December 18, 2016 — Nancy Bancroft
Readings: Psalms 103: 1-8: Matt. 1: 18-25
I’ve asked Michelle to help with the sermon this morning, and I’d like you to help as well. She’ll start us off and you’ll know when to come in.
Michelle Currie: All You Need Is Love
Yes, all we need is love. But it isn’t always so easy. I suspect that everyone here has some scarring from a parent, spouse, sibling or a close friend who did or didn’t do something or said or didn’t say something. People whom we love have the greatest power to hurt us. When I first started doing marriage counseling I was amazed at how couples who had once loved each other enough to marry, when in the throes of divorce could have so much hate for each other, and be so vindictive to each other. When we feel really wounded by another, it’s very difficult to respond in a loving way. Rather than respond we are more likely to react in a less than positive way.
We could all understand it, I think, if the grandmother in today’s children’s story had carried resentment towards the young men who were the cause of her affliction. And we might also appreciate her reasoning if she had cautioned her grandson to avoid going into the woods that he loved so much. Anger, hurt and fear are reasonable reactions after having been attacked.
So too we could sympathize with Joseph when he found out that his betrothed, Mary, was pregnant. He had to have been heartbroken; likely angry and extremely disappointed.
Despite the pain that he felt, and though he could have retaliated severely as was his legal right, Joseph decides to divorce Mary very quietly. Why? The phrase in the story that precedes Joseph’s decision is an important one. It says, Joseph was a good man; or in some versions Joseph was a righteous man. Joseph was a man filled with love. How else could he have overcome his grief, believing that he had been betrayed by the woman he loved? How else could he resist lashing out in anger due to his broken dreams for an upcoming happy marriage? The strength of the love that motivated Joseph to divorce Mary discretely indicates that he was a virtuous person – someone who had developed a habit of letting love govern his actions.
Anger, hurt and disappointment aren’t the only emotions that can be overcome by Love. When we look at the world we live in, we see many things that are disturbing and threatening. The news reports about the atrocities in Syria and oppression and violence in several countries, international tensions that threaten our sense of security, terrorism and the threat of terrorism. We are reminded that the risk of destruction by nuclear weapons has not entirely disappeared from our world. We are experiencing a major shift in culture in our national leadership and hear of corruption and abuses of power in business and government that make us lose confidence in some of the institutions that we should be able to trust. We see how greed and the desire for comfort and immediate gratification severely threaten all of creation. Some of us have issues very disturbing to us in our homes; conflicts between family members, and anxieties about our children or our parents.
All of these anxieties, discomfort, and fear can cause us to feel discouraged, tempt us to draw back, avoid getting involved. Again, Love is the answer.
Pastor Gordon McDonald tells the story that one day, after having given a talk in a public forum, a Nigerian woman approached him to say something complimentary about his lecture. She introduced herself using an American name and in their conversation she told him that she was a physician at a teaching hospital in the United States. McDonald then asked, “What’s your African name?” She gave it to him. The name was several syllables long with a musical sound to it.
“What does the name mean?” he asked.
She answered, “It means ‘Child who takes the anger away.’”
When he inquired as to why she would have been given this name, she said, “My parents had been forbidden by their parents to marry. But they loved each other so much that they defied the family opinions and married anyway. For several years they were ostracized from both of their families. Then my mother became pregnant with me. And when my grandparents held me in their arms for the first time, the walls of hostility came down. I became the one who swept the anger away. And that’s the name my mother and father gave me.”
In this case, the love both sets of grandparents had for their new grandchild overcame any anger, hurt or disappointment that they had been carrying.
McDonald concluded, “It occurred to me that the Nigerian girl’s name, ‘Child who takes the anger away” would be a suitable one for Jesus.”
Jesus, Emmanuel, God-with-us is the personification of Love. And this Love can overcome all the emotions that are obstacles to us being our best selves. In fact, his theme song could have appropriately been All You Need is Love. Jesus taught that with God all things are possible – There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done. He showed by the company that he kept that there’s No one you can save that can’t be saved.
What can it mean to know that God, God who is Love, is with us in this world and in this life? What would it mean to be able to believe we really and truly live in a God-invaded world, a world in which Divine Spirit is constantly present?
Many people live such marginal lives that all of their time and energy is taken by the struggle to survive. Many have lost all hope for a better life. If they are to experience the God of love with them, it will need to be through people like us.
When we bring your gift cards and three-foot long subway sandwiches to Alternative Pathways, some young people may experience the loving encouragement of strangers who truly want to see them succeed in life. When we provide a festive meal and gifts for the people who depend on Saco Meals to satisfy their hunger, some may feel the presence of Love. When the guests of Seeds of Hope walk out into the cold wearing the warm hats and scarves that the Knit Wits made for them they may feel the warmth of Love. When people go to the Christmas in the Stable service tonight and meet Mona Jerome, a seventy something year-old woman who with her husband started Ever After Mustang Rescue and who has dedicated thirty years of her life to rescuing, gentling and placing mustangs, and connecting troubled teens and women with the healing power of horses they will see that love never ends. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. And if we are lucky we may hear Mona speak passionately about the nobility and intelligence of horses and our responsibility to protect them. And then we will be reminded that the love that we are called to give is not limited to people. We may get a better awareness of what Jen Comeau reminded me of last week; that we are all part of the web of life, integrated into it and not the pinnacle; that all of creation deserves our love.When the crowds attend our Christmas Eve services and are lifted by the beautiful music that they hear, they may recognize the love of those who dedicate their time and talent to bless us all.
Love can overcome hurt, and anger, fear and discouragement. As we heard in this morning’s psalm, we must never forget how kind God has been to us. We need to remind ourselves each day that we live, that God provides for our needs and gives us the strength that we need. We can’t allow ourselves to forget that the LORD is merciful! He is kind and patient, and God’s love never fails. We need to do this so that, like Joseph the love in us will be strong enough to overcome whatever prevents us from being signs of God-with-us – Emmanuel.
We do this by letting God love us. I end with a beautiful poem by Edwina Gateley . I invite you to pray it now with me:
Let Your God Love You
Empty -before your God.
Let your God look upon you.
That is all.
God loves you with an enormous love,
And only wants
To look upon you
With that love.
Let your God—