Sunday, October 26, 2014

What Love Looks Like in Public by Suzy Ujvagi (with an assist by Patti Lusher)

I’m about to fall asleep, lying down on the ground in a carpeted church hall in Gulf Shores, Alabama. To my right and to my left are my fellow undergraduate classmates.  We’re all on a habitat for humanity spring break trip through our Catholic church. I’m the student leader, the “one in charge,” since the church chaperone couldn’t join us this year.  The room is quiet. We’re in that space between staying awake and falling asleep, our bodies relaxed, and ready to rest up before another long day. I overhear a few of my fellow students talking in the corner of the room, quietly enough that some of the others probably couldn’t hear, but enough for me to hear them clearly. “She’s a lesbian!” followed by joking and restrained laughing.  

I lay there, holding my breath, trying to listen in a little deeper. I quickly realize these three boys are talking about me, and not just talking about me, they’re laughing at me. My heart starts pounding. I feel a rush of heat all over my body. I’m thinking to myself, “Oh god, they know. They know about me, they’ve found me out, what I’ve been trying to keep hidden all these years.”  I ask myself, “Do I stay here, pretend to sleep, pretend I don’t hear the laughing, and act as if nothing happened tomorrow morning? Or, “Do I stand up, confront them, claim who I am…what do I do?” To my surprise, I did the latter. I burst up out of myself, yelled, screamed even, telling them to stop, to get to bed, even swearing because I was so angry. Nothing else was said. They stopped, walked back to their beds, and the room fell silent again. As I laid back down into myself, my mind was racing. “Did the others hear us, does everyone know who I am now, what am I going to do?”

A few days later, we traveled back home, unpacked the vans, and went our separate ways. I told no one. I never shared what happened with the leadership of my church. I never sought council with my priest. I was ashamed that I had been found out.  That day, I left my church. I stopped attending mass, I stopped volunteering.  I ran away from the church that had been my home for the last four years, believing I was unwanted, unwelcomed, unloved. 

This, fortunately, and unfortunately, was the first time I was discriminated against because of my identity. And it came from the church, from other young Catholics, from justice-seeking students, who I believed sought to follow Jesus, to love and accept all people, as he did. This was the last place I had expected to face hate and rejection. How could I show love in return, when I felt so much anger?

Our scripture this morning, one we’ve heard time and again, urges us to love God, and to love others, just as we love ourselves. Even beyond that, to love our enemies, that is what God has commanded of us.  The author of Matthew tells the story of a scholar among the Pharisees, who in an attempt to question Jesus and his authority, asks him a question. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus responds, “You shall love the Lord the God of you with all the heart of you and with all the soul of you and with all the understanding of you. This is the greatest and first commandment.”  Jesus continues, “And the second is like it, love your neighbor as yourself.”  Ending his teaching he says, “On these two commandments the entire law hangs and the prophets.”

We can find these two commandments throughout the Hebrew Scriptures and into the Christian Scriptures.  It’s a lesson throughout history.  We learn these commandments as children to a point where we can recite them by heart. We probably get annoyed and mumble under our breath when we find out that THIS is what the sermon is going to be about. It’s true! We’ve heard this scripture a thousand times, what more is there to learn? I learn new things each time I read scripture. This text in particular has so much to offer, let’s see what can be revealed for us today.

In this passage, Jesus is encouraging the Pharisees to stop focusing so much on the details of the law, to stop being so infatuated with the rules of the law.  Instead, Jesus pushes them to read and study the law through the lens of love. It’s a call to action, of sorts.  Jesus is emphasizing to the Pharisees that they cannot love God, something they devote their entire lives to, without loving their neighbor - neighbor meaning everyone, even their enemies. They need to live out the law, not just through devotion and study, but through action, through commitment to their community.  

This text encourages us to love one another, that’s clear. It is so comfortable and easy for us to be nice to those we love, at least most of the time.  It’s fulfilling and rewarding for us. This text also calls us to love those we don’t feel love for.  This is more challenging, to show that same kind of love to those we don’t know, those who are strangers to us, those we don’t understand, those who make us angry.  What a demanding risk we are commanded to take on. This is a radical love - an unapologetic, unconditional, full and whole kind of love, the kind that comes from God, the type that Jesus lived out every day from his core.  Can you imagine taking on this radical love?  It’s not an easy task, to exemplify the radical love of Jesus through the way we live our lives, through our behaviors, how we treat and respect people.  Jesus is asking us to care when we don’t care, to be universally responsible for those we encounter every day.  

