“Following A PC Jesus” ~ April 19, 2015 Sermon

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Sermon For April 19, 2015 ~ “Honoring Diversity”

Isaiah 56:1-8 ( http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=296437574 )

“Following A PC Jesus”

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio ~ www.FranklinCircleChristianChurch.org

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher ~ E-Mail: PastorAllen@FranklinCircleChurch.org

Twitter: @FranklinCircle ~ Pastor’s Blog: https://nearwestclevepastor.wordpress.com

To watch the video of this sermon, go online to: https://youtu.be/zXSHcRRcx5s

 

When the end of my short-lived marriage to my college best friend, Barbara, had been announced and word of my divorce because I had come out as gay began to work its way through our network of friends and family, I received a phone call one evening from the pastor of my home church. Ostensibly he was calling to check up on me, however by the end of the call it felt neither pastoral nor helpful. In it he would tell me that my news had caused my mother to have a “nervous breakdown” from which he had to help her recover. That report devastated me, and would haunt me for a long time. But the second thing I remember him telling me at first confused me, then angered me. This anger has lasted a lifetime.

 

bleeding-heart-liberalsIn that call the good pastor had not just insinuated, but had actually accused me of saying that I was gay because I had a “soft heart” and was always trying to take the side of those who were “down on their luck.” I was perplexed because this burning secret, this facet of who I am as a human being and with which I had struggled for almost all my young life he implied was a tactic, at best, or at worse a weakness that I had. He suggested that somehow I had the penchant for taking the side of the underdog, and the proclamation of my being gay and the subsequent complete capsizing of my relationships, my life, and quite potentially my future livelihood was a frailty of personality over which I, apparently, had no control.

 

It would be months, even years, before I realized the full import of his words. Of course, it was audacious to think that my decision to be honest about myself and the ensuing pain I knew this would cause my wife, my mother, and all my closest friends, classmates, and relatives, was the result of some young adult whim I had pass through my silly little head. I presume he was basing this on the conversations we had had the summer before when I was youth intern at my home church. In the middle of that summer, on July 4th weekend to be exact, I had preached a sermon that was, to be fair, less than well thought out on the evils of the Cold War and the need for America and Russia to get their collective acts together, forgive each other, and come back to the world table reconciled. I must presume that sermon – for which there was an expected fallout and public chastising – and the multiple conversations about my involvement in organizations such as the Disciples Peace Fellowship, Handgun Control, Inc., and several environmental groups was the basis for his evaluation of my “personality flaw.”

 

Of course, another way of looking at this was: I was gay. Thoroughly, consistently, constitutionally, completely gay, and my divorce and the reordering of my life was a difficult and woefully delayed but absolutely necessary response to the honesty I had come to acknowledge for myself and my world. It was the evils of a world of homophobia and heterosexism that had caused me to pretend to be other than who God truly created me to be and to try to build around me a false identity to be “just like all the other boys.” And the Church universal was complacent in that evil! I am who I am, and who God made me!

 

But here’s the thing that really angers me: there was also the implication that these social, political, and I would say spiritual commitments were passing fads, and also not part of who I am as a human being. This discounting of my deeply held religious beliefs and well-researched, prayerfully held, and thoughtfully lived-out values happens repeatedly and often. And it doesn’t just happen to me,Politically-Correct it happens all the time to people with similar commitments. One of the most frequent ways it is articulated, and I do not know where or by whom this catchy phrase was first coined, is by calling such values “politically correct,” or “PC” for short. “Oh that’s so PC!” or “You’re just being PC,” or “Well I guess I better be PC!”

 

I stand here this day to say that my commitments to diversity, to inclusivity, to hospitality, to equality, to fairness, and to justice have absolutely nothing at all to do with seeking to be politically correct, whatever that means! I call the world to cease and desist in using this phrase in order to belittle, discount, and seek to destroy the very real responsibilities I believe we all have to those who are oppressed, marginalized, and largely forgotten by society. I demand this because it is not some personality flaw by which I come to these, it is because my Jesus calls me to do it, and the moral arc of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures makes it a mandate for my life.

