“Young at Heart” Message
Our sermon topics for this week and next week are the two that I’m most excited about discussing from this sermon series because they really get into the heart of what our call from Christ is.
This week, we are talking about responding to God’s actions with love, and next week we will talk about our response of hope.
We are told that the greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind, and that we shall love our neighbor as ourselves.
It sounds easy enough. Remember to love God - check! Remember to love others - check! Except - I don’t think it is as easy as it seems.
When we talk about love, we make it sound like it should be easy to love everyone just as they are, without judgement.
And yet, it is the age-old human problem.
It is the reminder we receive every Sunday morning, and it is the confession we make regularly: God, we have failed to love everyone.
We have failed to withhold judgement, and we have failed to love our neighbor and serve them as we would love and serve ourselves. Forgive us,
I would like to tell you a story. It’s a fictional story that I wrote myself, so bear with me.
Once upon a time, a little boy named Charlie lived next door to a little girl named Jenny.
Jenny was older than Charlie by three whole days, and Jenny believed this made her better than Charlie.
Jenny would tease Charlie and call him a baby. She would make him feel worthless.
Almost every day, Jenny would call Charlie names, and every day, he could feel the sting of tears in his eyes.
Jenny started to go beyond name-calling. She began pushing him around, making him fall down and scrape his knees.
Charlie began avoiding Jenny as best he could.
He really didn’t like Jenny at all. He might even say he hated her.
Charlie hated Jenny so much that he felt like she could disappear from the face of the earth, and he would be perfectly happy.
One day, while Charlie was outside, he saw Jenny trip on a crack in the sidewalk and fall face-first into the ground.
Charlie thought for a second that Jenny had gotten what she deserved.
But then, he saw that she was crying and holding her hand to her face.
When she moved her hands, he saw she was bleeding pretty badly.
Charlie ran inside to call for help, and then ran back outside to comfort Jenny and ask if she was OK.
It turned out Jenny had broken her nose and needed stitches.
Charlie made sure he stayed with Jenny until help came.
The incident didn’t make Charlie like Jenny any better – she had bullied him enough that he might never be able to truly like her.
But, he had enough love and compassion in his heart to help Jenny when she needed it, even though she had hurt him pretty badly in the past.
Charlie and Jenny were never friends, but she was grateful for his help and she did thank him for his kindness eventually.
My hope in sharing this story is that is begs the question: what is love? 1 Corinthians 13 tells us that love is patient; love is kind. It rejoices in the truth, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
It also tells us what love is not: love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoings.
That’s helpful, but it also starts to get at something deeper.
Love is complicated. It seems like love should be simple, but anyone who is married or has children or parents know that love is anything but simple.
It’s easy to understand love toward others when we like the other person.
But what about loving someone we don’t particularly care for?
What about loving someone we can’t stand?
How do we love someone who has hurt us?
How do we love someone who has abused us, used us, or harmed us emotionally or spiritually?
How do we love someone who has bullied us, like in our story about Charlie and Jenny?
What about people who are vastly different than us? Is it easy to withhold judgement and love the person begging for money on the street corner?
Or do we wonder how they ended up there?
Is it easy to love someone who holds a political opinion that is completely opposite of yours?
What about a person who holds a view that your rights should be diminished or taken away?
Love is not easy. Sometimes it can be hard to love God, let alone love all other people!
How many times have we heard someone question why God would allow bad things to happen to good people?
When horrible things happen to us, we often wonder where God was, or why God would let such a thing happen in the first place.
It can be hard even for people with strong faith to fully love God when life gets difficult and hope is lost.
We are called to love one another, and yet we struggle daily with loving and serving others.
It is always a balance between loving ourselves, caring for ourselves, and looking out for ourselves, and serving and loving others. Often we feel like we cannot do both at once.
Love is complicated and surprisingly difficult for us humans.
This is one of many reasons Jesus spent time on earth. He offers many examples of what loving and serving others looks like.
Through Christ’s sacrificial love, compassion, forgiveness, and teachings, we see love in action, and through the gift of the Holy Spirit, we know love as a living experience now and forever.
We are called to respond in love to God’s loving action through Jesus Christ.
We love because God first loved us and God continues to demonstrate for us time and time again a kind of love which seeks the best for humanity in God’s all-embracing love.