I remember as a young kid, rummaging through my dad’s drawer of buttons, hundreds of political buttons, campaign slogans to reelect so and so or pass this issue.  I came across a black button with white lettering, a very simple pin. It said, “give a damn.” That phrase, in some small way, changed my perspective on life. Of course, the phrasing was racy because I could pin something to my shirt with a swear word on it. That was exciting! But it was a simple phrase that urged me to look beyond myself and my circumstances, to give a damn about people. Not just my family, not just my friends, but everyone. In this text, Jesus is asking us to “give a damn about one another.“ 

It took many, many years, before I could begin telling my story of rejection from the church, and to no longer feel shame for who I am. It took even longer to feel comfortable in church again, to create a spiritual practice for myself, to dive into social justice work, based entirely around faith, gender, and sexuality.  It’s still a struggle every day. My experiences have created a drive in me that gave me no choice but to commit myself to justice, so that those who experienced discrimination could feel the unapologetic, unconditional, full and whole love of God. Radical Love.  

Although I’ve developed a less angry approach to my story, it’s still challenging to love radically every day.  One of my favorite quotes that has become a bit of a mantra of mine comes from one of my seminary professors, Dr. Cornel West. “Justice is what love looks like in public.” I’ll say it again. “Justice is what love looks like in public.”  Could there be a better reminder that we are called to love? 

Clearly I’m here today as Suzy, the queer catholic woman, sharing my personal story with you. I am also here as Suzy, the Faith Organizer of Equality Ohio. I am here with a request – a request to express your love through justice, to express your love through action, to give a damn.  To commit yourselves not only to the ones you love, but also to the larger community.  Although I have a deep love for Ohio, a love some find annoying and over-exaggerated, there is one thing that makes me feel ashamed as an Ohioan and as a person of faith. There are no statewide protections for those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.  I can be fired, denied housing, and even denied access to public accommodations, like restaurants or hotels, because of who I am. 

 My experience is my experience. There are many others here in Ohio who experience discrimination in a very real and harmful way, because they do not have equal protections.  Here are some of those stories:

I am an elderly gay man, my partner is dying, I lose everything when he dies because he owns the estate we’ve shared for forty years.

I am a transgender woman who is denied an interview because my future boss is uncomfortable with how I dress.

I am a scared child of two moms who is unsure who will take care of me because my biological mom is sick and my other mom can’t adopt me.

I am the father of three children and partner to a wonderful man. When we sit down to enjoy a family meal together at our neighborhood diner, we are kicked out because the manager disapproves of our family. 

My best friend is gay. Every time we walk through the school doors together, I see him tense up. Knowing it is just another day of taunting, pushing, and bullying.  

My daughter is a lesbian.  She and her fiancĂ© have to travel to another state to be married, even though we all want them to be married at home, among  family.    

I am a genderqueer professional. I’ve been with the company for five years. I applied, but I wasn’t offered the promotion, even though I continue to watch my colleagues move up in the company.   

After three years, my boyfriend and I finally took the plunge and applied to rent an apartment together downtown.  We’ve done all the paperwork, called the office, and even stopped by in person, but were told our kind was not welcome.

What is your story? How have you experienced discrimination? How have those you love experienced discrimination?

Your mission here at the Village Church is, “Follow Jesus, Change the World.”  Today is your chance to love radically and put that mission into action.  During our moment of reflection, I am asking you to share your story, to share it not just with anybody, but to share your story with your legislator.  They are the decision-makers who will decide whether or not LGBT people deserve protection from discrimination when they vote on the Equal Housing and Employment Act.  Shortly, a few items will be passed around to you - you will receive a pen, a blank piece of paper, a step-by-step letter-writing guide, and an overview of local state senators and house representatives, to assist you in locating your legislator.  Share your story as a person of faith, as a follower of Jesus. Tell them why it is so important to have protections for all people in Ohio, especially LGBT people.  They represent you, tell them that justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people is what love looks like in public.  