 

El Greco, “Christ Healing the Blind Man”

El Greco, “Christ Healing the Blind Man”

What if that good pastor had instead implied or even asked me, “Allen, are you doing this because Jesus is making you do it?” I would have to reply, “Well, yes!” Jesus calls me to be honest about who God made me to be! Jesus calls me to love my neighbor as I love myself! Jesus calls me to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, visit those in prison, and thus proclaim the acceptable year of our God!

 

So I say to you today, if it is politically correct to sit at table with prostitutes and tax collectors and treat them with the dignity God imparts them, just like Jesus, then I am PC!

 

The logo for the All Peoples Christian Church, Los Angeles, CA.  Find them on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AllPeoplesChristianChurch

The logo for the All Peoples Christian Church, Los Angeles, CA. Find them on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AllPeoplesChristianChurch

If it is politically correct to believe that foreigners and sexual minorities are capable of faithfulness and can be counted amongst God’s favored people, just like Isaiah, then I am PC!

 

If it is politically correct to know neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free but all can be one in the faith of Jesus, with no human distinction defining them, just like the Apostle Paul, then I am PC!

 

If it is politically correct to turn the other cheek, give someone my coat, go the extra mile, give to those who beg, just like Jesus preached, then I am PC!

 

If it is politically correct to love my enemies and pray for those who persecute me, just like Jesus preached and lived, then I am PC!

 

If it is politically correct to look out and care for those who society sees as the very dregs of society, the orphan, the widow, the stranger from another land, the poor just like it says in the law of Deuteronomy, then I am PC!

 

If it is politically correct to let justice roll down like waters, to be a restorer of the breech and a repairer of streets, to seek the welfare of the city in which we live, to seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God just like the ancient prophets preached, then so be it, I AM POLITICALLY CORRECT!

 

There is a rich diversity with which God has permeated all of creation. Thanks be to God for our differences! But way back in that first Garden, as our eyes and hearts were opened just like the divine eyes and heart, we began to know this diversity is also complexity, and there are forces within each and every one of us if, left unchecked, cause us to treat this diversity with disrespect, even violence. We must be reminded again and again that we are only stewards of this creation, and never owners. And one of the most precious gifts we are charged with, throughout Holy Scripture and culminating in the words and deeds of Jesus of Nazareth, is to love, and to make love real by caring for creation, for our neighbors, especially those neighbors in need.

 

One of the guiding scriptures of my life is Luke 12:48: “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” Whether we like to admit it or not, this calls those of us who live a life of privilege, any privilege and no matter how much privilege, to be accountable for it to God. If this is not a mandate to care for those for whom the world determines is the least, the lost, the unloved, the lonely, and the less I do not know what is.

 

And if being responsible for the care of the world and loving my neighbor is PC, so be it. Me? I’m just following Jesus.

 

Amen.

“Surprised By The Compassion” ~ January 25, 2015 Sermon

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Sermon For January 25, 2015 ~ The Season Of Epiphany

Mark 1:16-20 & Jonah 3:1-5, 10

A Season Of Surprises: The God Of Wow!

Sermon #4 “Surprised By The Compassion”

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio ~ www.FranklinCircleChristianChurch.org

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher ~ E-Mail: PastorAllen@FranklinCircleChurch.org

Twitter: @FranklinCircle ~ Pastor’s Blog: https://nearwestclevepastor.wordpress.com

I think by most standards, we can all agree that I am pretty much a softhearted guy.  I cry at the drop of a hat.  Who knows when I’ll tear up and get all mushy on you.  But there are a few things that will quite predictably determine that I will bawl, blubber, and get all snotty-nosed.  One of the most certain triggers for this schmaltzy behavior is from the now-ancient

Col. Sherman T. Potter on MASH, played by Harry Morgan

Col. Sherman T. Potter on MASH, played by Harry Morgan

television show, MASH.  In it there was a certain military officer, Col. Sherman T. Potter, played by the fantastic Harry Morgan.  He was a gruff, frustrated, eternally longsuffering man who put up with the antics of his unit better than you might imagine someone of his stature and background.  And while he was mostly portrayed as a bit crusty, the writers would occasionally show his sensitive side.  And every now and then they would even have Col. Potter shed a tear.  Now, you want me to start bawling?  Show me a clip of the strong, crotchety Col. Sherman T. Potter crying.  Makes me a blubbering idiot!