Love is complicated, but love is also:
Sacrificial, selfless, compassionate, forgiving, affirming, reconciling, healing, and inclusive.
It means loving the world for what it can and should be in relationship with God.
We can demonstrate love in action and we can respond in love in several ways:
We can offer our gifts, time, and service on behalf of others.
This might mean giving money, or it might mean giving of ourselves in other ways. Sometimes, it means doing all of the above.
When you are a part of a small church like Good Shepherd, many of us offer our gifts in more than one way, demonstrating love in action and responding to God’s gifts in love.
We can also put another’s good before our own. Anyone who is a parent likely knows what it means to make such a sacrifice.
We do need to recognize though that there is a balance - if we are always putting the needs of others ahead of our own needs, we will eventually burn out.
Part of this demonstration of loving action is making sure we are not giving so much of ourselves that we end up with nothing left to give.
Another way we can demonstrate loving action is by letting go of past hurts.
I know that this is easier said than done, and this is another way that love is complicated.
When we are hurt, we tend to hold onto that hurt for years or maybe our entire life, depending on the hurt.
I like to use the example of my fifth grade bully.
The girl who sat next to me in my fifth grade classroom bullied me, and I didn’t care for her all the way through high school graduation day.
Even now, while I don’t necessarily feel like I’m holding onto that hurt anymore, I still think that if I saw her now, I would assume that she is still a bully.
For all I know, she’s a perfectly lovely, kind adult human being. But my initial assumption would be that she’s still a bully.
Demonstrating loving action means working to overcome those hurts and release that judgement.
Along those same lines, we can work on making peace. This may also be complicated.
If we realize or recognize that perhaps we were the bully to someone, we can demonstrate loving action by working toward reconciliation.
If we abused, or took advantage of someone, or if we are simply holding onto a grudge or a past hurt, we can work to make peace with that, even if it is only in our own heart.
One of my favorite ways that we can demonstrate love toward others is by encouraging and supporting one another.
This one can be difficult for some people because we often want to be the best at something, or we might become jealous of another person’s success.
But, when we collaborate and work together toward a common goal, rather than viewing everything as a competition to be won, we can learn to encourage and build others up in ways that are in service to others.
Finally, we can work on restoring health and welcoming all as created in the image of God.
Without our own health, we cannot as easily serve others, so it is important to care for physical, emotional, and spiritual health.
As followers of Christ, we can also take to heart his example of welcoming all to the table.
This act of welcome, even to those who we struggle to like or enjoy being around, is one of loving service to others.
God knows that this becomes complex when personalities clash, and God also knows that loving people who rub us the wrong way is difficult.
I do want to be clear that I do not think God wants us to spend a lot of time with people who drain us, or people who take advantage of us, harm us, or abuse us.
Sometimes, acting in loving ways might mean setting a boundary that reduces or eliminates contact with someone, while also letting go of the hurts that person may have caused, or getting help if we need it.
We can see now why this kind of love can be so complicated, and that it’s a process of constant improvement and regular reminders of Christ’s examples.
Yes, we are called to love others. Christ offers us many examples of loving action.
Christ’s sacrifice not only demonstrated loving compassion for us, but also redeemed us so that when we do not love perfectly, we are still forgiven, and we are given our entire lives to improve on our understanding of love, care, and service toward others.
Let us pray:
God of mercy and of love, we come before you today acknowledging that we are challenged by the commandments you gave to love our neighbors as ourselves. Loving all people is harder than we would like to admit, so we ask for your ongoing support in learning to love beyond ourselves. We welcome Christ’s example of love in action, and we pray for your guidance and support as we navigate the world of human complexity. All of this we pray in your name. Amen.
“Young at Heart” Message
Since we’ve taken a two-week break in the middle of this sermon series, I want to take a brief minute to remind everyone what this series is about and share what we’ll be talking about for the next couple weeks.
We have been working through a better understanding of the Moravian Essentials.
The Moravian motto is, “In essentials, Unity; In non-essentials, Liberty; In all things, Love.”
This motto begs the question: what exactly is considered “essential?”
On the first Sunday of this series, we talked about what makes us Christian, and we came to the conclusion that we can still be Christian even if we don’t have access to things like the Bible, a church, the sacraments, or ordained clergy.
