"When Love Is Action"

My first fulltime appointment as a United Methodist pastor was in Rhinebeck, New York.  Actually, I had one church in the village of Rhinebeck, and another one on Route 9 south of the village.  That second one was called Hillside United Methodist Church--and the name was perfectly appropriate, because it indeed was on the side of  the hill.  It was a beautiful little chapel, with seating for maybe 30 people if all of the seats were filled.  We probably averaged 15 on a typical Sunday morning, and many warm summer Sundays, or snowy winter Sundays, had  less than that.  I will confess--we always added the stuffed animal who sat on the windowsill to the attendance, so maybe it was really an average of 14.

It really was a beautiful little place, in an almost idyllic setting, surrounded by old, venerable trees, but clearly visible from the road going both north and south on Route 9, and in a flat stretch so that going either way you got a long look at it.  I would run into people in the village, and when they would find out that I was the pastor there they would almost always say "I love that little Hillside Chapel!"  I would smile and agree that it was beautiful and picturesque.

But I would be thinking to myself "So you love it?  I've never seen you there.  What does your love consist of?  Do you really, truthfully LOVE that Hillside Chapel?"  I never said that to anyone.  But I thought it--and I still think it.

Doesn't love involve engagement?  Even if you say "I love ice cream" it's not that you just appreciate the look of ice cream--it's that you engage with it by EATING it--you savor the taste, you lick the spoon, you make certain you get every bit of it.  If you love a person, you spend time with that person, and learn about that person, and do things together, and recall that person to mind even when you're not together.  Love is not a passive thing.  Love is involvement, engagement, interaction--all of these ACTION verbs.  It's easy to say that you love.  It's a commitment to actually DO it.

"Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action" (1 John 3:18) the passage says.  And it specifies that is not a mere human decision as to what "truth and action" look like, but that it is to "love one another, just as he has commanded us" (1 John 3:23b).  And even more specifically, love in action looks like this: "We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?" (1 John 3:16-17).

Love is much more than just a warm fuzzy feeling, according to God, who created love--who IS love.

“When Love Is Divine” 

So many songs through the years get at it.  " Heaven, I'm in heaven . . .when we're dancing cheek to cheek", Irving Berlin wrote and Fred Astaire sang in 1935, in the movie "Top Hat". "Almost paradise; we're knocking on heaven's door . . . I swear that I can see forever in your eyes, Paradise! It seems like perfect love´s so hard to find . . .." Eric Carmen and Dean Pitchford wrote, and Ann Wilson and Mike Reno sang, 49 years later, in 1984, in the movie "Footloose".  And 29 years later, in 2013, in a fascinating (and borderline scandalous) reworking of metaphors, Hozier wrote and sang in his song "Take Me To Church": "I should've worshipped her sooner; If the Heavens ever did speak she is the last true mouthpiece . . . the only heaven I'll be sent to is when I'm alone with you". 

We desire to find love in our lives, and we desire to find love that is "heavenly"--that is "divine"--that indeed transcends the day-to-day humdrum workaday lives we find ourselves living.  And we write songs about it, and dream of it, and sometimes even seek it out, and grasp for it--not always in successful ways, because more often than not it is like trying to catch a butterfly--you're better off being in the area where the butterflies are, and waiting for one to land on you.  And it is fairly inevitable that one will, particularly if you don't scare it away. 

We worship a God who created the world out of love, who created us out of love, and whose two greatest commands are about love:  love God, and love others.  Not crush them; not beat them; not show them who's smarter, or stronger, or better looking, or superior.  Love them.

1 John appears to have been written to a conflicted church (as is most of the New Testament, interestingly enough) and calls them back to what love is supposed to be about,  especially within a community of faith.  And chapter 3 begins with a reminder of the Divine Love: "See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are".  With God loving us to the point of us being like children in God's family, that ought to guide us to a better sense of what love is really all about--and what love that is indeed divine does for us.   And as we go on in this series, we'll look at some of what that ought to motivate us to do too.

"Not Yet Old Enough," and "Seeing God"

This Sunday, April 8, my colleague and friend Rev. Dr. William B. Randolph will be preaching (and I am excited to hear him!).  Will and I have known each other for years, and as he is now back in Western Pennsylvania after a stint in Nashville as Director of Aging and Older Adult Ministries for the General Board of Discipleship of the United Methodist Church.  His sermon at 9:15 will be "Not Yet Old Enough" from Psalm 139:1-18; at 11 it will be "Seeing God" from Genesis 33:1-15.

Click on this link to the Pastor’s Ponderings for April 8, 2018, to learn more about Will and to check out the Scriptures for Sunday.

See you in worship, at 9:15 AM (Modern) and/or 11:00 AM (Traditional).

                                      Grace and Peace, Pastor Bruce

Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday Thoughts

We love the kind of stories where seeming defeat is overcome with unexpected, redemptive victory.  That is Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter in a nutshell. More than a redemptive story of victory in the face of defeat, it is THE redemptive story of victory in the face of defeat.  It is the prototype for the kind of story we all love.

To do a fuller justice to the story (I can't claim to really do it the full justice it deserves), ATTEND ALL THREE of the worship services, Thursday, Friday, and Sunday.  Experience the emotions, the questions, the unfolding of the events. You will appreciate even more THE prototype redemptive story, and that YOU are part of it.

“Desire and Obsession”

Once again, I draw from the wisdom and fluency of Frederick Buechner: "Lust is the craving for salt of a person who is dying of thirst".  How does this tie in with Jesus processing into Jerusalem on that Palm Sunday a couple of thousand years ago? How does that tie in with him being crucified by the Friday of that same week? We'll look at this on Sunday, and you can read a longer exposition of this idea through this link to the Pastor’s Ponderings for March 25, 2018.

See you in worship, at 9:15 AM (Modern) and/or 11:00 AM (Traditional).

                                      Grace and Peace, Pastor Bruce