Sermon September 6, 2020
Preached at First Congregational Church, Loveland UCC www.lovelanducc.org By Rev. Thandiwe Dale-Ferguson
Scripture Passages: Romans 12:9-16 and Romans 13: 8-10
Will you pray with me?
Holy One, may the words of my mouth and the thoughts of all of our hearts bear witness to your love around, among and within each of us. Amen.
“Mommy, are you sure that you love me?”
“Of course, Hans, you know I love you. I love you with all my heart.”
“With all your heart?”
“Yes, with all my heart.”
“How many hearts do you have Mommy?”
“But how can you love me with all your heart if you love Ana, too?”
The answer [is] always the same: “Because love is a miracle. Because I can. Because I do.”
This simple anecdote from Pastor Heidi Neumar captures love’s essence. Love is a self-multiplying miracle.
Often we think of love as an emotion, a sentiment: how we feel towards someone or something. This sentimental love is often connected to desire — we desire the person we love, or the object or the experience.
But that is not at all how the apostle Paul talks about love in his letter to the Romans. For Paul, love is not a way of feeling. It is instead a way of being — sincere, enthusiastic, empathetic, joyful, patient, perseverant, generous, and hospitable among other things. Love is a quality of being.
To use the example from Heidi Neumar, I love you with all of my heart, does not simply mean that I feel my love for you with all of my heart. It means instead, I love you so much that I have already given you my whole heart. And the miracle of love is that we can give away our whole heart again and again and again. And if anything, the more of our heart, the more of ourselves, that we give, the more we find we have.
Love is a way of being.
The apostle Paul also suggests that love is the only debt, the only obligation that we have in relationship to each other.
I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not owe anyone anything. Other than maybe a mortgage, car payment, student loans, and the occasional avoided credit card debt. I’d rather stand on my own two feet. I’d rather be fully independent and separate — or at least live under the illusion that I’m independent and separate.
Do not be in debt to anyone, except for the obligation to love each other.
As I’ve reflected on this idea this past week it first seemed like… Well… an obligation. A burden. Loving others who may not respect me, my beliefs, my values, my property, the laws of society as I understand them — that sounds like a drag! Really? I’m supposed to love my enemies? Those who tell untruth after untruth? Those who demean who we are and what we believe? Those who would divide us and goad us into our lowest selves? Loving my enemies sounds like the heaviest burden imaginable!
But, then, as I reflected on love, as practiced humility and acted in love — even when I did not want to — when I sought to offer respect even when it seemed undeserved, to — dare I say it — try to love my enemy, I found that it only felt like a burden at first. [PAUSE]
Then it became a gift. And not to anyone else. It became a gift to me.
Because love is the obligation that connects us to who we are — to our deepest, truest selves, to the divine essence within us.
Father Richard Rohr writes: “Love is not really an action that you do. Love is what and who you are…. Love is a place that already exists inside of you, but is also greater than you. That’s the paradox. It’s within you and yet beyond you. This creates a sense of abundance and more-than-enoughness, which is… the… deep peace of the True Self…. Your True Self, God’s Love in you, cannot be exhausted.”
“‘But how can you love me with all your heart if you love [others], too?’
The answer [is] always the same: ‘Because love is a miracle….’”
Because love “creates a sense of abundance and more-than-enoughness…. Because love cannot be exhausted.”
And this is what I began to experience. Even when I started out feeling like love’s obligation was a burden. When I actually practiced love, when I surrendered to that place within me of humility and love, I found it freeing. I found it empowering. I found it joyful! A miracle that multiplied its own goodness.
And, of course, as Lucas so eloquently offered, love cannot be learned. Because it is already inside of us. It is already our deepest truth. And we experience God’s love for us when we open ourselves to our own belovedness; when we put ourselves on the receiving end of patience and kindness, steadfast goodness, grace, forgiveness, and compassion.
When we experience the miracle that love is inexhaustible, it is no longer an obligation but it becomes a gift. 1 John chapter 4 reads “We have experienced and trust the love that God has for us. God is love and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” We cannot learn love because love already lives within us.
I don’t know about you, but as this pandemic drags on, as racial injustices continue to be revealed, as armed militias congregate on our streets, as divisions deepen and the rhetorics of fear dominates our shared narrative, I have found love harder to grasp, harder to practice, harder to find; harder to live in.
And so, when love is hard to find, we can trust that we need it more than ever.
In these days, let love for one another be our only obligation.
And what is love? Let us hear the wisdom of children:
Rebecca, age 8 says: ‘When my grandmother got arthritis , she couldn’t bend over and paint her toenails anymore.. So my grandfather does it for her all the time , even when his hands got arthritis too. That’s love.’
Four year old Billy explains: ‘When someone loves you , the way they say your name is different. You just know that your name is safe in their mouth.’
Terri, age 4 tells us: ‘Love is what makes you smile when you’re tired.’
Seven year old Bobby says: ‘Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and just listen.’
And Nikka age 6 teaches: ‘If you want to learn to love better, you should start with a friend who you hate.’ Nikka – age 6
Six year old Tommy explains:’Love is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends even after they know each other so well.’
Mary Ann, age 4, suggests: ‘Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you left him alone all day.’
And finally, from a four year old whose next door neighbor was an elderly gentleman who had recently lost his wife. Upon seeing the man cry, the little boy went into the old gentleman’s yard, climbed onto his lap, and just sat there. When his Mother asked what he had said to the neighbor, the little boy said, ‘Nothing, I just helped him cry.’
Beloved of God, this is God’s table of love. It looks, it smells, it sounds, it feels like love. And a child shall lead us — for when we see through the eyes of a child, we will see God’s dream for our world not only possible but already come true.
Friends, let us gather now at God’s table of love where all are welcome!
 Heidi Neumark, Breathing Space, page 85.
 Heidi Neumark, Breathing Space, page 85.
© 2020 Thandiwe Dale-Ferguson, all rights reserved. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to reprint, which will typically be granted for non-profit uses.
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