(Message given at Newberg Friends Church on October 5, 2014)
At our best, we know, receive and live in the love God has for us.
At our best, we’re confident in who we are as people loved by God, and so love tumbles out of us…we share God’s love with others! Turn with me to the book of Colossians.
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all his people– the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true word of the gospel that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world–just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace. (Colossians 1:3-6, TNIV)
We’ve come to the last line of the vision statement, but we’re returning to the first part of Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Hopefully you see how it’s a circle, a cycle…the lines of our vision statement all work together and build on each other.
What we must avoid is, “oh, I have to go to good things for God, so God and everyone will like me.”
We are loved! It’s God’s love we are living out…God’s love given to us, living in us, God’s love going through us. As we listen to Christ and are changed in the Spirit in this community, it is God’s love that we live out through our day to day actions.
It’s God’s love through us, love that has no limits or “out of bounds” signs on it. When that kind of love is acted out in human relationships, it stands out, and it brings us back full circle. God’s love lived out through us acts as an invitation for others to join this community that we are part of.
Paul knew that it all went together, too. Look again with me at Colossians 1.
When he heard from his friend Epaphras that it was all coming together well in Colosse, all on display, Paul was thankful and grateful. You know how you reinforce what you want to keep seeing? Paul was doing exactly that for the Colossians, and his words still reinforce this for us today.
Paul says, we’ve heard of your faith…we thank God for it, but not just that. It’s not just your own trust in God that is commendable. It’s also your love that stands out, your love for each other. Your care for each other goes together with your faith, Paul writes, and he knows where it comes from: it comes from the hope they are receiving and living in from God.
How does Paul know that’s where it comes from? Because that’s what it’s doing all over the world. That’s how the good news is bearing fruit and growing everywhere. Faith, hope, and love together. Listening, changing, loving.
A central part of our faith in God is how the utter confidence of our hope gives us the ability to love others.
Peter T. O’Brien said it this way:
“[The] gospel produced a vigorous and increasing fruit of Christian life and testimony at Colosse and was working in the same dynamic way throughout the rest of the world.”
So often, what keeps us from loving others, what keeps us from acting in ways that help other people, is that we see life as a zero-sum game. If someone else has something, then I can’t have it. So we end up seeing others as rivals, in subtle and in not-so-subtle ways.
Paul reminds us there’s a different way to look at life. With Christ, there is hope…hope stored up for you and me in heaven, hope that cannot be taken away. Out of that sure confidence of what is to come, faith and love spring up. When I remember that nothing I do can separate me from the love of God, it helps me look past seeing everyone else as rivals. It helps me remember I can sacrifice as God sacrificed for me.
I’ve wrestled a lot trying to figure out what to say today.
In one sense it’s pretty simple. Listening to Christ and Changing in the Spirit can lead us to be too inwardly focused. Living out love as part of our vision reminds us we don’t exist for ourselves. God’s self-giving love that changes us is our model-WE are to give ourselves, too. First and foremost, we give ourselves to God, allow ourselves to be used as part of God’s work in the world. And we also make conscious choices to offer our time, our care, our energy for the good of others. We want to live in such a way that if we all disappeared off the face of the planet, people would know it…people would miss our impact on the world.
The part that’s hard is trying to find the balance between letting God’s love work through us and being intentional about loving others as God loves us. If it just happened naturally and organically, if it didn’t need any intention on our part at all…well, Paul wouldn’t have drawn attention to it and I wouldn’t have to say anything.
But loving others doesn’t always come naturally.
Like many of you, I watched the new Ken Burns documentary on the Roosevelts.
At the same time, the book group I’m in is reading Jackie Robinson’s biography-the Jackie Robinson who was the first African American to play in baseball’s major league. It’s jarring to watch what a battle Eleanor Roosevelt had in working to end segregation. It’s amazing to realize that less than 70 years ago, an African American who had purchased a ticket on an airplane could be bumped so that a white person could get on a flight, while Robinson and his wife had to wait 12 hours until there was room on a plane for them to continue.
Many Christians of the time had no problem believing and teaching that God loved all people, yet still placed personal and legal and societal barriers around what African Americans could and couldn’t do.
It’s beyond obvious to say that it’s clear we need reminders…we need intentionality…we need each other to choose self-sacrificing love for all people. We need to love each other in word and in deed, so that we remember God’s love for us is unending.
