On Sundays we faithfully fill the pews in search of an uplifting message. But are we living the sermon with our lives each and every day?
It's Sunday morning. And Sunday is a sacred time for those of us who are spiritual beings. As I lay in bed sick this past week recovering from pneumonia, I had lots of time to think, read my Bible, and reflect on what matters in life. Not just in my life mind you, but in the collective life-force we all share here and now as a community of human souls traveling this journey called "life." I wanted to share what I hope will "lift" you, and "refocus" you all at once, as it has me on what it truly means not to just "hear" a sermon, or if you are in ministry to "preach" a sermon, but to actually "live" the sermon with our lives each and everyday.
I "favorites" a tweet the other day from popular motivational Christian women's blogger and personality Heather Love that read: “We sit in church on Sunday for 1hr a week & we live the rest of the 167 hours a week like no God exists." That tweet got a whole lot of retweets, "Amens", discussion, and "say it agains."
I can't say I was surprised as a believer who has been in the church her entire life, has a brother who is a Minister, and who has traveled around the country speaking at church women's conferences or attending various denominational worship services as a guest. Most recently I have been working for many months on a forthcoming feature article for Essence Magazine on pastor's wives aka "First Ladies of the Black Church" which has been an eye-opening experience for me as a journalist having the rare opportunity to see inside the church through the eyes of the women who often hold it all together with silent strength.
What struck me about Ms. Love's tweet, and a chat I had last week with the hashtag #LiveTheSermon, was the wholesale agreement of believers, and non-believers alike that something is dangerously amiss in the spiritual realm of "spirit-filled" people and "anointed" leaders when it comes to how we actually walk out what we talk.
What do I mean you ask? I mean that many of us (me included) are really good at quoting scripture, attending worship several times a week, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, writing inspirational books, and building national ministries or conferences. But we have forgotten our first love--and that is the command each of us took up when we confessed our faith to "love one another" and be "obedient" to the living breathing word (The Bible) that was left for us to follow. We have forgotten how to be kind, even in the church house. We have forgotten how to forgive people who have hurt us, cover them with love, talk to them directly, even when our flesh does not want to, and to work to restore them back to us and the church when they fall away. We have forgotten how to truly pray with, and for, one another. We have forgotten how to use our words for good, and to build up instead of tearing down one another. We have forgotten how to correct people without crushing them. We have forgotten that we are called to be IN this world, but NOT of it. We have gotten so caught up in the musical productions, and the pastor's gifts of oratory, that we have turned a blind eye to hypocrisy, blatant sin and our fellow humans who are hurting, depressed, isolated, lonely, and broken.
As my grandmother used to say: "Baby the only sermon some folks will ever see is the one you live out for them." How right she was. How right she is.
This has been an incredible, amazingly blessed, challenging (at times), and bittersweet year for me. I had one experience earlier this year, however, that should I live to be 100, I will never forget. It is because of the deep hurt, disappointment, condemnation, and "mean girl" abuse that was heaped on me by "church folks." Know that whatever part I played (and be clear we all play a part in our conflicts) in reacting to what I experienced, I swallowed my pride, owned it, and apologized for it privately and publicly. But what cut me deeply was the religious sanctimony of a circle of seemingly mature, good "Christians" who talk a good game, and who, at their core, are good people, but when it came to walking it out they forfeited, punted, and passed. Instead, they chose not to be the sermons they so ardently profess each Sunday.
Apparently, this is the new way we show our power in the church. We shun, condemn and hurt people who fall short. We operate in cliques. Or worse, when we fall, we don't own it and we never apologize. We spread gossip, draw others into our mess, and cause them to sin. All to cover up our own misdeeds. We feel entitled to belittle people with our "position," as we discard, call them "devils" and disassociate ourselves from them. Humility has left the building. I'll tell you what, we may have the grandiose musical presentations down, we have the sermons down, we have the shouting down, but we have lost our most fundamental principle as spiritual beings: To love one another as God has loved us. And be clear: Love is a verb. It acts. It covers. It forgives. It seeks peace. It restores. Anything else is an impostor.
Here are three things we should remember about how we can LIVE our lives as daily sermons:
1. As we have all witnessed with the untimely resignation of four star general and former CIA Director David Petreus due to adultery, we all are human, and in some deep places we don't like to talk about "broken." The key for us if we want to attract people to a transformational "spiritual walk" and "restore" them when they fall is to walk that walk ourselves, to be the light, and to light the way for others when it is dark even if our own candle is starting to dim. The word says we are to be "the light of the earth" (Matthew 5:14-16). We are to be grace extenders, and mercy givers. Because we need both daily ourselves.
2. We are to be peace makers and bear ripe, delicious, edifying fruit (Galatians 5:22) that tastes good to others when they pick from our tree (i.e., our lives). Living a sermon daily does not mean you will be perfect. The journey is never about perfection. It's always about obedience to what we profess we believe in, and who we say we are even when it is inconvenient. We are to be set-apart, different, and visibly so. We have to walk it out. If you say you're a Christian yet drink excessively, do drugs, act out, dress loosely, sleep around, watch explicit movies, have foul language or whatever you can do all of that if you choose (its called free will) but know folks are watching your actions. They are watching your sermon.
3. Living a sermon means I treat others as I want to be treated. And when I fall short, or I get it wrong, I woman up/man-up and I go to that person, own my fault or wrongdoing, apologize sincerely and repent. I change. I transform. I grow. Christians/Spiritual beings are not perfect beings, but we are also never called to be mean, cold-hearted, hurtful beings that run people away from the church with our bad behavior. We may fall down, but we are called to get back up better, faster, stronger, and wiser.
Let's get back up. Let's walk the talk. And mostly let's cover one another instead of condemning one another, and live the sermon of our faith daily so that we may win others to the light!
Sophia A. Nelson is an Essence.com and Essence Magazine contributor/feature writer. Her newly re-released, revised Trade Paperback book Black Woman Redefined is available in stores now, and in ebook on November 20, 2012