131124 – Logos

Yr C ~ Matthew 22:34-40, John 13:33-35

We hear songs over and over again with pleasure, we have favourite books that we reread every couple of years, we buy DVD movies and watch them so often we can quote the dialogue, why not sermons? A very wise person once told me that I hear my sermons over and over again but the congregation only hears them once. Today I’m going to change that! Today I’m going to share something with you that I shared two years ago (somewhat revised, of course). So let’s get to it…again! (and you’re welcome to quote the dialogue if you want!)

The reading from the Gospel of Matthew today describes the Jewish religious leaders trying to test Jesus and trick him into saying something that would get him in trouble. Obviously, Jesus passes the test. So in the spirit of testing the religious folks, I’m going to test you!butterfly-logos

[images of 9 company logos were projected – Nike, McDonald’s, Apple, TML, Disney, Chevy, Rolling Stones, Recycle, Playboy]

Why am I showing you logos? It’s because the best logos get to the core of what your company or organization is about and communicates that message in an instant. In order to have that kind of logo you have to have a crystal clear understanding of what your thing is all about. It has to be distinctive and simple and bring your brand to mind whenever someone sees it.

The cross is the Christian logo because it tells a whole story of death and resurrection in one very simple design. But I’m wondering if Jesus was designing a logo for his spiritual movement what would it look like? To answer that question you need to be able to encapsulate his teaching in one very compact concept. And that’s what I think today’s scripture reading does!

In the reading Jesus is challenged to say what he thought the most important teaching of all was. So he turned to scripture and quoted a prayer called the Shema from Deuteronomy 6:5. Matthew’s version is: “You shall love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”The Shema is traditionally recited by every Jewish child and adult at the conclusion of each day and at the start of each day – when you lie down and when you rise up. That means they bookend every single day of their life with a reminder to themselves that their absolute, primary, number one job in life is to love God with their whole being.

This scripture passage is the heart of my favourite theological concept – the 3 Cs. This isn’t my idea. I didn’t cook it up. Sure, I gave it the cute name “the 3 Cs” (they stand for Communion, Compassion, and Connection by the way – just in case you forgot) but I didn’t decide on my own that this was the most important thing for us to focus on in church. Jesus did.

I’m a person of faith. I need to know what the most important thing that I’m supposed to be about is.
Is it that I’m supposed to believe certain doctrines? Nope.
Is it that I’m supposed to meditate on John 3:16 or the 23rd Psalm? Nope.
Is it that I’m supposed to pray the Lord’s Prayer over and over? Nope.

Those are great things, but according to Jesus they’re not job #1.
What’s job #1? Loving God. That is our most important “thou shalt”. All those other things are great, but they’re not job #1 – loving God is.

In all of Jesus’ recorded teaching there are only two other things that he elevated to the imperative of being a commandment: “Love your neighbour as you love yourself,” and in John 13 he said to his intimate, close friends “love one another as I have loved you.” Put them all together and you have Jesus’ three commandments for us. We are commanded to love – love God, love people, and love one another – Communion, Compassion, and Connection.

Communion isn’t just that thing we do with bread and wine every month – communion means to come into union with God. It’s our core spirituality. It’s our primary relationship. It’s the spiritual foundation that everything else is built on. It’s the spiritual root system that everything else in your life grows from. Jesus pretty much said that Communion is what we’re supposed to be about from our first waking moments in the morning to our last resting moments at night.

Love God with all your heart, mind, and soul. ‘The Message’ translation says to love God with all your passion and intelligence and prayer. From daybreak to nightfall, be worshipful, be learning, and be prayerful – that’s job #1.

The second commandment is like it, Jesus said. Not the same as, but like it. The second flows from the first. The strength, motivation, power, and will to “love your neighbour as you love yourself” comes from the reservoir of spiritual power that you build as you love God with all your heart, mind, and soul. Neighbour love is loving others. Loving others is called Compassion.

Compassion is about being actively engaged in loving people by meeting their needs and fighting for what’s right on their behalf, but I think the single greatest way you can show compassion and love a person is by helping them understand the greatest commandment—to love God.

The church has had a name for that for centuries, but that name has a horrendous amount of baggage attached to it. The word is ‘evangelism’ – but I prefer to call it ‘faithvertising’. It’s advertising your faith – telling or showing people where your compassion comes from. That’s all evangelism means. Being ready to say why you do what you do, and where you get your passion from. The single greatest way you can show compassion to someone is by helping them to know God better – that’s faithvertising.

And then right at the end of Jesus’ ministry he gives his friends and followers a final commandment. In John 13 he commands them to love one another. He commands them to be a close, intimate, supportive community. The third commandment is about Connection – participating in your faith community, being open and there for one another, and supporting the ongoing ministry we share.

