Sermon Resources – Spirit Day 2011

Spirit Day: October 23, 2011

Recommended ideas for clergy in crafting your message

Rev. Dawn Roginski and Rev. Roland Stringfellow

Coalition of Welcoming Congregations of the Bay Area, Pacific School of Religion

Lectionary Based: Matthew 22: 34-46

Many people sitting in the pews may be familiar with the passage of Jesus telling the Pharisees, “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it: “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Mt 22: 37b-40). One of the first thoughts that go through the minds may be “I already know this and have a good sense of how to follow it”. But if one really wants to explore this reading; these are some things to consider.

  • The type of love discussed in this passage. The model of biblical love is different from what many think of today. It is not an emotion type of love, and may not require much thinking at all. Scholars tell us that biblical love is active, about doing something. It is “doing” mercy, compassion, and hospitality, getting out into the world, or at least out of our couch. Think for example of the parable of the Good Samaritan where someone acts with compassion towards a stranger. This type of love makes room for those we may not like. It gives us permission to act with compassion towards those we do not understand or agree with. Explain this type of love in action, give people permission to engage in this type of love, and show them how this type of love could lead them out of the desire to bully those who are different from them. Show them how this type of love lends support to those who have been victims of bullying, and all those who feel like they do not fit in. Remember and remind the people in your congregation, the church is the last place people should be bullied.
  • In addition to doing hospitality, mercy and love leads we may want to address the issue of “who is my neighbor?” We want to limit our conception of the neighbor to those around us because that is more manageable. This text provides an opportunity to challenge misconceptions about the neighbor, helping people see that our neighbor is not limited to those close to us and it expands beyond those we like. This is not just about having a more global mindset, because it can be easy to donate to causes that help people across the world, without having to see their faces, but that again is a passive activity. Here is the reality: Our neighbor includes the homeless person sleeping in our doorway, the person down the street we do not get along with, the person we do not understand, and communities of people we may be different from such as the GLBTQI community. Our neighbor is people we may see every day and not notice, or look away so they do not notice us. Challenge the people in the pews to expand their concept of the neighbor. Use people they have recently welcomed in as an example to move even further. If they have started to welcome, how can they expand that welcome and welcome even more? Who are they not welcoming? Remind them that Jesus was always on the lookout for the outcast, the poor, the marginalized. As more people are welcomed, the good news of God’s inclusive for all of us will spread and more people will really feel that they are children of God.
  • God’s love for us is active and we are called to respond with an active kind of love, both towards God and towards our neighbor. This is both hard and easy at the same time. Hard because people may find it difficult to remove emotion from love and just “do” love and easy because if they can move beyond the emotion, it becomes more possible to love all people and to love a God we cannot see.

Non-Lectionary Based: Themes of Consideration

Protection

Psalms 5:11 – But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you.

Our sanctuaries are places of refuge for those who are seeking shelter from life’s storms.  Just as we are invited to take refuge in our God who provides protection, we are to emulate God’s protection of those who are most vulnerable in our communities.  What are the ways we can provide refuge and protection for the young person who is seeking answers regarding their identity?  May our sanctuaries be the place where families living at the crossroad of this issue may find acceptance and encouragement.

Support

Psalms 20:1-2 – May the LORD answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you. May he send you help from the sanctuary and grant you support from Zion.

God hears every cry for help and we are never left alone.  There are many young people in our community who feel alone and in distress because they have heard a message of condemnation and separation from the church.  The God of Jacob expects us to provide support for these wandering souls.  May help from our sanctuary go forth to all who need to be embraced by care of our God.

Psalms 94:17-19 – Unless the LORD had given me help, I would soon have dwelt in the silence of death. When I said, “My foot is slipping,” your unfailing love, LORD, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.

There are youth in our community and even our homes who feel that their foot is slipping down a cliff of no return.  Anxiety can be so great at times that we may feel suicide is the only answer.  If we get so burdened with our troubles, it becomes hard to see that the answer to our relief is right in front, behind and all around us.  God is an ever present help in times of our troubles.  For those of us who have this perspective, we must reach out to those who have lost sight to this fact.  It is our duty to seek those who are lost and need consolation.

