the eternal God in whom we trust. And these words are a challenge God sets before us.
Steadfast love. Compassion. Mercy.
This week, will we live by the core value of lovingkindness?
Will our actions be guided by steadfast, loyal love?
Will compassion undergird the whole organization of Philo Presbyterian Church?
Will mercy explain why we do what we do?
After all God’s lovingkindness and all God’s mercy to us in Jesus Christ our Lord, that we should strive to exercise steadfastness and compassion – is that too much to ask?
God has shown you, o mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you, but that you
Do justice, and loving kindness, walk humbly with your God.

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