First Congregational Church
May 20, 2018
Pentecost Sunday and Heritage Day
“Amazed and Perplexed - Still”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
It seems rather appropriate on this Pentecost Sunday and Heritage Day to take a glance over our history as God’s people. But before that, you all know, right, why the early days of history were called the dark ages? Because there were so many knights. And in homage to the royal wedding yesterday, you know why England is the wettest country in the world? Because the queen has reigned there for years. And just in case you ever make it to the Jeopardy show, how did the Vikings send secret messages? By norse code.
Back to the point, it was the Spirit that 1. hovered over the waters in Genesis 1:2, and just 24 verses later, God said, “Let us make mankind in our image.” We’re not sure whether that use of the plural “us” and “our” is about God and the Trinity or God and the other heavenly beings, but I think we can reasonably say that that “us” and “our” was not a human form - at least not as we understand humans to be.
God was speaking of the creation of the tabernacle to 2. Moses, when God said God had chosen 3. “Bezalel and had filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills—to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts.” (Ex. 31:1)
Then there was 4. Joseph, of whom the Pharaoh said, “Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?” (Gen 41:37) There was Moses and that 5. pillar of fire leading God’s people (Ex. 13), and the “fire of the Lord” burning up 6. Elijah’s altar (1 Kings 18). A flame always burned in the tabernacle to remind people that God was present there (Lev. 6, 12,13).
In all of the 7. Old Testament, the word or name “Spirit” or “Spirit of God” is mentioned 193 times. If there is nothing else that comes out of this morning’s message, perhaps it is my own reminder that there is far more depth to the “Spirit” we celebrate this day.
Then there is this day. 8. Shavout is the Hebrew name, 9. Feast of Weeks is the English name and Pentecost is the ancient Greek name that represents part of today’s celebration. Shavout, according to Wikipedia, is the all-important 10. wheat harvest in the Land of Israel, as spelled out in the book of Exodus, chapter 34 - probably not so far from our own traditional Thanksgiving. Although there is no Biblical link between the two, Shavout also commemorates the anniversary of the day God gave the 10.5 Torah (the first five books of the Bible) to the entire nation of Israel assembled at Mount Sinai.
Add into this mix the word 11. “ruach”, which is the Hebrew word for breath, wind and/or spirit. Except that it is not a word for a person, but a word for a force. It is invisible and like wind, because it can be felt or experienced, but not seen. The ancient Greek equivalent is 12. pneuma; which means to breathe or blow, primarily denoting the wind. It is Breath; the spirit which, like the wind, is invisible, immaterial, and powerful”. It is the word from which we get pneumonia, and as a number of folks can attest, pneumonia is a serious force with which to be reckoned.
The Gospel of John tells us that Jesus said he would send another 13. Advocate, implying that Jesus was the first Advocate or 14. Helper, as in judicial terms, one who is “called alongside of”, originally meaning a 15. legal assistant. Sometimes translated as 16. Comforter, this kind of advocate, when your scared and unsure of procedures, is a familiar and consoling presence as the Dr. Bulls, Perry Masons, Olivia Bensons, Ben Matlocks and Atticus Finchs of the world and television fame.
One last item to enter into this conglomeration is the immediate setting: of a bewildered, grieving, hopeful, gathering of the eleven apostles plus Matthias, along with “certain women,” Jesus’ mother Mary, and his brothers - not so unlike the gathering forty days prior to that day, the day when Jesus first appeared after his death. They had moved from the setting of Jesus’ 17. ascension back to God, to the 18. temple and then to this 19. room in Jerusalem - a room that secluded the gathering away from the crowds that would have gathered for the Shavout celebration that day.
The Holy Spirit Comes at Pentecost
2 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues[a] as the Spirit enabled them.
5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,[b] 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”
Peter Addresses the Crowd
14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
17 “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.
19 I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’
Thank you, Julie and Paul. In reference to the sermon title, it obviously came from the twelfth verse of our passage, and who among us wouldn’t also be amazed and perplexed? If you were there that day, having all this historic understanding and depth in your background, sort of like how we have our national historical heritage, how do you think you would have held that day?
Don’t forget that this event was perhaps the fulfillment - or at least against the backdrop of - the prophecy from 20. Joel - God pouring the Spirit on “all flesh,” making no distinctions according to rank, authority, or position. The Spirit crumbles all the walls of respectability: age, gender, and status alike. Children, male and female children, women and men, servants, all of them would - and did - receive the Spirit.