Communion, Compassion, and Connection. Today I’ve used the Christian fish symbol to represent Communion, and I’ve used two hearts to represent Compassion and Connection. What I find a lot in churches is that we tend to emphasize the second and third commandments at the expense of the first. We gravitate more to connection and compassion than we do to communion – except for Sunday morning.  But you simply cannot function as a person of faith without nurturing the fundamental base of your spirituality, your communion with God.

Now, if we took that ichthus, the Christian fish symbol representing Communion, and put it on its end it would look like this. Now if we take those two hearts (loving people and loving one another – compassion and connection) and turned them on their side and connected them to the fish what do we get? A butterfly!

Think about butterflies for a minute.  They represent new life – being born anew. The first thing you see is the very public, flashy, vibrant, and visual aspect of the butterfly – its wings. The wings are what make the butterfly so beautiful to us. The wings are what we see – what we’re attracted to – what seems to make all the difference in the world. The beauty that a butterfly shares comes through its wings.

In fact, we usually forget all about the body part of a butterfly. Do a search on the internet for butterfly pictures and you’ll be amazed at how many of them seem to leave out the body entirely. But imagine a butterfly without a body. Its wings can’t do anything. The butterfly is paralyzed and dead without the central part – the part that no one sees.

No one can see you pray – but without a rich and full and robust prayer life how can you build the energy and strength to make your beautiful wings go? No one can see you learn and question and discern. But without that you’ll never understand why your wings are called to flap. People can certainly see you worship here on Sunday morning, but Jesus said to love God from daybreak to night fall – which means not just to worship here but also when no one can see you.

Your wings (compassion and connection) make all the difference in the world out there. You’re meant to fly, to soar, to share your beauty by loving others and loving one another – but without your spiritual body growing ever deeper in communion with God you’ll never have the capacity to soar on those wings and share your beauty.

I think this makes a great logo to sum up Jesus’ teaching. Even if you had never been to this church, heard about the 3 Cs, or even encountered any of Jesus’ teaching the image of a butterfly still tells a story. Butterflies capture our imagination. They’re beautiful to look at, and we also all seem to know the basics of their life cycle. From egg to caterpillar to chrysalis and then they emerge in all their glory – like a person born anew.

We can theologize all those stages of life. The egg phase is when we first hear about Spirit or catch a glimpse of the Sacred – the caterpillar phase is about searching, investigating, and questioning (caterpillars spend nearly all their time in search of and eating food!) – the chrysalis phase is our digesting, discerning, deciding, and growing – and then when we’re ready we emerge and fly. That’s what confirmation time is for us – emerging from our chrysalis and being ready to fly in faith.

Communion (loving God) is my core body, and Compassion (loving people) and Connection (us loving one another) are my wings. The butterfly is an embodiment of living in God’s kingdom.

I’ve been using this as a logo on the web ministries of Faith United. We have a beautiful drawing of the church in the bulletin, but it doesn’t work great as a logo. It doesn’t communicate our purpose. It doesn’t encapsulate Jesus’ teaching. I think this butterfly does! It’s a logo that stands on its own, and that you can point to and unpack deeper meanings in. It’s our faith journey in a picture.

Our denomination desperately needs a logo. We’ve got a great crest, but it tells us where we’ve been, not where we’re going. It tells us who came to the party, not how to live under the reign of the host.

The United Church is in the midst of something called a Comprehensive Review right now. All across the country congregations are being interviewed. We participated in it about a month ago. I’ve also been one of the interviewers. I’ve heard some wonderful stuff as I’ve spoken to congregations but one sad truth has hit me. I don’t think very many people or churches could come up with a logo for their faith journey. They know where they’ve been but don’t have a grip on where they’re going.

The Review is asking “what’s the most important thing?” If our answer is anything to do with structure or finances or who does what we fail the test. What is the most important thing? To love God with all our heart, and mind, and soul! And from there to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. And while we’re doing that to love one another as Christ loves us. The answer is not a structure, it’s a logo! If we can’t get this right no structure is going to help us.

The gospel of John begins with the words “In the beginning was the word…” or, more accurately, “In the beginning was the logos…” Logos usually gets translated as ‘word’ but in reality it’s untranslatable. There is no word for logos. But maybe there’s a picture!

Maybe it’s no accident that a symbolic picture that encapsulates a grand concept that conveys deep meaning is called a logo. The church needs to understand the logos that is Christ – and what better way to get at it than through a simple image that tells a great spiritual truth.

On this day that culminates the Christian year we ponder the ultimate question – what’s the most important thing? What’s job #1?

Jesus told us in as plain language as we could ever hope for. He even called them commandments to ensure we’d take them seriously. Love God, love people, love one another. Centre and ground your church and your spiritual journey in Communion, Compassion, and Connection and you’ll soar reborn like a butterfly, sharing your beauty with the world.

Amen.