This past week I was at a conference that was attempting to call to the table the various entities that provide services that work towards the goal of helping youth with disabilities to transition into meaningful life. There were representatives from Vocational Rehabilitation, departments of education, the Labor Department, universities, and other specialized services created to assist these youth in this transition. In their own right each of these groups have their own purpose and goals . . . each does their job well . . . and, they are all a part of the puzzle; yet, those puzzle pieces don’t often fit together too well to get the whole picture. Too often they are siloed . . . too busy doing their own thing . . . .protecting their turf . . . protecting their resources and funding. The end result is that the youth with disabilities end up with the short end of the stick.
Thus it was that all of these entities—these services—were called to the table and challenged to collaborate . . . to work together . . . to ensure that these youth with disabilities succeeded in having a good and productive life. A simple task . . . right? In theory it sounds easy—to create one seamless system of those charged to assist these youth through this life transition. Well, trust me when I say that it is easier said than done.
The conference is in its ninth year. Every year it gets a little closer . . . but they are still a long way from succeeding.
Such a simple idea . . . collaborate. Over the three days of the conference we heard that message over and over again. These were good people with good intentions . . . so why was this idea of collaboration taking so long to be a reality? Think about it.
Now I want to shift gears . . . the charge of Jesus was simple: establish the Kingdom of God. Here we are this morning—over two thousand years later . . . have any of you seen the Kingdom of God yet? Why not? It is a pretty simple idea—to love God, to love others—to establish the Kingdom of God. Over those two thousand plus years there have been a whole lot of good people with good intentions . . . even today there are a whole lot of people with good intentions . . . so why aren’t we in the midst of God’s Kingdom? Why isn’t it a reality? Think about that.
One of the speakers at the conference used a phrase that I had never heard before, but I really liked. She said, “Spray and pray.” She used that phrase to sum up what happens at most conferences . . . the information and researched is put out there by the speakers . . . and the hope is that the listeners will grasp it and do something. In that phrase I think there is a clue to both the dilemma of those gathered to work for collaboration and those called to establish God’s Kingdom. As a pastor . . . at least on Sunday mornings . . . it is my job to do the “spraying and praying”. I put it out there and then hope like crazy that something sticks . . . that something strikes a cord . . . that something makes a difference . . . to promote change. And guess what . . . the “spraying and praying” ain’t working. If it were working we’d all be there by now.
Whether we are talking about collaboration that makes the life of students with disabilities better or about establishing the Kingdom of God we are stuck in the “spray and pray” mode. We get it. We understand it. We have it solidly planted in our minds. But it is not working. Why? Because it has not moved from here (the head) to here (the heart).
After nine years, why hasn’t the idea of collaboration worked with those organizations working towards creating a seamless transition for youth with disabilities? After more than two thousand years with millions of Christians working towards creating the Kingdom of God . . . why hasn’t it worked? Because the focus is in the wrong place. For collaboration to work among services working to help youth with disabilities they have to quit focusing on the process and learn to focus on the individual. It is no different for those who follow Jesus and rise up to meet the challenge of establishing God’s Kingdom.
In the world of service providers they call this process one that focuses on respect, equality, dignity, acceptance, openness, listening, and building a relationship with the one that they are serving. Some might call that “love”, but in the service world funded by governmental monies from both the Federal and state . . . such a word is not allowable. But that is what will bring about collaboration . . . love. And, that is what Jesus said would accomplish the goal of establishing the Kingdom of God . . . love.
The writer of our reading this morning states:
- · First, the writer proclaims that only the love of God will overcome the world. “This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is that overcomes the world?”
- · Second, the writer tells us that the “who” are those who believe: “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well . . . only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.”
- · But, the writer also warns that it not mere “belief” that wins over the world; no, it is more than “belief” . . . it is action: “This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. This is the love of God: to obey his commands.”
- · With love the world is overcome . . . “And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.”
Love is not an idea or concept that floats around out there in space . . . it is an action . . . it is a verb . . . it is doing something. Jesus calls all of his followers to “love”. To love God . . . to love one another. If this is done the world is overcome . . . the kingdom is established. And, who among us does not embrace the idea of love? Who among us doesn’t shout “Amen!” when the preacher is “spraying and praying”?
Well, it begins with a simple journey from here (the head) to here (the heart). When the heart is involved things get done. Things get done because we have moved beyond the mind and it thoughts into an area where the Spirit lives . . . the Spirit that prompts us . . . prods us . . . cheers us on . . . and, makes us move into action. When we think with the heart things begin to happen. They begin to happen because we have invested ourselves in that which the heart has embrace . . . in that which “love” believes in. We have moved beyond the theory into the area of practice. Until then it is nothing more than lip service . . . nothing more than “spray and pray”.
The writer of our reading this morning tells us that we have the ability to “overcome the world” . . . the ability to establish the Kingdom of God. The writer tells us that it is quite simple . . . love. Love God, love one another. If we do this then we succeed in doing what Jesus challenged us to do. All we have to do is to love. As the followers of Jesus we have done well in listening and affirming this idea of “love” . . . we can do it with the best of them; yet, we know that something is missing because we just haven’t quite made it all the way there yet.
It has been stated that the toughest step of any journey in life is the first step. I think that that is true when it comes to this idea of “love” . . . that first step from here (the head) to here (the heart) is the most difficult one to take. May God help us to remove the barriers that keep us from moving into love. We can overcome . . . love. Love is the answer. Jesus knew it. Jesus calls to it. Amen.