A sermon preached at First Church UCC, Middletown CT on February 20, 2022. All licensing is on file at the church office.
Scripture: Luke 6:27-38
“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Last week, one of our folks was telling me how sometimes all the talk about doing this or standing up for that can feel overwhelming. and we mused together about the challenge of saying enough while not saying too much…. It’s one of the conversations I’ve had over and over in my time here. It’s an important conversation because following our way of life is supposed to be about balance, but all too often slips over to one side or another, falls out of balance.
Maybe the urgency of fixing our world crowds out the time we need to sit in contemplation. Maybe the pain of the world makes it imperative that we turn away to a place of peace. Maybe so much change that church needs to be a place of constancy with no possibility of adaptation to changing times, maybe so much turmoil in our personal lives that we just yearn for one place where all is always well…. whatever’s going on, an over-emphasis on one part of the Christian path can distort church life, even as – to outside eyes – it looks as though we’re the best church ever, that we’re on the one right path…
One of the reasons I love today’s Gospel reading from Luke, is that it drives right down the center line of our faith live…. keeping the needed balance between our personal needs and the needs of the world. It does that by centering the whole enterprise on love.
In Luke, you don’t do good deeds because those deeds need to be done, but because they are manifestations of God’s love for you, and your love for the world. Whether those deeds, those actions are about how you deal with others or about life within your household, love is the foundation upon which they are built…. love for the world, love for your family, love for yourself – all built on God’s love for all creation.
Some years ago, our national church put together a statement entitled “Toward the 21st Century”. It is another way of saying the same thing – life together is a matter of balance, all built on a foundation of love. You’ll find the entire text in today’s bulletin, and it’s there because I believe it makes our purpose and way of life clear. It provides something of a measuring stick for our life together.
We are, the statement says, a church attentive to the word. We are a faithful people. We are a dedicated people. We are a worshipping people.
We are a people who have cast our lot with Jesus Christ. We have been baptized, dedicated to God’s service, and we found our lives on a time set apart to name our priorities and reaffirm our commitments.
We are a church inclusive of all people. There are to be no barriers at our doors to keep out those who would follow Christ. The statement says, we seek to be a fully inclusive community of faith, sharing bread and cup with all who see, in Christ, the way to our common future.
We remember that there have been, still are, invisible barriers, and we work to remove them, that all who would follow this path are welcomed, and enlarge the covenanted community.
We are a church responsive to God’s call. God calls us to repair the world, to work for peace, to free the prisoners. We are called to do this not only out in our world, but here in this place, that we might not just proclaim peace, but live it out in our life together.
We are a church supportive of one another. We care about one another, even as we recognize that we are not perfect, not all identical, and – truth be told – sometimes annoying to each other. This community is not built on our individual affinities, like a Harry Potter Fan Club. In places like that you expect to find people with whom you have much in common. But church is a community built on a common commitment to a way of life. In this place, the illiterate and the erudite sit next to one another in mutuality and equality because in this place, in this fellowship what brings us together is our common desire to follow Jesus. Nothing else matters.
Our is an Open and Affirming Church. We proudly proclaim our belief that Black lives matter. We believe that everyone deserves enough to eat. And our commitments are not words only. We welcome and include, we work and study. We act to feed the hungry.
But those actions, in this fellowship, must be accompanied by an equal desire to reach out to one another in mutual support. Just as we are called to be ONA, we are called to care about one another’s concerns and fears. When one of us is ill, we hold them up in prayer. When one of us suffers, we extend a hand of comfort and companionship.
From the other direction, a church which is so totally focused on comfort and support that it has no space, no energy, no urgency to reach out to love their neighbors and work for justice, is a church which has become a comfortable club for people who have replaced Jesus with themselves.
We seek a balance, a sense that there’s more than just one facet to our faith. Within that balance, of course, some of us specialize. The folks who count our offering each week are just as important as those who serve on the front lines of our public work. Those who create and maintain our prayer ministry complement the work of those who are teaching us about racial justice. The person who comes in and makes sure the sound system is up and running is as important as anyone else here.
Some things, we all do. We’re all pledged to be kind. We’re all pledged to question the usual way. We’re all pledged to care about one another. We’re all pledged to gather regularly and praise God in worship.
…because we are a church that is attentive to the Word, inclusive of all God’s people, responsive to the needs of our world, and supportive of one another.
© 2022, Virginia H. Child