A Message from Pastor Matt

May 3, 2018

Church News

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

During this Easter Season we’ve been living under the great influence of John’s gospel and the First letter of John.  One of the great themes that has emerged in this journey from Easter to Pentecost is love.  The writer of First John implores us to love one another, “…Because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7). He goes on to warn us by saying, “Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love”  (1 John 4:8).

I love love.  I’ve even been accused of preaching too frequently about love.  I admit that I’m a bit of a Polly Anna about love.  If everyone would just love one another everything would be so much better.  That may sound a bit naive, but I do believe that there’s something to Christ’s new commandment for us to love one another.  There’s got to be some good reason for this command.  Perhaps it’s so we humans get along better and live more peaceably with each other.  Or, maybe, it’s even more basic than just making peace.  Maybe Christ’s new commandment is motivated by who God is.  God is love, so the scripture says over and over again.  If we want to dwell in God, if we want to know God, if we want to be saved, then we must love.  We must love others as we love ourselves, and we must love God.  In other words, we must try our best to be as God is; love.

Love is challenging.  Or, to put it more precisely, it can be difficult to love other people.  Loving anonymous categories of people is much easier.  Collectively, I can love my neighbors half way around the world.  I can even love people who are much different than myself: people of color, poor folks, rich folks, gay people, people of different faiths, people who are smarter than me and not quite as smart as me, people who have had more than their fair share of bad luck, and people who have created their own messes.  It’s not hard to love categories of people and one could even argue if that’s loving in the first place.

Where things get much more challenging is loving an individual or a smaller group of people that you find offensive, hurtful, or threatening.  If you have trouble just generally loving groups of people, you’ll likely find it much more difficult to love people who you actually know who have hurt you.  Therapists, pastors, and friends are kept quite busy trying to help others reconcile with family members, co-workers, and friends who have hurt them.  The work of love:  forgiveness, reconciliation, and understanding is difficult work.

Luckily for us, examples abound of relationships sustained by love.  Jesus is one of the most obvious and best examples of love in the midst of personal tragedy and hardship.  Even as he hung on the cross with his life slipping away he forgave those who were killing him.  He even took time to charge his Beloved Disciple with taking care of his mother after he died.  Once Jesus was resurrected, one of his first acts was motivated by love.  He forgave and restored his relationship with Peter after Peter had denied him three times during Christ’s trial.

Closer to our own time we find more examples of people loving others in difficult situations.  The families of the victims of the Charleston AME Church shooting forgave the shooter motivated by Christ’s commandment to love.  They not only forgave him, but spoke out in opposition to the death penalty being used in his case.  Other crime victims inspire us by their love and courage as they forgive perpetrators and advocate for other victims of similar crimes.  In our schools and in our places of work, people stand up for each other in the midst of being bullied, isolated, or overcoming adversity.  It turns out, the work of love is anything but Polly Anna.  It’s often hard, but life-saving work.

May you find the courage to love, and in doing so, may you experience the healing presence of God’s love.

Blessings,

Pastor Matt

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