Sunday, December 10, 2017

2017 Advent Sermon II: Building the Road

Isaiah 40:1-11 

Mark 1:1-8

Introduction: Waiting for Jesus
Starting last Sunday, this is the season of the church year we call Advent.  Advent is the season of waiting.  It is the season of waiting for the coming of Jesus…And that means we wait with a real expectation that something remarkable is going to happen.

Perhaps kids can teach us something of what this kind of waiting is like.  Kids wait for Christmas with strong feelings.  They feel impatience, wanting the day to come, and they feel really excited, because they know that there will be a present waiting for them on that day.  In Advent, we remember that when we wait for the Lord, we should have strong feelings, too—strong feelings, because we are expecting God to take real and powerful action for the good of God’s people.

But the emotions of Advent are sometimes different than the emotions of excitement and joy...partly because Advent is about waiting for God’s strong action in a time of sin.  In Advent we remember how the Hebrew people longed for the coming of the Messiah, and waited for the day, when He would come and bring his salvation.  Their waiting was the kind that was filled with longing, because they were suffering, and they wanted the suffering to end.

Of course, with the birth of Jesus, the Messiah did come, and it turned into that amazing moment of celebration.  The Savior had come, and God’s salvation was really at hand!  Hallelujah!  But there were years and years of waiting, before that happened.  We use these four weeks to remember that.  And since Advent is a season to remember how people waited back then, it’s a good season to pay attention to how we, also, have important times of waiting in life. 

My wife, Cindee, is experiencing a bit of that right now.  She had knee replacement surgery recently, and she now has to go through the months of recovery…waiting for the time when her leg will have regained its strength.  When we are healing from major injuries or, in her case, major surgery, we know we will be strong again.  But the time it takes, and the persistence it takes to keep doing the therapy and to get our strength back, can be frustrating.  I make sure I spend time every day encouraging her.  I don’t want her to get discouraged, and I know that family and friends can make a real difference.

Sometimes, though, I think that we misunderstand the message of how we participate in the arrival of God in the world.  There are really four ways, in which we experience the arrival of Jesus, and all four are huge, Christmas moments.
1.     There was that first Christmas, when Jesus was born, beginning the life and ministry of Jesus, who is God, the Savior!

2.     There is the promise in the Bible that Jesus will come again at the end of time, to bring this world to an end and to bring in a New Heaven and a New Earth.

3.     There is also our own experience of receiving Jesus into our own hears and into our own lives.  This is a very personal story, and there are a lot of differences.  For some of us, we grew up in a family and a church that surrounded us with the Love of God, and so we slowly came to realize that God was already in our lives, and what a treasure that is.  For others, they became aware of God more suddenly, and had a more dramatic conversion experience.  Each story is different, but each is about the coming of Jesus into our hearts and minds in a personal, and therefore, very important way.

I think these three ways I have already spoken of are the three ways we hear about most from Christians.  All three are of vital importance, and I am so glad the church people speak about these.  But there is a fourth that is just as important.  We talk about it, but some Christians don’t describe it as a way in which the Savior enters into our reality.  It has to do with the way in which the love of God, and the salvation of God comes to us at those times in life when we really need it.  This really is an experience of the coming of the Savior, or at least of recognizing the Savior, in that moment, and so we really do need to describe it as a time of experiencing Jesus.

4.     There are moments when God’s salvation changes something in us, or in our society, in ways that are powerful and life-changing. 

We see these moment again and again in the Bible.  It began when Moses saw a bush that was on fire, but didn’t burn up.  When he stopped to see what was going on, he was confronted by God, and found his life changed forever…but not just his life, all twelve tribes of the Hebrew people changed—that was the generation that followed God’s lead, and he brought them to freedom after 400 years of slavery!

We see it in today’s scriptures.  The Hebrew people felt totally cut off from hope.  Their armies had been defeated by the Babylonians, and their leaders and their head citizens had all been taken away to live in far-off lands.  The Temple, the center of their religious life, had been destroyed.  They knew that they had sinned against God, and they were beginning to fear that God had quit loving them, and had abandoned them forever.