So what are the essentials, then?
Well, Moravians believe there are six essentials:
Three of the essentials are actions that God takes on our behalf:
Jesus Christ redeems/saves
The Holy Spirit sustains/blesses
There are also three essential human responses to God’s actions:
We respond with faith, love, and hope.
Today, we are talking about the first of these three responses to God’s love: faith.
I’d like to begin this discussion with the theology of Calvin and Hobbes.
In this first strip, Calvin pretty emphatically and confidently claims that we don’t believe in things that we can’t see. Seeing things is the only way we can verify that something exists. So, how do we know that microscopic biting bugs exist if we can’t see them?
Well, they make us itch!
In this next strip, Calvin once again wonders about existence if we can’t see someone or something.
Calvin is making a pretty poignant point about God in this strip, and about faith in someone we can’t see. And he parallels God with Santa Claus, bringing up questions of faith in people we never see or interact with physically.
In his words, what IS the meaning of all this?
Finally, we see Calvin making a parallel between religion and math, of all things:
Now of course, Calvin is a child and Hobbes is his imaginary friend. But, he asks some tough questions and brings up some good points about faith.
How do we believe in things we can’t see? What other proof do we need for the existence of things we can’t see?
How do we come to have faith in an entity we don’t see or interact with directly, and what does that faith mean for us?
I don’t know about all of you, but reading through the Hebrews scripture passage and seeing the images made me feel a bit like my own faith might not be strong enough.
Hearing all of the stories from the Old Testament about people who had significant tests of their faith and never faltered can make us feel like our own trials and struggles are rather insignificant in comparison.
It might feel that way to us – we might feel like we are failing in our faith when we hear these heroic stories of the Old Testament.
These prophets and forerunners of Christianity fought for their faith in God and, often, for their own lives and the lives of their families or communities as well.
I am fairly confident, however, that we’re only reading part of the story. We get to read the parts of the stories that are interesting, engaging, and keep the attention of the listener or the reader.
It’s similar to when our friends or family members tell us stories of things that have happened in their lives.
Sometimes, a storyteller will share moments of fear, anxiety, or worry, but often, the only part of the story we hear is the outcome and some important factors that led to the outcome.
We don’t always get the whole story. Sometimes, the storyteller will leave out the parts when they made a mistake, or when they felt hopeless or defeated.
They will tell the story that they want others to hear, which may or may not be what actually happened.
In the passage we read today, we heard the heroic parts of the Old Testament stories. We heard the parts that offer us examples of faith and hope.
Let’s just consider the story of Noah for a moment. We don’t often think about what the reality of going through the flood must have been like.
Human beings even thousands of years ago were not drastically different than human beings today are.
So, if we think even for a moment that Noah wasn’t scared, worried, anxious, or questioning his sanity and his faith, we’re probably mistaken. The world was flooding, everyone and everything on earth was dying, and the ground was disappearing before his eyes.
Not to mention, he was 600 years old when this happened, he was stuck on an ark with animals who needed to be fed, managed, and cleaned up after, and he was stuck with just his family for company.
Do you all know what it’s like to travel with family members or your kids, or your pets? For those of you who have done it before – was it a 100% pleasant experience?
If there weren’t some moments when Noah’s kids said “Dad, is this over yet?” or “Dad, I’m boooored!”, I would be surprised.
Of course, we don’t hear those parts of the story. But I can’t imagine that they didn’t wonder whether or not they were going to survive.
It’s easy to take stories like these at face value, and it’s easy to feel like we are somehow inferior in our faith because we worry, we get anxious, we complain and grumble and struggle with things when they become difficult.
It’s easy to think our own challenges are nothing compared to the things that some of these Old Testament figures endured for their faith in God.
But we must remember that we only hear one side of the story, and it’s the side the writer wants us to hear. We don’t hear about the complaining and the suffering and the wondering. We don’t always hear them questioning God or questioning their faith in God.
But we also cannot assume that they didn’t complain, wonder, or question God.
We cannot compare our own struggles to those of other people because we are all unique and we all handle things differently. We all cope differently, and we all have different tolerance levels for different things.
What we can take away from these stories is what it means to have faith.
We can see that often, faith is made stronger when we nurture that faith in community. Many of these Old Testament figures had communities to support them.
