image-title

The Elizabeth Windsor Memorial Scholarship was established in 1998 in memory of Elizabeth Windsor, a teenager at NPMC at the time of her tragic death. The Scholarship serves as a living memory of Elizabeth and as an opportunity to encourage and reward outstanding Christian character and Church participation. This document updates and supersedes all prior Joint Board action regarding the Scholarship.

The purpose of the Elizabeth Windsor Memorial Scholarship is to promote, encourage, and reward outstanding Christian character and participation. For high school students there shall be a demonstration of active participation at NPMC. For post-secondary students, past participation at NPMC as well as current Christian participation in their local school community will be considered. Participation may be considered qualitatively, quantitatively, or both. Recipients of an Elizabeth Windsor Memorial Scholarship may attend any accredited post-high school educational institution consistent with the Internal Revenue Code and may choose any course of study. Each Scholarship is for a period of one year, and may not berenewed.

The Elizabeth Windsor Memorial Scholarship is open to graduating high school seniors and students completing their first year at a post-secondary institution (i.e. college, community college, technical school) who are under age twenty-five (25). The applicant must have a quality point average of 2.5 or greater (or equivalent) during the immediate past two (2) years of high school and/or post-secondary education. No person who would be a “disqualified person” with respect to the Scholarship, as defined in the Internal Revenue Code, will be eligible to receive scholarship benefits.

Application Process Recipients of the Elizabeth Windsor Memorial Scholarship must be members in good standing of New Philadelphia Moravian Church. All scholarship recipients will be selected by the Elizabeth Windsor Memorial Scholarship Committee based upon the application forms, recommendations, interviews, and such other information and recommendations as the Scholarship Committee shall determine to be necessary or appropriate. The number and amount of scholarships awarded will vary from year to year based on the number of qualified applicants, and depending upon the proceeds available in and income available from the Elizabeth Windsor Memorial Scholarship fund. Individuals interested in applying for an Elizabeth Windsor Memorial Scholarship will be required to complete the attached application. Applications and all completed paperwork may be submitted to the New Philadelphia Moravian Church office on or before April 30 of each year. The Scholarship Selection Committee will determine the recipients of the Scholarships prior to June 1 (or as soon thereafter as practicably possible) annually. Any late or incomplete paperwork will not be considered.

 

2018 Elizabeth Windsor Scholarship Application

Read More
image-title

Fly Eagles Fly – sermon by Rev. Joe Moore

Isaiah 40:21-31

February 4, 2018

 

For the last two weeks, I have been driving my wife crazy. (Well, she would probably say that I have been driving her crazy for the last 22 years) But specifically for the last couple of weeks, I have been texting her or calling her or just asking her “Hey, did you hear that the Eagles are in the Super Bowl?”

Yes, I am an Eagles fan. I come by it honestly. As I mentioned last time I preached, our first church was in New Jersey. South Jersey to be exact. And South Jersey is basically a suburb of Philadelphia. We could actually see the Philly skyline from our house in New Jersey. So naturally, the Philly sports teams dominate the news. The Eagles, Phillies, Flyers, and 76ers are all anyone talks about.

So while we were living there, I adopted some of those teams as my own. I would root for the Phillies (if they weren’t playing the Braves) and the 76ers (on the rare occasion that I paid attention to the NBA) and I even had a Flyers t-shirt (despite knowing nothing about hockey). But the Eagles became my team, primarily since football is my favorite spectator sport.

While I naturally wanted to support the local teams, it also helped me as a pastor there. It gave me an instant conversation starter with the members of the congregation. It was kind of like what Paul meant when he wrote “To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.”

I’m not saying that I became an Eagles fan “for the sake of the Gospel” but it helped to establish some common ground with people that I really didn’t have much in common with otherwise. Being a North Carolina boy in New Jersey made me something of a stranger in a strange land. That is really the first steps in sharing the Gospel- finding something that brings you together, establishing a relationship, building trust. Coming together over things that are less significant allows you to then share about the more important things- like the good news of Jesus Christ.

