Monday, February 13, 2017

My Neighbor Needs My Good Works

In college I was deeply involved in Religious life.
I went to worship every Sunday.
I went to midweek Wednesday Jazz services.
I helped organized a mainline protestant group of Students.
My work study job was in the Chapel.
Every year with the chaplain I tried to organize an interfaith group of students to get together and talk about our religions.
The first year of that group it was blown up by the evangelical Christian group.
They came to the meeting, but told us they would not come to any other meetings.
The reason was that at the meeting the Muslim student gave the opening prayer.
The Evangelical Christians said they would not pray with any other religion.
I told them they didn’t need to pray just hear the prayer of someone else.
They said no.
Only in the name of Jesus can a Christian pray or I guess be around someone who is praying.

I was undeterred I tried again the next year.
The Chaplain suggested that this time we don’t pray together.
That we simply get together to have fun, and build relationships.
I approached the student leader of the Evangelical Christian group.
I assured her that there would be no praying this time.
We would just get together and do things like play volleyball.
She told me that they had prayed about it, and they could not be around people of other faiths.
They couldn’t even play volleyball with Muslims.

This past Friday I was at the Masjid here in Concord for the noonday prayer of our Muslims neighbors.
I had been there before.
I wasn’t the only one to go.
There were people from the Synagogue, from South Congregational, From Grace Episcopal, St. Paul’s, and other faith groups around Concord.
One of the ways that the Greater Concord Interfaith Council has decided to show support to our Muslims neighbors is to show up at the Mosque.
The Imam (That is their name for the person who is their pastor) gave a sermon on loving your neighbor.
He told us that having the support of interfaith community in Concord was like a hot summer day when you are out working and sweating.
And then you come inside and you feel the cool breeze of air conditioning.
Our presence at the Mosque that day was the cool breeze.

Think about these two stories.
Which one puts Christianity in a good light?
Which one of these makes you proud to be a Christian?

Jesus today tells us to, “let our light shine before others so that they may see our good works and glorify our father in heaven.”
For those of us who grew up Lutheran this does not seem like a verse of Jesus’ that we want to follow.
First of all, Lutherans don’t like to show off.
We don’t like to make a spectacle of our faith.
We wouldn’t want people to know that we are doing good things in the name of God.
It is better to keep that to ourselves.
Second, didn’t we just hear a sermon about not having to earn God’s love?
Are we not saved by God’s grace, and not our good works?

I don’t know what to tell you about the first one.
I think we have to start to get over it, because we are doing so many good things, but the world doesn’t know about it.
What the world hears about is all the ways Christians are failing.
We hear about ways that Christians don’t like Muslims, Gays, abortion, and so forth.
Christians are more known for the things they are against then about the good that they do in the world.
We don’t hear about all the simple good things that people do all the time.

If you will allow me this morning a little bit of a detour.
This week at the Greater Concord Interfaith Council, Hubert, who is the Muslim representative from the Masjid, told us a story about his wife.
She always is covered with a Hijab.
She was in a public restroom.
She was washing her hands and a woman approached her.
The woman asked if she could give her a hug.
She said, “There is so much negative in the world. I just need to do something good and kind.”
They hugged, the woman left and she never saw her again.
This simple, beautiful, heartwarming story is what we are called to be and do in the world by Jesus.
When we love others, we show them Jesus love.
We change hearts and minds through that love.
We have to start to tell those stories, so we are known for our love more than anything else.

As for the second point, it is in many ways ironic that during the 500 year anniversary of the Reformation we are reading Matthew’s Gospel.
This might be Luther’s least favorite Gospel.
In Luther’s Preface to the New Testament of 1522, he commented that John’s Gospel, Paul’s letters, and 1 Peter far surpassed Matthew… in their importance for the church’s proclamation.
In the margins of Luther’s Bible there was a part of Matthew’s Gospel when Luther wrote, “Matthew got it wrong here.”
In Matthew’s Gospel we will notice that Jesus demands things from his followers.
This morning it is that, “Your righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees.”
That merely following the prescribed law is not enough.
We are called to do more, to be more.
We are called not just to believe in Christ but to live it out.
It seems to be in conflict with an all forgiving, all loving God.
Except it is not, because it is about what happens after we know God’s love and grace.
What does that produce in us?
How does that help us to love our neighbor?
Luther once said, “God does not need my good works, but my neighbor does.”

And it is there with our neighbor that we are called to let our light shine.
It is there we are called to care for others, to reach out.
And it is true that we don’t just reach out to people that we like, or people that look like us, we reach out to everyone, even our enemies.

Matthew’s Gospel is challenging for us, because it is easier to fall into complacency.
It is easy to be ambivalent about things that others face.
We don’t have to deal with discrimination because it doesn’t affect us.
To let our light shines is sometimes uncomfortable, because the light might burn our eyes.
It hurts to look at the light.
It is easier to stay away.

However, Jesus Christ is the light of the world.
And since we know of his saving power, we have a responsibility to share that with our neighbors.
Let me ask another question.
Do you think I am going to heaven if I pray with Muslims?
The answer has to be “yes”, because our salvation is not based on our works but what God has done in Jesus Christ.
So I am free to go to the Mosque and pray with our Muslims neighbors.
I am free to show them love and support.
I am free to let my light shine.
And so are all of you.

Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your father in heaven.
That is our call.
Do not be afraid to show love for your neighbors in doing so you will be a light and a cool breeze on a hot day.

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