Indeed, by the time of today’s Scripture, the people had spent 70 years divided, with many of them living in far-off lands, at a time when there were no telephones or airplanes.  At this very moment, the prophet tells the people it is a time for God to send a message of comfort to the people. “Comfort, comfort my people,” God instructs the prophet.  “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem.  Let them know that their time of servitude is over.  A new time of salvation is coming!”
A new time of salvation is coming—a new moment of seeing the presence of God, the very presence of the Savior—Is coming!

But notice what we saw in both of these stories—in both the escape from slavery in Egypt, and now in this moment of salvation after the Babylonians divided their people.  The people first spent generations IN slavery before the moment of deliverance came.  And then, when the people stopped following God and therefore opened themselves up to defeat from the Babylonians, the spent 70 years that time as a conquered-and-shamed people.  There were 400 years of waiting for God’s salvation the first time, and there were 70 years of waiting before the prophet gave this comfort the second time.

We also see these moments in history after the times of the Bible.   
·      The Hebrew people were not the only ones, who had to be delivered from slavery.  We have that history in the United States, and in many nations around the world.  There is a lot to learn from that history, about how God prepared the people, and used the people, to make a way for their freedom to come.

·      There are also examples from our own history in Alaska.  Let me give you one. 
The North Slope Borough was founded in order to empower the Iñupiaq people to benefit from the invasion of the arctic by the oil companies.  They were coming with money, and with roads, with money, with political power, and with equipment that were going to really impact life in the arctic, and they did not intend to do anything for the people, who lived there.  The visionary efforts of the Eben Hopsons, and many others, to stand up to that power comes from God, whose love is not bound by the rules that the powerful people and organizations want us to live by.

But notice how all of these examples—the ones from the Bible, and the ones from history after the days of the Bible—notice how all of these examples are following what our Scriptures say to us today.  The Scriptures don’t just say, “Comfort, comfort may people.”  They say more than that.
Now, remember what is happening at this moment.  The people have been conquered by the Babylonians, and long for their Temple to be restored, and for their nation to be restored.  But they have no vision for how to get to that point.  They have no idea how to get from here to there, so to speak.

At that very moment, God says, build a road!  Do you feel like you are in the wilderness, with no path to follow?  Build a road!  Because that God-moment is coming when things will be possible.  Are you waiting for God to come?  Well, God is surely coming!  Build a road.  Are there big pits that block the path—well those low places must be lifted up!  Are there rough spots that will stop your wagons?  Well get to work and smooth them out!  The moment is coming when God will take action, and you need to be making the preparations.  God is speaking to you.  Right now.  No, you can’t solve your problems now, but GOD IS SPEAKING TO YOU RIGHT NOW!  Now is the time for the right kind of waiting for that God moment.  Get busy preparing the way for the coming of the Lord!

Now, this is different than the way the Lord will come at the end of time, when the Heaven and Earth we know will be totally replaced.  Sin is still in the world.  The Enemy still motivates us with greed and lust, and all the desires that turn us away from the Road God wants us to travel.
But this is, indeed, the coming of the Lord.  Those moments when someone says, I want my family to be a family of peace; I can’t live the way we have been.  Those moments when someone says, joy is not coming to us out of the bottle, or out of the drug—we are not happy; I can’t live this way anymore.  The moment when God’s Spirit touches someone, and they know that it is time for something new.

People need to know that these are God moments.  It is God, at work in us and around us, that calls us to change.  In the Bible, this change starts with a change of heart, and it is called “repentance.”  Repentance, literally, means to turn around and walk in a new direction.  It means to leave the path we are on and walk a new path.  “Are you in the wilderness?” the prophet asks, “Prepare a new road, for the coming of the Lord!”

Waiting for that moment when change can happen is about doing something active while waiting.  We are preparing for that moment, when God’s action really changes things.  But one of the strange things is that we have to build that road again and again.  Not only in Moses’ day, but also in Isaiah’s day, and also in our day. 