From the very beginning of Christianity, followers of Jesus have been called to share the gospel- Jesus sent his 12 disciples out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Then the risen Christ expanded that mission when he said “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” and “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”

 Sometimes I feel that we don’t really take that call as seriously as we should. We know that we are supposed to share the gospel. And we try to share the gospel. But it is not the driving force of our life and faith. We share it when it is convenient, or comfortable, or safe. But we seldom take risks to share the gospel, we seldom venture out of our comfort zones, we don’t have a sense of urgency or expectancy. We don’t feel like Paul does when he proclaims “Woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel!”

That’s a pretty powerful statement. I don’t think that we have ever felt “great sorrow or distress” when we fail to proclaim the gospel. We may feel a little bit guilty, but it is a passing guilt that quickly fades. We may know that we should but we don’t really feel that bad when we don’t. We certainly don’t feel “woe”

I see three main reasons for this- 1) the sense of urgency isn’t as great for us as it was for the first Christians and 2) We haven’t had the Gospel “proclaimed” to us and 3) proclaiming the Gospel is hard! I want to spend a few minutes taking a closer look at each of these.

1)We don’t proclaim the Gospel with the same urgency that the earliest Christians had. Let’s face it, over time the sense of urgency will fade. Jesus’ original disciples, and other first century Christians, like Paul, believed that the return of Jesus was imminent. They believed that it would happen in their lifetime. Therefore they did not have much time to share the Gospel, the good news of Jesus, with the

Knowing both the command of Jesus to be his witnesses to the end of the earth and to make disciples of all nations combined with the belief that Jesus was returning soon, meant that they HAD to share the gospel as quickly as possible. I imagine that if we were living then, we would feel the same. But we aren’t living then. We are living now, and almost 2000 years have passed and believers are still waiting for Jesus to return. And we all know how that works. The longer we wait for something, the less urgent, the less immediate it seems. Sure, we still believe that it is going to happen. But instead of expecting it to happen tomorrow or next week or even next year, we just think that it is going to happen “someday” but who really knows when.

So we don’t feel that urgency to share the gospel. We know that if we don’t take advantage of the opportunities we have today, there is always tomorrow. And if not tomorrow, there is always the day after that and the day after that. For two millennia, there has always been another day, another opportunity, to share the good news of Jesus. It seems almost arrogant of us to think that this is THE day or this is THE time.

But maybe we should. Maybe we should try to revive that sense of urgency and immediacy to share the gospel that motivated the first Christians. Because we have been entrusted with the same gospel that they felt such urgency to share. We have been given the same mission, received the same calling. And the news is just as good now as it was then. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that whoever believes in him will not perish but will have everlasting life.”

This news is something that we should never hesitate to share. It is news that can’t wait until tomorrow. It is news that requires being told to the whole world. For God did not send his son, the Word did not become flesh, just for us, or for some of us. But for the whole world and it is up to us to tell the world. So we can’t stop until we have made disciples of ALL nations, until we have been Jesus’ witnesses to the very ends of the earth. We need to reclaim that sense of urgency.

The second reason that we don’t proclaim the Gospel as we should is that we have never had the Gospel proclaimed to us. Yes, we are all believers but our faith is primarily an inherited faith. It is something that we have received from our parents and family and church. Our faith is not something that we didn’t have one day and were told about the next. But it is something that we have always had, and always known. It is something that we have cared for and nurtured over the course of our lives. And that is a good thing. But it also limits our understanding of what it means to have the Gospel PROCLAIMED to us.

Imagine what it would be like to hear about Jesus and his love for the very first time; to hear the Good News that you had never heard before. It would be news that was actually NEW. I would want to run and tell everyone all about it. Kind of like how I have felt the need to text Kelly every day about the Eagles being in the Super Bowl. It’s just something that is impossible to keep to yourself.

We need to treat the Gospel in the same way. We need to be so excited about it, so amazed by it, that we can’t help but tell everyone we meet about how exciting and amazing it is. We believe that, don’t we? We believe that the Gospel of Jesus is exciting and amazing, right?

The final reason that we fail to take our call to proclaim the Gospel as seriously as we should is that it is just hard to proclaim the good news. And I mean that very literally. It is hard work. It takes confidence and commitment. It takes patience and persistence. Like a Boy Scout earning his Eagle award.