Without God’s love working in and through us, we wouldn’t have it within us to love unconditionally. And without being intentional to share God’s love, we miss opportunities and allow our own biases to create blind spots and even discrimination.
I will often catch myself angry or frustrated at someone, with this desire to cut them out of my life, or wish that things would not go well for them. I try to use those moments as a trigger to tell myself the truth: every person, including that one I’m angry at, is loved and valued by God. Every person deserves God’s love through me.
What are some of the things you try to place yourself in the right frame of mind to let God’s love work through you? What practices do you do which help you live out God’s love? [ASK]
I see people bring meals to each other. I watch you send each other notes of encouragement and sympathy. I see teachers loving difficult-to-love students. I even sometimes get to deliver gifts anonymously from people in this church to others who need it.
I know many of you make it a practice to look for opportunities like that to take action, to love tangibly, to do something to show care. It impresses me!
I see people like Dan and Cheri Hampton and Karen and Garry Angus who take in foster children…in the Hampton’s case, foster children with significant medical needs. What more tangible way to live out love can we imagine, than to provide a home for someone who needs it?
My prayer is that we keep this up! I see so many ways that individuals live out love.
One of my longings is for us to find ways to be more effective at living out love as a community, as a church, as a group.
I miss things like Serve and Celebrate. With Serve and Celebrate, we partnered with other churches on a Saturday in September, threw a big party over on the field by Edwards, and went to homes and served in tangible ways. The other churches we partnered with made the choice to lay this ministry down. I wonder what new thing might come up, where we as a church community can be visible in our service together?
In May, there’s the chance for Neighbor to Neighbor day, organized by Faith in Action and our own Kathy Watson. In November this year will be Feed the Need, a food collection drive directed by 2nd Street Community Church. In November we will also be collecting gifts to put in shoe boxes and send around the world with Operation Christmas Child.
Every Thursday night of the year, we host Relational Ministry here through Love In the Name of Christ, a ministry of mentoring to those who need it here in Newberg. Habitat for Humanity and our Wood Ministry are other active steps of love to those who need it. There are many ways we can live out love, and I hope we will continue to participate in them.
One of the other things I’m praying for are people to help us coordinate our love and service, both globally and locally.
I love the work our Global Outreach task force did a few years ago, helping us develop a vision to have every person at NFC in a meaningful support relationship with an overseas partner. But I’m saddened that the loss of a clerk caused us to go dormant. I’m praying for people and clerks who could serve both on a Global Outreach task force and a Local Outreach task force, people who can organize and inspire all of us to find our place in living out love in tangible ways.
As we come to the end of this series where we’ve looked at our vision statement, I want to challenge us. What things have you placed in the schedule of your life that help you live into each line of this vision statement?
As I’ve said so many times, I’m not trying to add to the list of things to do and check off. It’s much more of an organic and growing metaphor, seeing this vision statement as the things we do to prepare the soil of our lives to allow God to bring growth.
But intentionality is a good thing! As you look at this new month of October, what things can you put in place for each line of this statement? What can you do to increase and grow community? Is there a person to make a lunch date with, or a couple people to get together and pray with?
What can you do to intentionally listen to Christ? Perhaps it’s time to join one of the Wednesday night groups exploring the disciplines. Perhaps it’s choosing one day a week when you turn off the radio in the car on your commute and ask God if there’s anything he wants to communicate.
What can you do to place yourself in the position to be changed by God’s Spirit? Perhaps a regular time of reading the bible. Perhaps a weekly time to journal and examine your life and name the things you see in your life that aren’t in line with what God intends, and take the time to tell God you’re sorry and you’d like to be changed.
And finally, what can you do to live out love? Is there a person God brings to mind that needs attention from you? Perhaps you love baking bread or cookies, and you could do something you love and give it to someone else.
My hope and prayer is that we, Christ’s followers at NFC, will bring these colorful words to life!
May we truly be a growing community, listening to Christ, changing in the Spirit, living out love.
Elizabeth Sherwood wrote some helpful questions for us to consider; if these help you focus your thinking in our time of open worship, please do use them to reflect.
How do you live out love in ways that encourage people you will never meet?
How do you live out love to those closest to you?
Where do you find joy in living out love?