God, as we enter into this space together, I ask that the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts would be pleasing to you, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
Well, I’ve promised not to go too far over today because apparently there’s some kind of big game happening later although I’m not exactly sure what it is. Ann, did you say something about a super bowl?
Joking aside, in addition to it being the 4th Sunday after Epiphany, which I think is the far more important reason to celebrate today…of course, it is also Super Bowl Sunday, a day in which millions of people will get together for food, fellowship, and good ol’ American football.
I grew up in a sports household where the only choice in bears and cubs country was to bleed orange and blue. Truthfully I was never really interested in sports all that much…or particularly good at them for that matter…although it wasn’t for lack of trying. I played many years of little league baseball, and because of my height, I was on the basketball team as I got older, and even did track for a little while. It was probably somewhere in the majority of time sitting on the bench during the basketball season that I began to ask myself what I was doing. Why was I participating in something that was obviously not my calling? Was I following my own interests, or the interest of someone else?
I’m not sure after which missed catch of that fly ball or which air ball that I threw that I decided that sports was not my calling in life, but I soon found other activities like music, and science, and religion, things that I was good at and things that gave me this life that I was missing…but also things that made me a nerd. In many ways I’m ok with being a bit of a nerd, but it certainly didn’t make my social life very easy.
But we do this, right? We have certain expectations from our children and the people in our lives on how they are supposed to act. We very quickly like to place people into categories, based off of gender, economic class, political views, and we have these stock images in our mind of how someone is supposed to be and what they are supposed to do based on these categories.
For example, as a young boy, I was supposed to be aggressive and competitive and into sports and good at them. And when I didn’t fit that mold and when many others don’t fit their molds, we often find ourselves having a difficult time knowing where to fit in. And this is more common than we might think—children and adults all across the country are struggling with how they see themselves and who society tells them that they need to be.
Now, I will be forever thankful for the opportunities I received growing up and the comradery that I felt being on a team, but I also wonder how much we try to force ourselves into the expectations of someone else or the expectations that society expects of us, rather than pursing what we are called to do.
You look to our scriptures, in Jeremiah, the opening chapter, we see a commissioning statement to Jerimiah from God, a well known passage, of God’s investment into the life and ministry of this prophet. God’s appointment of Jeremiah can only be understood in the context of what Jeremiah was about to do, which was to go unto the people of Israel and turn their world upside down. God wasn’t very happy with Israel at this point in history and so Jeremiah had to do the difficult work of getting the Israelites back on track.
Jeremiah cites his youth, similar to Moses’ plea of “please God, choose someone else, I am not equipped to do what you would have me do”. But with the confidence that always comes from a God who speaks life into our lives, God reassures Jeremiah, “do not be afraid, for I am with you”. I think of Jeremiah’s initial hesitation because it’s reflective of how we live today. And I also think of God’s words here, not of forcefulness, not of coercion, but of presence.
Fear is often at the heart of our unwillingness. Fear of the unknown, fear of change, fear that what we know in this world will not be enough to get us through what is coming. But what fear is based in is nothing else but ourselves. At our own timidness, at our own misunderstanding. We are often afraid of people and ideas that do not fit into the mold because it somehow challenges our framework for how the world is supposed to work. But just as God was calling Jeremiah to challenge the Israelites, to think a new way, to take them through the difficult journey ahead…God is also calling us to broaden our horizons, to imaginatively create new ideas and to be open to other people’s experiences, even when they don’t match our own.
This spirit of openness and acceptance, of understanding and tolerance, can only be achieved through one medium…and that…is love. The one word you will always here in my sermons, love is the foundation for human relationships and the way in which we treat other people, the divine face of God reflected in acts of love.
Our Corinthians passage is most often heard at wedding ceremonies but it stands for so much more than just the love between two individuals entering into the covenant of marriage. Love is a life-changing attitude. When you live your life reflecting and showing this love to others, your very nature will change. The qualities of love described in v. 4-7 are not only qualities of love itself, but the effects of the ones who choose love in their lives. Those who choose love are able to harness patience and kindness, humility and understanding, goodness and truth, optimism and perseverance, love conquers all. It transcends our human tendency towards the opposite, it opens the way to life and a life worth living. “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love”. A statement emblazoned in bold letters across the front of our website, the first thing you see, a message to all that above all things, in this place, you will find love.
And it is this love, that centers us to be agents of change, towards systems that put people down just for the way that they are. It is love that fights for all people to have equal say and representation in society. It is love that continually transforms us into fuller embodiments of God’s face to those we see. This love calls us to leadership and service as we seek to bring about the vision of God’s kin-dom here on Earth.
Here shortly, we will be ordaining and installing your new Elders and Deacons for the class of 2021. These individuals have taken up the call to serve the church either on session or under the fierce leadership of Jim Brown in the ministry of Deacons. Their challenge is to be representatives of this church and to always strive to be beacons of this love and this hope, and I am sure for all of those who have chosen to serve in the past or those who will serve in the future, that we will continually live out this mission.
I finished reading a book this past week called Religion Gone Astray: What we found at the heart of Interfaith. The book is authored by three different individuals and I apologize if this sounds like the start of a bad joke, but it’s a pastor, a rabbi, and an Imam of the Muslim faith. These three individuals travel around the world and speak to the heart and mission of interfaith cooperation—meaning they spark dialogue and conversations with people from different religious beliefs and traditions. They’ve often faced backlash from religious groups, “how could you possibly associate with someone of a different religion than you”. And the Three Amigos, as they like to call themselves, respond by taking it a step further, they say not only do we associate with each other, we love and affirm each other in our own traditions. Love, at the heart of these three men who felt a calling on their lives to do something more, something that many in society labeled as heretical or outrageous, but something they felt God calling them to do all the more.
No matter where you are at in life, no matter what people have told you to do or how to live your life, not matter what you want to do in the future, know that God is with you every step of the way. Know that your community of Faith is here to support you. And know that we will always love and welcome you. Because at the end of the day, we are called simply to love.
What can you to today to show that to someone? How is God calling you to love one another, but also to love yourself? To invest in yourself? What ways can we seek to love better, stronger, and deeper as a community? What ways is God’s love present in your lives?
Above all, let’s remember, God is the embodiment of Love and the love you see in this world, the love that is so desperately needed in this day and age, that is where God resides. Because God does not love, but is love, the very definition itself. Thanks be to God.
Now unto God the Creator, God the Redeemer, and God the Sustainer, we ask for wisdom in these and all things through Jesus Christ. Amen.