Sermon–Feelings versus Action–July 29, 2018


10 Pentecost—Proper 12-B/ July 29, 2018

William Bradbury

2 Kings 4:42-44, Psalm 145:10-19, Ephesians 3:14-21, John 6:1-21

You’ve seen the old bumper sticker that reads, “When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace.” (Google tells me that is attributed to Jimi Hendrix, of all people!) Of course, what we usually don’t say, but are thinking, is this quote should be changed slightly to read: “When the power of love overcomes the love of power in those horrible people over there, the world will know peace.”We imagine if those people over there would get fixed, then we’d have peace on earth. Paul felt that way at one time about those strange Christians over there who were wrecking his world. If he could help put down the Jesus Movement by jailing or killing its leaders, then finally, there could be peace.

But then, Saul Of Tarsus is brought to his knees by an encounter with the Risen Christ on the road to Damascus and he himself becomes one of those strange people over there, who has had a living encounter with a dead Jew. When Ananias, at the prompting of the Holy Spirit, shows up to pray for his former enemy, he calls him “Brother Saul”, the scales fall from Paul’s eyes as the power of love overcomes the love of power.

Then we notice something unusual. Paul doesn’t move from “loving Jews and hating Christians” to “loving Christians and hating Jews”. He isn’t just switching sides, of which there are plenty of examples in the political world, where a hateful member of one party, joins the other party, but remains as nasty as ever, only now with different enemies.

That is not transformation, but relocation.

Instead, what we see in Paul is someone who now loves both Gentiles and Jews and believes they are one in Christ. This nondual way of seeing is a clear sign that Christ is working in his heart, bringing Paul to love his enemies and to be merciful as God is merciful.

Paul remains passionate, to be sure, but now he’s passionate from a non-dual perspective, wishing that all would come to know the “breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that everyone may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

So he writes the followers in Ephesus, “I pray that, according to the riches of God’s glory, God may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through the Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.”

As we become aware of Christ living in us and we living in Christ, then the power of love overcomes the love of power…in us.

So our prayer is “Lord, transform your church, beginning with me, beginning with us.”

So what does a transformed church look like in practice? It looks like our gospel reading today about the feeding of the 5000.

It’s been said that Western culture is a feeling-based culture that trains its people to make their feelings the center of their existence. I recently heard this analogy: In a feeling based culture our feelings b become the director of the Story of Me. My feelings determine the script and how we are act out that script. If I’m a sad sack sort of person, with little confidence or energy, then I will let that feeling direct my life, until, by some miracle, I get healed.

If I feel helpless in the face of so much suffering in the world, then my feelings will cause me to become overwhelmed and inert. Maybe Philip this morning is that kind of person, though who could blame him under the circumstances. “Jesus says to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?…Philip answers him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.”

Philip feels overwhelmed and he gives up. Nothing to be done here!

But what if our feelings are not the director of the Story of Me, but just one of the characters in the story? Of course, we don’t deny or run from our feelings, but neither do we let them be in charge. They are a character who has a role to play, but they don’t get to determine my story or the outcome of the play.

For example, Andrew, Peter’s less famous brother, feels like Philip, hopeless in the face of the crowd, but nevertheless, he doesn’t let his feelings direct him, and instead he looks around to see if there is any food available and says, “There is a child here with 5 loaves and two fish.”

Andrew in this small way has moved from obeying his feelings to obeying the purpose of his life, which is following Jesus. Jesus wants Andrew to feed these people, so Andrew moves beyond his feelings and acts on his purpose. (If you’re interested in this kind of move, google Morita Psychology. I heard the analogy in a recent podcast “The Art of Manliness” in which Greg Krech is talks about his new book  The Art of Taking Action: Lessons from Japanese Psychology.)

Andrew hands the lad’s lunch to Jesus, who takes it, gives thanks to God for it, breaks it, and gives it to the people and everyone is fed. You will notice this is a template for Holy Eucharist, where we take bread, give thanks, break it, and give it to everyone.

I assume Philip gets with the program and helps distribute the bread and fish, but maybe he just goes off by himself to stew in his feelings and wait for failure to overwhelm this ridiculous project.

So, too, a transformed church is not directed by its feelings, which are often feelings of inadequacy and incompleteness, and instead with gratitude offers to Jesus whatever it has, so Jesus can take it, give thanks, break it open, and give it to a multitude of hurting people.

Another super star from the late 1960s who is still with us, Joan Baez, says: “Action is the antidote to despair.”

But not just any action—the action that transforms is the action that comes out of our purpose for living. Like Andrew, our purpose as Christians is to follow Jesus. If Jesus wants us to love those strange people over there, then we don’t spin our wheels being overwhelmed with the enormity of the task, but take action, doing the next small step on the journey known as the Way of the Cross.

“There is a child here with 5 loaves and 2 fish.”

This is where the power of love begins to overcome the love of power.

Paul concludes his prayer today: “Now to God who by the power [of love] at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”