Sing to the Lord a new song; *
sing his praise in the congregation of the faithful.
2 Let Israel rejoice in his Maker; *
let the children of Zion be joyful in their King.
3 Let them praise his Name in the dance; *
let them sing praise to him with timbrel and harp.
4 For the Lord takes pleasure in his people *
and adorns the poor with victory.
I have to admit to you that preparing a message for the Church every week is very humbling. It is an audacious thing that I attempt to do: listening to the words of Scripture, digesting the news, listening to the needs of this community, reflecting on what I hear God saying in this time, and then trying to craft something that will bring meaning to share with you of the good news of God’s love.
Now, of course, this is not work I do alone. Every moment, God speaks to us and helps us engage our lives. (God needs to really speak loudly in certain times.) I hear God speaking through God’s people who help my eyes to be opened and a new way to be seen. But I, along with you, seem to be experiencing the events of the world at such a fast pace and in such an ominous way, that the current context in which I hear the Scriptures on Monday, has been radically changed by Friday.
This morning we prayerfully brace for the news from Florida and Georgia and Mexico and the islands in the Caribbean and Oregon and Washington State and Wyoming and Myanmar. The storms and the violence seem to overwhelm us on a moment by moment basis. In these times it is not hard to imagine plagues that reach a “Biblical proportion.” The people of Texas have not even begun recovering from Hurricane Harvey and now Hurricane Irma is ravaging people’s lives and Hurricane Jose is close behind.
But there are other storms ravaging the lives of God’s people. A couple of weeks ago, courageous and faithful members of our military who are putting their lives in harm’s way for my way of life, who happen to have been born transgendered, were stripped capriciously of their ability to serve. In an off-hand and disparaging way they were told that their hard won skills and their sacrifice for others were no longer desired even as they continue to serve in critical and dangerous areas of our world.
Then as the people of Texas braced for the raging storm, Christian leaders, felt it is was important to remind our brothers and sisters who are gay and lesbian, that God does not love them, that God does not see them as “wonderfully and marvelously made” as we hear in the Psalms, and that anyone who loves and supports them, cannot be a Christian. The Nashville Statement, as it is called, was signed by many people of power in the Church and sent a message that what God has made, in their eyes, is not good.
This week we faced the reality that our government is actually planning to betray 800,000 children and young adults, who were brought to this country as babies and have created lives of promise and hope. These “Dreamers” put their faith in the only country they have ever known and now that faith has led them to a frightening and unknown future. The Bishops of Massachusetts put out a letter imploring our government to act to remedy this immoral and cruel situation.
Our faith calls us to a time of lamentation. It is a time to lift up to God our heart ache and our cries for those we love and for those whom we care. As children of the living God, we know that we can bring our anguish to God. We know that God hears the cries of the people and God will respond. And as followers of Jesus, we ask God’s help, for now is the time for the Church to wake from sleep and to love one another.
In Paul’s letter to the church in Rome he tells them, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another.” Every act done from the point of love, he says, fulfills the law. To love God and to love each other are our greatest commandments. As Rabbi Hillel says, the rest is commentary. Love is the only force that will heal the brokenness we feel in our own lives and the heartbreak we see in others. Love is what we are called to do on a daily basis. From the focus of love, is how we are to live our lives. When we open our eyes and our hearts to see each person as God’s beloved child, it can embolden us to set aside our own fears, our own reticence, our own schedules, to respond as God intends– to love one another.
I certainly know that it is easy to become immobilized by all the need in the world. If you pay attention, the suffering can be overwhelming. It seems that every day brings new cries, more pain. Today we watch and wait for the impact of another “1000-year storm” that seems to come with frightening regularity in our rapidly changing climate.
But we also bear witness to the suffering brought by our own human sinfulness. What are we to do? How are our simple efforts of any consequence? Paul tells us, “put on the Lord Jesus Christ;” “love one another.”
I have witnessed many of you in so many ways offering the love that you have been given to the world. I have witnessed you reaching out to those who are sick or are grieving. I have witnessed you giving your time to serve others who are hungry—handing out food and care. I have witnessed you offering your time and your skills to help someone learn a new language or skill. I have witnessed you taking time to listen to the story of a child or a young person, being present to their experiences. I have seen you check in, offer transportation, give of your time and your resources so that others may know that they are seen and that their good is someone’s concern.
You generously support the young people in our community who are going back to school. You graciously pray and support those who are far away and are suffering intimately from climate change. We know that the only way to heal and to build God’s kingdom here on earth, with God’s constant presence and help is for us to respond with daily, immeasurable, and precious acts of love.
Today we celebrate and give thanks for the daily, immeasurable, and precious acts of love given by those who teach and by those who seek learning. As children and youth come back to school, as adults start classes that will help them move forward into their future, there are so many who wait to welcome, to offer them their time and their knowledge, and to stand with them as they struggle and succeed.
Many children, youth, and adults this year will be carrying more than just their books to school. For some of them learning is a challenge. For some the worries of the world that reach deep into their lives and those of their family will weigh heavily on their mind and heart.
Though much has been accomplished in educational technology and learning strategies, the work of teaching and learning is a deeply personal one. Ideas and materials may supplement, but nothing can replace the daily intimate interaction between the one who longs to learn and the one who is called to teach. Every day, people give their love so others may thrive. And though there are days when the effects of this effort may be difficult to discern, over time the impact of love and attention and faithfulness adds up to a life that becomes a source of light for the world.
How are we to respond when the world seems to lurch from one crisis to the next? How are we to respond when we see people of faith, people of power, people with influence causing suffering to the people of God?
Love one another. Not in a sentimental way—as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said, not “sentimental bosh”, but in the hard way, the faithful way, the consistent way. Reaching out through a call or letter, visiting someone who could use your touch and your voice, signing up to stand with those who are so vulnerable, learning so you can serve others, making an effort to listen and to reach out to share yourself. Paul’s words to the church in Rome rings true in our time. We are “to put on the armour of light” so that all may experience the hope of Jesus even in times of darkness. Do not be overcome by the needs of the world. Each one of us has been given love so that we may share who we are and what we have.
In her book Holy the Firm, Annie Dillard says:
There is no one to send, nor a clean hand, nor a pure heart on the face of the earth, nor in the earth, but only us, a generation comforting ourselves with the notion that we have come at an awkward time, that our innocent fathers are all dead – as if innocence had ever been – and our children busy and troubled, and we ourselves unfit, not yet ready, having each of us chosen wrongly, made a false start, failed, yielded to impulse and the tangled comfort of pleasures, and grown exhausted, unable to seek the thread, weak, and involved. But there is no one but us. There never has been.
Love one another.
 Annie Dillard. Holy the Firm. New York: Harper and Row, 1977.