Sermon Preached at First Congregational Church, Loveland UCC www.lovelanducc.org
By Rev. Thandiwe Dale-Ferguson
Scripture Passages: Matthew 22:34-40 & 2 Corinthians 3:1-6, 17-18
Will you pray with me? Holy God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
What a week!
With the news and the elections and the fires, it’s been dizzying. People we know and love evacuated from communities nearby, indeed some of us exiled from our homes. A place that is iconic to this area of Colorado — Estes Park — threatened by fire. COVID cases on the rise again.
I don’t know about you, but in the midst of all of this, in the chaos and the fear and the real dangers, I have been struggling with an overwhelming sense of powerlessness — like no matter what I do, the world just spins more and more out of control with greater and greater tragedies edging closer and closer to our doorsteps.
Powerless. To protect myself, my neighbors and our wider community from fires that blaze too close to our homes, our cabins, the places we love and in which we find solace.
Powerless to shift the narrative much less the curve of this pandemic that has been raging for more than 6 months and shows no sign of abating.
Powerless to ensure the financial health and well-being of our congregation or to accurately predict when we will safely worship in our sanctuary again.
Powerless to bridge the political chasm Craig Bialy so aptly described in his sermon last week.
Powerless to change the reality of white supremacy and racism in our nation and institutions as Waukegan, Illinois grieves another shooting of an unarmed black couple by police.
On a personal note? I feel powerless to help my parents, half a world away, as they await a diagnosis for my father. What will that diagnosis hold? Will I be able to visit? Will he be able to meet the baby my brother’s family expects in January and the one growing in my womb?
These feelings of powerlessness trickle into our everyday lives — so that the idiosyncrasies, the particularities of our living situations, our close friendships, our marriages feel like they, too, are coming unraveled. We are powerless over the conspiracy theories our siblings believe. Over our toddler’s bedtime — [how many times will you get out of bed asking for water or the bathroom or to have your blankets tucked in tighter before you finally settle down?] Over a loved one’s choices about money or mask-wearing. Sometimes we feel powerless over our own bodies — as we age or grow bigger with each passing week of pregnancy or as we simply try to breathe the smokey air.
We. Just. Want. To. Be. In. Control. Instead, we feel powerless.
And the reality is, there are many many things that we ARE indeed powerless over. The idea that we are ever really in control is the real illusion.
Let me say that again.
The idea that we are ever really in control is the real illusion.
And the powerlessness feels so overwhelming right now because most of the time, we live pretty comfortably in that illusion of control. Holding onto the idea that we, on our own, can somehow fix the world’s ills or hold danger and tragedy at bay.
And see, the thing is, BOTH our illusion of control AND our feeling of powerlessness prevent us from seeing that which we actually have power over. Ourselves. Our attitudes. Our actions. Our reactions and responses. Our behaviors and habits. We have power over ourselves.
This isn’t always much comfort to me. Usually, I’d rather have control over those outer factors than face the reality of the power that I have in myself.
Maryanne Williamson puts it beautifully: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”
And this morning’s scriptures point to the power that we DO have — to the places in life where we ARE powerful beyond measure.
“What is the greatest commandment?” A lawyer asks Jesus, hoping hoping to trip this trouble-maker up.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your being and with all your mind.” Most of us Christians do not realize that this commandment has been central to Jewish teaching for millenia. It is part of the Shema, the Jewish prayer that begins every worship: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your being and with all your mind. This commandment comes from Deuteronomy chapter 6 verse 5, part of the Hebrew Bible.
But Jesus is not done yet. “There is another like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” This instruction, too, has always been central to Jewish teaching and practice. It comes from Leviticus: chapter 19 verse 18.
“On these two commandments all the law and all the prophets depend.” [PAUSE]
The most important thing is not what you believe.
It is not where you worship or how.
It is not how well you maintain purity laws
how popular you are.
how often you go to church or read scripture or pray.
The most important thing, Jesus tells the lawyer and us, is loving God with all that you are, loving your neighbor, loving yourself. [PAUSE]
And, in these, most important of commandments, we are never powerless. Because love is not a feeling that comes and goes. We’re not talking about attraction or affection. We are talking about an orientation, a posture. Loving God with all that we are means orienting all that we are, turning our whole selves, toward God. This takes practice. It takes guidance. It takes discipline. It takes choosing to turn back towards God every time we turn away. Because we will.
Loving God with all that we are means that, in everything we do, we ask: Where is God? What would God have me do? Loving God means seeking God and also opening ourselves to finding God already here — in us. In our breath. In our everyday lives. In the mundane. In scripture and prayer. In conversation and reading, in a tv show, a baseball game; in a child’s laughter, in nature — in both its beauty and its terror.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being and with all your mind.
I think it’s no coincidence that Jesus attaches a second part to this commandment. “There is another like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Because loving God means loving what God loves, loving who God loves. Your neighbor. And we know that doesn’t just mean the people who live near you or in your town or those who attend your church.
In Jesus’ most famous example of who is our neighbor — the story of the Good Samaritan– the neighbor is the most surprising, the most unimaginable, the most antithetical person. And that’s not the person RECEIVING charity or assistance, it’s the person who’s doing the life-saving. In this story, Jesus tells us that our neighbor is the person who we are SURE has NOTHING to offer us. They are the ones who come to our rescue. Love your neighbor as yourself. The one who is hardest to love. The one who is hardest to receive love from.
And in this commandment to love God with all that we are and to love our neighbor as ourselves, we are NOT powerless. In fact, what we fear the most is not that we are inadequate but that we are powerful beyond measure. That we are, in fact, more than capable of being the witnesses to God’s power that Paul describes in his 2nd letter to the Corinthians. That we can in fact be Christ’s letter written in the Spirit of the living God upon our hearts.
As Maryanne Williamson writes: “It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous,
talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us [– the power of God’s love within us]. It’s not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Yes. There is much over which we truly have no power, over which we have NO control. But let us not fool ourselves into believing that we are powerless. Our power, our light startles us, sometimes it terrifies us.
Love God with all that you are. Love your neighbor as yourself. This is the great commandment. This is Jesus’ invitation. How will we answer? Will you shine your light? Will you live in love?
© 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.
Watch the Sermon HERE.
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