To proclaim the Gospel, we need to elevate the gospel. We need to see it- not as something that is essential on Sunday morning but nonessential the rest of the week- but as something, actually the ONE thing that is essential always. We need to remember that we need the good news; that everyone needs the good news.

And we need to believe that it is up to us to share that good news. Yet, in the midst of our calling to share the good news, we need to know that even though everyone needs the good news, not everyone is ready for it. Not everyone is ready to hear the gospel, to receive the gospel, to believe the gospel. But we can’t let that deter us, we can’t let that defeat us. We can’t let that even slow us down or stop us.

We have to keep on sharing the good news of Jesus even with people who aren’t ready to hear it, or receive it, or believe it. We have to keep on doing it until God makes them ready. It’s not up to us to determine when and where people are ready to hear and receive the gospel. Our task is to proclaim it- to all people and all the time.

God knows how difficult that can be. God knows and God helps. The words we read in Isaiah make that clear. The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

God gives us all that we need to fulfill the mission he has given us. God gives us power and strength. God allows us to fly like eagles, soaring higher and higher, as we seek to help the world claim the victory over love over hate, of light over darkness, of life over death. That is the Gospel, that is the good news. Through Jesus, love wins over hate, light overcomes darkness, life defeats death.

So let us regain that urgency that Christians once had because the good news is THAT good. Let us proclaim the Gospel that we have received. And let us walk and not faint, let us run and not be weary. Let us fly like Eagles and tell all the world the good news of their salvation. Do you not know? Have you not heard? We do know and we have heard, so now let us go and share what we know and tell what we have heard.

Read More
image-title

Harbinger of Hope December 3, 2017- Advent 1 New Philadelphia Moravian – Rev. Joe Moore

Over the last two weeks, Worth has covered the topic of hope pretty well, actually he has covered it exceptionally well. So well that I am hesitant to delve into the same topic. But it just so happens that today is the first Sunday of Advent and, as I said to the kids when we were lighting the candle on the Advent wreath, the theme for the first Sunday of Advent is hope. So I don’t really see how I can avoid it. I hope that you are ready for one more sermon on hope.

I imagine that many of you were kind of expecting it. Because more than any other season, Advent and Christmas are times of tradition, times of expectation, times of anticipation. I’m sure that most of you came to church this morning anticipating that we would sing Hosanna because that is the tradition for the first Sunday in Advent in the Moravian Church. It’s just one of those things that we expect this time of year.

Among the many traditions and expectations of the season, there’s another event that happens every year about this time. Usually around Thanksgiving or the first Sunday in Advent, what I like to call the “Harbinger of Hope” appears. That’s a good word, isn’t it? “Harbinger”- it means a person or thing that announces or signals the approach of another. And that is what the “Harbinger of Hope” does. He comes to lay the groundwork for the big event, to get things ready for the major arrival, to signal the approach of one who is greater than he, to herald the arrival of the big guy, to “prepare the way.” But it’s not who you think. If you were paying attention to the gospel lesson, you are probably are thinking that the Harbinger of Hope is John the Baptist. But it’s not. However we will get to him later.

The Harbinger of Hope that I am talking about is the Elf on the Shelf. Have you seen these guys? They are elves who make an appearance in homes between Thanksgiving and Christmas to scout out who is being naughty and who is being nice. Santa’s “scout Elves” hide in houses to watch over events. Once everyone goes to bed, the elf flies back to the North Pole to report to Santa the activities, good and bad, that have taken place throughout the day. Before the family wakes up each morning, the elf flies back from the North Pole and hides.

We have one of these elves in our house. I wanted to bring him to church so that you all could see him, but one of the rules is that if one of the family touches him, he goes back to the North Pole and never returns. His name is Jingle and in addition to spying and hiding, he creates a fair amount of mischief. But he still qualifies as a Harbinger of Hope.

When Jingle, the Elf on the Shelf, appears, the hope and anticipation that Christmas is soon to follow, arrives with him. He signals the approach of one who is greater than he, he prepares the way, he gets us ready for the arrival of Santa Claus. When you see the Elf on the Shelf, you know that Santa Claus is coming to town. For all of those who have been good this past year, he is a sign of hope. And for those who maybe haven’t been quite so good, he is also a sign of fear. Because when you see the Elf on the Shelf, you had better hope that you are ready for who is coming next, for the one who comes after him. And if you are not, you know that it is time to get ready. It’s actually kind of nice to know what’s coming, to have the chance to get ready, to prepare for the one who is to come.

