Why Church? A Community Ruled by Love.

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One year, five months, and eight days ago—right smack in the middle of Lent… right smack in the middle of the season of repentance—I delivered a sermon about love and this pandemic.

I talked about people who were offering to pick up groceries for people who were worried about going out… about people who were exiling themselves for the good fo the realm… about people who were offering to take kids to the school to pick things up before they locked the doors… and about people who were offering to babysit for parents whose kids were suddenly at home.

I talked about restaurants who were giving free lunches to students who were out of school… about rookies on basketball teams who were paying the wages of the staff at arenas that had been closed… about healthcare workers who kept showing up and providing the care that people so desperately needed.

I talked about how we were getting through this together… and loving each other… and, maybe, learning about how we could love each other better all the time.

And I thought,

We can wear masks. We can social distance. We can worship online and help each other out and keep each other safe. And no one will be happy with it, but we can get through this together. And then we can get back to normal. And, if we’re clever, we can even get to something better than normal. Because we will have had six weeks of compassion boot camp. Two months, tops.

That was one year, five months, and eight said ago. Right smack in the middle of Lent. Right smack in the middle of the season of repentance. And I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we have not gotten through this together. We haven’t gotten back to normal. We certainly haven’t gotten to something better than normal.

And there’s still a part of me that is hopeful. And there’s a part of me that’s been saying,

Death and sickness are all around us. And we’ve just kind of… moved on. We’ve just kind of accepted a new and terrible normal. This is just how it is now.

Today, we’re finishing our other summer sermon series.

On the Sundays when we don’t have worship among the vines at TYCOGA, we’ve been talking about being a blessing. We’ve been talking about leading with love, praying often, practicing peace, giving thanks, being joyful, doing good, having courage, working for justice, being the light, and encouraging others.

And if you have not heard those sermons, I invite you to go to our website, or our YouTube channel, or your favorite podcast app, and watch the videos of listen to the podcast episodes.

But on these Sundays when we do have worship among the vines at TYCOGA, we’ve been doing a different sermon series titled Why Church?

Why do this thing? Why get up on Sunday mornings… or attend business meetings… or bring food for the Referral Center… or plan mission trips… or teach Sunday School… or commit daring acts of charity… with these weird people?

And there are a lot of possible answers to that question. So far in this series, you’ve heard two of them. Why church? Because this is a community where you matter. Why church? Because this is a community with a purpose.

And today, we’re getting another answer. Why church? Because it’s a community ruled by love.

And our reading today is from this… letter. We don’t know who wrote it. We don’t know who it was addressed to. We only know that the author of this letter wanted to declare what they had heard and seen, so that the recipient could have fellowship with them… and with God… through Jesus Christ.

And in the little bit that we’re hearing today, the author of this letter writes this:

Love one another. You see, love comes from God. And God loves us so much that we are all filled up with love. We are overflowing with love. We have all of this extra love. And we should share that. God loves us. So we love each other.

Or… wait. God is love. And God… God’s us?… so much that we are filled up with God. We are overflowing with God. We have all of this extra God. Just stick with me. We are swimming in this sea of God and God is alive in us. It’s us and love and God-who-is-love all wrapped up in each other.

And there’s just so much, y’know? So share it. Love one another. And don’t… don’t just say it. Do it.

And this is what it comes down to. If we want to know if we know God—if we want to know if we are a community that follows Christ—then there is a simple test: we just need to look around and see if we know love. If we know love, then we’re on the right track. And if we don’t, then we’ve missed the target, and we need to turn back and do better.

There’s a hard truth here. And I need to tell it.

There are a lot of people—in the world, in the United States, in DeWitt—who look at the church and do not see a community ruled by love. There are a lot of people who look at Christians and do not see a people who are overflowing with love.

And that is because there are a lot of churches… and there are a lot of Christians… who have told those people… in words and in actions… in big flashy ways and in little subtle ways… “We do not love you.”

And that is too bad. Because I suspect that there are a lot of those people who are longing for love. Abundant love. Bold love. Reckless love. The kind of love that leaves no doubt—that does not leave even the possibility of doubting—that no matter who you are and no matter where you are on life’s journey, you are loved and worthy of love.

And I’ll be honest. As I look around the world right now… I don’t see a whole lot of communities where that kind of love is present. I don’t see a whole lot of places where that love is there.

In the best moments, there are fleeting glimpses of that kind of love. More often, there are cynical attempts to market that kind of love. In the worst moments—and there are far too many of the worst moments—there is anger… and misinformation… and the spinning of conspiratorial threads…. and fear-mongering.

And those worst moments are on the news, and in public meetings, and on the streets, and on social media, and even among churches.

And that is a hard truth because we are called to something more than that. Something better than that. Something greater than that. We are called to love… abundantly and boldly and recklessly… in a way that leaves no doubt—that does not leave even the possibility of doubting—that no matter who you are and no matter where you are on life’s journey, you are loved and worthy of love.

And here’s the thing. I can’t even begin to imagine what the world would be like if we lived up to even a fraction of that call:

If we wore masks and took vaccines and practiced healthy distancing for each other.

If we stood with strangers who live in fear and grief and said, “Your life matters.” And then lived that way.

If we declared to the world that no one should have to live in shame or secrecy simply for being who they are.

If we gave food to everyone who was hungry and drink to everyone who was thirsty.  If we welcomed strangers and housed the homeless. If we cared for the sick and embraced the prisoner. If we brought good news to the poor, release the captives, sight to the blind, and freedom to the oppressed.

If we refused to accept the world-as-it-is and worked toward the world-as-God-calls-it-to-be. If we loved each other as we are; and if we loved each other too much to leave each other that way.

If, in short, we lived as Christians; if we lived as the church.

The church is a community ruled by love.

In our best moments, we are good at it, and we see little glimpses of the kingdom of God. And I will admit, more often, we are middling at it. And too often, we are bad at it. But that does not change the fact that we are ruled by—we are responsible to—love.

And not little love. Not skinny love. Not small-l, lowercase, tiny font love. 

But big love. Abundant love. Bold love, Reckless love. Wild and dangerous and full-of-grace, capital-l, all caps, big giant run-out-of-ink font LOVE.

So why church? Why get up on Sunday mornings… or attend business meetings… or bring food for the Referral Center… or plan mission trips… or teach Sunday School… or commit daring acts of charity… with these weird people?

Because being part of the church means rejecting a life defined by hatred and suspicion and profane anger, and declaring our allegiance to love… being filled with love… abiding in love and letting love abide in us… and sharing that love until the whole world is overflowing with love.

Until the whole world is overflowing with the kingdom of God. Until everyone knows—without a doubt… without even the possibility of doubt—that they are loved and worthy of love.

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