Sermon. May 2, 2021
Rev. John Steitz
God is love. This theological affirmation in 1 John 4 is at the heart of the Christian faith. Love is at the center of Jesus’ teaching and ministry. Love is the essence of our core values as disciples of Jesus here at UCC Norwich.
Each of our four core values is centered in love. Being Spiritually Alive has loving God as its foundation. Neighborhood Engagement is rooted in loving neighbor. Loving Church Family is based on Jesus’ call to love one another. And Making Disciples is given its meaning as we teach and learn to live in Jesus’ Way of love.
God is love and we know this love through Jesus Christ. God is love and God’s love for us gives us the power to love. God is love and loves us so much that we are called to love one another.
The Quakers have a saying, “There is that of God in everyone.” God’s love is within each of us. God’s love is within you and within me. And God’s love is for us.
Think about that for a moment. God’s love is within us. God’s love is for us. What this means is that each one of us is a person of intrinsic value and worth.
We are created in God’s love and by God’s love. Each one of us is formed in the image of God. This original blessing of God’s love continues in God’s love for us through Jesus Christ.
Love creates. Love redeems. Love sustains.
There may be times in our lives when things are very hard and the going is very rough. We might not be able to see a path forward. At that moment, when despair hovers around us, we remember that “there is that of God within us.” No matter what, God’s love is within us, and surrounding us.
Yes, we are limited and flawed. Yes, we make mistakes. We do things that hurt others, or ourselves. We experience struggles, heartbreak, and pain. We don’t feel we measure up. We trip up, sometimes again and again.
Life is messy and we can feel like we are just a mess. We might see ourselves as being deeply broken and fundamentally unworthy. Yes, we are sinners. God loves us still. There is that of God in each one of us.
God made us in God’s image in love, God forgives us in love through Christ, and God’s love abides in us through the Holy Spirit.
The commandment to love our neighbors comes with a call to love ourselves. Not selfishly, but because we are persons of intrinsic value and worth. “There is that of God in everyone” includes ourselves. It is by treating ourselves as human beings who God loves that we are empowered to love one another.
This passage says something extraordinary about loving one another: “Those who say, ‘I love God’ and hate their brothers and sisters are liars, for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God who they have not seen.” (1 John 4:20)
There are more than 2000 Biblical passages supporting justice. Yet in a way we can center the any work that disciples of Jesus Christ and his Church do for justice on this passage. To work for justice is to love our brothers and sisters. To work for justice is to love God.
Let us quickly look at four ways we love our brothers and sisters. These are: Rainbow Mondays, Multicultural Celebrations, Accessibility to All, and Prayer Circle.
The online campaign #RainbowMondays has a simple, clear process, and a simple, clear goal. The process is this, we wear something rainbow on Mondays, post a photo doing so with a clear message of support and solidarity with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and queer people. Very simple and very clear.
The goal is also simple and clear. Through our weekly posts we personally align ourselves as following the commandment to love one another. We love our brothers and sisters regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Each week we go public with our clear and consistent message of love.
We do this personally and we do this as a local church. There are local churches that seek to claim that they can love lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people without affirming their sexual orientation or gender identity.
This is a lie. To love our brothers and sisters means we love each of them fully. We need to love and affirm each person for who they are to be able to claim that we love them, and claim to love God.
For that of God is within each person. God has made each of us persons of intrinsic value and worth.
To refuse to affirm the sexual orientation or gender identity of a person is to refuse to affirm that of God within that person.
We can’t do this and still claim we love that person. We can’t do this and still claim we love God.
We identify as an Open and Affirming congregation and take part in #RainbowMondays to show that we love our brothers and sisters, and through loving one another show that we love God.
Through #RainbowMondays we seek to “see” our brothers and sisters who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer. “See” them, affirm them, love them. #Lovebrothersandsisters #LoveGod.
A second way that we love brothers and sisters, and love God is through Multicultural Celebrations. We are at the very beginning of this process.
Why hold multicultural celebrations? God has blessed us with people from many cultures here in Norwich. Yes, here in Norwich.
In order to love one another we need to be able to “see” one another. We need to build relationships with each other.
Holding multicultural celebrations is one way we can begin to actually “see” our neighbors who have gifts to share from many cultures. This is one way that we build relationships with our neighbors.
Cultural traditions develop as a way for a people to express their intrinsic value and worth. They are expressions of that of God within them. By celebrating the food and music traditions of our neighbors we celebrate and affirm that of God within each of them.
There is a uniqueness and a unity that comes out as we celebrate together through food and music. We “see” each other as our brothers and sisters. We affirm each other as our brothers and sisters. We love each other as our brothers and sisters. Through our multicultural celebrations we love God.
#MulticulturalCelebrations. #Lovebrothersandsisters #LoveGod.
A third way we love our brothers and sisters is through Accessibility to All. This includes making the building accessible to everyone regardless of physical ability.
Here again the first critical step is to “see” people. To “see” people who have physical challenges that are or might prevent them from participating.
I’m using the word “See” metaphorically because the Scripture passage uses the metaphor of seeing, and because some of the people we don’t see have physical challenges with sight. They might have a physical challenge, but we have a mindset challenge.
As we move toward becoming Accessible to All, learning and changing our language will be as important as making changes to our building. This is not my gift, but there are people in our congregation with the gifts to lead this.
Doing this will help us affirm and love our brothers and sisters who have physical challenges. Doing this is a way we love God.
#Accessibile2All #Lovebrothersandsisters #LoveGod
Finally, even before the pandemic there was an epidemic loneliness throughout our country. God has given us the cure for loneliness, which is to love one another.
We prayer together and we socialize together in our Prayer Circle M,W,F at noon. We combat the loneliness of the pandemic and of our fragmented society. We affirm and love our brothers and sisters through prayer.
#PrayerCircle #Lovebrothersandsisters #LoveGod. Amen!