John the Baptist plays much the same role for Jesus as the Elf on the Shelf plays for Santa Claus. John is Jesus’ “harbinger of hope” He is the voice in the wilderness that Isaiah prophesied would come to herald the coming of the Lord, the Messiah. John the Baptist told the people, all the people who would listen, to get ready, to prepare the way of the Lord; to make a straight highway in the desert, to lift up the valleys and bring down the mountains, to level the uneven ground and smooth out the rough places. Because the glory of the Lord is about to be revealed, He is coming.

For the people that heard Isaiah’s prophecy and for those who saw John the Baptist as the fulfillment of that prophecy, the thought of the coming of the Messiah was a great cause for hope. They had long been persecuted, held captive, forced into slavery; their lives were defined by being oppressed, defeated, hated. They were waiting, they were longing, for the one who would come and save them and set them free. So they listened. They listened to that voice in the wilderness calling them to prepare the way of the Lord.

They listened to the wild man, clothed in camel hair, eating locusts and wild honey. They listened as he called them to confess, to repent, and to be baptized. They knew that it was necessary, they knew that it was what they needed to do to prepare, to be ready when He arrived. They knew it, but do we?

Confession and repentance aren’t really what we like to think about when we are celebrating Advent. We would prefer to save that stuff for Lent. Hope, peace, joy, and love- these are the things we like to think about, to focus on during this season of preparation. It’s much more fun, it’s much easier to prepare to receive those things that Jesus brings into the world than it is to look at ourselves, to confess our sins, to repent from our sins, and to go and sin no more.

It reminds me of a lost verse from one of my favorite Christmas hymns, Angels from the Realms of Glory. “Sinners wrung with true repentance, doomed for guilt to endless pains; justice now revokes the sentence, mercy calls you break your chains.” Doesn’t really fit the Christmas mood, does it? No wonder it’s a “lost’ verse that you won’t find in either the red or blue hymnals. It was in the old 1923 black hymnal but it has wisely been left out of the more recent versions. Who wants to sing about that on Christmas?

Yet they are an essential part of our Advent preparation. There are really two types of preparation during Advent. The first is physical- we decorate our homes and  our church, we buy and wrap gifts, we trim candles and hang stars. The second is spiritual preparation.  And it is something that we often overlook. That’s why it is good to have John the Baptist, the Harbinger of Hope, to remind us to prepare not only our bodies, but our souls as well.

We spiritually prepare for the coming of Jesus into the world and into our lives by first doing the thing that we don’t like to do- to consider our sins, our faults, our shortcomings, all the ways that we have failed and fallen short of God’s glory. Then we confess our sins, we acknowledge the wrongs we have done and the good that we have failed to do. Then we repent from those sins, we turn our backs on them and strive to  not do them anymore.

We need to remember that an equally important part of our spiritual preparation  is recognizing that we have been baptized with the Holy Spirit already. When  we confess and repent, we also receive the assurance that our sins have been forgiven. The penalty has been paid. Jesus has made recompense for our sins. In a way, he has prepared the way for us, rather than our preparing the way for him. At least when we are only focused on preparing the way for Jesus to enter into our own lives.

But our Advent calling as Christians is much larger than just preparing to receive Jesus in our lives. That may sound strange to hear, but I believe it to be true. As Christians we are called to prepare the way for Jesus to enter the world- not only our world, but the WHOLE world. This is where Hope, Peace, Joy and Love come in. These are not just the qualities that Jesus brings into the world, they are also the qualities that he expects us to bring into the world.

It may seem like a daunting task, bringing hope, peace, joy and love to the world. They aren’t things that we always have, or more accurately, they aren’t things that we always feel. Even during Advent and Christmas, when we are supposed to be filled with them, when they are supposed to be at the forefront of all that we do. Let’s face it, sometimes we are just going through the motions, doing what we are supposed to do, just because it is the “most wonderful time of the year.”

