I was very honored today to deliver a sermon on Christian unity, below, at the historic St. Stephen AME Church in Enid, Oklahoma. We had six ministers, including myself, preach on Matthew 24:14 in this ecumenical service. For a budding Episcopal lay preacher to have the opportunity to preach alongside pastors who have been in the pulpit for decades was humbling.
Thank you to Rev. Garland Hall of St. Stephen AME and Fr. John Toles of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church for giving me this opportunity to lend a few words to the quest for Christian love and unity.
Good afternoon. I’d like to first thank Rev. Hall and all of you for inviting me here, and for hosting this ecumenical service – a service of unity, in which we can strengthen the bonds of love and compassion between the various congregations represented here, in the Body of Christ.
And that’s what we’re about today: finding unity, healing the Body of Christ. Well, if you look about our world today, whether it’s in Charlottesville, Virginia, in Barcelona, or right here in our community, you see a human family that appears as fractured as ever. It can be hard, at times, to even hope for the unity that we so deeply need. We see hatred. We see violence. We see prejudice and anger with roots as deep and as old as our society. How, when we face all that, can we hope to build unity?
For an answer, and for our hope, we need look no further than the words of Jesus Christ. From our Scripture for today, in Matthew 24:14:
“And this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come.”
There is a cause and effect relationship in that brief passage. The good news will be proclaimed, to all the world; and then, then the end will come.
I’d like to look at that in both its parts – in the cause, and the effect.
The good news of the kingdom is this: we all are saved, through the grace of God in Christ. The kingdom of heaven is waiting for each of us to claim our place. And there isn’t a long list of commandments we have to remember. Ask my wife, Tammy, how many things I can remember when she sends me to the store – and maybe some of you can relate to this – and she’ll tell you: two. That’s it. And that’s all Jesus gave us: two commandments – we have to love God, and we have to love our neighbor. Yes, even that neighbor – the one who just popped into your head – you have to love that one too. Especially that one, because they need it.
But we’re all saved, and what we have to do to claim that salvation is to love – Love God, and Love our neighbor. That’s some good news. And we’re called to proclaim it throughout the world. That’s the cause that brings about our effect: the end.
When we proclaim the good news throughout the world, the end will come – that’s what the Scripture tells us. Now, ‘the end’ can mean a lot of things. If we read Revelations, or the verses that come after our Scripture in Matthew, there’s a pretty dark image of the end. But, Jesus tells us also in this same chapter we’re not to look for the end here or there, now or then, because the time is unknown. Our job is not to call down the end, or to predict the end time. Our job, as we’re told in Matthew 24:45, is to be working as faithful servants, to give God’s other servants – our neighbors – their food at the proper time.
Our job is to faithfully love, and to feed our neighbors throughout creation – both in their physical needs, and with the good news of the Gospel. And, when we do that – when we set aside our fears, our prejudices, and our selfish desires, and love God and our neighbors – we bring about another kind of end, an end that isn’t about gnashing of teeth and falling of the heavens. It is an end that isn’t an end. It is an end that is a beginning, a beginning of us building and living God’s kingdom here on earth, right here, today.
When we set aside fear and instead embrace the love of Christ, there are a lot of ends. In that spirit of pure love we see an end to the hatred, strife and fear that divide us. In that love is an end to children going hungry in our community. In that love there is an end to people hating each other over race, orientation, religion, and creed. There is an end to our neighbors chasing opioids into the grave, because they can’t feel the love of God in their lives. There is an end to everything that separates us from our neighbor, and from God, and its name is love.
The response I often hear is: “You can’t make so-and-so love,” or “You can’t make so-and-so accept the Gospel.” Well, it’s not our job to make anyone do anything. Our job is to love, and to proclaim the good news, in love, to the world. Just as a light shone into a dark room dispels the darkness, so too does the love of Christ, carried by us in the Holy Spirit into the world, dispel the darkness. Darkness cannot exist in light. Hatred cannot flourish amidst love. The ills of this world cannot outlast the Kingdom of God, when the kingdom is built in the selfless, self-giving love of God’s children.
So, in closing, how do we achieve unity? How do we overcome hatred? How do we conquer the seemingly insurmountable darkness we see in this world? We love. We love radically, selflessly, and with reckless abandon. We love our neighbor as God loves us. We love with the expectation of no more, and no less, than the fulfillment of God’s kingdom on earth.
This love is not an easy love. It is a love that asks us to love those who hate. It is a love that asks us to pray for those who wish us harm. It is a love that sends us out to flood this world with a light in which darkness cannot stand. This love is our cross, and if we are to follow Christ, we must take it up and bear it. It is our cup, and it will sustain us. And when we truly proclaim this love, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can’t help but transform this world in the image of Christ. Amen.