Several months ago, Jack and I were at a Board of Ordained Ministry meeting together, and he asked me how Broadmoor—Shreveport was going and I asked him how The Well was treating him. He asked me where I was headed after Broadmoor. “I don’t know,” I said. “It would be good to be back down south near family in an exciting church ready to change the world.” He said, “Have you ever given any thought to being the second pastor after a founding pastor?” We chatted a bit more about life in general, and then we parted ways, he to Ponchatoula and I back to Shreveport. The very next morning I get the phone call—Rev. Rawle we would like you to follow Jack at The Well. In the UMC, we can’t choose where to serve, we are appointed to serve. We go where the Bishop sends us. So, let me say that we are incredibly honored, blessed, and fortunate to be here with you.
I am originally from Slidell and my wife, Christie, is from Baton Rouge, so we are exactly halfway between our families. My daughters, Isabelle, Annaleigh, and Cecilia can now have sleepovers with their cousins. They think we won the lottery, and in a way, we did! We have found ourselves in a new, exciting church, with doors open to the world for the transformation of the world. Thank you for the welcome we have already received, and we are thrilled about where God is bringing The Well. Over the next few weeks and months I look forward to getting to know you and being in ministry with you. For the next few minutes I would like to offer a few thoughts about how I understand God working in the world.
A good place to start is with the greatest commandment—Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. God speaks to us in different ways. It’s all the same message, but it is experienced differently in each of us. You see, some of us are heart people. Heart people feel like they have worshiped when they have been moved. They leave remembering the music. They don’t apologize for putting their hands up when the song is stirring the spirit within them. “Yeah, the sermon was good, but did you hear Ben on the guitar?” Mind people are a bit different. Mind people feel like they’ve worshiped when they’ve learned something. They leave remembering the message. One of the greatest compliments a mind person offers is, “I’ve never thought about the Prodigal Son that way.” Heart people raise their hands when they are in the moment. Mind people do the “hand-on-the-chin-lean-in.” Soul people, well, they really only need a water feature and a sunny day to feel that God is near. In worship soul people seek silence and mystery. They love prayer and communion and the holiness of worship. Strength people feel like they’ve worshiped when they have a hammer in their hands. They are the ones at the end of the sermon who as the “so what,” question. They ask who we are going to serve and how we are going out into the world.
Now I’m curious about who you are. Do you consider yourself to be a heart, mind, soul, or strength person? One way to tell is with your hands. What are your hands doing during worship? During the music are your hands clapping or stretched up to the heavens? You may be a heart person. Mind people sit like Rodin’s “The Thinker,” with their hands supporting the chin in thought. Soul people usually keep their hands in a posture of prayer. Strength people have busy hands ready to serve. So, who do you consider yourself to be . . . Some think this verse refers to the individual, and they are right. We should love God, personally, with all of our heart and mind and soul and strength. Some understand this to be a communal commandment, a commandment calling the community to love God with all your heart people and mind people and soul people and strength people. They’re right too. We are to love God with all we are and we are to be a community in which all of God’s people find a home. Love God with all your heart, your mind, your soul, and your strength.
Two children were playing in the sandbox one day. The older of the two stuck up his thumb and his forefinger and said, “Bang, you’re dead.” How does a child react in such a situation? The first way: “Bang, you’re dead!” “This is stupid. I don’t want to play with you or your stupid game. I’m going to take my toys and go home.” This option doesn’t seem helpful, at least, it misses the point of recess, what play time is all about. The second way: “Bang, you’re dead!” “Uhhhhh, ahhhhh, gurgle, gurgle, expiration.” This is an appropriate response to the dreaded thumb and forefinger, but it’s certainly not much of a game. What are you supposed to do for the next thirty minutes of recess? The third way: “Bang, you’re dead!” “Uhhhh, ahhhh, gurgle, gurgle, expiration . . . ooooooooooo (in a ghostly voice). Now we have a game! This brief lesson in playground ethics is fundamental in understanding how we are to live together in Christian community. Not only are we called to love God with our heart, mind, soul, and strength, but we are to love God through Christ as Resurrection people. Resurrection is the Third Way. There is life, there is death, and there is life lived abundantly—life everlasting. We are people of the Third Way. Our story does not end in death. Our story ends with life, and when our story ends with life—there is nothing to fear.
First we are to love God with everything we have and with all of God’s children. Secondly, we are Resurrection people, which means that we don’t always follow the rules. Finally, it is important to know that we are all one in Christ, which is our scripture today. Paul says that in Christ there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female. Now, some understand this to say that there is no longer “Jew” or “Greek” meaning that we are the same. I think a more interesting way to understand this is that there is still “Jew” and there is still “Greek,” but there is no longer “Jew or Greek.” In other words, there are heart people and there are mind people. It’s not that we are to be the same. We are beautifully different. It’s that there is no longer “us vs. them.” There is no longer a dividing line between heart and mind people. We are all brought together in Christ. We are one body—heart, mind, foot, belly button and all.
As we being this next chapter at The Well, let us love God with everything we have and with all of God’s children. Let us be people of the Third Way, people who break the rules so that the Gospel may be proclaimed. Let us all be one—beautifully different, but of the same body. Now, there’s more to the story. There’s more than one sermon, but this is how I see what God is doing in the world. It’s a message of love. It’s a message of Resurrection. It’s a message of community. If you want to be Methodist about it, it’s Prevenient Grace—God loving us even before we know who God is. It’s Justifying Grace, the grace of God through Christ’s life, suffering, death, and Resurrection. It’s Sanctifying Grace, the activity of the Holy Spirit uniting us together for the transformation of the world.
In a moment I’m going to sing a little song for you. While the music is playing I’d like you to take your index card, and I want you to write down something about yourself. Maybe you write your favorite scripture or story from the Bible. Maybe you write down your favorite book or movie or band. Maybe you write down your favorite sport or color or coffee. In other words, God has blessed us with things we find beautiful and important and life giving, and I want to know how God is speaking to you. So, while the music is playing, write down something about yourself and put your name on it, legibly, and put it in the offer basket after you receive communion. Let us together love God. Let us together be Resurrection people. Let us together be one for the transformation of the World. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!