Illustration:  Every Season, We Build the Road
This is something that we northerners might be better able to understand than Lower 48-ers.  The ice roads are under construction again in the arctic.  It is something that we have to explain to people, who are not from the North.  We rarely build a highway across the tundra that stands forever.  Our roads are built seasonally, so that the damage to the tundra is limited and, as they tell me in Anaktuvuk Pass, so that there can be some limit to the impact outsiders can have on our people.

Alaskans should therefore have more insight than most about what our Scripture readings today are saying.  “Build a road in the wilderness,” they say.  “Take away the obstacles and make a good path for the coming of the Lord.”  This is not a path we build once and it’s done.  This is the work that must be done in each generation, and in each person.  It’s more like an ice road built in the arctic, than like a concrete highway, built in some southern city.  It’s something that we each must do in our own hearts, and it’s something that churches must do to capture God’s vision for the people.  It’s personal, and so we have to do hear the prophet calling us to prepare a way for the Lord in our own lives, and in our own communities.

And it is Jesus, who comes to us in those moments through the Holy Spirit.  Make no mistake, if the Spirit is present, Jesus is present and so is God, the Father. 

So there are some challenges to us, that we need to pay attention to as we look at this Scripture.
People are longing for the Savior to come right now.  Why?  What are the issues that God needs to address in your life right now?  Are these personal issues?  Family issues?  Community

Please understand, the Lord is coming!  Yes, the Lord will come at the end, to bring this world to a close and to usher in a new world.  But the Lord is also coming day-by-day, blessing us along the way.  Even a time of waiting can be a good time, because it is a time for a kind of active waiting—the kind of waiting that prepares the way for the coming of the Lord.

Are you active right now, preparing the way for Jesus to come into the life of your family, or your community?  How?  Are you keeping up your relationships with God through participating in worship, Bible Study, and a personal prayer life?

Are there thinks you can do to help prepare the way for God’s action to bring justice and righteousness?

Most important of all, are you keeping your eyes open, so that you will notice those moments, when God is allowing something new to happen, so you can join in?  Are you ready?

This is Advent—a time to remind ourselves, and everyone we know, that God does work mightily.  Get ready!  God is coming…soon.

2017 Advent Sermon I: Living in God's Kingdom While Longing for It

Living in God’s Kingdom While Longing for It
2017 Advent Sermon I: 12 03 17

Introduction: Are We Too Overwhelmed to Try?
Last month marked the 40th year since I began work as a pastor, first as a Lay Preacher in Fairbanks, and then in several places as an ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament.  In that time, there has been a major shift in the way that Americans approach the problems of the world.

·      In the 1950s, when I was born, over 70% of the American citizens said they trusted the American government to do what is right most of the time.  According to the Pew Research Center that number had fallen to less than 20% by 2015, which is the most recent data they had published.
·      The same can be said for schools, the judicial system, the news media and
·      …the church.  Over the past 15 years, our nation has seen the greatest decline in church attendance and religious participation in a hundred years.

Sociologists have much to say about the likely reasons for this decline in confidence in our society’s institutions.  One is the fact that we have become more aware that there are no perfect institutions.  Institutions embody a certain amount of power, and we Presbyterians know that human sin will show up in them sooner or later, as it does in all people and all groups.  But I do believe that the information boom, and especially the electronic boom, have really advanced people’s awareness of sin in institutions. The  flood of information about it can be overwhelming.

Lately, the information flood has helped feed the latest trend--naming everything as "fake news" if we don't want to agree with it.  News agencies are suspect, unless they are on our "Favorites" list--because we can always find some source, who agrees with our position.  Similarly, religious leaders are often not careful about their own biases.  Instead of asking people to think for themselves, they try to portray themselves as the expert, who should tell them what to think.  For most in this generation, this kind of behavior just adds to the distrust.  

Yet, if we do not trust institutions or experts to solve the problems of the world, we are nevertheless very aware that the problems we face are serious.

