Love Lives Here – September 5

A sermon based on James 2:1-17

given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on September 5, 2021

by Rev. Scott Elliott

Almost two decades ago Rev. Eugene Peterson completed a modern paraphrase of the Bible, he named it The Message. Although it is not direct translation I find it a great tool to get a modern feel for the stories and verses in the Bible.  It provides a fresh way of hearing and grasping the relevancy of the texts.    Even though I don’t regularly use The Messagein our bulletin or worship service I do often read it as I prepare sermons.  As I read Rev. Peterson’s paraphrase of James 2, verses 1-17 for this sermon, I thought it captured the meaning particularly well. Which is why we just heard Dave read it.

The heart of the lesson in the lesson is that Love is supposed to live in churches, to live in our lives, to live in our hearts.  As the reading puts it we do well when we “complete the Royal Rule of the Scriptures ‘love others as you love yourself.’” As the reading suggests that rule applies to us as individuals and as church community. Love needs to thrive and be alive in churches–  not just for those of us who are well off and visitors who are like that, but for those of us in need and visitors who are like that too.  No one– not even those who are supposed to be our enemies– are unworthy of God’s love, or more to the point unworthy of our love.

We discussed last week how in Acts 10 God commands that we call no one profane or unclean. Acts 10 also teaches that when Peter learned that command he understood it to mean God shows no partiality.  Whether we or anyone else likes it or not, we are all loved by God unconditionally, without partiality. As the Old Testament repeatedly puts it, “God’s love is steadfast and endures forever.”  Church is supposed to love like that and when we do . . . well,  love lives here.

Love is defined by the Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms as    

“a strong feeling of affection, care and the desire for the well-being of others. It is a primary characteristic of God’s nature and the supreme expression of Christian faith and action.”     

Note that the definition ends with the word “action.”  Love is not just feelings and talk, love MUST include action toward the well-being of others.

My personal view (that no one has to agree with) is that GOD is this wonder-filled reality that we experience.  I find this reality has a loving nature which beckons us all to participate in betterment and well-being.   While I choose to name reality God, I get that others may not name it so. But, I’m pretty sure most people believe in the nature of that reality (by whatever name they choose).   I also believe that religion, as Jesus taught it, is for his followers to gather together to respond to reality’s beckonings and participate in as much well-being in creation as possible. Jesus was–  and still is– calling his followers to be that Love in action, God in action. And that love is supposed to be unconditional. That’s what James is going on about.

Some of you may have seen the simple “Love lives here” banner that’s been up for a few weeks on the stage in the social hall.  As you came into church this morning you were also supposed to also see a bigger more detailed “Love lives here” banner hanging in front of the church. The delivery got messed up so it’s way late.  There’s a third “Love lives here” banner that usually hangs on wall by the chapel but I brought it up here since the big banner did not arrive to greet us.

Here’s why there’s all this “Love lives here” stuff going on.  As I was looking for a theme for our return to church this fall I came across the simple banner that’s in the social hall.  It’s simple words– “Love lives here”– struck me as a statement of truth about this church, so I bought the banner and hung it up as a part of the stage being transformed into a Children’s Nook.  As I looked at that banner I realized it was a great theme, not only for a children’s nook, and the church in general but for our return to church.  We come to this church, to God’s house, because Love lives here. And Love truly does. Love’s in our ministries, our missions, our worship and in each of you. It’s in our music and in our gatherings.  God is love.  Love is what we talk and sing and pray and preach about. And love is what we work for. We work for Love, for God. The Lectionary lesson from James is about making sure we are working for love for everyone, that unconditional love of God for all.

As the banner out front will proclaim “LOVE LIVES HERE” and beneath those words it says

“The well-being of all matters. A just world for all matters.  All genders. All orientations. All colors. All religions. All cultures. All Ages. All sizes. All abilities. All means all.”

That’s similar to the words on the banner up here on the chancel. Those words state self-evident indisputable truths.

Since all lives matter then certainly Black lives matter; certainly, Brown lives matter; certainly, Asian lives matter; certainly LGBTQ+ lives matter; certainly, Female lives matter; certainly, Poor lives matter.  Since all lives matter and are equal in the eyes of God – all lives should matter and be treated equally in our society, they are not.  Sadly, they are not. Racism, sexism, heterosexism and classism deny an equal mattering and equal treatment in our culture. Not all are treated equally today.    And they were not when the Book of James was written.  So, James takes the matter on.  Why? Because Jesus took the matter on did– and he taught his followers to, which is why we take it on.

In our reading James goes right to the heart of Jesus’ gospel and spells it out “Love others as you love yourself.”  He challenges the segregation occurring in church between the haves and have-nots, what The Message calls “the man in the suit” and the “street person.”   Then James tells Jesus’ followers to in essence stop just talking the talk of love and start also walking the walk of love. Love must have action.  The Book of James does not sugar coat it. As The Message reports in modern terms James lays it out bluntly “Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?”

God-acts are anything and everything that gives action to the commandment to love others as you love yourself.   While God is everywhere,  God come to life is when we do those God-acts.  It’s when we cause love to actively live. God is love.

This is God’s house. May love long live here.  AMEN