We are all part of a community that supports us, too. When we experience trials, one of the beautiful things about having a church family is that we naturally have a community that nurtures and supports our faith.
It’s a community that also helps us to pick up the pieces when our faith is shaken or shattered. It’s a community that walks alongside us, sharing our burden and our pain when we need that kind of support.
Faith is our response to God that involves personally giving ourselves, our lives, and our actions to God, acknowledging that we are totally dependent on God who created and loves us.
But, that doesn’t mean that walking by faith is easy.
Faith is absolute trust and commitment to God’s saving will fulfilled in Jesus Christ. It’s trusting and giving our all to God, even if our minds do not know and cannot comprehend all of the details.
Even if we have questions and doubts, even when we suffer or carry burdens that are too heavy for our own hearts and we do not understand our own suffering.
Even then, we are invited by God to grow in faith throughout our lives, sometimes moving steadily forward, and sometimes falling backward. We sustain and nurture each other in faith as we participate in community together.
It is by faith that we come to know God as our loving creator, Christ as our redeemer, and the Holy Spirit as our sustainer.
Faith is the first essential action on our part, and even when it becomes difficult, God supports us in our faith through God’s tremendous love for each of us.
Let us pray:
Holy One, we come before you today with all of our worries, anxieties, and fears. We come before you knowing that our faith may waver in times of struggle. But we come before you also knowing that you know our hearts and you love us dearly even when we hold onto questions and uncertainty.
We offer our gratitude today for your continued love and mercy, and for the people around us who walk with us on our faith journeys. We thank you for placing these people into our lives just when we need them most.
With the support of our community, we can be sure of our faith, knowing there will always be someone walking with us, supporting us, and helping us shoulder our burdens.
In your loving presence and in your Holy name we pray. Amen.
“Young at Heart” Message
I am going to stand still and I’m not going to talk. I want you all to raise your hands when you believe I’m breathing out. If you believe I’m breathing in or holding my breath, keep your hand down. Only raise your hands when you believe I’m breathing out.
How do you think you did? Was it hard to tell?
OK, we’re going to try again but this time, I’m going to hold a balloon up to my mouth.
Raise your hands again when you think I’m breathing out.
It was much easier to tell this time, wasn’t it?
This exercise is intended to demonstrate something about the Holy Spirit. Anyone want to take a shot at what it shows us?
The exercise was intended to demonstrate that even when we can’t see the Holy Spirit with our eyes, it is still there.
And, if we are looking hard enough, there is evidence of the Holy Spirit everywhere. If I had invited one of you up to put a hand in front of my mouth, or place a hand on my shoulder or even on my stomach, that person would have been able to use more clues to determine if I was breathing out, in, or holding my breath.
In the same way, there is evidence of the Holy Spirit all around us - sometimes, it is a matter of choosing to believe what the evidence tells us. And that can, for some people, be more difficult than it might seem.
Today, of course, we are talking about the third of the six Moravian Essentials: The Holy Spirit as blesser, sustainer, or sanctifier.
The Holy Spirit is also the third element of the Trinity, and according to Moravian theology, it is the last of the essential actions that God takes for us.
The Holy Spirit can also be the most difficult to explain or articulate because the Spirit contains less concrete properties.
The Spirit works in our lives in so many ways that it is impossible to fully grasp or understand it as something concrete and evident.
Scripture says a lot more about how God the Father and Jesus Christ interacted with people than it says about how the Holy Spirit interacted with people. We can see evidence of God’s creation all around us on a daily basis - evidence of the complexity of the natural world and of human existence.
Scholars also largely agree that Jesus of Nazareth was a real person who lived until his mid-thirties. There is evidence in canonical scripture writings but also in non-canonical writings outside of the Bible. But the Spirit is less concrete and more mystical.
The Spirit exists around us, within us, and through us.
The Spirit can be found in the whispering of the trees, the babbling of a brook, and the chirping of the birds on a spring morning.
The Spirit can touch us through other people, through other living beings like animals or even plant life. We can be moved by the Spirit.
The Holy Spirit prompts us to desire a relationship with God. The Spirit assures us of our relationship with God and moves us to accept Christ’s gift of salvation.
The Holy Spirit also helps us continually discern God’s presence in our lives and the world.
