Love Training, May 3

Love Training

Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 23; John 10:1-10

Rev. Catherine E. Schuyler

Catskill, Palenville, and Quarryville United Methodist Churches; May 3, 2020

 

I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly, says Jesus.  Abundant life.  Our first take on an abundant life is a life filled with good things – grapes and olives and fresh bread, maybe grocery bags filled with food after shopping for the recommended two weeks at a time.  There’s a basket full of good things behind me on the communion table; in Mary’s song in the first chapter of Luke she sings of the greatness of the Lord, “he fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty.”  In our house abundance was made manifest last night as mushrooms and peppers and sausages cooked on the grill, with a touch of chocolate to complete a great meal.  Maybe abundance speaks to you of a computer each for everyone in the household and powerful enough wi-fi so that you can all get work done or play games or watch movies at once.  Some of us dream of an abundance of time – time to travel to Europe or to Hawaii, or time to spend with grandchildren instead of far away from them as we’ve been for weeks now.  Jesus’ take on abundance, I believe, is more even than all these good things.

 

The Acts passage we read earlier is at the end of chapter two.  The beginning of that chapter is the familiar story of the Day of Pentecost, when there was a sound like a mighty wind and the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples like tongues of fire and they all started speaking in different languages so everyone understood.  It was a display of power and joy and inclusion.  And Peter then spoke about it in his sermon in the middle of chapter 2.  This is what God was talking about in the words of the prophet Joel, I will pour out my Spirit on everyone, says God – the rich, the poor, the powerful, the marginalized, women, men, old and young.  Everyone.  Peter then goes on to say that the promise of God in Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection is for you and your family, and for those who are far away as well.  The rest of the book of Acts takes this sermon of Peter’s as its inspiration.  Most of the following chapters are about the spread of the gospel to cities near and far – about the travels of Paul and Barnabas, about the preaching and miracles of Peter and John, and about the churches that grew in places as far away from Jerusalem as Damascus and Thessalonica and Athens and Rome.  But today’s reading isn’t about far away places at all.  After the excitement of the day of Pentecost, the disciples of Jesus don’t immediately head out into the world to preach.  Instead they hunker down together and practice love. 

 

42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

 

From the beginning the church recognized that love built and nurtured in community was at the heart of the abundant life Jesus came to offer us. Abundant life is life filled with love in community. Before this new movement hit the streets or the seas with the good news of Jesus Christ, they went home to learn to be church, to practice loving each other.  They shared what they had, selling their possessions and distributing the proceeds to all as any had need.  They worshiped together and ate together with glad and generous hearts.  All of which is to say, they became church, creating a new family among themselves, calling each other ‘brother’ and ‘sister,’ building trust, learning to love and forgive each other.  If they were going to head out into the world to spread this good news that the love of God is more powerful even than death itself, that Easter message of joy that was now theirs, they’d better be able to live that abundant life of love that Jesus was talking about.  If they couldn’t live it, they had nothing to preach.  If they could live it, and they could and they did, the witness of that love would preach whether or not they found the perfect and eloquent words to name it and proclaim it. 

 

The church has been that way ever since, two thousand years of living Christ’s love. This is the abundant life Jesus spoke of – a life built on love, love practiced in community.  There are many great saints of the church, but mostly what kept the church going and growing throughout the centuries is the same thing that keeps it going and growing today, the community of the church itself.  Charismatic individuals, like Peter and Paul, can grab the attention of people for a while, but an institution that lasts for generations and generations, and spreads across the world into every little town and hamlet like Quarryville, Palenville, and the village of Catskill can’t be maintained only by charismatic individuals.  It lasts because people love one another.  We welcome the Spirit into our midst, and we are bound together in the Spirit’s love.  That’s what holds the church together; that’s what makes the church who we are; and that is the abundant life Jesus promises us. So when we hear the words, ‘Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever,’ it is this way that God’s goodness and mercy follows us all the days of our lives – in the witness, in the presence, in the love – even virtually – of one another, of our friends, of our fellow church members whom we count on, who have become family for us.

 

I’m not trying to whitewash the history of the church.  There have been horrible things done over the centuries in the name of Jesus Christ, wars and oppression and genocide and hate.  I do not and will not excuse those abuses of the gospel.  But it is also true, and I think amazing, that in spite of those horrendous abuses of the gospel of love, the church as a community of people who love one another in the power of the Holy Spirit still persists. 

 

From the very beginning the church at its best has been a balance of practicing love in community and sharing the gospel beyond the community’s boundaries and walls.   We’re in a hunkering down phase right now. We’re worshiping together, if virtually, we are praying for each other and for the world regularly, and we are recognizing how much we miss the opportunity we usually have to come together and share our lives.  Even in our sheltering in place, we haven’t completely stopped reaching out – the Palenville church is maintaining the Blessing Box for neighbors in need – cans of soup, bags of dog food, diapers, crackers, tuna fish, and band-aids were there on Wednesday night.  The Catskill church made masks, first for our County workers, and more recently for other neighbors here in the village, since now we all need masks if we’re out in public or in stores.  UMCOR, the United Methodist Commission on Relief, supported by our apportionment funds, is already offering grants to “assist vulnerable populations around the world impacted by COVID-19, including racial/ethnic and indigenous communities in the United States. Grants from this fund will be disbursed quickly and efficiently to address health concerns, food insecurity, water and hygiene limitations and other pressing needs.”   We are making the love of Jesus real in the world even in our time apart, even in our time spent in isolation.

 

The book of Acts is a story of things happening, it’s the Acts of the Apostles after all – perhaps not the most creatively named book, but it’s an accurate description.  The acts of evangelism that take up most of the book, acts of preaching and expansion, begin within the community of love set on fire by the Holy Spirit. 

 

Our three churches, Catskill, Palenville, Quarryville, have been communities where love is learned and practiced for many, many years now.  The abundant life of relationships of love and care, forgiveness and appreciation continues even as we are sheltering in place, as church members check in on each other, and pick up and deliver groceries and necessities as they are needed.  Keep it happening, friends.  We deeply need care and time and listening from our friends.  These are hard days.  Claim this abundant life, not of chocolate or computers or cell phones, but of love and forgiveness, made real in community.  Let the Spirit fill you, even as you are alone, with the abundant life of love that Jesus continues to offer to all who would live in his love. And may our time of basking in the love of God now fill us with the power and enthusiasm to share that love throughout our communities and our world when we come together again. Amen.

 

 

Acts 2:42-47

42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

 

Psalm 23 (UMH 137, response 1)

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures;

he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul.

He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,

   I fear no evil; for you are with me;

   your rod and your staff— they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.

 

John 10:1-10

10‘Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 2The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.’ 6Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

7 So again Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

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