Oh my goodness, y’all I am SO sorry I am so delayed in posting this. I keep asking veteran mamas what ages their kids were when they managed to pull themselves back together and they all just laugh at me. Ha! So I’m doing the best I can, but definitely still working out the kinks of my new schedule.
Anyway, here is my sermon from last week. I think this is a message we all need to hear – a reminder that so much of the Gospel boils down to the simple commandment to love one another.
Rehoboth Congregational Church
September 10, 2017
Love Your People
In the United Church of Christ, when someone wants to be ordained, they have to go through a process that ends with something called an Ecclesiastical Council. This is where the candidate for ordination essentially defends their ordination papers and answers any questions the association has for them. At the end of the Council, a vote is taken and the candidate is (hopefully) recommended for ordination.
My Ecclesiastical Council happened nearly seven years ago at my mom’s former church in Kent, CT. During the Q&A, one pastor, the Rev. Terry Ryan, raised his hand and asked me what I thought my mom’s greatest success was at her church.
Now, first of all, I was a little annoyed by the question, because, hello, this was supposed to be about me, not my mom. But the question also kind of put me on the spot because I honestly had never just thought about it before. My mom had been at that church for nearly 20 years at that point: How could I narrow down her one greatest success?
So I gave it a shot: “The outreach program,” I said. I had always been impressed by the fact that her church had two completely separate budgets – operating and outreach – and members could choose which percentage of their pledge would go to each budget during stewardship.
Terry listened to my answer, paused and said: “You’re wrong.”
At which point an audible gasp filled the sanctuary as the congregation (who was feeling kind of protective over me at that point because they had watched me grow up in the church and basically saw me as their collective daughter) waited for me to respond.
I started to stumble through a response when Terry looked at me, waited for me to finish, smiled and said, “She loves these people.”
She loves these people.
At the time, I thought he was out of his mind. After all, I did not just spend seven years in school, complete two ministry internships and a unit of chaplaincy, do a two-day psychological evaluation and write my ordination papers so I could do a job that just boils down to loving people! That doesn’t even make sense.
Fast forward to today …
… I get it.
There have been moments along my journey here, at the Rehoboth Congregational Church, where I have put my education and all of the other pieces of the ordination process to good use.
But there have been far more moments where it has been so much more important for me to put all that aside and just love the heck out of the people in this church.
Let’s look at this morning’s scripture.
We have spent the past two weeks in Paul’s letter to the Romans and we continue again in it this morning. Paul spent the beginning of this letter talking about what it means for God’s love to be fully inclusive, assuring the Roman citizens that God’s grace has no bounds and is bestowed upon both Jews and Gentiles. But in the passage we read last week, Paul shifted gears to discuss the fact that, while grace is extended to all of the Roman citizens, the way they lived their lives did, in fact, still matters.
So we know this, right? We know the way we live our lives matters; we know that the choices we make, the way we treat others and the standards we hold ourselves to makes a difference to the people around us and to the world we are living in.
But how do we decide how to live our lives? How do we know what is right and what is wrong?
In these verses, Paul makes a reference to the Ten Commandments as a compass for how we can live our lives. But Paul says in fact, it is even easier than that; he says these commandments can be summed up simply – by loving the people around us.
The commandments … are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Paul says while there are many different pieces to the law, that in loving one another, we are fulfilling the law; that in loving one another we are living in accordance to God’s word.
Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.
There are many different layers to what it means to be Christian and also what it means to be part of the Church, and part of this church, the Rehoboth Congregational Church. But Paul says that in loving one another we are peeling away those layers and getting at the heart of the Gospel message.
Paul does not want the people in Rome to get caught up in the minute details of the law and then struggle with everyone’s different interpretations of that law. Paul wants the people in Rome to love one another.
This is such a wonderful message for us to hear today in the church. There is great diversity that exists among us; we all come to this community from different places in our journeys and have different ideas, opinions and priorities. And while sometimes it is hard to be united in a common purpose or mission or vision (something I would argue many churches struggle with), Paul is saying here that God works out those details for us. Paul says that if we make a commitment to love one another that God will unite us.
Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.
There is something so beautiful to this message: Paul is not saying that in order to live according to the law that everyone needs to agree with one another. Paul is saying that God’s call for us is to love one another first, and in doing so, we will illuminate God’s law in our own unique and special way.
Of course, there is an eschatological sense of urgency to what Paul is saying as he writes to the church in Rome. They believed the end of time was near and they had to figure this stuff out quickly.
Now, in our church today, we do not have the same sense of urgency. But I would argue that the call to love within the church is just as important today as it was 2,000 years ago. Because the world is still very much broken and it needs the church to be strong; the world needs to hear and see the Good News; the world needs to know that love wins.
This is what I love so much about our theme for the year, that “it takes a (church in the) village.” Because in being the village for our church family (and also the community around us and even the world), we are living out this call to love. We are boldly proclaiming that we do not all have to believe the same things in order to minister to and with one another, that we simply have to love one another, confidently believing that God will work out the rest.
Like many of you, I spent much of the week watching coverage of the hurricane and checking in with my friends and family in Florida. It is at times such as these that I am reminded of what really matters and of just how important this call to love one another is. Because right now a lot of people have been impacted by these storms. And they do not need churches to all agree on the same theology, structure or rules; they need churches to love the heck out of them and help them rebuild.
Rev. Ryan was correct; we can spend years learning about theology and church doctrine, we can spend hours trying to understand rules and regulations and we can completely immerse ourselves in ancient laws and customs – but more often than not, the simple act of love will propel us forward in ministry. And I believe God is calling us to love our people.
I know everyone leads very busy lives, but I strongly believe that, in the midst of that craziness, we all have the capacity within us to love one another in God-sized ways. Paul’s words remind us that love can and will make a real difference in our lives, in the communities we are part of and in the world.
And it starts here, at church.
Friends, it is Rally Day here at the Rehoboth Congregational Church. The summer is over and a new season of ministry is upon us. Paul says, “It is now the moment for you to wake from sleep,” and I believe these words focus us today as we transition out of the sleepiness of summer and into the busyness of fall. Today we think about what kind of church we want to be. We discern what kind of community we want to create. Because it is in reading Paul’s words that we remember that it is through our love for one another that we find God’s grace among us, that we are strengthened and that we are made whole.
Welcome back, RCC! Let’s love our people.
Thanks be to God!