Sermon Preached by Pastor Wesley White
January 18-19, 2003
1 Corinthians 13:12-13
Greetings in the name of Jesus Christ who points us to GOD.
In the next 18-months we will be joined together to find again the joy of congregation. One of the ways we will do that is by going back to our roots to find our way forward.
One of my favorite John Wesley sermons is titled, On Zeal. His text was Galatians 4:18: It is good to be always zealously affected in a good thing. The key here is what we mean by "good."
In this day of terrorism-coming from some combination of religious, economic, political and/or military directions-we know that to be zealous can fall over into the fanatical. We can even be hurtful in our zealousness to be safe and secure.
I would join John Wesley in pointing us beyond issues of terrorism and fear and also beyond issues of safety and security. This "beyond" comes from our understanding of GOD's love on which is based the whole of creation and our own lives. John said, "True Christian zeal is no other than the flame of love."
GOD has so loved that in the beginning GOD took one breath "bigger than a circus tent and everything began." GOD has so loved that Jesus Christ is our salvation. GOD has so loved that Fifth Avenue United Methodist Church and you are witnesses of that love in our ministries and daily lives.
To help me illustrate this I will use an image from childhood - a ring stacker. It is safe for children six-months or older. Running through the center of this toy is the foundation of GOD's love. This love is found before creation, in creation, and after creation. This love is found in rocks and all critters in choirs and in you and in me and even in our enemies. There is nowhere where GOD's love is not present. This love of GOD is the foundation of the waters of creation that will flow through and over all the rings to be added.
Here is the first ring. GOD loves the world and asks us to live in the world, even if we are not only of the world. GOD loves the air and the birds and the beasts. We are called to be zealous in our love of the environment. You have all probably heard jokes about people who claim they are able to worship on the golf course or in nature. It's true, they can. It is also true that our American tendency to individualism can keep us away from the blessing of community and that only worshiping GOD at this lowest of levels can keep us from progressing in our spiritual journey. So zealously love GOD in nature but don't stop there.
GOD is not limited to creation and wants our love to be full and has created a place of community for us. We call it church. Here is the second ring. GOD loves the church. While we can worship alone in nature, GOD has made us in such a way that when we pass up opportunities to join with our sisters and brothers we stunt our own growth. As members of the Fifth Avenue United Methodist Church we are to pray for the church, be present with one another, share our gifts and our service of time and energy with our congregation. This is important. I suspect we are not praying for our church enough and some signs of that are that we have a small worship attendance when measured against our membership, our pledges are almost $50,000 behind our budget needs, and we don't have adequate lay participation in active committees to do the work of the church. Even so, GOD loves Fifth Avenue United Methodist Church and asks us to be zealous in our love for our local church, our whole denomination, and the church universal.
GOD calls us to "church." But even that is not the limit of GOD's love for us. We cannot let institutional strength substitute for the third ring. Here is a circle of vital piety that goes beyond church. We are called to simply pray and pray some more, to pray constantly. We are called to regularly share the Lord's Supper. We are called to read and hear and meditate on the Scriptures. We are called to the much neglected duty of fasting. We are called to pay attention to the spiritual disciplines of GOD. Vital churches these days are full of small groups and people urging each other on to greater experience of ministry and depth of spiritual growth. These are important ways of participating in GOD's love for us through our zealous love of GOD.
We also know that we are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves and so we cannot stop here, as delightful and satisfying as piety is. The fourth ring is for us our faith in action-acts of mercy. Woe be to us if we say we need to pay more attention to our prayers than to helping someone wounded along the road of life. We will be no better than those who passed by and were shown up by the despised Samaritan. The gospel of Matthew reminds us that the gate of judgment is based on the hungry we fed, the prisoners we visited. GOD's love is as present in ministries of social justice as it is in reading the Bible. In fact our spiritual disciplines never let us rest when there is good to be done, for faith without works is dead. We cannot avoid being zealous to be peacemakers. This ring is seen in church and world as we honor Human Relations Day with our offerings and prepare for the national holiday remembering Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and all he did to move us all toward equality.
Finally, the fifth ring - the fruits of the spirit, the attitudes of life, the ways of being. You have heard of the importance of humility, of patience, of gentleness. There will never be enough of these qualities of GOD who expresses these characteristics toward us and all through the forgiveness of sins, even, as Jesus said, seventy times seven times. GOD's love desires to live through us, to the very core of our being. We are to be zealous to be saints in our desires as well as in our appreciation for creation, our participation in the church, our experience of spiritual disciplines, and our participation in social justice.
John Wesley implored, "O let this be deep engraved upon your heart: All is nothing without love!"
Even if you appreciate nature, serve on a church committee, read the Bible, help others, and are patient-if you do all of that without love, it is as if you did it for nothing. There is diligent duty, hope, faith and love. The greatest of these is love. Be zealous in your love, not playing one ring or one part of life off against another. GOD's love is behind each ring. GOD's love still sticks out beyond these rings and knows no limit. GOD's love calls you to be zealous in your love for GOD, for your self, for your neighbor, for one another, and, yes, for your enemies.
As we proceed through these next 18 months together I will be looking to see all the different ways we express GOD's love for the world around us, in the strengthening of our church, in the deepening of our member's spiritual lives, in the broadening of our ministries of social justice, and in the spirit of the qualities of GODliness.
I am pleased to be with you. Now it is time to go to work. Let us zealously and joyfully love our church, one another, and all. Amen.