“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” 1 John 4: 7-12
Yesterday I heard a radio interview regarding the question, “Can love be taught?” The mother of a troubled adopted boy answered that she did not think so, but maybe “attachment” could be taught. She thought her son had learned attachment. She was not afraid that he would hurt her anymore. Maybe he had learned to attach to her, but no, he had not learned love. She did not think that was a possibility. It was a sad, tragic interview.
I believe love can be taught. All love comes from God, and God seeks everyone to learn how to love. Jesus teaches us in his life and ministry how to love, and our church provides opportunities for growth in character, friendship, and faith. Today we saw the Rejoice choir sing with the Chancel choir. What a lovely picture of intergenerational harmony!
I wish every child could experience the love that is shared between the members of the Rejoice choir that sang today, the care in which each lesson is taught in Sunday school, the joy of children’s chapel. We offer faith and fellowship for all ages and seasons of life.
Today is Stewardship Sunday. We are especially mindful of the need to help God love, to support the many programs and ministries of the church. Everyone is invited to participate in making a financial pledge. We are measuring participation as well as money raised. If we reach 100% participation, our leaders will consider the campaign a success regardless of the dollars. The object of stewardship is to raise the issue in our lives that we are caretakers of all we have been given. We are the stewards of God’s creation, and life’s blessings should be considered gifts from God.
Jesus taught that the greatest gifts are the gifts of each other, the relationships we share. One example of our church’s approach to stewardship is found in how we look at each child of Kenilworth Union Church. We see each child as a gift from God, and we ask how we can help children grow in faith and love for God. Our classes, chapels, and service nights educate of children toward serving others. My third grade son Luke told me about the scarves they made for refugees this week. It is so encouraging to hear him discuss the plight of a refugee and how he and his friends were helping.
The church strives to become good stewards of every season of life. James describes life as “a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” Meaning in life is found only through relationships, and I believe the best place to cultivate relationships with God and each other is the church. Helping God’s love is the source of fulfillment in life. Without a sense of being a steward of God’s gifts, of participating with God’s love, life’s meaning easily slips away like a mist. When we experience God’s love and share it with another, we become filled with the Spirit of the Living God. One of our hymns today speaks to that. “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” includes such words of hope: “Strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow. Blessings all mine and ten thousand beside.” Being a conduit of God’s love strengthens life as ten thousand blessings surround us, new ways to help others and give back to God are revealed. When we put blinders on, we feel discouraged, yet God does not give up on us. God showers us with love in the hopes that we will bloom.
There is a notable story about the agnostic Robert Ingersoll who told a friend, “I give God five minutes to strike me dead!” After five minutes, the friend told a haughty Ingersoll, “Did you think that you could exhaust God’s patience in five minutes?” To quote our hymn again, “Morning by morning new mercies I see.”
God never gives up on our capacity to help him love no matter how we are doing at it. That should motivate us to serve God with joy. It matters how we serve God. When Paul lists ways to serve God in Romans 12, he describes attitudes and approaches. “If your gift is sharing, then give generously. If your gift is leading, then lead diligently. If your gift is showing mercy, then do it cheerfully.” The spirit in which we serve God is so important!
I came across an illustration about how Jesus might have chosen his disciples. He held a kind of religious Olympics. The people were competing in prayer, singing, reading, etc., all trying to win a spot on the team of Jesus, but Jesus did not like what he saw. He was very discouraged at the competitors’ attitudes, so he took a break and walked down to the seashore. There he watched fishermen working together, casting out their nets and pulling them in. He saw their committed attitude, their teamwork, and their love for their work. He looked back at the Olympians waiting at the top of the hill, then looked to the fishermen again. Then Jesus walked to the boats and asked the fishermen, “Would you like to be my disciples? Would you like to be fishers of men?”
I like the images associated with these first disciples, especially the image of the church being a ship. You have seen churches in England, New England, and around the world that were built by shipwrights. When you look up to the ceiling, it looks exactly like the inside of the bottom of a ship. The church would be seaworthy if it was turned upside down in the water. The church is like a ship in that we are all going somewhere together. We are fortunate to share this spiritual journey as a community of faith.
I imagine huge sails filled with the power of the Holy Spirit moving the church forward with great momentum. Recently I spoke with a member about his daughter’s semester at sea. He told me the semester gave her a new way of looking at the world, and a love for the world she had never known. Isn’t our church a lot like that? We are on a journey helping God’s love bless the world.
To extend this image, when we see someone who needs help, we drop our nets, or we deploy a rescue boat. I was glad to discover that Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 4:1-5: “We are under-rowers and stewards.” Many translations translate rowers as servants, but Paul literally wrote that we rowers. We are rowing together. I like that image of the church, too. Our stewardship team is contacting each of you, many by phone message but some in person, to ensure that everyone is connected and cared for. This is a task that goes beyond gathering pledges. The stewardship team is looking for someone that needs to be brought in. A rowboat is deployed and we will pull that person in. It is our job to pull people in.
John Steinbeck’s The Short Reign of Pippin IV has a King speaking with a man who is pulling a statue up out of the moat. When the king asks why he is doing that, the man replies, “Why—I don’t know. I guess there’s people that pull things out—that’s what they do. I guess that’s how things get done.”
Our church has a long tradition of pulling people out, and we continue to look for ways to become more involved, more engaged, more compassionate. We get things done by helping God’s love, and that empowers us to risk. We experience life’s true meaning unfolding. We take God’s hand and then extend our hand to those in need. We realize that we are moving through life with real purpose on a journey with our family of faith. We are not afraid to risk stepping outside our comfort zone to pull another up. Love can be taught, and it is being taught here at Kenilworth Union Church. May each one of us find life’s greatest treasure, giving ourselves away generously and sacrificially, helping God’s love redeem the world. Amen.