Don’t forget the sound of a 21. tornado-force wind filling the building followed by the spread of 22. tongues of flames on their heads, 23. diverse languages filling the air. In the chapter right before the one that Julie and Paul read, the apostle Luke wrote that while they were eating with Jesus, at a post-resurrection appearance, Jesus said that the disciples would receive 24. power - the Greek word from which we get dynamite. All of this comes together in the 25. birthing of the church universal and the beginning of the careers of disciples whose work would change the world forever. All these metaphors for the spirit -- power, tongues, fire, and wind -- all signify the radical nature of the Spirit’s freedom. This potential confusion has the power to divide them as much as it has the power to unite a huge crowd in its commitment to its new Savior and each other. And yet, once the Holy Spirit draws these new Christians together, that same Spirit sends them back out into the world.
My guess is that a good many of us tend to think about all this build up in historic terms, not necessarily relevant to us modern, post-modern even, followers of Christ. Except that the Spirit is still relevant, still working in powerful and dynamic ways, even when we don’t recognize those ways as such.
150 years, one little church in one little town, and if only we could add up all the pennies and nickels and quarters and dollars that have been sent to 26. missions throughout the world. And all the 27. weddings that have been celebrated here, and all the 28. lives celebrated and all the lives 29. baptized into the church universal and all the joys and concerns shared in the approximate 7,800 Sunday morning 30. worship services held right here. And that’s not including the 31. special Lenten services or the Sunday evening services that were held on and off over the years.
We don’t necessarily think of all these “numbers” as miracles or as great moments in the history of the world, but they are great moments in the history of many of our own little worlds, miracles and moving of the Spirit that can still amaze and perplex us in the way they touch our hearts and tear ducts, sometimes in the most unexpected of moments.
It might be easy, on a day that celebrates events that happened so long ago, to minimize the importance of what we do week-to-week. But each and every week, there are 32. hands to be held in consolation and understanding, 33. hugs of joy to be shared, cups of 34. coffee and goodies to be shared while getting to know someone you don’t yet know well. There are still moments and times and 35. conversations and expressions of appreciation that need to happen, because all of us have important pieces in the continuance of the work of the Holy Spirit. So let us get to the 36. praying.
Holy and Eternal God, we thank you for giving and sending your Spirit - again and again - continually, even. Thank you for the examples of the powerful and profound ways that your Spirit has moved in the past, giving us hope for future events of equal enormity. But thank you, even more so, for those little ways in which your Spirit has moved over the centuries, the little ways that are actually big ways, that are really reflections of your love and adoration of your people. Help us to continue to reach out to others in your name, to further your kingdom, in the large and small ways as they come about. Thank you for the gift of your Son, who changed the world, too, in all his great and small gestures and examples. More than anything, God, thank you for you and for creating us in such a way that we can still be amazed and perplexed and revel in all that you do - and will do - through us — and all your people say, Amen.
First Congregational Church
May 13, 2017
7th Sunday after Easter, Mothers Day
John 17:6-19, Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
“My Grandmother Gave That Lightbulb!”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
It said, on the internets, that the question was based on a true story. The question was “How many independent wives does it take it take to change a light bulb. The answer, again, supposedly based on a true story, was “Only one. However, it will take her several hours because while she has the ladder up, she will have to wash the glass cover in the light fixture and then dust the cupboard tops because they can be seen from there, and if there is time, also paint the ceiling.
Not everyone appreciates how difficult it is to find jokes that are 1. not (hopefully) offensive to a certain person or group of people, 2. tasteful enough to offer in a sermon, and 3. contain at least a little bit of truth or relevance. That being said, “How many politicians does it take to change a lightbulb? Two. One to change it, and another one to change it back again.
And then, there is THE classic, most famous lightbulb joke: How many Congregationalists does it take to change a lightbulb? Change? My grandmother gave that lightbulb!
This past week, I attended the Ministerial Association meeting, and a book that I didn’t know was used for our devotional time. It’s “A Door Set Open” by Peter L. Steinke, and it’s subtitle is “Grounding Change In Mission and Hope.” There’s just nothing like the word “change” to strike terror or at least angst in the heart of the listener or reader. But since I was trying to be polite, rather than bolt out of the room, I sat and listened as Rick Stieve read the following anecdote.
Marius von Senden’s book Space and Sight is about the dramatic change in the lives of people who underwent the first successful cataract surgeries. Blind from birth, they receive the sudden and wondrous gifts of sight, but their experiences are not all positive. Von Senden collected accounts of their post surgery experiences. He discovered that the patients had no sense of space. They had no idea of form, size, and distance. When a doctor asked one of the patients to show him how big her mother was, she held her two index fingers only a few inches apart. A second patient, looking at photographs and paintings, asked why someone had put dark marks all over them. “Those aren’t dark marks,” the mother of the nearsighted girl explained, “those are shadows. It is one of the ways the eye knows that things have shape. If it were not for shadows, many things would look flat.” The daughter responded: “well, that’s how things do look. Everything looks flat with dark patches.”