Indeed, the problems of our society—and our Christian awareness that sin does take form, and is taking form in our society—can be overwhelming.  People seem to be losing faith that we can do anything real about so many issues: drugs, homelessness, poverty, racism, sexism, religious intolerance, environmental degradation, and more.  If many in our society have lost trust that our government, our health care, our schools, or our churches are capable of addressing issues--or that they are run by people we can trust, where do we place our trust?  

If churches are to begin to help people, they need to turn away from pointing people to their pastors as the last authority in their lives.  We need to turn people to God.  However, for churches, this means that at least one of the issues before us is the question of what answers God has for people facing the problems of today that seem so unsolvable.

Today’s scripture readings begin to address questions of trust in a world that is still characterized by all kinds of sin—including the abuse of power that makes institutions harder to trust.  Let’s look at today’s scriptures.

According to the two readings today, we need to know who we serve. We need to know what time we live in, and we need to know how we serve God in this time

Who Do We Serve?
To begin addressing this question, let's look at the Old Testament Reading for this sermon:

Joshua 24:1-3, 14-25
24:1 Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God.
24:2 And Joshua said to all the people, "Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Long ago your ancestors—Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor—lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods.
24:3 Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan and made his offspring many.
24:14 "Now therefore revere the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.
24:15 Now if you are unwilling to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."
24:16 Then the people answered, "Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods;
24:17 for it is the LORD our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed;
24:18 and the LORD drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God."
24:19 But Joshua said to the people, "You cannot serve the LORD, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins.
24:20 If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm, and consume you, after having done you good."
24:21 And the people said to Joshua, "No, we will serve the LORD!"
24:22 Then Joshua said to the people, "You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the LORD, to serve him." And they said, "We are witnesses."
24:23 He said, "Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the LORD, the God of Israel."
24:24 The people said to Joshua, "The LORD our God we will serve, and him we will obey."
24:25 So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem.

  In this passage, Joshua is at the end of a long life of service as the conquering leader of the Hebrew people.  After Moses died, it was Joshua, who God chose to lead the people in their conquest of the land of Canaan.  He led the people as they conquered armies, established cities, and confronted those who lacked faith in the Lord God and wished to worship the local idols.  His leadership had been long and distinguished.

But today’s reading is from Joshua 24.  At this point, he is getting ready to hand over leadership to the next generation of leaders, and so he gathers the people at Schechem.  Here, he reminds them of all they have experienced through three generations: a generation trapped in slavery; a generation that escaped from slavery, but spent their lives wandering in the Wilderness due to their unwillingness to put their faith into decisive action; and finally, a generation that knew they were called to take action, who entered into Canaan to build a new life there.

Each generation faced temptation in a different way.  The first were afraid to escape the injustice slavery, yet finally followed God out of their slavery to Pharaoh.  Even so, a time came when things changed.  Times when things can change for the better are called Kairos times in the Bible. Kairos times are moments given by God.  Moses showed up and showed them how not to be trapped.  People of faith trust that God will show them the way, and they watch for those Kairos times to develop, because they know that when the time is right, they must act.

Even so, that same generation crossed the Red Sea, but then they gave-in to their fears, and they never left the wilderness.  The third generation was a generation that was hardened in the wilderness.  And so they took possession of the land that God promised them.  And that brings us to today’s reading.  It was time for this hardened generation to face a reality they had never faced before.  A new time had come.  Joshua is telling them the time had come to change from being a conquering army to become citizens of the land.  Joshua had to challenge them.

Every generation has to face the need to change, including our generation.  Do you believe that the Lord God was only a war God, who would take on Pharaoh and would led the people with the strength to occupy the land of Canaan?  Was God not the deity to follow for building families, planting crops, and living in peace?  Was this new time the time for new gods?  Or, to put it another way, was the Lord God only one of many deities—one to serve only on the journey away from Pharaoh?   Now that they were in a new land, should they serve other gods?

