A Pastoral Message for the People of St. John’s Baptist Church of Charlotte, NC,
by The Rev. Dennis Foust, PhD, Senior Minister, on September 4, 2022
Scriptures: Matthew 5:43-48; Mark 12:28-31; and 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Labor Day parades were part of my childhood. Steelworkers, coal miners, electricians, carpenters, and machinists would march down the street in full uniform. I remember every coal miner wearing their headlamps. Initiated in the late 19th century, Labor Day recognized the labor accomplished by those who worked in the trade unions – especially those who worked in what was often termed “the trades of hard labor.” Each of you knows about hard labor.
Every day, you serve people expressing God’s love. So, you know love is hard labor.
An experienced pastor described told a story about the church he served during his seminary years. It was a small church of about 35 persons on Sunday. The two deacons met with him the first week to tell him how the church worked. They told him there was a benevolence fund of a few hundred dollars and it was completely at his discretion as to who he helped so long as he followed the rules. “What are the rules,” he asked. The lead deacon said, “You are not to give any of the money to a person who is in need because of laziness, bad decisions, or addiction.” The experienced pastor chuckled as he told this story; then said, “That was thirty years ago, and my guess is they still have that money.”
At times, one of the most difficult challenges we face is figuring out how to untie the knots that other people use to choke off the love of God. Love never fails; but it is hard labor.
As you share God’s love in the world, here are three thoughts for you to consider.
1. GROW IN UNDERSTANDING THE THEOLOGY OF GOD’S LOVE.
We cannot oversimplify God’s love.
God can choose any characteristic to be the core of God’s nature.
The Bible tells us that God has chosen to be love.
The love of God is the metaphysical expression of God’s nature which transcends space and time and exceeds our capacity to fully experience or explain.
Yet, as disciples who are committed to learning the Way of Jesus, we seek to grow in understanding God as love.
We acknowledge how God’s love is revealed in history and clarified in Jesus Christ.
The love of God is embodied in the life of Jesus. In 1 John 4, we find these helpful words – “God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent God’s only son into the world so that we might live through him… Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another…God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”
One way we grow in understanding the theology of God’s love is to study Jesus’ teachings.
In The Gospel of Matthew, Jesus challenges us to be children of God by loving our enemies. This is hard work. Relating with persons who cause us harm or who make us suffer is difficult. Jesus teaches us to watch how God relates with God’s enemies and do the same.
As we learn about God’s redemptive love, we learn how to love as the Living God loves and we can live more godly lives. We don’t have to be perfect every day; but we can grow every day.
SO, FIRST, GROW IN YOUR UNDERSTANDING OF THE THEOLOGY OF GOD’S LOVE…
2. GROW IN PRACTICING GOD’S LOVE.
Is there anyone present today who took piano lessons in the past, but you cannot play today? This is my story. I took lessons and practiced piano for four years between the ages of 8 and 12.
Today, I regret that all I can do is find middle C. PRACTICE IS ESSENTIAL!
How do you practice God’s love?
Jesus’ words in The Gospel of Mark remind us to love God and love our neighbor.
Jesus knows that as we practice our love of God, we also grow in our love for our neighbor.
When you have difficulty loving a person, focus on God’s love for you and your love of God.
As you grow in God’s love, you uncover ways to love the other person.
Loving God develops your love for your neighbor.
The world needs us to be the people of God in the world.
The world needs us to show God’s love to all people in every situation.
We are the living embodiment of God’s love in Jesus Christ.
During my seminary years, a professor had a framed poster in his office that read,
“Love is the glue that holds the universe together.”
As you practice love, you prioritize God’s vision for the world/
As you practice love, you value people as God values people.
PRACTICE IS ESSENTIAL.
GROW IN UNDERSTANDING THE THEOLOGY OF GOD’S LOVE… and
GROW IN PRACTICING GOD’S LOVE…and
3. ALLOW GOD’S LOVE TO BECOME YOUR ULTIMATE CONCERN.
As I mentioned, my four years of practicing piano did not become my ultimate concern.
However, my younger brother, David, did practice and became an excellent pianist and musician. I am very proud of him and happy for him. Today, he arranges musical scores for Disney World in Orlando and Epcot; he trains musical performers for Cirque de Solei; he gives piano lessons in his studio; directs the Orlando Children’s Choir; offers voice lessons to vocalists who perform on Broadway; and serves as a church music director. I would tell you that music became his ultimate concern, but that would be incorrect. David’s ultimate concern is also yours; sharing God’s love with others. He knows what you know; God’s love never fails – but it is hard labor.
The familiar passage of 1 Corinthians 13 gives us practical insights about how we can make loving God our ultimate concern.
This world has enough noisy gongs and clanging cymbals.
Your patience, kindness, humility, and thoughtfulness are building a better world.
This world doesn’t need any more self-centeredness or resentment.
Like a tic on an old mule, this world is stuffed full of people who rejoice in wrongdoing.
We need more people like you who throw parties to celebrate God’s love.
Continue to believe, hope, and endure in expressing God’s love.
As you follow Jesus, he leads you to the love of God which is our ultimate concern.
Yes, LOVE NEVER FAILS – BUT IT IS HARD LABOR.
The early Church made sharing God’s love their ultimate concern.
They invested their lives in God’s love.
They practiced what they understood of God’s love until they tore down many social and cultural barriers.
They became communities of hospitality and acceptance.
They cared for the homeless and hungry and poor.
They provided healthcare for persons who were sick and dying.
Those who were affluent shared their resources along with what others could offer.
They didn’t just make a difference in the world.
They made the world different by making God’s love their ultimate concern.
This weekend, consider individuals you have known – or you now know – who have taught you that although love is hard labor, God’s love never fails. Give thanks for them.
Then, think of a person to whom you are now expressing God’s love. Pray for them.
In the early 20th century, a man was traveling by ship with his seven-year-old daughter across the ocean. They were traveling from the United States back to Scotland to be with family for a few months after the death of his wife and the girl’s mother. The child asked, “Daddy, does God love us as much as we loved mother?” “Well, of course,” the father replied. “There is nothing bigger than God’s love for us.” With sincerity, she asked, “How big is God’s love for us, Daddy?” The father bent down to her eye level, looked out upon the ocean, and said, “Look out across the sea as far as you can. Look up and down and all around. God’s love stretches out to cover all of that, even above the blue sky and deeper than the deepest part of the ocean.” The little girl curled into his arm for a while and then she said, “Look Daddy, we’re right in the middle of all that love.”
Grow in understanding the theology of God’s love.
Practice God’s love.
Allow God’s love to be your ultimate concern.
May you always remember that you live every day in the middle of God’s vast love.
Beloved, you are marching in the labor parade of God’s love; and it is hard labor.
You may not be steelworkers or coal miners, but you are building a better world.
Amen and AMEN!