But it’s difficult to offer hope when you aren’t feeling hope, it isn’t easy to bring peace when you aren’t peaceful, it is impossible to share joy without being joyful, it is hard to give love when you aren’t receiving love. But do it anyway.

I’m not discounting those negative feelings. I’m not saying that they aren’t real or that they don’t matter. Because they are real and they do matter. Life is hard and pain is real. But you aren’t alone in your pain, you aren’t alone in your life. That’s what this time of year is all about. It is about welcoming God into our world and into our lives. It is  about welcoming God made flesh who dwelt among us, who felt the pain that we feel, who knows what it is like to feel hopeless.

Remember how Jesus cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” as he hung dying on the cross. Jesus knows what it is like to feel hopeless. Remember how Jesus was persecuted by the very people he came to save, he knows what it is like to not have peace. Remember how Jesus wept as he saw the lack of faith when his friend Lazarus died, Jesus knows what it is like to lack joy. Remember how Jesus was denied, not once, not twice, but three times by Peter. Jesus knows what it is like to not be loved. So if you are not feeling what you are “supposed” to be feeling this Advent, if you are struggling to find hope and peace and joy and love, remember that Jesus  knows how you feel. You are not alone.

But as difficult as it is when you don’t feel the way that everyone says you are supposed to feel, even when you know that you aren’t alone in those feelings, that you have a Savior who has felt the same way, it is essential that we do what he did. It is essential that we be who God has called us to be and and who the world needs us to  be.

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, was profoundly influenced by the Moravians. As he struggled with his faith, he asked a Moravian friend, Peter Boehler, how he could preach faith when he wasn’t sure he had faith. Boehler replied “Preach faith until you have it, and then, because you have it, you will preach faith.” The same applies to us. We can bring hope and peace until we have hope and peace, we can share joy and love until we have joy and love. In other words, fake it until you make it. But not really. Because we do have those things, even if we don’t always see it or feel it or know it.

We have already received Jesus, we are recipients of the hope, the peace, the joy, and the love that he brings. They are part of our identity as his followers, they are part of who we are as Christians. We have them and we are called to share them. And this Advent and Christmas at New Philadelphia provide us with plenty of opportunities to prepare the way of the Lord, to make a straight path on which he may come.

The offerings and activities of the 12 Days of Service, as we feed the hungry and welcome the stranger, as we care for the sick and the prisoner, as we work and pray for and serve the least of these, are all ways of bringing hope and peace to our neighbors and community, to our world. Our wonderful Advent worship services and our Christmas lovefeasts share the joy and the love that we have with our friends and our families.

Like the Elf on the Shelf and John the Baptist, we are Harbingers of Hope. We are preparing the way of the Lord. We are the hope and the peace and the joy and the love. So let us use what we have and be who we are so that we can make straight in  the desert a highway for God, so that we can lift up every valley and bring down every mountain. Let us tell the world that their penalty has been paid, their debt is forgiven. For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.

Read More
image-title

For the third consecutive year, members of New Philadelphia will have 12 chances to serve our community in a big way during the Advent season. This is the time for pulling out all of the stops as we discover new opportunities for meaningful service to men, women, children and families right here in our “neck of the woods.”

Our 12 Days of Service will begin on Friday, December 1st. Some familiar projects will be available, such as preparing lunch bags for City with Dwellings and taking a Lovefeast to Samaritan Ministries. We’ll also welcome children from South Fork Elementary School as they assemble a “putz” representing our neighborhood 100 years ago.

There will be new projects, too. Working with Chaplain Robert Wolfe and the Friends of Moravian Prison Ministry, we’ll hold a men’s clothing drive to provide gently used items that will help inmates transition into the workplace.

Start considering now how your small groups, your friends and your family members will participate in the 2017 12 Days of Service. As has been our experience for the past two years, the Advent season becomes even more special when we are strengthening our connections with our community and with each other through service.