One way or another, this is the question for each generation.  Is the God, who led our grandparents and our parents the true God?  Do we choose to serve this very same God, or not?  If change has to come, then we almost certainly are being pushed to get to know God better, and to describe what we are discovering about God.  Or…we can simply reject God altogether.  Joshua put it to the people quite bluntly: “Choose this day whether you will serve the gods of the Amorites in the land where you are now living, or the gods your ancestors worshiped before they found the Lord; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

There are two things I wish to lift up in Joshua’s words.  First, it is important to choose your way in life.  To choose nothing and to stand for nothing is not adequate.  For your one and only life on earth, you need to be someone, who stands for something.  Otherwise, you may experience your life as more of a lost life, as if you were wandering in the wilderness.  Jesus said it different: Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened for you. 

Second, you are free to make your own choice.  God will not force you to choose to love and serve the Lord your God, even though that is God’s deepest desire for you, and it is what you were created for.  God truly is love, and not coercion.  We see that in Jesus, who commanded the waves and the wind, who commanded the demons, but who invited people.  God, who holds all power, will not misuse that power when it comes to a relationship with you and me.

Illustration: Sexual Misconduct
This stands in stark contrast with what we experience so often from one another.  There are a lot of illustrations I could choose for this, but I want one that is relevant right now, that points to the hope of God.  

Over the past few months, we have been hearing about more and more prominent male figures, whose sexual misconduct is being revealed.  For me this has been an amazing piece of good news.  I have spent many years in ministry longing for this moment.  I have worked with so many women, who have been abused and who, mostly, have not revealed what happened to them.  They are wounded by men in their lives, who have had power over them, and who abused that power to get sexual favors of one kind or another.  Yet, they have been afraid to speak out about what has happened to them.

There are two common themes that I have seen that have held these women back.  So often women, who have spoken out have found themselves re-victimized by those to whom they report.  This, I suspect, you have heard before.  They are pressed with questions like "What did you do to invite this kind of behavior?  Why were you in that part of town?  Why didn't you leave after the first abuse?" Etc.  No one wants to be treated like the wrong-doer when reporting such intimate violations.

But the second reason is that many do not want to be seen as victims--with people pouring their pity on them.  People do take advantage, sometimes.  But no one should be defined primarily by their victim-hood, as if they are incapable of owning their own power.  What we are seeing today is women refusing to be victimized. They claiming their power, and they are standing up and insisting that the abusers be held accountable.

For me, and for many, this is a season of joy and triumph.  Women, who were pushed back when they tried to claim this power in the past, have paved the way for this day.  God's moment has come, when they can stand up and speak out.  The kairos moment is here, and it is time to claim it.

Sex and sexual behavior, you see, should not be about power--whether professional power, or physical power, or psychological power.  Sex is something of a sacrament.  It is a sharing between two people, who love each other and freely give themselves to each other.  It requies a truly equal invitation of acceptance and love.

Indeed, it is this loving relationship—that of the Bridegroom and the bridesmaids, that Jesus lifts up in his parable from today’s reading in Matthew’s Gospel.  Let's look at it now:

25:1 "Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.
25:2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise.
25:3 When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them;
25:4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.
25:5 As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept.
25:6 But at midnight there was a shout, 'Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.'
25:7 Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps.
25:8 The foolish said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.'
25:9 But the wise replied, 'No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.'
25:10 And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut.
25:11 Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, 'Lord, lord, open to us.'
25:12 But he replied, 'Truly I tell you, I do not know you.'
25:13 Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

Note that this is a parable.  That is, it is not reality.  I do not believe a bridegroom in Jesus’ culture married a bunch of bridesmaids.  However, this is a parable—it is symbolic.  In the ancient world, kings married bunches of bridesmaids, so this points to the King.  The New Testament often describes God as the bridegroom, and the church as the bridesmaid—or in this case, the people of the church as the bridesmaids.  It is a marriage—a loving relationship.

And this helps us understand the other thing that I said we need to know.  Not only do we need to know who we serve, but we also need to know the time we are living in and how to serve God in this time.  The Bridegroom and Bridesmaids parable explains to us the type of time we are living in.