The effort to see in a new way proved overwhelming for other patients. They found tremendous size to be disturbing in comparison to what they previously conceived of as something manageable by touch. Realizing for the first time they were visible to others, they felt uncomfortable. Seeing themselves in a mirror was a bewildering experience. The father of a young adult who had hoped for so much from this operation expressed perplexity, noting that his daughter would shut her eyes to go about the house, especially when she approached a staircase. He wrote that “She is never happier or more at ease than when, by closing her eyelids, she relapses into her former state of total blindness. Tormented by his experience of new sight a teenage boy blurted out, “If things aren’t altered, I’ll tear my eyes out.” Still, some learned to see in a new way. One patient exclaimed repeatedly, “Oh, God, how beautiful.”
Tear out their eye? Go blind at a staircase? Imprisoned in darkness, liberated by light, surrounded by the wonder of color in depth - and yet, many newly sighted people wanted to return to what was known and familiar. Even in the face of this marvelous sensory improvement, the forces of sameness were potent.” (p. 49)
Our scripture passages for this morning, naturally, deal with change. Change, in the gospel passage may not be so obvious, but it may help if we remember that the prayer took place on his last night with the disciples, after he had washed their feet and before Jesus’ arrest. The passages from Acts are a little clearer, in regards to change, as they deal with the replacement for Judas.
John 17:6-19 (NIV)
Jesus Prays for His Disciples
6 “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. 8 For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. 9 I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. 11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.
13 “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. 14 I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.
Acts 1:15-17 (NIV)
15 In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) 16 and said, “Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus. 17 He was one of our number and shared in our ministry.”
Acts 1:21-26 (NIV)
21 Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, 22 beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”
23 So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. 24 Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen 25 to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” 26 Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.
Thank you, Naomi and Al. It’s been said that the only things you can count on are death and taxes. I think “change” should be added to that list. Sometimes we like a little change, sometimes it terrifies us. Sometimes it’s a little thing, like switching out mayonnaise for salad dressing, and other times, change can shake the foundations of our lives in ways we never anticipated, like learning how to live without your beloved or one you trusted for so long. Sometimes change happens slowly - and quickly at the same time - like the time between the birth of a child and their graduation from high school. Other times, change can happen so quickly and it takes a long slow time to learn to live with it, like rehabbing after a terrible accident or those words we heard or read, that can never be taken back.
Jesus knew change was coming; he’d been saying it since the beginning of his ministry. He tried, every which way but Monday, to prepare the disciples - and us - of how different life would be like after he went home. And in a way many of us probably haven’t given much thought, the passage from John 17 gives us a picture of one of the things Jesus “did” to prepare us for that change: he prayed for us.
So, when was the last time you prayed for the ability to change - whatever kind of change that is likely to come down your path? Before anyone gets all worried, this is not a sermon prelude to any grand announcement or plan - at least on my part. But it is a reminder - for all of us - that we are not helpless in this thing called life - most especially in the area of when “life happens.” So why wait and be solely reactive when we can be proactive - praying for wisdom and compassion and guidance and groundedness?
One of my highly correct observations is that there are a good many people that go around sad or even depressed, because change has been forced on them, and all they really want is to go back to the way things were when they were a kid. So much energy is spent in that sadness and anger and depression and fear, when it seems to this small brain, that prayer to embolden us and help us embrace the changes, that will come on us, would be so much more helpful.
The passages from Acts are good reminders that when we are doing our best, even when life throws us a curve ball, like being asked to do some big thing, that God will guide the process. I don’t think the disciples use of casting lots is necessarily the best way of making decisions, but counting on God to take our best efforts is honorable and satisfying in ways that a Milky Way bar or a good cup of coffee just can’t do.
Jesus’ prayer, also called his ‘high priestly prayer,’ reminds us, too, that when change happens, we not forget that our reactions need not be solely based on emotions, but on knowledge. We belong to God, and no matter what, that’s not going to change. And even though Jesus ascended back to God, Jesus continues to intercede for us, praying for us, lifting each of us up to God with the joy and delight of a child offering up the perfect dandelion.
There’s that line in the second of the Acts passages, the one we may gloss over. “Lord, you know everyone’s heart.” One of the things of which we were lamenting at the Ministerial Association is the sad picture of what a fractured church (big, universal church) looks like to those who are not a part of it. If we are not intentional, i.e., decision over emotion, about being Christ’s ambassadors and followers, then why even bother going through the effort to say we are Christians? Why not stay home on Sunday mornings, do a crossword puzzle and watch a good movie?
