“Love” – You are welcome here

Focus: “In the flush of love’s light / we dare be brave / and suddenly we see / that love costs all we are / and will ever be. / Yet it is only love which sets us free.”              —Dr. Maya Angelou in her poem “Touched by an Angel.”

Moment for Meditation:

Gathering Music:  * Video ~ God Is Holding Your Life (by Richard Bruxvoort Colligan)     —Michelle Currie


Call To Worship:
Leader:  God of our hearts…here we are-
All: We’ve come with thirsty hearts, praying that your word will
satisfy us.
Leader:  We come with aching hearts, praying for good news to comfort us.
All:  We come with overflowing hearts, praying for a chance to share your love.
Leader:  You, who know our hearts and hear our prayers,
All: Be with us now in this time of worship.   Amen.

Opening Hymn:  Where Charity and Love Prevail (by Kenneth T. Kosche)    —Michelle Currie

A Prayer of Invocation:
Universal Spirit of love, O God within each one of us, whose power reaches to the stars, whose love connects us one to another and to all creation — we are one.  We cry out with the pain of this broken world. With all our capacity for love, we ask: why can’t we wrap this world in love and bring healing? We confess that we are not always able to express the love we know is inside us. We pray for forgiveness, that we may learn to forgive others and accept their forgiveness of us. Help us let go of fear so we can move on, opening our hearts to one another. We pray for empowerment that we may learn to love more fully. Let our love shine forth from this sacred place that others may know that here they will find freedom, acceptance, community and love.  We give thanks for the blessings of love in our lives and for the chance we have to love again and always. May we feel the love inside us connecting with the love in each other and the stars. Amen.

Lord’s Prayer

Awakening:  What the World Needs Now  (by Burt Bacharach)    —Michelle Currie

Scripture Reading1 John 4:7-12, 1 Corinthians 13: 1-7, Containers of Divine Love:  Joyce Rupp    —Caryn Firebaugh

Sermon: Love In Practice    —Rev. Paula Norbert

Meditation Music:  Where True Charity and Love Dwell  (Gregorian Chant)    —Michelle Currie

Musical call to Prayer:  (two times)  Hush now in quiet peace, be still your mind at ease. The Spirit brings release, so wait upon the Lord.

                                           Prayers of the People  

                       Silent Prayers                               Pastoral Prayer

Closing Hymn:  Day By Day (by Stephen Scwartz)   —Michelle Currie

May you go forth into your week, knowing that you are embraced by the love of God, a love that is sweeter and more tender than any you have ever known and may you seek to share that tender love with others.  Amen.

Postlude:   Go In Peace…
Go in peace and the peace of God be with you this day.
Go in peace and the peace of God be with you always.
celebrate and share the joy. Celebrate new life.
Go in peace and the peace of God be with you always.

Great thanks to our Zoom Host, Jen Comeau, to our reader, Caryn Firebaugh and to Michelle Currie, Musician. 

Scripture Readings

1 John 4:7-12
7 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son. 11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and God’s love is perfected in us.

1 Corinthians 13 The Gift of Love
13 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast,[a] but do not have love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Containers of Divine Love
God of affection, devotion, passion, tenderness, and all forms of love, this day we
thank you for the myriad ways that we have been given a touch of your goodness. We
thank you for your many beneficent gestures:
…love that draws us to friendship and fidelity,
…love that leads us to kindness and compassion,
…love that stirs in our flesh and dances in our bones,
…love that lures us toward the sacred and serene,
…love that calls us to new vision and growth,
…love that soothes our heartaches and gentles our pain,
…love that sees worth in each human being,
…love that believes in us and whispers with hope,
…love that sings in the seasons and sighs in the wind,
…love that taps on the door of forgiveness,
…love that longs for peace among all humankind,
…love that surprises and fills us with awe,
…love that sings praise for the face of earth’s beauty,
…love that offers the hand of warm welcome,
…love that respects those who won’t come too near,
…love that urges us to take risks and have courage,
…love that goes out to those from afar,
…love that embraces the shadow in us,
…love that sheds the old skin and welcomes the new,
…love that ripens our souls for the final journey home.
Source of Love, we offer thanks for how you are abiding in all these forms of love.
May the hearts we give and receive this Valentine’s Day remind us of you, the One
Great Heart, holding us all in the tenderness of your love.
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Sermon – February 14, 2021

