Growing in God's Love - Spirit Sunday

Luke 15: 1-10   Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III

1 Timothy 1: 12-17      September 11, 2016

“… and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

Prayer:  O Spirit of the living God, please fall afresh on us as we hear your word, live out your love, and begin anew to serve you in this, your church.  In Christ we pray, Amen.

I’m always glad when Spirit Sunday rolls around.  There always seems to be a spark of newcreative energy after the long summer slowdown.  I’m also always eager to sense the revitalization of our ministry in many areas.  And certainly, as we head into the fall, for the next 6 Sundays, we will be hearing about the variety of opportunities that are available for us to “Be the Church.”  These are ways for us to engage in and continue the ministry that Christ Jesus started.

Today we heard of the upcoming program and events in our Youth Ministries represented by their hanging diamond “octahedron.”

Next Sunday, we will hear from our leaders within the ministries of Worship and Music.  They will present their diamond octahedron as well, giving us a glimpse of what’s coming in their ministries.  And when we reach mid-October, this very cool mobile will be all decked out, hanging here, moving with the air currents in our sanctuary, freely and uniquely, just the way the Spirit moves within our ministry.

Indeed, the Spirit of God is moving in this place we call Christ Church!   We are growing… in God’s love!  Amen?  Amen!

And when I say we are growing “in” God’s love, I mean it first in the sense that we are surrounded by God’s love.  Like in the same way that we are in this sanctuary, we are in God’s love.  In the same way that a fish is in and surrounded by the waters of the sea, we are in and surrounded by God.  God and God’s love and presence are around us and within us.

And being in God’s love causes us to generously be loving and present not only with one another, but even more so, with others outside our church walls.

 For example, I am so encouraged that one of our Adult Faith Formation’s upcoming events is a planned dinner with the leaders of the Islamic Center of Lancaster, spearheaded by our own Kevin Shorner-Johnson.  This event is scheduled for November 5th and will be held at the Church of the Brethren, here in E-town, and is the 3rd time the two groups will have come together.  By the way, I encourage the leaders of our Adult Faith Formation to please be sure that event is depicted on one of the panels of your diamond octahedron!

But, think of what that event means!   Not only are two churches of different denominations coming together to host a dinner with members of a completely different religion, creating an opportunity of ministry to be generously loving and present with one another, it is mostly an incredible opportunity of ministry to break down the walls of cultural bigotry and religism.  I mean it’s a golden moment to build up positive relationships with other religious people in a time of terrible cultural mistrust and suspicion for members of the Islamic faith.  Because we are in God’s love and presence, I believe we are growing spiritually by sharing the same love of God with all others, no matter who they are, or where they are on life’s journey… by building interfaith relationships.

Now, I realize that such an event like this dinner with the Islamic folks may cause some grumbling among some in our community, mutterings under the breath by some who, in our post 9/11 world, have bought into the rhetoric of mistrust and suspicion concerning Muslims, and immigrants, and refugees.

Kind of like when Jesus was sitting with the religiously and culturally unacceptable people of his day.  The religious majority (the Pharisees and the scribes) grumbled that this rabbi, this so-called ‘religious man’ was sitting with people considered to be unacceptable by majority’s standards.

So, Jesus defends his actions by telling the Pharisees and scribes two parables that basically have the same meaning—that just as the religious leadership, would drop everything and go searching for something valuable of theirs that was lost, in this case, sheep (which is valuable because in the biblical economy, the more livestock one had, the richer one was) and a coin (which is money… again, valuable because, like us, the more

money one has the richer one is)—just as they would drop everything to find their valuable lost items, so also  God, with the same amount of commitment and zeal goes in search for what is valuable to God—and that is people.

When Jesus finds and sits with people his religion calls unacceptable, he is embodying what God does—and continues to do, even today.  God searches for and sits with people—people whom some in our society might call unacceptable.  Be it Muslims, or members of the LGBTQ community, or people with AIDS, or police shooters, or shooters of police, or those who sit during the national anthem, or those who say that’s OK, or criminals, or sex offenders, or, or, or…unacceptable.

 God searches for all people and sits with us.  God cares for those of us who have gotten lost.  Those who have become wayward in their relationship with God.  Those who, like sheep, may have wandered away from their faith in God and put their faith in a bottle, or drugs, or political hatred.  Or, those who, by no fault of their own, got lost along the way, like a coin that slipped into a crack, and nobody noticed, and everyone forgot about it.  God goes searching for the overlooked and forgotten of our society.

It’s not that God doesn’t go searching for those of us who are Pharisees and scribes—God does—because we are lost, too, in our own way… we can get lost in our self-righteousness and lost in our forgetfulness of what God really loves.

 Paul at one time was lost in his forgetfulness of what God loves and his self-righteousness, too.  And God in Christ went searching for him, found him, knocked him off his high horse, blinded him until his heart and mind were opened so that God’s love and grace could start to grow within him.  And, it grew so much that he overflowed with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

 And then, God rejoices in the discovery and redemption of lost coins, lost sheep, and lost people.  Because God wants to bring all who are lost back home—meaning that God wants each of us to grow in God’s love, to be in a new, life-giving relationship, one that is filled with the Spirit.

Which brings me back to today—Spirit Sunday.  After the long summer, we’ve now come back to our church home.  We’ve come back do ministry, but mostly, I call us back home to grow more deeply in God’s love.  I encourage us to come back home so that we can share God’s love with others.  Let’s make our church home a place for everyone, the metaphorical tax collector and sinner, the Pharisee and scribe, the forgiven and the redeemed. A place for everyone to experience God’s holy love and grace—the holy love found here, a holy love shared with others in our faith home.  A home where we can find God’s love and presence that can direct our lives.  A home where we can find the support of other faith-practicing people.  A home where God’s love is shared to others and is a powerful reason to keep coming back home.

Let’s make our church a place where all who gather here may find it as easy to be in God’s love as it is to grow in that love.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.