What Time Are We Living In?
The Bridesmaids are already a part of a covenant relationship with the groom.  In Jesus day, to be betrothed meant that the promise of marriage had already been made, and that it is really not changeable.  It was a transaction, one that would be fulfilled on the wedding day, when the bridesmaid would move in with the groom’s family.  But the transaction was done.  The bridesmaids therefore know that they already are a part of the groom’s family, they simply have not yet entered into the groom’s home.

This is what it is to be Christian people.  We long for the fulfillment of that reality that will come when we live in the transformed world of God.  And, in our hearts, we already do.  We know that we are saved already, don't we?  Jesus lives in our hearts, and points us to live in a new way, a way that is characterized by the saving, transforming love of God.  We already have experienced God’s salvation.  Yet, that salvation is not yet brought to full fruition in our world.  Indeed, we still live in a world of sin.

And what of the lamps in the parable?  The lamps speak of what we are to do, as people of faith, in this time:

What Are We to Do?
Jesus spoke of lamps another time in Matthew’s Gospel.  Do you remember in Matthew 5, when Jesus said this: 

Matthew 5: 15-16
No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand,
and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before
others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in

We are to stand out because of our good works.  Our good works do not save us, but they serve as lamps that shine out and point out the way into the kingdom of God.  They are meant to tell people the truth, that we are different because we know who our God is, and we live according to the ways of the Kingdom of God, and not of the Kingdom of the world.

We live in a time when we know that God’s transforming power is true, because we have already experienced it in our own hearts.  We are on the journey to God.  We know who we will serve, and we choose to be different because of it.  We are not forced to be different, but we are invited, and we are empowered by God to live different than we have.

We are also called to make our societies more and more like the kingdom of God.  This means that we are not afraid to look at the difficult problems of society.  We know that times come when significant change is possible.  These are Kairos times.  Sometimes, we are just getting ready for the Kairos times—like slaves getting ready to escaped from slavery, like bridesmaids gathering oil for the right moment to let them shine.  But we know that that day is coming, and we are getting ready.

The theme of longing—longing for God to come in a decisive way; longing for a way of living as Christian people in a way that makes a difference, especially now in such a sinful time; longing for the kind of waiting for the Messiah that is also “doing,” because our living is an active thing, and we need to be doing the stuff that means “life” to us—the theme of longing is always the first theme in the season of Advent.  And…it is a theme in our lives.  We know that Jesus has come, and that the Spirit is with us now.  We know that God’s moment for action—another moment for the Messiah’s action—builds momentum until something good suddenly becomes possible.  We know that it will all go even beyond that, to the moment when God will bring a new heaven and a new earth…in fulfillment.

So, with this knowledge, this is the question for you.

We live in a different time than previous generations, and our faith life will have to look different—just as the faithful lives of the tribes of Israel had to look different when they were slaves than it did when they were free.  In the one case, they had to be ready to stand up against the power of Pharaoh, so they could escape.  As free people, they had to be able to build a whole new society. Every generation has to be different.  But the message of scripture is that God is the same—we just need to know God better.

What are the challenges you face?  Where does it seem that God wishes you to learn to live differently than you have in the past?

Is this a time for getting ready for big change in your life?
            Like the Hebrew people in slavery, who had to become ready to stand up to Pharaoh’s power?
            Like the Bridesmaids, who had to gather lamp oil, so they would stand up and be noticed? 
            Like the women, who finally were able to claim their power and insisted that a new season 
                      of justice must dawn today?
   …   OR   …

Jesus tells us this a time for your light to shine, through good deeds that stand out.  What do you do, and how do you live, that is different from the world—that shines the light of Christ through your own love and your own action?  How do your actions—your way of life—speak out and proclaim Who the God is that has saved you, and that you serve?

And in your church...
     how does your church stand out in the community...
          how does your church stand out as a place that lives for God...
               and as a place that cares about those within the community, and their longing (their NEED) 
              for acceptance, and justice and peace in this world, today?