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April 22, 2018

“The Theology of Kindness: Love”

By Rev. Katrina Pekich-Bundy

Romans 12.1-8

1 John 3.16-24

April 22, 2018

            Sacrifice is perhaps an example of extreme kindness. To lay down one’s life, as our scripture suggests today, and as Christ did for us, is truly the ultimate kindness. Both of the passages we read are about sacrifice. What does that look like in our time and place? How are we expected to sacrifice as Christians?

            A sacrifice means that we are putting someone else before ourselves – that we put someone else’s needs before ours. We might do this more often than we think we do. Parents sacrifice for their children – sacrificing their time, their things, sometimes their sanity. In some families this sacrifice swaps, and as parents age, the children sacrifice for their parents – perhaps sacrificing their job to care for an aging parent, or sacrificing their space and home to care for them. Maybe it is sacrificing time and money to go and be with them. For some people this is second nature and they don’t put energy into thinking about whether or not it is a sacrifice – it just “is.”

            Sacrifices come in all sizes. We can sacrifice a few dollars to help someone on the street, or buy someone a cup of coffee. We sacrifice our time to listen to a friend in need. We sacrifice for speaking out.[1] Sometimes we are aware of our sacrifices before we commit to them, sometimes we aren’t. Perhaps you heard in the news about a woman who was fired from her job for giving the President’s motorcade a rude gesture while she was on her bike. She sacrificed her job for that action of speaking, or showing her mind. You’d have to ask her if it was a worthy sacrifice, but it was one, nonetheless.

            In the time after Jesus’ resurrection the disciples were sacrificing their lives by preaching the gospel. I mentioned last week that the disciples were hiding behind closed doors after Jesus died because people were being arrested for speaking out about Jesus. The disciples did not want to sacrifice their lives at first and hid. We know, though, that after Jesus appeared, they did take risks because the good news was spread throughout the land.

            Sacrificing means risk taking. To sacrifice something as little as a dollar or as big as one’s career, family, or life, means being willing to put it out there for a cause and be willing to lose it. One commenter states that sacrifice “transcends self-interest.”[2] If a world consumed with selfies and made-to-order lattes, we aren’t often willing to sacrifice our self-interest. I dare say that many of us aren’t sure where to start. Or, what is appropriate sacrifice.

As I mentioned before, sometimes people sacrifice because it is natural. Many women have sacrificed too much of themselves for careers. Many minorities have sacrificed their own identities to make it to the top in a job. Sometimes our sacrifice isn’t healthy – or appropriate. Those in the minority have been asked to sacrifice more than those who are in places of privilege, which has to be part of the conversation. I’ve had many friends who have loved Shel Silverstein’s book, The Giving Tree. In it, a boy takes and takes from the tree, with no acknowledgement or appreciation, and the tree dies in the end. This might be an adequate example of how people do sacrifice – but it shouldn’t be. Yes, our sacrifices won’t always be appreciated, but we also have to know what is worth sacrificing for, and what isn’t – perhaps the tree thought the boy was worth dying for. I love the quote by author Frederick Buechner: “A bleeding heart is of no help to anyone if it bleeds to death.”[3] We are of no use to ourselves, to others, or to Christ if we sacrifice too much.

Yet, I also believe that we cannot rely on ourselves to sacrifice, because we need God. The passage from first John reminds us how to love and how to root ourselves in God to know what is worth sacrificing our time and energy for, and what isn’t worth it. The author of this letter is known for using the word “abide” and for going on extensively about love. According to this author, love and abiding in God go hand in hand. Perhaps to abide in God is synonymous with loving. The two cannot be separated – you cannot abide in God and not love your neighbors, nor can you love your neighbors without abiding in God.[4]

What does it mean to abide? This is another shock to our culture. In separate magazines this week I read about how politically we are unable to engage one another. The first claimed that no matter what side you take – we seem to be missing one another in communication. In another I read about the separations based on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. Pick a topic, pick a magazine, and pick a side, because that’s what we’re all doing. As Rev. Catherine Faith MacLean wrote in one of those articles: “We are divided. We do not abide each other well.”[5] Maybe we should start by abiding with God.