Because, when change happens, and it will, there are times when we will need to know we are not alone in that process. There are times when you could watch a hundred movies, but not one of them will take the place of the hand on your shoulder or the hug from someone you know has first-hand understanding of your struggle. There are times, when each of us has need to be comforted and other times when we need to be the comforters and those times will continue throughout our lives and all those who follow us.
Seeds may not like the idea of going into the dark ground, but when they come to full fruition, there is nothing like a proud sunflower or a stately maple tree to appreciate the pain of what may seem like death and new growth - change in all it’s gory glory. All too often, pain and struggle happen in our moments of life “growth.” But having someone, having each other, having God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, makes change and life and everything else in this world, so much richer and fuller and right. So let us pray.
God of Life and Love, we thank you this day for nurturing and teaching and enfolding us as we live and love and bloom. Forgive us when we short-change ourselves in your call on our lives, most especially when we resist change that could bless us and enter into your world in a deeper and even more meaningful way. Help us to be less concerned about our abilities or inabilities and be able to rest more in your power and love and grace in us and through us. Help us Gracious God, to truly desire your will in this world, and even in the world to come. For your presence and promises, all your people say, Amen.
First Congregational Church
May 6, 2018
Sixth Sunday in Easter
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
A husband and wife were shopping and couldn’t decide which jacket to buy their granddaughter, so they asked the young salesman. “If you were buying a jacket for your girlfriend, what would you get?” The nice young man said, “A bulletproof one. I’m married.”
Glen Phenix of NC, told the tale about sitting on a flight next to a woman. Ever the charmer, Glen asked, “Does the airline charge you extra for sitting next to good-looking men?” “Yes,” she said, “but I wasn’t willing to pay.”
There is a beautiful saying I’d never come across before, attributed to Sitting Bull. “Behold, my friends, the spring is come; the earth has gladly received the embraces of the sun, and we shall soon see the results of their love.” Bill Nye, the Science Guy said, “Winter lingered so long in the lap of Spring that it occasioned a great deal of talk.” And it was the great baseball guy, Sandy Koufax, who said, “People who write about spring training not being necessary have never tried to throw a baseball.” And of course, there is Alfred Lord Tennyson’s take on spring; “In the spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.”
Maybe it was the inspiration of Tennyson that caused the lectionary people to chose the passages for this morning. If you had the desire to look up the list of lectionary Gospel passages for the month of May, although all of them come from the book of John, they are completely mixed up in terms of sequence. And the Epistle - or non-Gospel, New Testament readings - are also a complete jumble.
So to give us a little more context, the passage from John comes on the heals of Jesus’ teaching about him being the vine and we being the branches. He spoke about pruning dead wood so that we could put forth good fruit in our labor for Christ’s kingdom. Our passage describes that fruit.
The epistle of 1 John implies that there is more than one, and in fact, there are three little notes from John, in addition to the Gospel attributed to his name. 1 John was written between 95 and 100 AD from Ephesus, probably to counter the issue of docetism, which is the belief that Jesus did not come "in the flesh", but only as a spirit - like a ghost. In addition to Jesus’ humanity and divinity, the letter also deals with ethics and love and fellowship with God. (read)
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.
1 John 5:1-6
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. 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. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.
This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.
Thank you, Cecelia and Rick. Dwight Moody was a 19th century American evangelist connected with the Holiness Movement, who founded a church, a school, Moody Bible Institute and Moody Publishers. He was as famous then as Billy Graham was in our last century. In his collected Anecdotes, he had the following account.
“In Chicago a few years ago a little boy attended a Sunday school I know of. When his parents moved to another part of the city, the little fellow still attended the same Sunday school, although it meant a long, tiresome walk each way. A friend asked him why he went so far, and told him that there were plenty of others just as good nearer his home.
"They may be as good for others, but not for me," was his reply. "Why not?" she asked. "Because they love a fellow over there," he replied.”
Moody ended his account with this. “If only we could make the world believe that we loved them there would be fewer empty churches, and a smaller proportion of our population who never darken a church door. Let love replace duty in our church relations, and the world will soon be evangelized.”
Before I go on, I should probably mention that this sermon is perhaps not for each and every person here. But, I’m guessing that you’ll have to wait until the end to make that conclusion.
I’ve thought long and hard about this idea of loving like this. It’s not the kind of love between teenagers or even newly weds, and it’s not the kind of familiar love between people who are friends and have similar backgrounds. In fact, this kind of love that Jesus was talking about was a new category, a kind never heard of before.