The English noun compassion, meaning “to love or suffer together with,” comes from Latin. Its prefix com- comes directly from com, an archaic version of the Latin preposition “with.” Affix “com” with –passion, derived from passus, past participle of the deponent verb patior, patī, passus sum and you get compassion.  Compassion is thus related in origin, form and meaning to the English noun patient (= one who suffers), from patiens, present participle of the same patior, and is akin to the Greek verb πάσχειν (= paskhein, to suffer).   Ranked a great virtue in numerous philosophies, compassion is considered in almost all the major religious traditions as among the greatest of virtues. (1)

Jonah awaiting God's wrath on Ninevah

Jonah awaiting God’s wrath on Ninevah

I chose this theme word “Compassion” for today based most primarily upon the Hebrew Scripture selection in the lectionary.  It is the famous story of Jonah traveling to the city of Nineveh to preach to them a word from God of repentance, which they promptly did, and from which God forgave their sins.   But Jonah was in for a huge surprise.  Jonah got intensely angry because he had come for the epic fireworks of God’s hellfire and brimstone, and they weren’t happening because of God’s softheartedness, or compassion.  I think it’s fair to say Jonah was flabbergasted and then pissed off by God’s patience with the Ninevites.

So that was the easy connection, but then I got stuck on the Gospel passage for the day: the calling by Jesus of Peter, Andrew, James, and John.  Somehow it felt like I was forcing this theme of compassion upon the gospel passage.  But then God, in the Divine’s infinite mercy, reminded me of a song about this very passage that comes from our Hispanic sisters and brothers, “Lord, You Have Come To The Lakeshore,” by Cesáreo Gabaráin, Number 342 in the Chalice Hymnal.  This song exudes a deep sense of compassion and care: (to hear and see a video of this song, go online here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8xVskCCWtUk)

Lord, you have come to the lakeshore

looking neither for wealthy nor wise ones;

you only asked me to follow humbly.

O Lord, with your eyes you have searched me,

and while smiling have spoken my name;

now my boat’s left on the shoreline behind me;

by your side I will seek other seas.

You  need my hands full of caring,

through my labors to give others rest,

and constant love that keeps on loving. (2)

Jesus Summons Matthew to Leave the Tax Office, Jan Sanders van Hemessen, 1536. Olga's Gallery.

Jesus Summons Matthew to Leave the Tax Office, Jan Sanders van Hemessen, 1536. Olga’s Gallery.

Then I looked back at the passage from Mark and saw the overwhelming compassion that comes in Jesus’ call to his disciples.  He called them not based on their status in life, not based on their looks or even their talents and abilities, or faithfulness.  Jesus called them – and us – based only on our willingness to respond to the call.  Jesus doesn’t want nor need us to be fully equipped, good-looking, wealthy or even – and hear me clearly – God doesn’t even need us repentant.  He just needs us ready.  If that isn’t surprising, I don’t know what is!

And this fits so well with the Jonah passage, other than the fact that I come off looking pretty bad, just like Jonah did.  In the same way that Jonah wasn’t ready for the city of Nineveh to repent and change their ways and follow God – that is he did not have the compassionate heart needed to believe that people can change, transformation can happen, lives can be turned around… Neither was I willing to see the compassion needed for God to call this rag-tag, diverse, unqualified group of disciples to follow him and change the world.  God has compassion on us and calls us to ministry – all of us – and then expects us to have the very same kind of compassion for those to whom we minister and with whom we share the good news.

My beloved, let us both be ready for and then surprised by compassion in this world.  God calls each and every one of us to full-time ministry – most likely in the places you already are.  This might surprise you, but don’t let it stop you.  Likewise, God calls you to be ready for the people around you to whom you witness the love of God and the grace of Christ and the winsomeness of the Holy Spirit to change.  You must not be surprised when they do, nor in the way in which they turn-around.  It most likely won’t be in the way in which you expect faith to be lived out, nor even want.  But God receives that change, and will forgive and love them just the same as God forgives and loves you, us.  Surprising or not, that is good news indeed.

Amen.