If we are able to really be in tune with ourselves - to really be self-aware and know our own priorities and our own spiritual being, then we can find it easier to listen to the Spirit guiding us.
This can sometimes, or perhaps even often, be mistaken as our “gut instincts” - that moment when we just know our gut is telling us something.
Many people struggle with this - living on their gut instincts, never realizing that it is the Spirit at work in their life.
God knows when we need slow and intentional, gradual pushes. This is where the Spirit can sneak into our lives without us even being fully aware. For some people, the presence of the Spirit is something they are very aware of, but for others, it needs to be subtle.
It can be easy to wonder how to know if a decision we’ve made has truly been guided by the Spirit, or if it was simply our own gut feeling.
Either way, God knows when we need gentle and loving guidance. One way God does this is to place people in our lives that can help us with discernment.
The Spirit often works through people we know well, and sometimes even through people we just met. I have felt the Spirit’s presence in so many people since coming to Calgary, and it is a wonderful thing!
I’d like to invite us all to take a few moments to recognize people that the Holy Spirit chose to work through to impact your life. If you feel called to do so, I invite you to say their first names out loud as we contemplate this important question.
As I did this exercise myself, I thought about so many people: my parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, certain teachers, coworkers, mentors, and friends. And of course, the Spirit is at work among all of you as I have the opportunity to be your Pastor and learn and grow with you.
And as I was thinking about all of these people, I realized that most of these people probably never thought about the Spirit working through them for me. So it begs the question: is the Spirit working through me for other people and I don’t realize it? When and how is the Spirit working through you to impact other people?
When we ask the question this way, it gives us pause to think about how our actions, words, and behaviors might be impacting others. We never know when the Spirit might be using us to impact the people around us. This might be a scary thought for some of us, but for me this gives me some comfort - perhaps even a sense of purpose.
If we can recognize that at any given time, the Spirit might be working through us for other people, we suddenly realize that we are needed and important, even when we may not feel like it.
When I was in Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), I worked with a woman who was 97 years old and bed-ridden. She could no longer stand on her own.
As she questioned why God was keeping her here, she realized that many of her caregivers started telling her that she was the highlight of their day - she cheered them up and brightened their day, and they were happy when they got to work with her.
She commented that perhaps that’s why God was keeping her here - to care for others even though she can no longer care for herself.
And that was incredibly insightful I think. She recognized, even if she couldn’t put her finger on what it was exactly, that the Holy Spirit was moving within her and working through her to impact the lives of those around her, even while she was bed-ridden and nearing the end of her days. Even though it looked different than it ever had before, and she was in a very different season of her life.
And that is just one of the infinite ways the Spirit helps us to connect with God. It may not seem concrete, but it is a gift of mystery that we have been offered by God to bless and sustain our lives and our wellbeing. The Spirit is also known appropriately as Advocate, Mother, Comforter, Guide, Wind, Breath of God, Encourager, Counselor, and Spirit of Truth and Wisdom.
God’s gift of the Spirit is the Good News for each of us, every day. The Holy Spirit equips and empowers us, giving each of us our own unique gifts for use in ministry and in life. All of these unique gifts are important and necessary, and they must be exercised with love. Each of us has a significant role to play in God’s work, and no one is unimportant. May this news offer you peace and a sense of purpose, and may you always remember that you may be doing the work of the Spirit in someone else’s life at any given moment. Amen.
Let us pray:
God in Heaven, we thank you today for providing us with the Holy Spirit as our Advocate and Guide on our journeys. We ask that you help us to recognize the movement of the Spirit in ourselves, in other people we interact with, and in the natural world.
God, we ask that you help us to take a moment to listen for the Spirit in the wind as it rustles the trees, in the crackle of a fire in the fireplace, in the sound of rain pattering on the roof, in the smell of lilacs blooming in the spring, in the sight of an eagle carrying a fish back to its family, in the warm embrace of a loved one, and in so many other small gestures that bring us peace and comfort.
Today we pray that anyone who feels hopeless or worthless, or feels like they are not needed or loved realizes that the Spirit works in ways that they might not even know, and that one small gesture might have a huge impact on the people around them. We thank you for providing us with the gift of the Spirit, Lord. All of this we pray in your name. Amen.