The kind of love that Jesus was talking about - that John wrote about in both passages for this morning - is Agape love. World renown Christian theologian and Anglican minister, J.I. Packer said that “Agape draws its meaning directly from the revelation of God in Christ. It is not a form of natural affection, however, intense, but a supernatural fruit of the Spirit. That it’s a matter of will rather than feeling (for Christians must love even those they dislike). It is the basic element in Christ-likeness.”
I’m guessing that most of us would nod our heads in agreement with this idea, but what - and/or how - does this actually come about? The answer to this question is important, because we can’t fake it - really. We know if we’re faking it, and certainly God knows if we’re faking it. How can we love genuinely, especially people with whom we have issues?
Maybe the first thing is to be cognizant of Jesus’ second line in John’s gospel: “remain in my love.” If we aren’t remembering Christ’s love - demonstrated in his sacrifice for us - then we’re going to be easily lead off the course of agape love. And we have to remember that this is, as Packer said, an act of the will, so this may take some retraining of our brains and hearts - firstly of God’s love as being the foundation of everything that we do - everything.
Then I think, keeping within the lines of what we know God sees blessing is another part of the passage from John 15. It doesn’t mean following each and every commandment of the Bible, word for word. In fact, we can’t do that, because some of the commandments conflict with each other. So we have to keep that large picture-overall idea that God has for God’s people - of love and grace and mercy.
As we wrestle with those things, they still don’t get us to the actual loving of those around us, especially those who rub our fur the wrong way or feel like a burr under the saddle. I don’t know if this is Jesus approved, but it seems to me that the very first step we can take in loving all of God’s people - particularly those with whom we have issues - is to treat them all with the same respect that we would treat a stranger that we bump into at the store or meet going into a building. Offering everyone the simple pleasantries of “Excuse me” or “Pardon me” at least gets the hard-to-loves into the human category. And for some people and some instances, that is going to be a huge step. Sometimes acknowledging that a person has the same right to breath air as we do is a big deal. And if that’s not a problem for you, then you can pray for those who do have those hurdles, that their hearts can take the first step in Christ’s command to love.
And maybe after moving our heart to the place where person or persons X, Y and Z have the same right to breath, then we can step up the challenge by hoping or praying for that person or individuals, that they would have a good day. Or a good night’s sleep. Or some other goodness. And if we aren’t in that place then we can pray for those who struggle with that step. And in all simplicity, it really is the Golden Rule: “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matt. 7:12)
And as long as we’re talking about really touchy stuff here, I might just as well jump in with both feet to say that there is that other anecdote that comes in to play, perhaps even before any or all of my simple machinations: If you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all, which, by-the-way, includes what you say with your face and body language, too. What we say non-verbally is not only audible to the person we may consciously or unconsciously be aiming our little daggers, but to those around us, those who are casual onlookers of what is happening around them, and perhaps most especially with our younger folks. They, like adults, see how we reflect - or don’t reflect - God’s love and Christ’s commands to love.
Down in our hearts, I think each an every one of us really wants to be a great person after God’s heart, even if we don’t realize that we may not be doing very well in that category. And while it may be a noble thing to love neighbors with the love of Christ, there is an even higher reason. Jesus said it in the gospel passage; that when we love as Christ has loved us, then we aren’t servants doing God’s work, but we become Christ’s friend. It goes from a one-way relationship to a two-way relationship, a relationship that looks for the well-being of each other; even the willingness to defend each other.
We don’t become Jesus, because he is not our equal nor are we his. But it is certainly a relationship that is more fulfilling and meaningful than a wag of the tongue or a nod of the head. Far more, filled with divine qualities. And it is God’s real desire for us. That is God’s desire for all of God’s people - those we like, those we don’t, those we know, those we don’t, those who make us feel good and those who don’t. So let us get to work in this season of ground-working and planting.
God of Life and Love, we start this week, maybe a little unsettled, perhaps having had our boundaries and edges encroached in ways that aren’t always comfortable. So help each of us to grow in love - especially in that Agape love that takes us into such a different plane of existence. Forgive us, when we have failed in loving others as you love us. Forgive us when we’ve done that unknowingly, but for those times of deliberate pain, we ask for your mercy and grace to rectify any hurt that may still linger. And help each of us so desire that relationship of interactive friendship with Jesus, that it becomes not just our goal, but our passion. Thank you, for loving us to such a degree that out of the overflow of your love, you sent Christ, your proof of love toward all of humanity. In thanksgiving for all that you do and are, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.