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Have the Same Love
September 28, 2014
This morning we had the joy of introducing five new members who have made UPC their home. Interestingly enough, home is the word newcomers often use when explaining why they have joined this congregation. “I’m returning home,” says one. “It is like coming home,” writes another. And such comments are quite typical. Many of you are also here because you feel, well, at home.
But what do we mean when we say that being here, being part of this congregation, feels like home? I don’t think our newcomers mean that they’ve found the perfect church at last. Few, if any, would associate home with perfection. I recently came across a poem someone had picked up from a church bulletin, a poem addressed to new members.
If you should find the perfect church without fault or smear, please, don’t join that church, you’d spoil the atmosphere.
If you should find the perfect church, where all anxieties cease, then pass it by lest joining it you mar the masterpiece.
If you should find the perfect church, then don’t you ever dare to tread upon such holy ground—you’d be a misfit there.
But since no perfect church exists…made of perfect women and men, then let’s cease looking for that church, and love the one we’re in.
It’s safe to say that the feeling of being at home is not to be equated with finding the perfect church. So what do we mean when we say we feel at home here? New members often say that the music and the style of worship resonate with their sensibilities and tastes. Or those of us who are mission-oriented may feel at home here because this congregation offers a place to serve, to get involved, to make a difference in people’s lives. Or maybe the multi-generational make-up of our congregation enables you to feel at home whether you’re a child, youth, college student, young adult, new parent, or older adult. The mix of ages and ethnicities here at UPC enables a wide range of persons to feel at home. Then again, perhaps it’s the hospitality, the warmth of the people, the welcome and acceptance that first drew you in and gave you a sense of being at home. All these explanations are honest and true. However, there may be something deeper at work, something more at the heart of things.
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul tries to put his finger on just what that “something deeper” might be. If we could, we’d ask Paul the same question we ask our new members: namely, why join this congregation? Who knows, he might well list the kinds of things many of us would, but we can be sure that he would try to get to the heart of why this gathering can feel so much like home.
And to do that, he would first remind us of who Christ is. In our Philippians text, his reminder took the form of an early Christian hymn, one that most scholars believe Christians had been reciting since as early as the second decade of the church’s inception. Paul quotes this hymn for the Philippians: “Have this mind among yourselves, which you have in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself…” The hymn goes on to recount Christ’s humility, his obedience, and his exaltation by God. Almost from our very beginning, congregations have recited this hymn in worship, not merely to celebrate what Christ did, but in order to remember who we are.
Look first to Christ, Paul tells the church. See how he didn’t grasp for power. That’s because it’s not God’s nature to grasp for power. See how selflessly Christ gave himself for others. That’s because God is a self-giving God, an overflow of love. See how Christ suffered and died on a cross. That’s because it’s God’s nature and God’s way to be with us in even in suffering and death. In short, Christ has revealed to us the magnitude and depth of God’s love—a love that was in the beginning, that became incarnate in Jesus Christ, and in which we share today.
In an essay on today’s passage, our own Bill Greenway acknowledged that the phrase in the hymn that calls for every knee to bow at the name of Jesus may strike some as troublesome. But, Bill writes, “It should be understood that Paul expresses the conviction that finally, before the face of love, every knee shall bow…this is joy made radically complete, the triumph of love. It is a stunning, joyous, inspiring vision.”
And this vision of God’s love is not something to admire, but a reality to emulate. “Have the same love among yourselves,” Paul implores us. “Do nothing from selfishness or conceit…consider the interests of others…in fact, in humility count others as better than yourselves.” Note that such humility is not a form of self-loathing or low self-esteem. Rather it is an invitation to share in Christ’s love.
Our Sunday evening “Books and More” group is currently reading a book called The Rebirthing of God, by John Philip Newell. In the book, Newell uses a helpful phrase to describe the other-directed love we are invited to share. Newell calls it “giving up our imaginary position as the center.” He elaborates, “This is not about putting ourselves down, and it is certainly not about bending to the ego of another or to the ego of systemic power, whether that be the male domination that has undergirded our culture or the consumerism that drives our lifestyle. Rather…It is about dying to the way in which our ego, both individual and collective, tries stubbornly to be in charge… it is about emptying ourselves of our false divinity so that true divinity may rise among us.”
So have we brought to light something deeper that reveals why we feel at home here? I believe at the heart of it is the experience of belonging to something larger than ourselves, and sharing in a love that is at once eternal and concretely present. When the choir members sing their hearts out, they comprise more than a chorus of talented singers; rather God is work in them. When we show hospitality to a stranger, help a person in need, comfort the grieving, offer forgiveness, pray for peace and healing—friends, that is God at work in us. To the extent that we exhibit the same love with which Christ loved us, we feel whole, complete…at home.
What is home, then, but another word for love. Thus our word this morning to our new members, and to everyone here, is: Welcome home!