Love Your Neighbor: Put God’s Will First

Good Morning Church,

This week at our ad council meeting Terry handed out a list to all members of the council. The list is of all the outreach and missional opportunities that we have available to us or that we have been actively engaged in. It was a pretty substantial list to say the least. (Hold up list) I believe that this list offers us a glimpse into the heart of our church. We have roots all the way back to the early 1800’s. I have found dates as early as 1805, but I know the Genesse conference that we were originally apart of formed in 1810. That would mean this congregation has been doing mission and ministry in this spot from the early parts of the United States history. I think that is a pretty amazing blessing and what is so amazing is that we continue to do the work of Jesus Christ in this community.

For this reason, I am proud to serve you all as your minister. I am proud because at our best, we have always asked how we can give something of ourselves away. We have sought ways to be a blessing to our neighbors and to love our community. This congregation has asked how we can be a beacon of light and love in our world. The result being that thousands of people in the Wellsboro area have been blessed by the love of Jesus Christ in this world. This congregation has continually answered the call to love your neighbor and love each other.

Today we are going to try to do the impossible, define what love of God is. We are going to take a moment, to be honest with ourselves, and to see what we can define about how we should love God. As Christians, we discover who God is through the life and example of Jesus Christ. You want to know who God is, then you need to know who Jesus is. Later in his writing, the Apostle John quotes Jesus as saying to Peter “Do you love me”? A simple question that is deep and full of meaning. Henry Nouwen in his book In The Name of Jesus says, “Look at Jesus. The world did not pay any attention to him. He was crucified and put away. His message of love was rejected by a world in search of power, efficiency, and control. But there he was, appearing with wounds in his glorified body to a few friends who had eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to understand. This rejected, unknown, wounded Jesus simply asked, ‘Do you love me, do you really love me?’ He whose only concern had been to announce the unconditional love of God had only one question to ask, ‘Do you love me?’”

Though simple, this question from Jesus to Peter inherently carries a lot of weight. When Jesus was alive in this world, he loved the world in many different ways. Jesus valued the humble sparrows saying that if they were to fall to the earth, they would not do so apart from God. He spoke about how he made yokes that were easy and not made in such a way that would cause hurt and pain to the cow that would carry them. Jesus compared his love to that of a mother hen sheltering her chicks from the storm. If we are to try to define the God of love, we must take into account the abounding love that Jesus taught his disciples.

To love God like Jesus is to humble ourselves when beholding the creation that is around us. Though we may value a human life more than a sparrow, we do not lessen the importance of that very sparrow. Though we may need an ox to tend the fields, we do not place a yoke on their shoulders that will cause them harm. Though animals are accustomed and created to thrive in the great outdoors, we take seriously their well being and live in such a way that we care for their lives like Jesus does. The common denominator in all of these examples is compassion (suffering with others) and kindness (honoring or consideration). We live our lives in such a way that we are aware of the world that surrounds us. To love God is to change ourselves from inward thinking to outward thinking.

Today marks sixteen days till the election. Maybe one of the few blessings, if there have been any from COVID-19, has been that this election cycle has been a bit more muted. Steph and I don’t have cable setup at the parsonage and I honestly am grateful that we do not. It has helped me to feel a bit more centered to not have those commercials right out there in-front of me everyday.

Some of us probably really like what President Trump has done and believe he will continue to do a great job, while others of us can’t stand even listening to him. Some of us believe that Joe Biden would be a far better president, while others are afraid of what will happen if he wins. Walking around our community I have noticed that there is a pretty even split between Biden signs and Trump signs. Our church community is a blended community and our town is as well. We are not a red town or a blue town, we are a purple town.

The reason that we are doing this sermon is series is because no matter what happens in sixteen days, we have to live with each other. No matter who wins in sixteen days, we are going to wake up on the 4th of November and will still be a community and we have to figure out what we are going to do with that. Half of us are going to hurting and aching after this election while the other half will be pleased. Granted we probably won’t know the result the day after, but we will know in the weeks the follow. It is extremely important that we as Christians have prepared ourselves for the world that comes after. Our church has been spreading the good news of Jesus for over two hundred years and there is going to be wounds that are opened that we will need to help heal.

During Jesus’s time, his disciples were not always of same mind and they argued on numerous occasions. We have three examples of them bickering and they all revolved around this idea of who among them would turn out to be the greatest. One such occasion is found in Luke 9 where we see the disciples voicing their aspirations, trying to outshine the others, and out market themselves to Jesus to show that they will be the best or that they are the most faithful amongst his disciples. Jesus answered them by saying that “it is the least among you all who is the greatest”. If Jesus was with the disciples in the world today some of them might look like Biden voters and some would look like Trump voters and Jesus would have the same response to them today. “It is the least among you all who is the greatest.” We are to be humble in heart, to see the others as our brothers and sisters, and to love each other more than we love ourselves.

Our community in Wellsboro is a blended community and the same is true of our church. As John Wesley said with his final breathes, “the best of all is God is with us”. It is our job to live our lives as if God is with us. We are called to turn the other cheek, to put our neighbors interest before our own, to love our enemies, and live a life of humility that will transform the world.

Friends, let's remind ourselves today of the beautiful history of this congregation of people. We have been through two hundred plus years of human existence and seen things as a congregation that you and I only read about in books. We have been a beacon of hope and light in this world, sharing the love of God with one another. Let us continue to honor each other and God’s calling to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ in this world. The truth of human existence is that we are all beautifully created in the image of God. Yes there are things that I get wrong and you get wrong. Yes we have beliefs that are incorrect. Some of those we learn and grow through over the course of life, while others we will never know are wrong. The one thing that we can be assured of is the directive of Jesus to love God with a humble heart and love your neighbor in such a way that you put their interests first.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end. Amen.