Faithlife Sermons

Love as Action

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May 9, 2021 6 Easter, Year B The Rev. Mark Pendleton Christ Church, Exeter Love as Action This morning I would like to talk to you about the ultimate measurement, character and meaning at the heart of the Christian message. Spoiler alert: you've heard this sermon before. Many times, by many preachers. It should come as no surprise about what I'm pointing to: love of course. We know, as the old camp song reminds us, that they will know we are Christians by our love. So, the gospel is always about love. John's epistle today speaks of how God's love moves through his son: 1 John 5:1... for everyone who loves the parent loves the child. We hear it loud and clear from the mouth of Jesus. (John 15:9-17) V. 9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. Yet before we get lost in the aspiration of gospel love, writer Emily Askew reminds us: "Love in this passage is not a psychological state, nor is it anywhere described as an internal quality. Love is an action-a really difficult action. The definition of love here is a radical willingness to die-not for your child or spouse, but for a fellow follower of Christ." Love is an action, more than it is a feeling. Let that sink in for a minute. One of the many conversations going on right now in church communities sounds a lot like this: what's next? When we will re-open? When will people feel comfortable coming back to church? Will people even come back to church? How will we count heads or seats in the pews? Do we tally YouTube views from those who might be home watching casually over breakfast? Will we shake hands again, greet one another at the peace, and receive both kinds of Holy Communion bread and wine? The straight answer to some of these questions is that we plan to reopen in phases. Today we started our 8 a.m. outdoor Eucharist. On May 30 we will be back inside this sacred space at our normal summer hours. And people want to know when we are back, will we sing again? How will we sing again? Can we hum? (I hope not!) We're still figuring this all out. But as we hear in today's psalm, we are created to make some noise. 98: 4 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises. 5Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody. Worship is singing and singing is worship and yes, we will sing again. And when we do, it will be with God's help, a new song. It must be new because we are not the same people today as we were. 98:1 "Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things." I repeat this invitation to myself when I need to start again and re-boot. If I'm feeling tired and disconnected or discouraged. By praying these words, "sing to the Lord a new song," it can help us find our way through the now onto what might be next. They are words that heal and mend and imagine new beginnings. As the sun rises each new day, there is always room and space to sing. Let's take a look at what was going on the early days of the church. In the passage from Acts, we again see Peter in full command: he had gone on record saying that "God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him." Acts 10:34. The message of the gospel was and is universal and expansive and inclusive, and that has surprised, thrilled and confounded believers ever sense. We read how those gathered "who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles." Then Peter said, "Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" And baptism followed. The power to withhold can be as mighty as the power to give. We know this to be true. Think of those moments in your own life, when, in words of Romans 3:23 "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" we have withheld what could have been offered. Our attention. Our time. Understanding. Our concern. Tenderness. Affection. Forgiveness. Invitation. And yes, love itself. I believe this gets played out beyond our personal lives in our wider community and society. The power to withhold accountability for those abuse. For those who are corrupt. To fail to confront and name lies and distortions of facts and dare I say truth. Collective decisions to withhold a fairer rebalancing of resources and opportunities when and if the rich get richer and the poor get poorer - and yes, that is happening and yes the Bible has a whole lot to say on the subject! The church for centuries failed to shine the full light of the meaning and power of the Gospel when it made right order and correct belief a priority over letting the Holy Spirit move where it moves. It is the tricky thing this Holy Spirit. John 3:8. The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So, it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." God goes where God goes. Into crowded rooms of fearful disciples not knowing what the future will hold. Into hospital rooms, around dinner tables and conference tables, in street protests, on walks on the beach. God enters our quiet and silence and waits for us to open up to a nothingness that is everything. Peter and the others were seeing with their own eyes that love that Jesus spoke about could not be confined to tribe or nation. And that should make us sit up and think about how we are going to bridge the many divides in our polarized word. Who would have thought we could have come up with yet another issue to divide us:? To get vaccinated against Covid-19 or not. Peter and the others were seeing how supposed "outsiders" had inside-track to accepting what God was offering them: new life through the baptism of Jesus Christ. What are the "outsiders" telling us about our world today? What we've learned this past year is that poor and minority communities have been hit the hardest and fallen behind. All around the world, from India to Colombia, this Pandemic has laid bare the vast inequality that ravages the globe. Where and how do we apply Jesus' action plan for love? Action not limited to prayer but also just policies and everyday decisions. This is when and where this sermon must be preached and lived out by those who hear it. I am reminded of the origins of Mother's Day. Before the Civil War, Ann Maria Reeves Jarvis, a faithful Christian in West Virginia, organized Mothers' Day Work Clubs that sought to improve sanitary conditions. They raised money for medicine and helped families with mothers suffering from tuberculosis, among other supports. During the war, Ann Jarvis made sure the Mothers' Day Work Clubs provided relief to both Union and Confederate soldiers. After the war, with tensions still high between those who fought on opposite sides, she "organized a Mothers' Friendship bring together soldiers and neighbors of all political beliefs." (Cited by Ruth Frey from Trinity Church Wall Street). Love as action. Our now and the future before us must be more that we can imagine if this "God's love" thing is real. May we all sing to the Lord a new song. Citation: Emily Askew, Feasting on the Gospels: A Feasting on the Word Commentary, John Volume 2 Chapters 10-21 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015), 176. 2
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