Continue reading 12 Days of Service

Read More
image-title

“God Knows” September 3, 2017

New Philadelphia Moravian Church – Rev. Joe Moore

 

Last Sunday, as part of his sermon series on the Word of God, Worth talked about those Scriptures that many of us find easy to overlook or would rather ignore. Books like Leviticus, with all it’s commandments and laws and ordinances; or Ecclesiastes, which despite its beautiful poetry, is ultimately a downer. And passages like Psalm 137, which talks about “dashing children against rocks.” The Holy Bible is filled with books and passages that we might wish weren’t there- passages that don’t make any sense, or those that don’t seem to have any relevance to our world today, or those that are just too bizarre for us to relate to. But it is necessary to remember that they all have their place in the Bible, they all have their own importance and significance.

Then there is another category of books of the Bible or passages of scripture that we would rather overlook or ignore. These are the books and passages that make us uncomfortable because they call us to do things that are too hard to do or require too much sacrifice on our part. Jesus was really good at calling his followers to do things like “love your enemies” and “turn the other cheek” or “take up your cross and follow me.” When we read those kinds of passages, we are tempted to try to explain them away as metaphors or hyperbole.

We think “Jesus DIDN’T really mean that we had to do those things. They were just examples or illustrations of the kind of things we are supposed to do, of the kind of people we  are called to be.” But I don’t think that it is quite right for us to do that. I think that Jesus truly means for us to do them- to love our enemies, to turn the other cheek, to take up our cross and follow him. They may be difficult, they may require a huge sacrifice, they may even seem impossible. But still we are called to do them.

Jesus wasn’t the only one in the Bible who calls Christians to do something difficult. The Old and New Testaments both are filled with calls and commandments that lead us to place we don’t want to go and instruct us to do things that we would rather not do. The apostle Paul is no exception. Throughout his letters to the churches, Paul gives many instructions that are challenging at best, and some that even seem impossible. Today it’s that last verse, the very end of the passage that we read from Romans, that falls into this category. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

“Overcome evil with good? Oh, is that all? No problem. I’ll get right on it.”

Overcoming evil with good isn’t something that is very high on most Christians “to-do list”. It definitely falls into the category of those Scripture passages that we would prefer to overlook or ignore. At best, it is overwhelming to even contemplate. And at worst, it seems to be asking us to do the impossible.

Most people would say that it is impossible to overcome evil with good. And it always has been that way. The Christians in Rome in the first century, the ones to whom Paul was writing, would most likely have thought it impossible. And Christians in the United States in the 21st century can look at our world and think the same. All we have to do watch the news and we see the evil that is all around us.

At this point, I was planning to list all of the evil that we face in our world. But I decided not to, for the simple fact that we all know the evil that we are facing- the evil that we are facing as a society, as a whole, and the evil that we face as individuals. And it is all of this evil that Paul is calling us to overcome. He doesn’t distinguish between societal and individual evil. He just says to overcome evil with good.

Fortunately, he also tells us how to do that. Or at least he gives us a roadmap for how we can overcome evil with good. At the very beginning of this passage, we are told the main thing that we need- love.

It may seem like an overly simplistic idea, that what it takes is love to overcome evil, but just because it is simple, it doesn’t mean it isn’t true. And the love that Paul is writing about isn’t just basic, garden -variety love. He is writing about genuine love. “Let love be genuine.”

To understand what he means by this, it is important to remember the context of the statement. Paul’s letter to the Romans is a letter written to people who already believe in Jesus, who already believe that he is the crucified and risen Messiah. It is written to people who are already followers of Jesus. He is not writing to tell them about Jesus in order to convince them to believe in Jesus, to encourage them to become followers of Jesus. He is writing to them to tell them that, since they believe in Jesus and have become followers of Jesus, this is how they  should live; this is how they live among themselves and live in the world, in a world that doesn’t necessarily believe in Jesus.

Paul is writing those words to the Christians in Rome in the first century and he is writing them to us today. The genuine love that is required is a genuine love for each other. It is the love that Jesus commands us to have. On the night he was betrayed, Jesus told his disciples to love one another. “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Jesus wasn’t talking about loving the whole world, he wasn’t speaking of loving strangers or loving your enemies, at least not in this instance. But instead he is commanding his followers, those who know who he is and believe in him, he is commanding them to have love for each other, to love each other with the same love that he has for them. And I think that it is safe to say that this is genuine love.

