My sermon this morning is going to be quite a bit different than what I was planning to do when I first began thinking about it. Since this is my first sermon here at New Philadelphia, I knew that there was a lot I wanted to accomplish with it. Most important being to introduce myself to my new congregation. So my original intent for this sermon was to begin with my spiritual journey. You know, how God has acted in my life and led me to this point; to being called and installed as your Associate Pastor. I wanted to share all of those significant events that have formed me into who I am as a person and as a pastor. That’s what I was intending to do with this first sermon at New Philadelphia. But I’m not going to do that, at least not today. Because honestly, I am tired of talking about myself.
Over the last few months, it seems like talking about myself has been all that I have done. Beginning with sharing my spiritual journey with the Joint Board back in July and ending with sharing it at the Men’s Breakfast just this past Friday, I have told that story many, many times. I’m sure that those who know me well, especially Kelly and Zach and my family (and I have at least fifteen family members here today) are probably surprised to hear it, I am simply tired of talking about me. Today, I would rather talk about us.
Us, the congregation of New Philadelphia Moravian; us, the Moravian Church; us, the church of Jesus Christ; us, the people of God; us, God’s beloved children. You know, us; you and me and everyone else in this family. Everyone in this wonderful, caring, church family. Everyone in this loving congregation, worshipping God together, encouraging one another as we seek a closer relationship with Jesus, following the Holy Spirit into mission and service. You know, us, New Philadelphia Moravian Church.
Today’s Scripture readings tell us about what it means to be us. The most important thing they say about being God’s people, the main thing they tell us about being God’s beloved children, the essential thing about being us, is that it is all about is love. We are all about love. These passages from the first letter of John and the Gospel of John are all about love. Taken together, reading them as one continuous passage, it begins with John writing “Let us love one another” and it ends with Jesus saying “This is my command: Love each other.” So we can see that it really is all about love; love at the beginning, love in the middle, love at the end.
This all important, essential love starts with God. John writes that love comes from God; that God is love unconditional love, sacrificial love, atoning love. John writes that God loves us with this love. This love that is the very nature of God. God loves us with this love that caused God to come to us, to send his son to save us from our sins, to face death so that we might obtain life, to rise from death to new life so that we too might live a new life.
John writes that just as we are loved with this love, since God so loves us, we also ought to love one another. We also ought to love one another with the same love; the same unconditional love, the same complete love, the same perfect love. The love that begins it all.
This love that God has for us and gives to us is a love without fear. It seems that this is something that we miss out on in this day and age. John writes, “There is no fear in love.” Yet our world, our lives, tell a very different story. In our world and in our lives, we have a lot of fear. We are afraid of others. We are afraid of those who aren’t like us; who don’t believe what we believe; who don’t feel like we feel; who don’t look like we look; who don’t act like we act. We are afraid of the future; of it not being what we want it to be; of not having what we have now, what we believe belongs to us. Basically, what we are afraid of is the unknown. We are afraid of others because we don’t know them, we don’t take the time to understand them. We are afraid of the future because we don’t know what it will bring. And try as we might, we can’t control it. So we fear it.
We so want to be filled with love. We so long to be filled with love. Yet too often our fear overcomes our love. But remember, fear has to do with punishment, with judgement, with condemnation. There is no condemnation in the love that comes from God. There is no judgement in the love that Jesus gives to us. There is no punishment in the love that God has for us. God’s love for us is “perfect love” that drives out fear. And this perfect love, this complete love, this unconditional love, this is the love that God calls us to have for one another.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus says, “This is my command: Love each other.” Not a suggestion or a request. But a command. A command to love each other. It’s all about love. It’s all about God’s love for us and our love for each other. Our love for each other is supposed to emulate Jesus’ love for us. “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” Love each other completely; love each other unconditionally; love each other perfectly.
This all sounds good. It certainly sounds like something we would want to do, something we would be able to do. Yet we all know that it is a lot easier to talk about loving, it is a lot easier to say we love each other than it is to actually love each other. Especially to love each other completely, unconditionally, perfectly. It is hard to love each other perfectly because we are all imperfect, we are all human, we all make mistakes, we all disappoint each other just as much as we love each other.
I know that I certainly am and I certainly do. I am human, I definitely make mistakes, I disappoint people. Even as a pastor. But here’s the thing, as I am installed today as your new Associate Pastor, remember that I am human, I will make mistakes, I will disappoint you. Just as we are all human, we will all make mistakes, we will all disappoint each other. So we need to decide something.
We need to decide that when the inevitable happens, when we make those mistakes, when we disappoint each other, we need to decide now to stick together then, to continue to love
each other. Because if we don’t, if we give up on each other, if you give up on me or I give up on you, if you give up on each other, then we will miss out on God coming in.
We will miss out on God coming in and overwhelming our faults with his grace. We will miss out on God coming in and taking our imperfect love and completing it with his perfect love. We will miss out on God coming in and connecting us like branches to Christ the vine. We will miss out on bearing fruit and showing the world what the love of God looks like.
So let us decide now that even when our love is imperfect, when we disappoint each other, that we will stick together. That we will remain together, connected to each other. That we will remain branches in Christ the vine, living branches that bear fruit. We need to bear fruit so that the world can look at us and see the fruit that we bear, so that the world can look at us and see what the love of God looks like.
What the love of God looks like is this feeding the hungry and giving water to the thirsty. What the love of God looks like is this welcoming the stranger and clothing the naked. What the love of God looks like is this comforting the sick and visiting the prisoner. This is the fruit that we bear when we love one another. This is what love looks like. This is what it is all about. This is what I am all about. This is what we are all about. This is us. It is who we are as God’s beloved children. It is what we do as God’s people. It is how we love as God’s church. It is all about love. At the beginning and at the end and everything in between. It is all about love.
Rev. Joe Moore