“Love In Practice”

Rev. Paula Norbert

Today is Valentine’s Day and it’s a day for love. Often, the focus is on romantic love, but I’m sure we can all speak to the gift of love in our own lives, remembering those who have loved us and who have taught us how to love. We know that there are words for different forms of love in every language. In English, we mostly use the same word, love, to speak about the different the many things for which we feel affection, from a partner to our favorite candy. In ancient Greek, there are six distinct words to represent the different kinds of love, from romantic love and love between friends to selfless love and love of neighbor. In our own lives, love can work miracles; love can change us and inspire us to be better and do more, not only for those who are near and dear to us, but also and most importantly, for those whom we do not know, those who may truly benefit from the fruits of our love through service and outreach. Let us pray, O Holy One of divine love, we invite your blessing upon each of us this day as we seek to grow in love for our world and for all of creation. We pray that you may continue to guide our hearts and help us to trust that we are fully loved and are called to love others in ways we have yet to imagine. Amen.

In Scripture, various meanings of love are expressed throughout the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. According to one count, the word “love” appears 310 times in the King James Bible and 538 times in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible. We know that Jesus often spoke of love and we find that throughout the Gospels, the word is heard repeatedly. The word “love” appears 57 times in the Gospel of John, more often than in the other three gospels combined. Additionally, it appears 46 times in the First Epistle of John as we heard in our reading today. In the Gospel of John, loving Christ means to follow his commandments. The theme of love lies at the heart of the Fourth Gospel, pervading every aspect of the book. In John’s Gospel, Jesus’s only command for his disciples is to love one another (15:12), and he assures the reader that God loves those who keep his commandments (14:21, 23).” A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13.

I’d like to share some stories on love today, the kind of love that finds its expression in sacrifice, love of family, and certainly love of neighbor. Some of you may have seen the story about a principal in South Carolina who was recently honored for his work in going above and beyond to care for his students. In one article, they write “Henry Darby has been giving back to others since he was a child. So when he learned that students at his North Charleston High School were in need, he picked up an overnight job at Walmart to help. Darby, a principal at the South Carolina school, works at the retail chain from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. stocking shelves, though not every day. Every paycheck goes toward helping his students, whom he affectionally refers to as his grandchildren. Mr. Darby said his only request of his students is that they pay it forward and help others. He said he learned about the importance of giving back as a child from his mother. “Not only did I have to help others, I had to help others without charging them anything,” he said. “From washing windows to visiting old folk’s homes to cutting grass. I was not allowed to charge, I had to just give back to my community.” To honor the principal, Walmart surprised him with a $50,000 donation to his school. Darby said the donation will “go a very, very long way for our students.” “He’s ready to help anybody,” one student said. Another said, “He’s impacting the community in a very special way.” Darby said that he has had students who slept under a bridge or in a car after falling on hard times. The high school principal got emotional as he described going to the home of one teenager and seeing a mattress on the floor. “At my age, we don’t ask for money, we just don’t. You just go ahead and do what you need to do,” he said. About 90 percent of the student body at North Charleston is living below the poverty line. The community was hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic. To help ease that burden, Darby began working at Walmart. He said that he hoped to keep the job under the radar and was surprised when his story started making the news. “The attention, I’m not used to it,” he said. “I don’t think that I’ve done anything worthy of distinction or to warrant the attention.” (Jan. 29, 2021, 10:33 AM EST by Minyvonne Burke, NBC News)

