One of the messages scrolling across the digital signboard of Forest Road United Methodist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia proclaims:
“Your life is the only Bible some people will ever read.”
Hopefully, the message those people read is one of faithfulness and love, where the grace and compassion of Christ is freely given and available to all.
This morning’s gospel reading is from the 11th chapter of Matthew. John the Baptist is in Herod’s dungeon. When he hears of what Jesus was doing, he sends his followers to ask him if he (Jesus), is the Messiah.
The answer Jesus gives to John’s followers is both simple and direct. There’s no mistaking the actions, or the values, of Jesus.
“Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.”
Look around you. The ones you see doing the works, and living the values of Jesus, are those who demonstrate an authentic Christian spirituality. You can see “Christian values.” They are centered on helping those most in need.
A lifestyle based on John Wesley’s exhortation would be one that would clearly demonstrate the love of God. Following these precepts would help our world become a true community. Living according to these words would also prove that real joy comes from giving.
Here is the gospel in one word. This was actually my sermon this past Sunday. Jesus said that the first and greatest commandment of all is to love the Lord with all our heart and mind and strength, and the second was to love others as we love ourselves.
What a vastly different world we would have if we obeyed this one rule. If we lived by the one rule of God there would be no more poverty and no more hunger.
Actions speak louder than words. They also preach far better sermons. The love of God is best shared by demonstrating it, not talking about it.
I once heard someone say that all Christians are called to proclaim the Gospel. And if all else fails, we can use words.
Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can. — John Wesley
This familiar quote by the founder of Methodism never loses its appeal to me. Every time I hear it used or every time I see it quoted again reminds me that we have an unending responsibility “to keep on keeping on.”
What continues to inspire me is that John Wesley didn’t just preach about doing good. He demonstrated the “do all the good you can” philosophy every day of his life. He preached to the poor, visited those in prison, and never ceased crusading for those marginalized by society.
Mr. Wesley would not be popular in today’s United Methodist Church. He would be disgusted by (what would appear to him as) the laziness demonstrated by the majority of today’s clergy. He would find the amount of time we waste as both abhorrent and inexcusable. He simply wouldn’t tolerate the lack of zeal we demonstrate as leaders of the people called Methodists.
He wouldn’t be gentle in instructing us about doing good at all the times we could. He would be quick to administer a solid kick to the seat of our pants with a loving reminder that we are to do all the good we can for as long as we can.
And I am quite sure Mr. Wesley would let us know in no uncertain terms that there is no retiring from doing all the good we can. Wesley was raising funds for the poor in snow and ice less than two weeks before he died. But then, for him, doing good wasn’t a career. It was a calling.
You’ve got to have something to eat and a little love in your life before you can hold still for any damn body’s sermon on how to behave — Billy Holiday
We do far more sermonizing about love than practicing it. That’s why so many of our sisters and brothers still live in the shadow of hunger.
As Billy Holiday powerfully states, we all need something to eat, and we all need to be loved. That’s where we need to start.
Let’s stop preaching so damned much and start really loving those most in need. Let’s look into the eyes of the poor as we feed them. The eyes of our Master will be looking back at us.