Winning Love

First United Methodist Church — Omaha
Dr. Jane Florence
September 3, 2017
Scripture: Romans 12:9-3
Sermon: “Winning Love”

I have watched high drama on TV this week. Not fictional drama, not semi-scripted reality TV, but real-life crisis. You probably have too. The hurricane that hit Texas hit my heart. My daughters were born in Houston. They spent their childhood playing on the sand at Port Aransas and later helping their father in his restaurant at Rockport. I wrestled with God discerning my call to ordained ministry while gazing at the unending surf from the Gulf of Mexico. Places woven into my DNA and my life story are gone.

But you don’t have to have known it personally, I’m sure you too have felt compassion for those millions of people whose lives were upended this week. Whether you know the names or not, the faces of people in terror, in shock, in panic summon forth your compassion.

In response, we want to do something. We want to help. Particularly when the officials and agencies that we trust to respond to crisis issue a call for help. When they called, “Help. We can’t do this alone. It’s too much. We need volunteers to save your neighbors.” People did. Neighbors waded through water to help neighbors and strangers. People came from all across Texas and from beyond, from Louisiana to help.

The images were tragic, but they also were hopeful. They showed that people are good. No one asked at the door of a flooded house, are you Democrat or Republican? No one paused their outstretched hand to ask, are you documented or not? Are you Jew, Muslim, or Christian? They were people – in need – saved by people that in different circumstances would have been on opposite sides of a political fight. Those differences didn’t matter when human suffering brought a common goal of survival.

People can overcome differences and respond in acts of unselfish service in times of crisis. We have an urge to do so. A need to do so is woven into us, but what about when news crews leave? What about next month when the news is bored with this story, but those lives on the coast will still be shattered. What then? What about next summer – and the next and the next? What about when the crisis is over, do we still have the urge to help? What about when help is needed right here at home in the ordinary not the dramatic?

Breaking news: dishes need to be washed at First United Methodist Church. Headline news: there are weeds that need pulled in the front lawn. News flash: our 3-year-old children need a Sunday School teacher. We have mobility challenged members who need a ride to church and coffee that needs to be made. That’s not headline news. I don’t expect CNN to pull up and report on it, but it is these daily acts, these weekly tasks that keep these doors open – that keep this place alive — that keep the community from drowning in apathy or neglect.

Keeping the community going is what these scriptures are talking about. Paul writes to the Jesus Followers of Rome. Just before this verse he said, we are many, and we are one. We are one body in Christ. Paul uses his favorite metaphor: the body – hands, feet, arms, eyes, heart, kidney, liver, lungs. Each organ and part does something different to keep the body healthy and functioning. Paul used body metaphor to talk about community of those committed to follow the Way of Jesus. If this movement was going to take off and not die in first century, it needed cohesiveness not infighting. They needed everyone to do their part; everyone to help. The words Paul used: love, sincere, devoted, honor, generously, diligently, cheerfully, joyful, patient. These would be the essentials and the attitudes needed for this Jesus Movement to survive. Two thousand years since then and not much changed in that regard.

Paul writes, “Let love be genuine/sincere; hate what is evil” ‘Evil’ is a strong word. What is evil to the community survival? Slander, gossip, in-fighting, laziness, bitterness, apathy. These are sure way to kill a community and a church and souls.

“Hold fast to what is good: love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.” Sounds like a competition. I’m not in favor of competition. We learn to compete early on in our culture. Our culture teaches that there are winners and losers. Beating others becomes goal; raising self over others becomes a core value. I’d rather see us teach collaboration. I win when you win and when you win when we all win. Here Paul sounds like a bit of competition, “outdo one another in showing honor” not beating each other up.

What if quarreling people tried that approach? What if the winner of the church fight, is the one who outdoes one another in honoring their ‘opponent.’ What if the winner of the community is the one who loves, rejoices and prays and serves? In that kind of competition, the best thing is there is not one winner and the rest losers. In outdoing one another in love and service, we form vibrant community, and we all win. We all know we belong when we contribute and put ourselves into the community. We are part of it; we are community. To build a community as a whole, not individual for own glory, recognition, but for sake of others, for sake of whole then the only winner is everyone.

Paul says be ardent in Spirit. “Ardent” means passionate. Serve one another not grumbling burden, duty, obligation, weight pressing down, life-sucking, but serve as passionate, zeal, love, affection. This is JOY not a chore.

The family speaks of ‘chores’ (defined as unpleasant but necessary task). How about we change the word ‘chore’ to ‘contribution’ (defined as a part played by a person to help something advance, bring about a result). Your contribution to the family makes you part of the family otherwise you are a guest, an intruder, a parasite, an audience.

Family is made when we stand around the kitchen chatting, chopping vegetables, doing dishes. Family is made plowing the fields, bringing in the harvest, working together. Family is made by laughing, crying, serving together. That’s the church, our faith family where all can belong by serving one another and our joint mission side by side.

Paul teaches that God places good gifts with us within each one of us. Our talents and passions and abilities are there by our Creator forming our innate essence of who we are. Our passion to help others and the desire to belong and use our abilities and talents is placed by God also. We need to help not just in the times of crisis, but in the ordinary everyday routine of life. Expressing those gifts, God’s gifts in us and God’s gifts to one another through us, brings life, brings joy, brings about the beloved community thriving together.

May it be so.