A story that I recall from a few years ago spoke of the immense sacrifice of a father to help his five children receive a better education than he had. Back in 2016, the Boston Globe wrote of Fred Vautour who was able to help each of his five children attend Boston College, tuition free, because of his work over many years as a cook and then later as an overnight custodian at the theater on campus. It was obviously not a glamorous job for this hard-working man, but all that mattered to him was giving his children a better life than he had. In May of 2016, he saw the last of his children graduate from Boston College. He began working at the college in 1994 and never imagined that over 18 years he would be able to see his children attend college there. He and his wife never had the opportunity to attend college, so they felt that it was a wonderful gift to be able to help their own kids in this way.

Throughout the years his kids were in college, their father continued to work the overnight shift at the theater on campus, cleaning up when most people were sleeping. His son, John said, “We can’t even think of ways to begin to repay him for his service to us and his loyalty and love to us.” While enrolled at the university, all the kids made it a point to find their dad on campus to say hello. “It was great knowing my dad was here,” says Michael Vautour, a 2009. “I would stop by and visit with him. Every now and then, I would stop by on a Thursday night and hang out with him while he was working.”

When he saw his youngest graduate from college, he reflected, “It’s a gift from God because, for one thing, I never would have been able to afford to put my kids through this type of University, not five kids,” he said. “It’s definitely something we won’t take for granted,” said his son Tom. “I owe him the world. His mentality was working for others, and working for his kids so that they could have a better life. That’s really all his dream was.”
—May 2016 Sean Hennessey | News & Public Affairs, BC.edu

The last story on love appeared in the Chicago Tribune in early January of this year. For nearly 10 years, Sue Gandhi, a Vernon Hills resident since 1998, has run a food pantry in her townhome’s two-car garage. Called Sue’s Pantry, it has no website or social media presence. Her grassroots network is supported by “family,” Gandhi said. “I’m very spiritual,” Gandhi said. “Service to mankind is service to God. I truly believe I am an instrument to God.”

More than 200 families are served weekly. Regular volunteers redistribute groceries to people living in food deserts in local Chicago neighborhoods. “Gandhi and her husband have two grown children and are grandparents of two. They were laid off from their jobs amid the 2008 recession. The pantry started when they began to hear about people in need, she said, flooding in a nearby community, apartment fires and other hardships. They started to reach out to local churches to see what they could to help. “It wasn’t something I just jumped into overnight,” Gandhi said, “I always had a desire to help the community and to help those who are struggling.”

The food pantry assists families, single parents, refugees and neighbors like one individual who has no transportation and relied on a volunteer to drive him to Sue’s Pantry. “She’s an angel from heaven,” one person said about Sue Gandhi. “I cannot believe she gives up her whole garage all the time.” Gandhi texts people when fresh produce, plus rescued food from grocery stores, are dropped off. This past Christmas, she distributed 200 wrapped holiday gifts. The founder of this small pantry that serves great need explained that she believes in, “loving and forgiving, giving only love. “It’s not about me,” Gandhi said. “It’s important to treat each of my families with dignity and respect so they don’t feel they’re getting a hand out, they’re getting a hand up.” One volunteer noted, “Just like the miracle of the fishes and the loaves of bread in the Bible, there’s enough for everyone. Always.” After the story became public, a GoFund Me campaign was launched to support the pantry and thousands of dollars have flowed in with people are reaching out to donate food and offer support. She imagines that perhaps one great way to use the funds, in addition to stocking the pantry is to set up a scholarship fund for the children of the families she serves. (Chicago Tribune, Karie Angell Luc, Pioneer Press, Jan 12, 2021.)

On this Valentine’s Day, my hope is that you may feel loved and know how important you are to those most close to you. I hope too that as a faith community, we may grow in love for one another and continue to imagine ways that we may embody the love we have received from our Creator, live out Jesus’ commandment to love one another, and always to love our neighbor as ourselves. Happy Valentine’s Day. I hope you get to enjoy some delicious chocolate or another treat today too!