Sunday, February 24, 2019

Sowing the seeds of Love, Luke 6:27-38

There was a famous preacher named Fred Craddock.  He was famous for his stories he definitely was famous for his preaching as a matter of fact he wrote the book on it.  It is called preaching and it is a must read. for any person in seminary.
Of preaching Fred says “There is a big difference between reading speaking and reading writing. The sermon ‘is an event in the world of sound,’ he says, a ‘self-consuming artifact’ that lives for the ear, not the page.”[1]

The ear not the page …it is true, for though I have things written here scrolling before my eyes as I speak, I often go off page or off script.  For example, the other week the video didn’t record properly, and I had mentioned something about sign language…unfortunately it wasn’t in what I had written so that part was only for the ears and eyes present here today.

Any way the reason I mention Fred today is I will often use his stories.  His stories come from his life but are often relevant to the Gospel or sometimes just a funny antidote.  

Fred was the founding pastor of cherry log Christian church In Georgia

“60 people met in the Bear Lake pavilion at Cherry Log Mountain to hold a worship service in the tradition of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Dr. Fred Craddock preached at that service, and the group continued to meet, monthly at first, then weekly, eventually forming Cherry Log Christian Church. The congregation opened its charter on Easter Sunday, March 30, 1997. The charter remained open for one year with people signing as charter, or founding, members. The congregation closed its charter on Easter, April 12, 1998, with 80 founding members.”[2]

Fred recalls; “the gestation period for cherry Log Christian Church was seven months, during which we had seventeen worship services between September and Easter. Easter 1997, about 10 minutes before 12:00p.m., the church was born. I think fourteen or fifteen names on the charter. Everybody seemed to have a goodtime except one man who waited with me with heavy brow and deeper voice. He continued to come regularly but he had an objection about the day. I asked him what it was, and he said, ‘The scripture you read.’”

The scripture that Fred read that day was the same scripture as today, so Fred asks
“’What was wrong with it?’ He said, ‘Bad choice.’
“well those are the words of Jesus”
“Well there are a lot of words in the Bible that are out of keeping with the spirit of our time. It’s just out of touch. What people expect of the church now-a-days is not a lot of talk about cross-bearing and loving enemies, they want to come to church to feel better, be a part of a group that will help them be successful. In a case or two maybe some therapy but otherwise, we get together to mutually enjoy each other, so knock of the ‘ought’ and ‘must’ and ‘should.’ I said, ‘Why?’
And he said, ‘It sets the bar too high. If you keep doing it, you’ll never have a church.’ Aw, there’ll always be these little cinderblock churches where people meet once a week to make each other miserable and if you’re not careful, you’ll be one of those. Don’t be out of touch with the spirit of the time.’”[3]

Wow Don’t set the bar too high…that gentle man never did add his name to the register of that church and yet, according to Fred he kept coming.  

I am not sure what setting the bar too high would mean.  We proclaim we are all followers of Christ. Yet, for most Christians Jesus did set the bar too high…actually the Romans set the bar high and hung Christ from it.

Today’s Gospel isn’t as high as all that.  Yet it is does give us a challenge.  I mean Jesus says to love those who love you well that isn’t no big deal. I mean Jesus says that’s easy, but to love those who hate us, hurt us, despise us…that’s a whole other thing and that is what we are called to do.

Who knows what the old testament reading for this day is? It is Genesis 45; 3-11 and 15
That doesn’t mean a lot to you, but it is part of one of my favorite Old testament heroes.

“Joseph Spoke to his brothers they came closer I am Joseph your brother whom you sold into Egypt but don’t feel badly…” Who remembers the story of Joseph his brothers had plotted to kill him because his father Jacob aka Israel had favored him?  He is sold into slavery instead some would say that was worse than killing him. Yet when Joseph is reunited with his brothers, he has some fun with them and frames a brother just to see if they have changed and finally weeping embraces his brothers and forgives them each and every one and sends for his father.

That’s pretty darn bold I mean after all they tried fratricide.

You see today’s call in the Gospel is “to love and do good and to lend to people who will have absolutely no thanks to give to you, no gift in return, no kindness to you.”[4]

Wait I am not going to get a gift card or even a card?  I am not going to win a humanitarian of the year because I helped my brother or sister on this planet …then what’s the point?

OHHH wait that is the point, isn’t it?

You see to be a follower of Jesus is to be the follower of an all loving God.  An all loving God means an all loving Heaven and if we are working to build the kindom of heaven on earth…well we have a lot of work to do.

I actually was confronted by this principle just yesterday.  There is an interfaith council that meets in Keene.  Now I have been part of interfaith councils before and ecumenical councils as well. For those who do not know the difference, an Interfaith council is all religions, ecumenical is only the Christians getting together.

Now my experience in the past has been interfaith councils are much kinder than Ecumenical, but both can make my heart pause.  Actually, when I joined the ecumenical council of southern California there were certain denominations that would not join because I was, well, gay.