God of transformation, God of justice, God of radical love,

Help us to accept your unapologetic, unconditional, full and whole love within ourselves. Guide us to show that love to our neighbors, to those we care for.  Teach us to act upon that love towards our larger community, especially those who are LGBT.  Show us how to express that love through action, engagement, and reflection. We pray for those who experience discrimination here in Ohio. We pray that soon, very very soon, every person be treated with humanity dignity and worth, as we all deserve

Sunday, October 19, 2014

A Church for Outsiders by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

There is a story in the Old Testament about God sending a man named Jonah to some outsiders. You probably remember the part about Jonah being swallowed by a whale. We don’t really believe this story is historical. It is a STORY, used to teach us something about the nature of God and God’s people. Did you get that? We don’t read Jonah literally, but we can still learn some truths about ourselves in this story. 

There was a place call Nineveh and it was a place of great sin: Sex, drugs, rock and roll, gambling, -- think the seedy underbelly of Las Vegas – not all the shiny casinos with free food and shows.  Think of the worst part.  For the purposes of today’s sermon, I’m going to call Nineveh Las Vegas. 

The people in Las Vegas were awful. You look at the 10 Commandments and they broke them all before breakfast: stealing, cheating, killing, dishonoring God and their moms and dads. So God called upon Jonah, and said, “I want you to do to Las Vegas and tell those bad people to repent, and turn to me. Tell them to clean up their act.”

Jonah said, “You have got to be kidding! Las Vegas is a den of thieves. I am not going there.   Jonah ran the opposite direction. That is the first two chapters of Jonah, that we skipped over, where he gets swallowed up by a whale for disobeying God. Then we pick up the story where we started today. Once again, God said, “I want you to go to Las Vegas and tell those bad people to repent, and turn to me. Tell them to clean up their lives.”

This time, Jonah listens. He hates it, but he does it. But he is really half-hearted. No good stories, no flowery preaching to draw them in. He just walks about a third of the way into this huge city, stops and says:  “In forty days Las Vegas will be destroyed by God.” Now here is the amazing thing. The story says: “The people of Las Vegas listened, believed, and trusted God. They proclaimed a citywide fast and dressed in burlap to show their repentance. Everyone did it—rich and poor, famous and obscure, leaders and followers.”

Jonah was a success, without trying.  Just like that, they changed. They went from being outsiders, away from God’s way, to insiders, living with God. 

Even the King repented. He said, “Everyone must turn around, turn back from an evil life and the violent ways that stain their hands. Who knows? Maybe God will turn around and change God’s mind about us, quit being angry with us and let us live!”

And that is just what happened. God changed God’s mind and did not destroy them. 

Isn’t that great? Wouldn’t you think Jonah would be happy? He did a job for God and he was a success! But no, Jonah was not happy.  You see, Jonah, was a sore winner. He had been an insider in God’s way. He had been the good son, like in the story of the Prodigal Son. He had been faithful. Those rotten people in Las Vegas has been horrible, and yet just like that all they had to do was say they were sorry, and put on some sack cloth and ashes for a few days and everything was hunky dory with God. God is so full of love that God just welcomed them into the club as insiders, just like Jonah. They would probably get an equal spot in heaven, after all they had done. Just imagine, Jonah having to spend eternity with the likes of those people. 

Jonah was so angry, he yelled at God. He said:  God! I knew it—when I was back home, I knew this was going to happen! That’s why I ran off to Tarshish! (Spain for those without a map of the ancient world) I knew you were sheer grace and mercy, not easily angered, rich in love, and ready at the drop of a hat to turn your plans of punishment into a program of forgiveness!” He stormed off out of the city. 

Jonah just did not get it. He was like some judgmental insider church people you may have encountered: the ones who think that God’s church is only for people that look and act just like them. They don’t like outsiders. They don’t get the idea that people who have made mistakes, or people who are broken, or even people who are simply different are just the people that God wants inside God’s circle, inside God’s church. They like being insiders. So when those outsiders, suddenly turned to God, and became insiders, Jonah did not like it. Not. One. Bit. 

