We are just one week away from the 2nd anniversary of the tornado that came through Owatonna, September 20th, 2018. Remember that one? For a couple of days, the power was out through most of the town, including here at church. We had to shout our way through the Saturday night worship service, and the Sunday service was run off of a generator out in the parking lot.
At the Buegler home, the tornado basically went right over our house. We lost 12 large, mature trees. 12 trees! When Lori and I walked into the back yard after the storm, it was like a wall of tree trunks, limbs, branches and leaves. It was completely overwhelming. We didn’t even know where to start.
But the next morning, I took my cute little, “hobby” chainsaw and some work gloves and Lori, Nathan, Sam and I went out into the yard to start cutting.
About a half-hour later, a car pulled up. It was a couple…friends from here at church. And they started to help. And then a mini van came and a family hopped out. And then another car, and then another. Over the next two days, over 30 people came by to help cut trees, or haul branches for us. It was amazing!
As overwhelming as the mess had first been, the love, generosity and help we received was even more overwhelming.
At the end of the day, when the family in the mini-van finally had to leave, I said to them “thank you so much. You have no idea how much this means to us, to have your help.” The mother looked at me, smiled, took my hand and said, “It’s all good. It’s what we do. It’s what we do!” And I knew what she meant.
Caring and helping…it’s what people of faith do. This was a powerful reminder to me that for every action we take, there is a reason, a motivation. There is always a “why.”
Today, we want to think about our “why.” Our “why” as Trinity Lutheran Church; our “why” as people of faith. Today, we start with why.
You see, Trinity has spent a year…actually longer than a year, listening for God’s voice…learning about the needs in our community, and discerning God’s will for our congregation. And we have a pretty good blueprint of what we believe the congregation’s future is going to look like. But it’s a long way from here, to there…from now, to then.
We are going to continue our commitment to the things for which we’ve had a passion for decades: good children’s and youth ministry; and giving glory to God with beautiful music.
But beyond that, there are three things we are going to work on:
- We are going to care for those who are broken by life’s circumstances. We believe that Jesus brings healing, and we want those who struggle to experience that healing.
- We are going to find ways to directly serve those who are living on the margins of society. Jesus calls us to be the hands and feet of God, to care for those in need with compassion.
- And, we are going to find creative ways to enhance our faith formation that welcomes and engages all people, especially those who are seeking meaning in their lives. We know that this meaning can be found in God.
Today we start a new sermon series: “Start with Why.” Because we think it’s imperative that before we understand “the what,” that is, the details and plans, that we all understand the why. Why is God calling us to do these things?
In his book entitled “Start with Why,” business writer and teacher Simon Sinek writes that “Very few people or companies (and I’d add, churches) can clearly articulate why they do what they do. By why I mean your purpose, cause or belief – why does your organization exist? why do you get out of bed every morning? And why should anyone care?
People don’t buy into what you do,” Sinek says, “they buy into why you do it.”
I think that we in the church sometimes fall into some bad habits. And one of those habits is that we just communicate the “what” of what we’re going to do, and assume that people know, understand and buy in to the “why.”
The “why is the vision,” it’s the idea of how we want the world to be different in 3, or 5, or 10 years, because we are here doing this work.
Our Gospel text today takes us straight in to the “why.” This is one of the most used and most quoted pieces of scripture.
“Love, one another,” Jesus says, “as I have loved you.”
These are powerful words. But I have to be honest with you, I think that we have kind of gutted these words over the centuries. We have turned them from what Jesus intended, a powerful instruction for how to live, into a slogan…or even worse, a cliché.
Seriously, I’ve seen this quote from Jesus in all sorts of goofy places:
- The phrase “Love one Another” appears on wall plaques
- I once saw a “wedding topper,” you know, the figure of the bride and groom, with the two figurines holding a plaque that says “love one another.”
- Once, I had an inappropriate gesture made to me by an aggressive driver. As he drove past me, the bumper sticker on the back of his car? Yep. “Love one Another.”
It shows up everywhere.
We’ve taken this principle that Jesus teaches, and we’ve kind of turned it in to something sort of kitschy. And I understand why we do that.
The nature of God is so much bigger, broader and deeper than we can possibly understand that I think we latch on to these simple statements because we can get our minds wrapped around them. If we reduce God to these little, pithy statements…”God is love…love one another.” We can put that on a wall plaque and feel pretty good about ourselves and our faith.
But this phrase: “Love one Another” doesn’t stand alone. Jesus added this second part to it that we often blow right by; it usually doesn’t show up on our bumper stickers. He said “Love one another as I have loved you.” Love one another, as I have loved you. That’s Jesus’ complete phrase. And these five little extra words, “as I have loved you”…they make it much more complicated.
Remember that Jesus says this on the night before his crucifixion. He knows what is about to happen. And he knows that he is about to embody…to literally become…the love he describes. In our text, he goes on to say “no one has greater love than this, that you lay down your life for your friends.” And that is what Jesus is about to do. He is about to lay down his life, and become love.
Martin Luther reminds us in his writings that God’s very essence cannot be reduced to a cliché, or a wall plaque, or a bumper sticker statement. What is God like? How did Luther imagine God? Luther responded to that very question by saying “When I think of God, I think of a man hanging on a tree.”
That is a hard image. It is an image that we want to look away from. It is not pretty, or a cliché…it does not fit well on a bumper sticker. But this image…it shows us what love looks like.
Our “why,” is not just love…or even simply “love each other.” Our “why” is that we love one another, as Jesus first loved us.
Because of Jesus, our “why” is to love with a sacrificial kind of love…we love with the kind of love that can be hard. We love with the kind of love that thinks of the other first.
And this kind of love is a verb. It implies action and motion.
And so today we start moving. We start with why.
And we start from this place of understanding that love is not, to quote the apostle Paul, a noisy gong or a clanging symbol. It is not a kitschy plaque or a piece of bumper sticker theology.
Love is love because it comes from God. And we love because Jesus first loves us. And Jesus shows us what that kind of love looks like. It is active…it reaches out…it takes the first step, it takes the middle step and it takes the last step. It is sacrificial, and it gives everything. It is the love that we see in the face of Jesus, on the cross.
My friends, this is our why. It is why we are going to reach out to the broken, we are going to use our hands to care for those on the margins and we are going to do everything we can to be creative and innovative in helping people find their meaning in the love of Christ.
Because Jesus stepped into the muck and mess of our lives, we are going to step into the muck and mess in the lives of those in our community who need Christ’s love. We are not going to shy away from the pain of the world. We are going to imagine a love that will not stop at anything until all of God’s beloved children have been saved by that love.
We are going to boldly be the love of Christ, right here in Owatonna…in Steele County…and in the world, because Jesus was love for us.
That is our mission. This is our why. And today, we start with why.
Thanks be to God.