“Let love be genuine.” Or in others words love each other with the same love that Jesus has for you. When we come together as a community of believers in Jesus, as a group of followers of Jesus, our first task is to love each other with genuine love. We do that by showing mutual affection, by outdoing one another in showing honor to each other. Sadly, that is often easier said than done.  For even among other Christians, it is hard to love each other.

We are all human, we all do things and say things that make it hard for others to love us. Our moments of greed and selfishness, our pride and our stubbornness, all of those things make showing mutual affection and having genuine love difficult. It’s interesting to note that Paul writes about “genuine” love, which implies that there is love that isn’t genuine, love that can be (and often is) fake love.

As Christians, we can’t allow this, we can’t have “fake love” It is our love that defines us and identifies us as followers of Jesus. I have heard it said that the congregation here at New Philadelphia knows how to love each other, that we don’t let our differences and disagreements get in the way of our genuine love. And after 11 months here with you, I definitely agree. We are able to do this because we understand that it takes work to maintain genuine love, to show  mutual affection. It takes zealous and ardent service, to God, to each other, and to the community around us. It takes our being able to rejoice in hope, to be patient in suffering, to persevere in prayer.  This is how we let our love be genuine, this is how we maintain our community,

And from our community of believers, from this congregation of the faithful, we can then move out into the world, we can extend hospitality to strangers, we can even bless those who curse us. Our genuine love and mutual affection for each other gives us the strength and the courage to move beyond the comfort and safety of our community and share the love of Christ with the world. It is what moves us from the internal to the external.

If it is hard for us to love each other, to love those who are most like us, it is even harder for us to love strangers, or to love our enemies. Yet that is the next step in overcoming evil with good- to bless those who persecute us, to feed our enemies when they are hungry, to give them something to drink when they are thirsty. We  would much rather repay evil with evil, to fight  fire with fire. We would much rather seek vengeance on our enemies and overcome evil with  evil.

Now I am not saying that we are all evil at heart. I’m not saying that we want to do evil to others, that we want to hurt others. But what I am saying is that it is much easier to do unto others what they actually do unto you than it is to do unto others what you WOULD HAVE them do unto you. It is much easier to pay back what you receive than it is to pay back in love. It is much easier to overcome evil with evil than it is to overcome it with good.

And that brings us back to where we started. “Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.” We have seen how hard that it is, we know how impossible it seems. But the thing is, God knows it, too. God knows how hard it is, God knows how impossible it seems. God knows because God has been here, God has done that. God knows how hard it all is- from loving each other, to loving strangers and enemies, to overcoming evil with good. God knows it because Jesus has done it.

I don’t think that we pay enough attention to the incarnation, to the fact that God became human, that the Word became flesh and lived among us. Like those challenging passages in Scripture, it is something that we find easier to overlook or to ignore than to confront and deal with. Maybe it’s because we don’t understand it, maybe it’s because we can’t truly grasp its importance. But whatever the reason, the incarnation is something that we don’t pay a lot of attention to. And that is a shame because that is how God knows. It is how God knows what it is like for us to do what he has called us to do. It is how God knows how hard it is for us to be who he has created us to be.

We don’t like to really think of Jesus as human. We don’t like to think about him as “one of us.” We would rather set him apart from us. We would rather him not be “truly human.” It’s hard to think of Jesus as being angry or jealous or greedy or proud or stubborn. We would rather him be truly divine and not so human. But that misses the whole point of the Incarnation.

One of my very favorite books is “To Kill a Mockingbird” and in it, Atticus Finch tells his daughter “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” This is just about the  best explanation of the incarnation that I have ever heard. While it is not intended to explain what it means that God became human, it explains it just the same.

God really understands us because he has considered things from our point of view, God has climbed into our skin and walked around in it. God knows and God understands. And that gives me hope. It gives me hope that our love can be genuine. It gives me hope that we can overcome evil with good.

God, in Jesus, has done what seemed impossible. He has overcome evil with good, he has overcome death with life. And through him, we can do the same. So let us do what he has shown us, let us hold onto what he has given us. Let our love be genuine, let us love one another with mutual affection. Let us extend hospitality to strangers. Let us love our enemies. Let us do what seems impossible and let us overcome evil with good. God knows that we can. God knows.

Read More