Committed to Presence!
by Jacob Juncker
This message was offered at Wesley United Methodist Church (Culver, IN) on Sunday, October 14, 2012.
25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ 26He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ 27He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’28And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’
Luke 10:25-28, New Revised Standard Version
Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear, that together we might learn and be inspired to live your Word in the world. Amen.
This week we’re continuing our series on commitment. As United Methodists we believe that every committed person of faith is called to uphold the mission of God through the local church by freely and fully offering their prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness. When everyone is upholding the mission of God in these ways, we believe that world will become a better place: the Kingdom of God, Heaven here on earth.
Last week—our first week, you’ll remember—that we talked about our commitment to prayer. Prayer provides nourishment for our souls and direction for our everyday individual and communal lives. I suggested at the end of the message that each of us should spend at least 30 minutes a day alone with God in prayer so that our souls are nourished and our lives given direction.
How’s that going? If it is going well, keep it up; if it is not going so well, keep trying; if you need resources or don’t know where to start in making prayer a regular part of your life, let’s set up a time to meet and talk.
Last week, I mentioned that one of the reasons I often find prayer so difficult is because, in the quiet moments while praying, my mind wonders, thinking about “other things I could be doing.” My personal struggle with prayer has more to do with my issues of being fully present than it does with knowing or being comfortable with prayer. Which is why, if you’re anything like me, this morning’s topic is timely.
If the mission of God is to be fulfilled—if the world around us is going to be transformed into a place where God’s love and mercy reign—then we’ve not only got to freely and fully commit ourselves to prayer. We must also commit ourselves to being fully present. In fact, I would like to suggest that without our full presence, everything else we do—praying, giving, serving, or sharing our faith—will be inauthentic, ineffective, and shallow. The world will never become a better place, the Good News of God’s love in Jesus Christ will never be heard or lived, until we learn to be fully present with God, each other, and the world God so loved and came to save (see John 3:16).
When we are doing something we love, a hobby or a sport, we give it all of our attention and we are engaged and focused—we are fully present. That’s the nature of our vow to give [Christ through] the church our presence. We promise to give the life, work, and ministry of the church our full attention; to listen actively; to participate with enthusiasm; and to offer our joy, creativity, skill, talents, and gifts to help the congregation become more like Christ. When we are fully present, we connect with others in ways that deepen community and grow our faith.
Our vow of presence does not mean saying yes to every request for service or taking on tasks and roles that we cannot do. It does mean offering our time and energy in large and small ways that help us grow spiritually and that add value to the congregation, the community, and the world. Our vow of presence does not stop at the door of the church building. We are the body of Christ in and for the world. We are called to be fully engaged and focused on God in all aspects of our lives—work, play, relationships, and ministry.
We are called to be like Christ.
The Good News of the Gospels—Christ’s story—is all about presence. In the person of Jesus Christ, God came to be present with Creation: to be present with us so that we might know the redemptive power of God’s love. At first we didn’t understand what was going on; in fact, we turned our backs on Jesus—God in the flesh. We were confused by all that was going on and all that Christ was showing us. We did not understand. He claimed to be God. But, we had been taught that no one can see God. We thought he was being blasphemous. It was too much for us to comprehend. In the midst of our confusion, we executed Jesus. He was blaspheming; and, he claimed to have a Kingdom which didn’t make the Romans too happy either. But… God’s desire to be present with us was stronger than death itself. Three days after Jesus was killed and placed in a tomb. He rose again from the grave. Jesus appeared first to his disciples. And, we believe that he continues to make his presence known in the lives of all who seek to follow his Way.
What does it mean to be fully present?
In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus is rejoicing. He had, a little earlier in the text, sent out seventy-two apostles to testify that God’s Kingdom of love and grace was “coming near:” it was being established again here on earth. Immediately before our text for today, the seventy-two are returning. The apostles are rejoicing, amazed at the response of the people. These seventy-two were amazed and excited by all that God had done through them. They were excited about ministry. Jesus, the Gospel tells us, “overflowed with joy.”
