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We who are now brought together

Rev. Dr. Karin Case
Sun, Jan 28

Texts: Romans 12:9-18 and Mathew 22:34-40

 

           One packet of yeast, 1½ cups warm water, 1 whole egg, 3 egg whites, ¼ cup oil, and one 16-ounce package of [Bob’s Red Mill] Gluten-Free Homemade Wonderful Bread Mix. Can someone please figure out how I can get product-placement royalties for mentioning Bob’s Red Mill? Place warm water in a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle in yeast and set aside for 5 minutes, allowing the yeast to dissolve. Meanwhile, oil a 9x5-inch loaf pan and set it aside. To the yeast mixture, add egg, egg whites, oil, and [Bob’s Red Mill] Bread Mix. Stir with a wooden spoon until the ingredients are very well combined.

 Right now, our church school children are across the hall in Hastings Common and our beautiful new kitchen, baking communion bread. (Which we’ll share next Sunday!) They are learning how to measure, mix, and stir, how to separate eggs, and how to use our new convection oven (with adult supervision!!). The bread they are baking is gluten-free and dairy-free, from a recipe discovered by Bruce Hoppe and circulated among First Church Deacons. It’s undoubtedly one of the best recipes we’ve tried. Gluten-free, dairy-free bread that not all of us love, but which all of us can eat!

 On Christmas morning, I made a brief foray into the odd world of gluten-free baking. I produced, from the recipe above, what my husband candidly admitted was probably the worst-looking thing I had ever baked (in thirty-two years of marriage). After decades of successful baking with gluten, this was a humbling experience. But hey, the bread tasted just fine! And with the excitement of a fresh snowfall and the delight of Peter Sykes’s harpsichord music, hardly anyone noticed how bad the bread looked, with the possible exception of Kate Layzer, who blessed and broke the communion bread on Christmas morning.

 I suspect this is what loves comes down to…at least the kind of love Paul speaks about in his letter to the Romans.

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers…(Romans 12:9-13)

Let’s take a look at Paul’s “recipe” for Christian community. What, exactly, is “genuine” love? What is this “mutual affection” of which Paul speaks?

Love begins with respect and genuine interest in each other. It grows through deep listening and coming to understand each other’s needs. Love flourishes when we invite others’ lives to touch us. This “mutual affection” provokes our capacities for intimacy, understanding, and commitment. And love changes how we are together in community.

Here’s what “genuine” love looks like. It looks like supporting a family in sanctuary, caring for two little girls and a mom, hearing stories of immigration and detention and deportation. Caring enough to let it break your heart, and even influence how you show up in the world—whether it’s volunteering for a sanctuary shift, accompanying someone to an ICE hearing, or lobbying to change immigration laws.

 Love looks like wheelchair accessible restrooms, and the new ramp we built as part of our capital campaign renovations. (If you haven’t noticed them, check them out after worship right through these doors and straight back.) Our new restrooms and wheelchair ramp conform with ADA standards, which is reason enough to make them a building priority. But they also express our commitment to accessibility as an integral part of our welcome. We have new wheelchair-accessible facilities because members of the body of Christ use wheelchairs.

 “Mutual affection” manifests when we make soup to share. It becomes real when we clean up and do the dishes together after a community meal. (We have a chance to practice today!) “Genuine love” looks like our children baking bread together. Admittedly my children are at home sleeping this morning, but our children—the children of First Church—are here, baking bread. Love is honoring the baptismal covenant to raise our children together with the values of justice and mercy and care that are at the heart of our tradition. 

 Love may require, even, baking gluten-free bread, when you suspect deep down inside that gluten is pretty much the whole point of human existence. Love is the recognition your perspective and your needs are just one little universe within a cosmic omniverse of possibilities.

 

This morning—as we welcome new members to First Church—what brings us together is a covenant. Sure, we hold shared beliefs, values and commitments, but in the Congregational tradition it is the covenant that seals the deal.

 Each person making promises this morning, and each of us renewing our promises, has our own unique interpretation of those promises. There’s room for those variations. In fact, we welcome them! It is part of the richness of our life together that we come from diverse families and cultures, and from a variety faith backgrounds. We come to First Church from Judaism, Catholicism, Orthodox Christianity, from Evangelical Christianity, as atheists and agnostics. We come from the Quakers, the Latter-Day Saints (or Mormon Church), and so many stripes of Protestantism: Nazarene, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist. (Who am I forgetting?)

 Today, in the words of our historic covenant, we “promise and bind ourselves to walk in all our ways according to the rule of the Gospel, and in all sincere conformity to Christ’s holy ordinances and in mutual love and respect each to other, so near as God shall give us grace.”

 Do you notice that God is a partner in these promises? We admit from the outset that the kind of love we need in community is going to require God’s grace. And isn’t it the truth? We need God’s forgiveness and assurance to persist in the sometimes-hard learning that makes for genuine love.

 We need God. But we also need each other. We need the encouragement, kindness, support, and perspective that only come through community. We need to offer our gifts and we need to accept the gifts that others have to offer us. Basil (Bah-zel)—one of the early Church fathers—wrote, “When we live our lives in isolation, what we have is unavailable and what we lack is unprocurable.” (1)  When we live our lives independently, other people are poorer because they cannot benefit from our gifts: “what we have is unavailable.” Also, when we isolate ourselves, we are poorer because the benefits of others’ gifts are lost to us, so what we lack, we cannot get. There are good things in others that are “unprocurable” unless we interact with them.

 

Have you ever thought about it this way? There is an inherent dynamism and capacity within each of us which is activated when we enter into relationship. Without community, we may not actualize the fullness of our God-given potential.

 But there are also risks and costs to life in community. Most basically, we risk being known. And, when we allow ourselves to be known, we risk being hurt. We risk that we will not always be right, and we risk having to ask forgiveness in order to stay in relationship. On the flip side, we risk that we will be seen in all our glory, that our gifts will be discovered, and that we may be asked to serve. We risk belonging. We risk being loved.  

 The cost of life in community is a bit subtler. It comes in the form of commitment. Tim Keller, a Christian pastor and blogger writes about this. One of his blogs focuses on the millennial generation, with words sound a little judge-y to me, but I suspect may hold some wisdom for all of us. He writes,

 [We] don’t want to make the sacrifices that enable community to happen, which means you have to limit your options. You can’t just travel everywhere. You can’t just move every two years. You can’t just live any way you want.

 If you do decide to limit your options, you’ll get the opportunity to have community that’s a family – but you will not have the freedom to do what you want, when you want, how you want, the way you want.

 So, here we are, today…limiting our options and shouting our “Yes” with this odd, imperfect, and really quite wonderful congregation. Welcome to this household of God, where there is room for us all. Welcome to this family of faith. 

 

1) Community–and Why We Need It, by Art Lindsley, Senior Fellow, C.S. Lewis Institute http://www.cslewisinstitute.org/Community_and_Why_We_Need_It_page1

The sermon’s title is taken from the title of a hymn by Rev. Mary Luti and Peter Sykes.

 

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