Please watch this Week Of Compassion video https://vimeo.com/119960478 and contribute to our Week Of Compassion offering: http://www.weekofcompassion.org/give/

(1) Wikipedia “Compassion,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compassion

(2) For a beautiful discussion of the writer/writing of this hymn, go online to: http://www.gbod.org/resources/history-of-hymns-lord-you-have-come-to-the-lakeshore

“A Heart To Serve” ~ September 21, 2014 Sermon

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Sermon For Sunday, September 21, 2014 John 13:3-17 “A Heart To Serve” This is the third in a series of sermons: Following The Fundamentals Of The Faith (Without Being Fundamentalist!) Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Cleveland, Ohio ~ http://www.FranklinCircleChristianChurch.org Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher ~ E-Mail: PastorAllen@FranklinCircleChurch.org Twitter: @FranklinCircle ~ Pastor’s Blog: https://nearwestclevepastor.wordpress.com To watch a video of this sermon, go to: http://youtu.be/cz_tBqML1gw   Mother-Teresa-2Three people, iconic figures of the 20th century, offered their pointed advice on this topic of service: Mother Teresa was quoted as saying, “At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we Mahatma_Gandhihave done. We will be judged by ‘I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless, and you took me in.’” Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Martin Luther King, Jr. preached, “Everybody can be great…because anybody cmartin-luther-king-jran serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”   These three individuals have become the patron saints of service and servanthood, and all point to a deeper truth: one of the highest forms of living, whether it be seen from a religious or spiritual viewpoint, or from a purely practical and civil perspective, can be found in service to others.   And I would like to make the point this day that just as true service, while it may be a struggle, it may irritate us, it may even exhaust us, nonetheless comes from a heart of service. And a heart of service is discernable by one key feature: it gives without thought of receiving in return. Jesus said it simply, “Love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.” (Lk 6:35) Dr. King went on to say, in referring to the story of the “Good Samaritan,” “The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But…the good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”   Now, of course, I offer this to you as a personal reflection, inviting each and every one of us to consider a life of service without regard to what we get in return, on a personal level. As is the nature of all religion, we begin by understanding how it calls to us as individuals. But similarly, as with all healthy religious and spiritual guidance, we must think of this communally. What does it mean for our church, big “C” and little “c,” to have a servant’s heart? To “do good, to loan,” without expecting anything in return?   When our congregation celebrated its Spiritual Gifts Sunday a year ago, and we took as a community our Spiritual Gifts Inventory, by far the largest categories of gifts we saw in ourselves was service, hospitality, and giving. This means something significant for our church. It means that not only do many of us as individuals have a heart to serve, but as an institution, a community, a church we have a heart to serve. Therefore we should listen to the saints of servanthood and read the scriptures of service more profoundly and more candidly.   And what I propose is that as this congregation looks to its future, as Jesus looked to his final day on this earth, that we spend less time worrying about whether or not we are going to survive and more and more and more as to whether or not we are fully serving our neighbor in need. I believe with every fiber of my being, that if we focus on washing the feet of our sisters and brothers, visiting them in prison, feeding those who are hungry, caring for the ones injured on the road of life, the future of this great church will most certainly be assured. Then, and only then, will our “reward be great and we will be children “of the Most High.”   Amen.   Liturgy written by Rev. Allen V. Harris: CALL TO WORSHIP One:           From the first steps of the earth creature, you, O God, knew that we were not made to be alone, so you created community. Many:        Our lifeblood is service, our chief joy is to serve our neighbor. One            The call of the world is to turn inward, first to tribe and ultimately to self; but you, O God, cajole and coax us beyond ourselves to see you in our neighbor. Many:        Our lifeblood is service, our chief joy is to serve our neighbor. One:           Remind us that to treat another as we would wish to be treated is a good and worth goal. Many:        Our lifeblood is service, our chief joy is to serve our neighbor. INVOCATION, CONFESSION, & LORD’S PRAYER (using “debts” and “debtors”) O God, forgive us when the pains and heartaches of this world cause us to withdraw and fortify. Forgive us when the overwhelming nature of need and the few who abuse the system make us calloused and cold. Remind us in the servanthood of Christ that it is in helping the “other” that our true security is found. Loosen up our hardened hearts and invite us, once again, to recognize that our true essence is to serve and not to be served.

