Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen
Well, it’s time.
It’s time we talk about “it”.
“Talk about what?” you say.
“It” is that one thing that is more important than anything else.
“It” can be hard to define, but we all know “it” when we see “it”.
Some have “it”.
I once attended a leadership seminar put on by the Disney corporation. They talked about “it”.
“It” was one of the most important things they did.
“It” was the key to their success.
Another word for “it” is the “X Factor”.
“Well, that helps a lot!” you say.
“What is that?”
The “X Factor.”
The “X Factor” is a variable in a given situation that could have the most significant impact on the outcome.
For the Disney Corporation, and all their theme parks, “it” refers to this special quality that creates a magical kingdom, a happy place, and an experience that keeps people coming back.
One of the things that Disney focuses on is that they are there to provide entertainment.
One of the feelings that they hope to create for their customers goes back in time to the joyful anticipation of going to the movies.
In order to set the stage for that experience, they pay attention to details.
Whenever you enter a Disney theme park one of the first things you will notice is the unmistakable aroma of freshly popped buttered popcorn.
First thing in the morning, and it is almost irresistible, that pleasant smell of the popcorn.
But their goal is not to sell popcorn.
Rather it is to bring you back to a point in time when you entered a movie theater. They want you to be prepared to see ‘the greatest show on earth’. The smell of popcorn helps.
One of the other things we learned about Disney theme parks is that they are two storied. They don’t look like it. They don’t look like it because all we see is the stage. But in the basement, the underground, is the back stage area. A lot happens behind the scenes in the backstage area. But on stage, everything is in character. You never see Mickey Mouse taking a break.
Whenever anyone is on stage, interacting with the public, they are in character.
The power of “it” is how Disney describes this X Factor, this intangible quality that is the key to their success.
But you didn’t come here today to hear about Walt Disney and the Disney Way.
We’re here to talk about the Church.
And how we can share our faith with others.
Paul writes in Romans:
“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
What is the “X Factor” for the Church?
What is the “It” that makes all the difference?
Some have “it” and some don’t.
It’s hard to describe “it”, but we know “it” when we see “it”
And this is the thing, if we don’t experience “it”, we know that something is missing.
Churches have tried all sorts of things to be successful.
Programs to meet every conceivable need.
The Razzle Dazzle of a high production, professional quality, performance for worship.
Creating an environment in which people feel at one and the same time at home, and in a sacred space.
One of the struggles for a small congregation like us is that we look at the bigger Churches and all they do, and feel bad because we simply do not have the resources to do all those things that seem to make the big Churches attractive places to worship.
But all that ‘stuff’ that the mega Churches do, is not the X Factor, the “it” that makes the difference.
What is “it”?
What really makes the difference?
“It” is simply this:
Do you have love for one another.
The beauty of this is that a small congregation like ours is as capable of loving one another as the largest congregation, and in fact, may be even more capable.
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
At times we struggle with how we can bear witness to Christ Jesus, and what is required of us to do so that others might come to a saving faith in our Lord.
We envy those who are eloquent, who seem to have all the right answers, and who say all the right things.
But only one thing is required of us.
That we love one another.
There is no other way to bear witness to the love of God that is ours in Christ Jesus than to love one another.
People know it, when they see it.
And if they don’t experience it, they know that something is missing.
But as simple as it seems, there are often challenges.
Sometimes we simply don’t talk about it much.
There’s a joke about Ole and Lena.
Lena wasn’t happy with their marriage and so she got Ole to go with her to see the pastor.
“I just don’t know if he loves me anymore.” Lena said.
“Well, Ole” the pastor replied, “do you love her?”
“Of course I love her”, Ole replied, “I told her that 40 years ago when we got married. And not only that, I told her that if it ever changed, I’d let her know.”
Do we have love for one another?
And equally important, do we take the time to show each other that we love one another.
Or even more important, do we treat one another in a way that others will be able to see that we love one another.
It’s hard to define, but we know it when we see it.
But there are certain things that we can do, that lovers do, that bear witness to that love.
How do we love one another as Christ first loved us?
First, we delight in each other. Delight. Isn’t that a wonderful word. To love someone is to delight in them. To accept them just the way they are.
Sometimes this is missing. We find ourselves thinking that it would be easier to love someone if they were different than they are. But that is not how love works, and that is not what lovers do.
Delight. You are special. God made you who you are, and you are beautiful.
The stuff of love.
Second, to love is to be willing to accept our differences and forgive our wrongs.
This is what Jesus does, does he not? He accepts us. He forgives us.
If we want to bear witness to the love of God, then we need to practice this fine art of acceptance and forgiveness.
Our human tendency is to let these differences and the wrongs that are done to divide us. Churches fight over the strangest of things, sometimes. And we tend to prefer to hang out with people that are like us.
But the fact is that we are all different. Unique in our own right.
And none of us are perfect. We will all make mistakes.
To love is to accept our differences, and forgive the wrongs done to us.
And thirdly, lovers treat each other in special ways. Paul writes in 1st Corinthians, chapter 13:
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
This is a tall order. To actually treat one another in this way, requires discipline, and practice.
Love is patient, Love is kind.
Well, that seems simple enough but how often are we too quick to be impatient, and then to act in ways that are not kind.
How often do we insist on doing it “our way”, you know, like Frank Sinatra: “I did it my way”?
That’s a hard one for me. My psychologist once asked me “What is the first thing you say?” I had no clue what he was talking about.
“The first thing you say,” he responded, “is your conclusion. You think things over in your head so much, that by the time you speak you’ve already come to a conclusion.”
Insisting on my own way is a huge problem for me.
It’s a huge problem in the Church.
We tend to be so convince that our convictions are right that we insist on doing it “our way”, and often run right over others in the process.
And if we don’t get it done “our way” we are prone to leave. But that’s not loving.
Because finally, as Paul says, “love never ends.”
It doesn’t end because someone is different than us.
It doesn’t end because “somebody done somebody wrong.”
It doesn’t end because we don’t get our way.
Love, simply, never ends.
But it takes practice.
How can we practice this simple act of loving one another?
I’m not going to tell you this. You have to figure it out for yourself.
The reason I’m not going to give you a list of things to do, is because of my tendency to jump to conclusions and insist on my own way.
Peace Lutheran needs to discover its own unique way to love one another.
But this I know: That unless we have love for one another, nothing else we do will matter.
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."