To abide does not mean we always agree. It does mean to accept or acknowledge, though. When I sing “Abide with Me,” I always have imagined God literally being present, wiping away tears, admonishing death, and winning victory over the grave. For me it is more about presence than acceptance, but as I describe it, I realize that God abides with us because God accepts us – faults and all.

That’s a tall order for those of us who are sinners. How do we accept people when they disagree with us? How do we accept people when they spout hatred? How do we accept people when they won’t accept us? The author tells us that love is the answer.

We can say that we love someone, but that doesn’t make it true. I can stand up here and tell you that I love eating sauer kraut, but for those of you who know me, I haven’t eaten it in years. My actions will speak louder than my words. We can say that we love each other, but if we aren’t abiding with one another, than our words are empty and meaningless. Love is difficult. Abiding is, too.

As I studied this scripture this week I was reminded of the Queen song, “Under Pressure.” The song talks about the radical ways we are called to love one another in a time of stress and anxiety. I love the final verse: “’Cause love’s such an old fashioned word and love dares you to care for the people on the edge of the night and love dares you to change our way of caring about ourselves.” Love is transforming. Love is something that seems so simple, and “old fashioned,” but it is powerful. To love, to abide, is to sacrifice.

The Romans passage reminds us that we are called to be a “living sacrifice.” This is important. Jesus wants us to be living sacrifices. There are few occasions in our lives today where we are called to risk our lives – but Jesus wants us to live. He died for us so that we wouldn’t have to, and that we can love one another.

In this book Paul is writing to the Romans as an outsider – he hasn’t ever been to visit this church.[6] There has been some debate about how Christians should be living their lives, and that if they are saved through faith, why stop sinning? Paul reminds them that when they are baptized there is a transformation that takes place.[7] God transforms us and we abide with God, wanting to change our ways.

Sacrifice is not convenient. Then again, I don’t think religion is convenient. Peter Marty, editor of the Christian Century recently wrote an article about how church is not meant to be “convenient.” He tells about a family who is thrilled that they can watch church livestreamed online – meaning they never have to leave their home. He writes: “Church pulls me away from my self-designed life and requires that I take some initiative in another world that has nothing in common with ‘doing whatever I please.’ Convenience often feels great, but it’s not an unalloyed good. If I exercise only when it’s convenient, or buy groceries only at the convenience store, or drink coffee only from paper cups, these choices do not make a good life.”[8] Too often I believe that we forget that convenience is a sacrifice – because it is a sacrifice that doesn’t always affect us.

Our convenience often affects the earth. As we celebrate Earth Day, we remember that God created the earth and that we have to speak up for the earth and remember that sometimes our lives are inconvenient, but that we are able to make sacrifices for the earth. We have that choice – the earth does not. I once had a friend in seminary who chose to only drink out of reusable cups and use reusable plates and utensils during Lent. That meant that he took his camping plate and bowl and silverware with him wherever he went. When he was at a potluck that used paper, he pulled out his dining ware. He received strange looks, and it was a pain to haul – but his inconvenience meant sacrificing a little comfort to make a smaller carbon footprint.

This week, as you go about the kindness challenge, recognize sacrifices that you make. Be kind to yourself, be kind to others, and be kind to the earth. Abide in God, and all these will begin to fall into place. Thanks be to God. Amen.

           

 

 

 

 

[1] Claudia Highbaugh, “1 John 3.16-24” in Feasting on the Word: Year B, Vol. 1 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 442.

[2] Fred B. Craddock, John H. Hayes, Carl R. Holladay, Gene M. Tucker, Preaching Through the Christian Year: B (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1993), 252.

[3] Betsy Singleton Snyder, Stepping on Cheerios, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2017), 9.

[4] Craddock, 252.

[5] Catherine Faith MacLean, “Living by the Word” in Christian Century, (April 11, 2018)  Vol. 135, No. 8, p. 20.

[6] Craig C. Hill, “Romans” in The Oxford Bible Commentary, eds. John Barton and John Muddiman (Oxford: University Press, 2001), 1103.

[7] Fred B. Craddock, John H. Hayes, Carl R. Holladay, Gene M. Tucker, Preaching Through the Christian Year: A (Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1992), 414.

[8] Peter W. Marty, “Church is inconvenient” in The Christian Century (Vol. 135, No. 1), January 3, 2018, p. 3.