God likes it when outsiders turn to God. And God loves it when insiders help outsiders come to God. This is what The Village is all about, being a place where anyone can find a home with God, insiders and outsiders, all are welcome, no exceptions. I’d like to invite Rock up here and she and I are going to tell you her story. 
          This is Rock Hoffman, I want to talk to her a little about her life

CHERI: How long have you been clean off drugs and alcohol?

ROCK: 17 years.

CHERI: Can you tell us about the day you quit.

ROCK: It was July 5, 1997.  The town of Prescott is a party.   I had been in and out of AA and it wasn’t working for me; I was at a 4th of July party; there was a lot of drinking. I was drinking but I was such an alcoholic the alcohol had no effect on me. I was sitting on a fence this huge party; I said to myself: “I can’t do this anymore.” I went home and smoked pot.

The next day, I was sitting at my desk and I saw the white light and the red light came from the field across the street. It was like a battle between God and the Devil. God won the battle and I knew that I needed to honor God. Right then I gave my life to God. I said I would serve him and I would stay sober.   I’ve been sober ever since.  

CHERI: What was your life like before that day?

ROCK: My grandson is 5, I was drinking by then.  My granddaughter is 9 and by then,  I was a drug dealer…

CHERI: How did you come to The Village?

ROCK: In February 2011, I went to another church but I didn’t like it so I quit. One day my son Eli said: “Mom you’re going to The Village today.”  So I did

The next day your mom called her and talked to me like I was a person. No one had done that in a long time.

The first few months, people talked to me like they cared about me. I knew sitting there was going to change me somehow but I had to do it.  It was scary. I just kept saying to myself “Stay in your seat. Stay in your seat.”  

Cher:  What happened over time.

Rock:  I came to know that God did love me and I have as much chance of getting into Heaven as anyone else.  

CHERI: You came as an outsider. But now you are an insider. Do you remember the day you started feeling like an insider? 

ROCK: The day you gave me keys to the building, because you trusted me. I did not feel worthy.  But I know I am worthy, I am trust worthy.  Cheri kept saying you are worthy, I am leader in the church.   And after we moved to our new location, I came to say I am a leader in our church.

I know some of you are new and had never heard that story.  We thought you needed to hear that story, so we made Rock tell it again.  

My mom called Rock the day after Rock first attended church, and Rock says, “She talked to me like I was a person.” God used this congregation to help Rock see that Rock is a beloved child of God. Rock did not believe that before. Rock had a conversation experience, hitting rock bottom and getting clean off drugs and alcohol.  But I would venture to say that Rock was not significantly healed until finding this community. 

This is why we need church. We need a group of people to love us when we feel unlovable. And when we feel loved, we need to practice loving one those who seem to be a bit unlovable. Both are important. 

In The Village Church community, we practice patience, compassion, and forgiveness.  When we leave this gathering, we go out to share God’s healing love with a broken world.  Anyone experience any brokenness out there in the world recently? We are Jesus’ instruments of hope in our world. We are followers of Jesus and we can change the world!    

God called Jonah to be an instrument of hope. Jonah did it begrudgingly. Let’s not be like Jonah. Let us see what a blessing it is to be a community of hope. The Village Church is a blessing to our community. For five years, we have been here. We go out into the community, offering cups of cold water during a hot festival, and reminding them that God’s grace is for everyone. We worship, and when we do, we look for the newcomer, the person like Rock was the first time Rock came here. Rock did not feel loved but we loved Rock. Every Sunday more people come. We had 175 first time visitors last year. Just imagine what would happen if we embraced each one of them the way we embraced Rock. This room would be bursting at the seams. God would be overjoyed, and so would we. 

So my friends, let us keep being The Village Church. Let us welcome outsiders and treat them like insiders to God’s circle of love and acceptance. Don’t be like Jonah who was angry when the people turned to God and God’s heart softened. Let us be God’s people, God’’s people of mercy and acceptance. Let us be people who are grateful for God’s love in our own lives, ready to share that love with everyone we meet, insiders and outsiders alike. Amen.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Anxiety and Grace: Slow Down by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Patti Lusher)

Have you ever built a house? I mean have you ever been a contractor, or carpenter? Or have you ever been the homeowner who designed a home with a contractor and had a house built? Either way, it’s a big undertaking. I have never done it, but I know it’s a risky business. When you build a house from the ground up lots of things can go wrong. 