The moment was one of rejoicing until a legal expert who was standing nearby witnessing the apostles’ ecstatic return “stood up to test Jesus.” We’re not quite sure why he wants to question Jesus in this moment. Perhaps, he’s frustrated that the apostles were not going to the places he would have had them go; perhaps, he was appalled by the people the apostles’ were reaching out too (after all, shouldn’t the apostles be spending their time reaching out to the religious folk?); perhaps, he didn’t like the approach (the pedagogy) Jesus told the seventy-two to use when entering a city and engaging the people; perhaps, he just wanted to stop the momentum of what appeared to be drastic and uncomfortable change. Whatever the reasons, the legal expert stands up and directly challenges Jesus (Luke 10:26-28, Common English Bible).
25 “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to gain eternal life?”
26 Jesus replied, “What is written in the Law? How do you interpret it?”
27 He responded, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”
28 Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.”
It is here that we find the answer to what it means to be fully present. Being fully present means that you make yourself fully available—“with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind—to God and neighbor. The legal expert knew exactly how difficult this would be so, “Looking for a loophole, he asked, ‘And just how would you define ‘neighbor’” (Luke 10:29, The Message)? Jesus tells a story (Luke 10:30-35, The Message):
“There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man.
33-35 “A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I’ll pay you on my way back.’
Presence is more than just being physically present. Presence is more than just knowing that our neighbor is there. Presence is being like the “Good Samaritan” who is physically present, acknowledges the other person, and seeks to offer all that he has to build him up.
Are we really willing to do this? Are we willing to offer all that we are, our entire being—our time, talents, resources…our mind, body, and soul—to growing in love with God and neighbor?
We live in a world that has a lot of distractions. There are a lot of things that pull at our lives.
Between kids, marriages, [work,] and the incessant pull of [social media], there is no shortage of things demanding our attention.
I want my life to be slower in a culture set on being faster. Here are just a few examples:
- We use the microwave to cook our food more quickly, and stand at the counter to eat so we can move on to the next task.
- We drive faster cars.
- We get 4G because 3G just doesn’t do the trick anymore. And, we, or at least I get upset when I drive to Plymouth and my AT&T coverage is Edge speed (which is really slow) and not even 3G!
In a culture set on being faster and less present, we multitask because, after all, we’ll be more productive that way… right?
And we can’t tell the difference between Starbucks and Folgers (let alone organic or not), because apparently we don’t “slow down enough to smell the coffee.” Or is it “smell the roses?” I’m too busy to remember.
There are a lot of things that pull us in different directions. There are a lot of distractions. There is a sense of urgency in our lives. But, God is calling us to not get so busy that we fail to be fully present in our daily activities—in our interactions with God, each other, and the world around us.
The early church was committed to doing this. In our reading from Acts 2 (42-47), we find that those who sought to follow Jesus were “devoted…to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers” (Acts 2:42, Common English Bible). They were fully committed to being present with God, each other, and the community (world) around them. And in so doing, it is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles that there was
a sense of awe [that] came over everyone. [Because] God performed many signs and wonders through the apostles. All the believers were united and shared everything… Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved” (Acts 2:43-44, 46-47, Common English Bible).
When the church is fully present with God, each other, and with the surrounding community, the church grows and the world changes.
Last week, I suggested that you should be spending at least 30 minutes alone in prayer to God each day. This week, I’d like to ask you: how often will you make yourself present in a community of faith? How many times a year will you commit to being in worship? How many weeks will you gather with others and study the Scriptures? Last week, you were asked to consider how often you might present yourself before God; today, I’m asking you, how often will you be present in the life of a community of faith?
I’d like to suggest that you attend worship at least 48 Sundays a year. I pray that you can make it that many Sundays here, but I know that that is not always possible. So, if you can’t worship here, wherever you are, commit to going to worship (and bring back and share a bulletin with us so that we might know what other faithful Christians are up to). I’d also like to suggest that you spend at least 26 weeks with other Christians studying the Scriptures.
Will you commit to being fully present to God through prayer? Will you commit to being fully present with a community of faith by regularly attending worship and Bible study? And, over the next three weeks, I’ll be asking you, will you commit to being fully present to the world by offering your resources, your service, and your story to the world God so loved and came to save? Will you make it a point to offer yourself fully—all your heart, all your being, all your strength, and all your mind—will you freely and fully, out of love, give yourself to God and neighbor? I pray so, because God requires nothing less.
 “Membership and United Methodists,” Cokesbury Brochure (Nashville: Cokesbury, 2010).
 God’s Kingdom existed here on earth. We call it the garden of Eden. It existed and humanity was fully a part of God’s Kingdom until humanity decided to muck it all up.