“Why We Need Each Other: Love Overflowing” ~ September 23, 2012 Sermon

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Sermon For September 23, 2012

“Why We Need Each Other: Love Overflowing”

Philippians 1:3-18

Today is the second of seven sermons as part of our congregation’s journey through 40 Days Of Community

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio ~ http://www.FranklinCircleChurch.org

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher

We apologize there is no podcast again this week because of technical difficulties.

To see a video of this sermon, go to:  http://youtu.be/580G3RSmnnk

To download the digital presentation in PowerPoint format, click HERE:  12092340Days2  (available in Keynote – the original file)

*Why do we need each other?  Why do I need you and why do you need me?  Aren’t we so often like the toddler when a parent tries to help them up the stairs or to use a fork?  We knock the helping hand away and say, “I can do it all by myself!”  Well, as any parent knows, striving for independence may be a goal on one level, but a toddler doesn’t have the skill sets yet, nor the larger wisdom, to do it “all by herself!”

*And then we come to our older years, and as our bodies and minds begin to fail us, we come back in an odd sort of way to our younger years, only now it isn’t our children who are pushing us away, but, rather, we push our children away saying, “Don’t treat me like a child, I can still do it all by myself!”  But we know in our hearts that as time goes by, we won’t be able to do it “all by ourselves” for very long.  Ah, the cycles of life!

*So, the question is, in those intervening years… Is that the time when we really can “do it all by ourselves?”  Can we ever really “do it all by ourselves?”  Or, the question we will be asking these 40 days will be, “Were we ever meant to do it all by ourselves?”  Did God ever intend for us to be so self-sufficient that we would never truly need one another?

*The Apostle Paul writes his letter to the church at Philippi, an early center of Christianity in Greece, while in prison in Rome and awaiting sentencing for his seemingly counter-revolutionary acts of preaching the Gospel of Christ.  In this letter, while Paul is clearly making a specific case regarding how his imprisonment affects the churches which he helped to found and which he feels a great deal of responsibility for, it serves nonetheless as a charter for all of us as to the mutual care and support of one another we should offer in the name of Christ and out of our desire to imitate Christ.

*Paul begins his letter with a generous greeting: “I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you…”  Unlike so many of our conversations where we take the casual greeting “How are you?” as a challenge to tell the person asking every single ache and pain and frustration of life, to the nth degree, Paul, rather, greets his beloved church friends with a word of thanksgiving and joy.  And how powerful it is to have someone say that they thank God every time they remember you?

Don’t you have folks like that who, upon every remembrance of them a smile comes to your face, a lilt comes to your spirit, a gentle warmth flows through your body?  Perhaps it is a beloved teacher from school?  Maybe it’s your first crush or being with your current boyfriend or girlfriend?  Maybe it’s even someone you’ve never met, but who you’ve respected from a distance because of some great cause they championed or inspiring words they spoke or wrote.  In any case, Paul thanks God upon every remembrance of the Philippians and he prays constantly with joy every time for them.

Wow!  What different people we would be if every time we thought of someone we actually said a prayer for them!  “And when I brought the package over to Joanne’s house (Thank you God for Joanne!) I discovered that her neighbor, Carl was there having coffee with her (Thank you God for Carl!)  Joanne (Thank you God for Joanne!) told me about her brother, Grover’s cancer treatments (Thank you God for Grover!).  After I left Joanne and Carl (Thank you God for Joanne and Carl!) I got a text message from my sister, Lynda (Thank you God, for Lynda!)”  You can see that would get mighty tiring, but oh what an amazing impact on your conversation… and your heart that would make!

*The first step to understanding why we need each other is to remember each other and pray for each other!

*And then Paul recognizes the good work the people in Philippi have been doing: “…because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now.  I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.”  And how often do you meet someone who recognizes the good work you are doing?  We live in a day and an age where there is so much fear of being judged or anxiety about scarcity that we seem to want to put out in front of us the good things that we do, almost so that we can “one up” our friends and those who we meet.  I love people being proud of their accomplishments, don’t get me wrong, but what does it say about a culture when we put our achievements on our sleeves before we acknowledge the other persons good works?

