Three simple rules

We are hungry, and we live among hungry people in a hungry world. Most people in the world are hungry for food in ways I have never known, though one day I may, but that’s not the kind of hunger I’m thinking of. I’m thinking of a deeper hunger, the hunger of the heart for the “more and better life than [we] ever dreamed of” that Jesus said he came for us to have (John 10:10 The Message) – a hunger to be whole and complete as God is whole and complete (Matt. 5:48), a hunger for being so fully alive that our physical experiences resonate with our spiritual realities, an experience Joseph Campbell called “the rapture of being alive.”

In his autobiography, St. Augustine wrote, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in you.” That’s the kind of hunger I’m thinking of. Or it’s the hunger French theologian Blaise Pascal referred to when he wrote, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of each [person] which cannot be satisfied by any created thing but only by God the Creator.”

When Jesus was bidding farewell to his disciples on his last evening with them, he spoke to them about the hole in their lives that was about to be created by his departure, the biggest loss in their lives up to that point. He spoke about how the emptiness created by that loss would be filled by what they needed more than anything else. “Those who love me,” he said, “will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will make our home with them” (John 14:23). The deepest loss they experienced would be filled with the abiding presence of the one they lost and of God.

Now let’s consider the hunger in our lives. What are you yearning for? What is the emptiness in your life that cries out to be filled? What’s the shape of abundant life for you and for your world? What does it look like for you to be whole and complete as God is whole and complete?

Pastor Emily’s departure has left an emptiness in the life of this congregation, and that emptiness, that loss, may unleash a deep and perhaps very old need, a yearning, a hope. It’s one that Pastor Emily could not fill, that I cannot fill, that no pastor can fill. It’s one that only a living experience of God’s presence and love can fill.

So the question today is, how can that emptiness be filled? How can we find and claim the fulfillment of our deep need? And Jesus, I think, gives us the answer here. “Those who love me,” he said, “will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will make our home with them” (John 14:23). God’s abiding presence, the transforming presence of the living Christ, is realized by loving Christ and keeping Christ’s word. It’s realized when we value the presence of Christ within us more than anything else and when we are good stewards of Christ’s word, the logos, the dynamic, creative activity of God in our flesh. And there are three simple rules for doing this.

The first rule is: Do no harm. Do nothing that will harm you or your neighbors or anyone else, and do nothing that will harm the creation of God for which you have been appointed caretaker or steward. If you’re doing something that causes harm to you or to your neighbors or to creation, stop it right now. Are you eating an unhealthy diet or living an unhealthy lifestyle? Stop it. Are you harboring a grudge against your neighbor or a prejudice against a stranger? Stop it. Are you doing anything that pollutes or otherwise harms creation? Stop it.

The second rule is: Do good. John Wesley put it in a way that is simple and that makes clear just how comprehensive this rule is.

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.

“Love your enemies,” Jesus said, “do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:27-36, sel.)

And the third rule is: Stay in love with God. Jesus said the first commandment of all is that “you shall love the Lord your God with all you heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength”; and the second is like it, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:25-28; Mark 12:28-31; Luke 10:25-28). Everything depends on these two.

There is grace enough in life to fill our emptiness. There are blessings enough to satisfy our deepest hungers. There is mercy enough to heal our deepest wounds. Do no harm, do good, stay in love with God, and you will know the grace, the blessings, the healing of God’s abiding presence.

This is a message delivered to the congregation of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Tonawanda, New York, on 26 May 2019.

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