Let me show you some examples of ones that did not turn out so well.
House #1

All I know about this one is that it was poorly constructed. ‘Ya think?
House #2

Likewise I found this one on the website of the Affordable Housing Institute. The caption said: “We think this house may have been ‘poorly built.’” No kidding

Rihanna paid $6.9 million on a 10 bedroom mansion. She said she needs a whole lot of umbrellas. She is taking a $2.6 million loss on the home. She claims the home is so poorly built that it leaks water and is virtually uninhabitable.

Where did these builders go wrong?
       They cut corners.
       Worked too fast.
       Used inferior materials.
       Did not ask for help.

These things happen all the time in all sorts of situations when we rely on ourselves to do things that we are not qualified to do. Am I right? 

We are winding down our Old Testament Series on the matriarchs and patriarchs of Israel, our mothers and fathers in the Christian faith: Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah and Rachel, Joseph, and now Moses and his wife Zipporah and his brother Aaron. Over and over again in the months as we have made the journey through the book of Genesis and Exodus, we have seen God’s deep love for God’s people. We have heard God’s promise of descendants and land. All God asks is for love from the people. We looked at the Ten Commandments last week, but remember, they can all really be summed up in love and compassion for God, for ourselves, and for our neighbors. Love God, love your neighbor and love yourself. 

In today’s scripture, their leader Moses has gone up onto the mountain for a while to be with God. And do you know what happens? In just an instant THEY FORGET EVERYTHING!  They forget what it means to be God’s people, to love God and to put their trust in God. They completely forget the first two commandments: I am the only God, don’t have any other Gods; and the second: don’t worship idols. 

They forget that they are completely dependent on God. Moses is gone, and they get anxious and scared, like little children who get separated from their parents at the amusement park. They forget everything Moses has done for them. Out of sight, out of mind. So, like the builder who builds houses that fall down, they cut corners. They think “We don’t need the one true God. Any old god will do.” They ask Aaron to make them some gods. 

I don’t know what Aaron is thinking. He is the #2 man in this project, second to Moses. He should know better. Perhaps the power goes to his head. He takes their gold, melts it and molds it into a golden calf and builds and altar in front of it. He tells them to get ready with their sacrifices the next day. They are going to have a party, and party they do. 

These people, stray so far, so fast. They think they can make a god out of some gold jewelry. They think they can replace the creator of heaven and earth with a golden idol. Just like builders who build an unstable house with inferior materials, the people of Israel think they can replace God with something they mold out of their earrings.

Their biggest failure was this, when they got anxious and scared, they turned to themselves, rather than turning to God. They tried to come up with their own solutions using their own resources. They got into a big hurry. Why were they in such a big hurry? They knew that Moses has gone up on the mountain once already and returned with the Ten Commandments. Moses has gone back up again to pray and listen to God on their behalf. Now what I want to know is this: why couldn’t they just remain in the camp, have some Sabbath rest, and wait for Moses to return?

Their fear and anxiety got the best of them. They wanted control. They wanted to get moving to the Promised Land that God had been telling them about all this time. And so they rushed, like a builder who rushes a job and creates a mess that is uninhabitable. 

As the story goes, when God finds out what they have done, that they have so quickly broken the first two commandments and built an altar to an idol, God gets angry. The story tells us that Moses has to remind God of God’s love for the people, because God wants to destroy them. 

Now, we have to remember that this story was written a really long time ago by a people that were quite primitive. The only way they had to think about God was in human terms, as if God were a super-man. We like to think we have evolved a bit in our thinking and we don’t have such an oversimplified understanding of God. It’s hard to believe that Moses actually had to convince God not to be angry at the people. I think it’s more likely that Moses was angry at the people, and he believed God to be angry. But as Moses prayed, he came to understand that God is a God of grace. So even though God would have been deeply disappointed in the people of Israel, God’s way is the way of grace and mercy. And so, God did not punish the people. God loved them because it is God’s nature to love.

So this story invites us to ask ourselves: when are we like the people of Israel? When do we get impatient with God? When do we get anxious and think God has left us? And what are the ways that we start creating our own gods as replacements? We often talk about material goods in American society as “the golden calf” because we worship our stuff more than we worship God. It’s true. 