Or, put more positively, what would it mean if we followed Paul’s example and celebrated the good work they are doing in their lives and in the world?  “Greetings, Bailey!  I heard that you are working so hard to find employment.  I wanted to support you in that!”  “Good morning, Juanita!  A little bird told me you’ve been volunteering down at the Adopt-A-Pet shelter, and I wanted to thank you for doing that!”

And notice, Paul gives thanks for the good work that the Philippians are doing… even though it is not yet complete!  If we waited to congratulate people only upon completion of their endeavors, we’ve missed the chance to be part of the support system they – and we – need to do good deeds!

* The second step to understanding why we need each other is to notice what people are doing and support them in their attempts to do good!

*Next, Paul acknowledges this “right way of thinking” by celebrating its mutuality: “It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.”  Need we say much more?  It’s really hard to know which came first, the chicken or the egg.  The same thing is true for shared encouragement.  Do you celebrate me and my accomplishments more because I first celebrated you and your accomplishments?  Or do I celebrate you and your accomplishments more because you first celebrated mine?  I ask: “Does it matter?” It may sound a bit like a mutual admiration society, but so be it!  When we are in community, we celebrate one another!

*The spiritual truth Paul is revealing is that encouragement builds on itself.  Just as negativity, cynicism, and spite can spiral a conversation or community downward into the pit, so can mutual admiration, support, and prayer spiral us upward into the grace of God.

*Moving on, we see Paul move to the point of all of this thanksgiving, prayer, admiration, and mutuality: “For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus.  And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, *so that on the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.”

The point of all of this?  Love.  Love born of compassion.  Compassion literally means to “suffer with” or to ache, to grieve, to hurt alongside someone.  In one of the greatest paradoxes of all of life, the giving up of oneself to the suffering of another is the point at which love bursts forth like water from a crumbling dam.  In the emptying of oneself to the agony of another, one becomes filled to overflowing with love.

But I want to take just a moment to point out one very personal reflection that comes from this passage.  *Paul states, “that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight…”  This has perplexed me, because, in my struggles to have compassion for my sisters and my brothers on this earth, in hopes that I might overflow with love, I get stuck on this “knowledge and full insight” thing.  Quite frankly, I don’t understand why people suffer!  I know sometimes people suffer because of their own actions, but even that doesn’t always make sense.  And it never makes sense when people suffer because of circumstances far beyond their control, like natural disasters.  I don’t have anything even close to “knowledge and full insight.”  If compassion, and therefore overflowing love is dependent upon me getting it up here, then it ain’t gonna happen.  No way.  No how. Un uh!

That’s what I thought until the summer that brought the death of both my mother and my brother, Patrick.  My mother died of a heart attack the summer of 1995 after a year long battle with something seemingly insignificant, a terrible outbreak all over her body of psoriasis.  It dogged her for most of twelve months.  So she and her family were frustrated by what seemed, quite literally, a superficial ailment that wrecked so much havoc with her system.  But if that wasn’t enough, when my mother died, we learned quite quickly that she died not just penniless, but in debt, in large part because of her constant attempts at trying to care for my brother who was possessed by the demons of addiction to alcohol, drugs, and hard living.  I couldn’t understand how my mother would literally risk her own health and welfare for a son who simply would not change his deadly behaviors.  And finally, as if to make my confusion utterly horrifyingly complete, my brother died.  We have never known if the drugs in his system were taken to the degree they were accidentally or intentionally, but there he was, this man with whom I had wrestled for love, respect, hope, dignity all of my life to that point was laying in a coffin gone forever to me.

“Knowledge and full insight” as a prerequisite to love overflowing.  Incomprehensible.  And then, as I prepared to officiate at my brother’s graveside service, I remembered a scene in the movie “A River Runs Through It” that has touched me deeply.  Reading from the book of the same title, by Norman McClean, I found the passage that had spoken to me.  It is the words of the preacher father of a similarly wayward son, shared at the son’s funeral.  The father said,

*“Each one of us here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question, ‘We are willing to help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed?’  It is true that we can seldom help those who are closest to us.  Either, we don’t know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted.  And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us, but we can still love them.  We can love completely without complete understanding.”

Did you hear that?  *“And so it is with those we live with and should know who elude us, but we can still love them.  We can love completely without complete understanding.”