So here is the story. I reached out to a local minister who organizes the interfaith group and she invited me to coffee on Monday.  Then she also invited another minister who is also new to the area. The church the other minister is from is an evangelical church.  As a matter of fact, as I looked her up and the university where she was trained the university just recently suspended to ministers’ credentials because they performed a same sex marriage.

I bet you can see where I am going with this. Do I want to work beside a person whose tradition is so very different from my own?  Do I want to possibly expose myself to the language and behavior I have fought against most all my life? Do I want to love someone who may not love me back…?

Yes, there it is.  I am called to love the evangelical.  I am not called to allow hate speech and or bad theology to control any situation, but I am called to love.  So, I will join the interfaith council and for some it will be just as hard for them to love me as it will be for me to love them. But through living and loving we can be, as I have said before, that river against the stone.

I mean if Joseph can love his brothers who tried to kill him and then sold him into slavery…WE can work besides other people who may believe I am an abomination.

When I was in seminary the fight for marriage equality had revved up. I was in class with gentleman who was in the navy and was studying to be the first Muslim chaplain.  He asked me what marriage equality would mean to him as a chaplain and a Muslim.  I told him that it is not part of your faith you have no obligation to perform any marriage. His response was well if it doesn’t affect me and my practice then why should I care?

How I wish other people understood this. The world would be a much better place.  If you do not like gay marriage do not marry someone who is gay!

Unfortunately loving someone inspite of their beliefs and still standing up for the marginalized in many ways and on many days have placed people directly in harm’s way. The temperament of the America today makes me sad and my heart breaks over and over again as I hear stories of hatred and discrimination.  My heart almost stops every time I hear of talk about a wall and immigration bans. I cry when I see videos of people calling police because someone is of color and that is the only reason people are calling 911.

I know this sounds political but when you put it in the context of loving those who will not thank you, will not reward you, my heart moves to the children seeking asylum.

Children who with their parents are looking for safe place. Children who want to live their lives without the threat of being kidnapped or killed. 

Now if you do not know by now, I am unashamedly UCC and perhaps that is because I am a convert. But in many ways this church is more UCC than most as we have Methodist and UU in our midst as part of the united Body of Christ

The General minister and president of the UCC recently sent a letter out and I wanted to share that here;

“Dear Partners in Christ:

The vision of a body united –in purpose, in mission, in vision – is one that inspired the birth of our denomination. All of our spiritual impulses reverberate in an effort to call us into a more perfect union. Throughout our shared history as a people of faith and as a part of the Body of Christ, we have challenged ourselves to widen the circle of inclusion. Widening the circle has always come with growth pains as we shed old skins and welcome those whom we had previously thought unwelcome. And, with each new articulation of a more fully expressed Body of Christ we have realized new joy. Through it all we remain focused on the call to be one and committed to meeting the challenges inherent in that call.

We are now living in and through a season when the threats to unity are legion. Talk of walls that mark refugees as threats, labels like ‘terrorist’ that attach too easily to Muslims, overt racial bias that normalizes fear and hatred, a pandemic of abuse to women with the trigger reflex to forgive the men who author that abuse have turned America into a land many of us no longer recognize and that too many of us are finding harder and harder to reconcile with our faith.

Now more than ever, the Holy Spirit of the Living God and the Risen Christ is seeking to partner with anyone committed to unifying the human community. The gospel mandate to love our neighbor as we love ourselves resonates deep within us. It calls for the better angels among and within us to always resist impulses to hate, to condemn, to vilify, or to castigate. In such a time as this, the United Church of Christ’s call to fulfill the prayer of Jesus, that they may all be one, stands as an urgent mandate to disciples who envision a just world for all. 

United with you in God’s service,
The Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer “

Maybe I have rambled a bit too much today. John’s loving letter sums up neatly what I have been trying to say.  We need to learn to love especially in what seems a season of hate.

Part of that will be us, this congregation not avoiding hard subjects and topics.  Part of that will be us as a congregation trying not to accuse or judge but stand beside those who will stand beside us and where we disagree, perhaps through our presence and love we can help people see a different way, a better way.

As I finish this, I am reading a book called; preaching resistance, Voices of Hope, Justice, & solidarity by Phil Snider.  I will be joining a national discussion on this book next week. I hope we can be a a voice of hope, justice and solidarity and through our voices perhaps we can begin to sow a few seeds of Love where they are needed. Perhaps we can all do a bit better at loving unconditionally those who do not nor ever will love us.

I pray Gods peace and love to you today.  I hope my reflections have touched and maybe even challenged a few today. I know in my own reflection I have challenged myself!

[1]Craddock, Fred B. The Collected Sermons of Fred B. Craddock. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011. pg. vii

[3]Craddock, Fred B. The Collected Sermons of Fred B. Craddock. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011. 156

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