Unity/Body of Christ

Romans 12: 4-10For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.  Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.

Each and every one of us is beautiful and valuable.  Often times we lose sight of this fact.  When those times of confusion and desperation arise and we feel like ending it all, it is the duty of the Body of Christ to help remind one another of God’s purpose and plan for our lives.  We as the Body of Christ are equipped to encourage, teach, serve and give to build one another up.  Our love and devotion is sufficient to shine light to those who may be lost in the darkness of depression and fear.  We can let those who may be contemplating suicide know that it will and does get better.

Ephesians 4: 3-6Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

I Corinthians 12: 21-26The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

It is the desire of God that all of us be united in one Spirit.  If, however, there is anyone we recognize who has lost this bond of peace of heart and spirit, then we must move towards unity and look for the many ways we can hold one another up.  As we examine our “body” or faith community, we acknowledge that no one is expendable.  So if one of us is fading away, we look toward our God for the strength and courage to be in unison when it comes to our welcome, our inclusion and our unconditional love.

Care/Care for our Children

Proverbs 29:7The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.

The quality of our witness will be seen by the ways we care for one another and the ways we demonstrate our justice for those who are poor – poor in resources as well as poor in spirit.  It is a wicked thing to have no compassion for those who are suffering under the weight of bullying and violence.  May our witness be of the quality that is recognizable as being healing and provides a restorable justice to those in need.

John 21:16Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

In the same way Jesus encouraged Peter to prove his love for others by taking care of his sheep, we will prove our love by taking care of the sheep of our flocks.  Young people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning their sexuality or gender identity are the precious sheep of our flock who are the most vulnerable.  With the rash of bullying and demeaning behaviors that are geared towards them, we as a community of faith must prove our love by tending to their needs.

Matthew 19:14Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

Mark 9:37“Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

Colossians 3:21Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.

All of us, who have made it through our own adolescence, know how difficult it was to navigate the choppy waters of needing to be accepted by our peers and the discovery of our bodies and sexuality.  There are many in our community who are having a rough time of it that they are seriously contemplating giving up.  Jesus loves these young people and scripture reminds us how he desired to have the children to come to him.  It was at his feet that they would learn of their identity within God and it is a wonderful identity!  The fact that anyone would discourage one of these little ones and communicate that God’s love is not for them, is acting as an enemy of God.  Never should a person be put down, ostracized or bullied.  It is up to us as agents for good to speak against such behavior and let others know that it is incongruent with our faith.

Love

Mark 12:32-34“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”  When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.

John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

John 13:34A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

The world will know that we are followers of God by our love.  To love, especially those who we don’t like or quite understand, is a sacrifice. We cannot be expected to get to a place overnight where we just love and accept everyone.  However, it is good to always remember the ways God loved us when we were unlovable and accepted us when we were clearly in the wrong.  It is with this knowledge, that we were welcomed when we were a horrible house guest that we welcome others we have difficulty accepting or understanding.  It is during on this Spirit Day that we show our welcome and our solidarity those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning their identity.  It is important that we give the sacrifice of our love in order to let others know how important they are to God and to us.  As we have been loved and accepted, we also love and accept those who have been excluded in our society.

Romans 8Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 12:9-11 – Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.

Romans 13: 9-10 – And whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

We love to love.  It feels good to love others, to be in love and to receive love.  How refreshing it is to receive love that is unconditional!  This is the type of love that God provides towards us and we are commanded to demonstrate towards others.  It is no good to say to someone, “Be warmed” when we do nothing to provide warmth.  Equally it does no good to say to our neighbor, I want to help you without doing a thing to provide help.  There are young people in our community who are in need of unconditional love.  These young people are afraid, confused and feel alone.  Being gay is a complex issue for those in the church.  We want to be faithful to what we feel scripture saying without doing harm to others.  The New Testament challenges us to not to cling to the letter of the law, but to live by the love of the law.  In other words, it is better to see the person, the human being, rather than a violation of a scripture passage.  May our love do no harm to anyone, but encourages others to know that there is nothing to separate them from God’s love as well as our love.

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