What if Paul, who was certainly speaking from the depths of his relationship with Jesus Christ, compassion and love incarnate, was trying to tell us that we have it all wrong when we try to understand someone first, and then love them?  What if it is the loving that comes first, and then, and only then, will the knowledge and full insight come?  This rings true with everything we read about, hear about, know, and experience in our relationship with Jesus Christ, who most certainly could not have truly comprehended why we do the things we do, why we are the way we are, but loved us just the same.  Actually, not in spite of what we do and who we are, but perhaps even because of what we do and who we are!!!

*The third step to understanding why we need each other is to realize we don’t have to understand each other to love each other!

And it is here that we come to a pivotal point in our understanding of community.  Whether we are talking about the community that is found in partnerships with a beloved, or community that comes in family, or community that is found in our school, our place of employment, or social group; or the community that is found in our neighborhood or our apartment building.  We have the tendency to flip the equation and *typically believe we have to *understand others to *love them, and then *compassion flows from that.  Jesus, through the ministry of Paul to the church at Philippi, reminds us that the *gospel calls us to something much different:  *We must be willing to “suffer alongside” those in our community, have compassion.  Then, and only then, will truly be able to love.  Then *understanding will follow.  And if we love completely, that love will overflow to more and more in our community, and even to other communities.  And, with faith and time, understanding will come.  But by that point, *we usually don’t even see the need to understand them, because we love them so very much.  We love them if they are homeless or in poverty, if they are addicted to drugs or sex or food, if they are apathetic, if they have tattoos or are unmarried, if they are LGBT or identify as Queer, if they are unchurched, wealthy, a Democrat, Republican, or Independent!

*And Paul concludes this by returning to his specific situation: his imprisonment for the sake of the gospel: “I want you to know, beloved, that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ; and most of the brothers and sisters, having been made confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, dare to speak the word with greater boldness and without fear.”

And while we hope that what happens to us as we love our community more and more is not that we will be thrown into prison, we need to acknowledge that if we truly love out of compassion, it will change the way we live.  Who we associate with, where we hang out, what our money is used for, and the priorities of our time, talent, energy, and resources will be very different.

*The fourth step to understanding why we need each other is that our lives will be reordered around one thing, and one thing only: Love

Finally, to bring his case to a close, Paul addresses the critique and the motives of some of those who argue about his approach to his missionary work and his ministry:  *“Some proclaim Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from goodwill.  These proclaim Christ out of love, knowing that I have been put here for the defense of the gospel; the others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but intending to increase my suffering and my imprisonment.  What does it matter?  Just this, that Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true; and in that I rejoice.  Yes, and I will continue to rejoice…”

*And the spiritual truth Paul is proclaiming here: When we love, motives become inconsequential.  When we love – truly love – and we are intent on spreading that love to more and more people, we worry less and less about the motives of others who are also trying to love more and more people.  Second guessing motives is always a tricky thing!  If love is pouring out abundantly in our community, who am I to say why others need to be doing it out of the same place that I am.  Just love!

*So, if we are going to take these 40 Days Of Community seriously, we need to remember these steps:

*1. We will remember each other and pray for each other.

*2. We will notice what other people are doing and support them in their attempts to do good.

*3. We don’t have to understand each other to love each other.

*4. Our lives will be reordered around love alone.

You know, we really cannot do it all by ourselves, because, quite frankly, we were not created to live life all by ourselves.  Why do we need each other?  Because God designed us that way!  So if we can believe that, then our task is to figure out the best way to live with each other.   *We can do it… TOGETHER!

*And you are invited to participate!  There are still individual books available if you did not get one previously.  This week we begin our daily devotional tomorrow which is Day 1.  If you already started, don’t panic, just begin again so that we will all be on the same page!  (God must have wanted you to learn the first few lessons more fully!)  This week the theme of our devotions will be:  “We’re Compelled To Love God’s Family”

And please join a Small Group.  The listing of groups is in your bulletin and the sign up board is in the chapel.  This week we will look in our small groups at the topic: “What Matters Most” – 1 Corinthians 13 (love chapter), and our Memory Verse John 13:35 “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

There is so much more to say about community, but we will continue the conversation in our personal prayer and devotional life, in our small groups, and each week as we gather together as the community known as Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in worship each Sunday.

Amen.

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