But I think if we dig even deeper into this story, the golden calf can be any situation when we fail to put our trust in God. We all have times when life gets hard. We are anxious and afraid. And we turn to anything and anyone except God to help us. We eat too much, get drunk or do drugs, gamble, drive fast cars, have sex with multiple partners, do extreme sports that abuse our bodies or sit in front of the TV for hours upon hours. We do anything we can to numb our bodies and minds. 

But what if we did this? What if we stopped running around, cutting corners, using inferior substitutes for God. What if we simply asked God for help? 

What if we would slow down, and sit with God for 15 minutes a day. Just breathe in peace and breathe out chaos. And say to God, “This situation, this thing, has the best of me. I can’t cope with this alone. I need you.” 

That is what God asks us to do: to trust our most difficult feelings and situations to God, to slow down, to rest in God.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

SETTING THE GROUND RULES by Cheri Holdridge (with an assist by Kurt Young)

      Have you ever been part of starting a new group or organization? Eventually you have to set some ground rules. They may be really informal and unspoken. Just simple rules of human interaction, like we’re going to take turns talking and not interrupt. But if someone new comes into the group and does not follow the rules it can be really disruptive.   They look at this person saying “do you not get the rules?”
     With most organizations, there comes a point where some rules have to be written down. If you want to incorporate you have to write a constitution and by-laws. Here at The Village, our leaders are actually working on that. We have to write down how we are going to elect our Lead Team. Up until now, because I was the founding pastor, I just hand-picked the Lead Team. That works for a start-up plan but long term, we can all see that is probably not such a good idea. More people need to be part of the process. 
Rules, also called laws, help us live together in harmony. But too many rules, as we can see in the Old Testament book of Leviticus, can get cumbersome. Let me give you some examples.  From Leviticus Chapter 19 for those following along on the net: Don't steal, don't lie, don't deceive anyone.  Don't mate two kinds of animals.  Don't plant your fields with two different kinds of seeds.  If a man has sex with a slave girl who is engaged to another man, but has not yet been ransomed or given her freedom, there must be an investigation.  

They got to the point in the days of the Old Testament that they were just trying to manage things with too many laws. I think we can all see that there are some situations in our world where trying to solve problems by writing rules and laws it not working so well. And yet, we know we need SOME rules. 

If you could choose one or two commandments, or rules, that the rest of the world would have to follow, really have to follow, what rules would you make?  (We sent via text to Pastor Cheri, but you can comment right here).  

These are the big ten that God gave to Moses for the people:
1.       1.  I am your God, you shall have no other Gods.

2.      2.  You shall not worship any idols.

3.       3.  You shall not make wrongful use of God’s name.

The first three deal specifically with the people and their relationship with God. 

4.       4. Keep the Sabbath holy.

5.       5.  Honor your father and mother.

The last five regulate social relationships among people. Number four, is more similar to the first three, because it has to do with the people keeping a day holy for God. Number five is more similar to the last five because it relates to family relationships and the last five are about community relationships. 

6.       6.  You shall not murder.

7.       7.  You shall not commit adultery.

8.       8.  You shall not steal.

9.       9.  You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor

1     10.  You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, wife, or livestock.  (OK, this has to do with treating women like property, but we apply it to people)

Source: Preaching Through the Christian Year A, By Fred B. Croddock, Gene M. Tucker et al., Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1992.  These are the main ten God gave Moses to give us.  

                We had people texts come through with some commandments of our own.  We had most of the classics when Pastor Cheri read them.  A lot of Old Testament ones, including restatements of the Big Ten.  A few of Jesus’ teachings were well represented as well.  But we got some interesting ones too.  Know yourself inside and out.  Love yourself fully as you are.   The world, for good or bad, does not revolve around you.  Prepare for icebergs, but express hope always.  Some great rules for living as a follower of Jesus.  There was a lot of remembering not to murder/kill.  There were also a lot more thou shalt nots, and not enough thou shalts.  But still, some great wisdom from our Villagers in worship Sunday.

Some religious leaders asked Jesus, “What is the greatest commandment?” and Jesus said: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

          So let’s have a look at those first 10 again. The first four are about loving God. And the last six are about loving other people.  And Jesus basically includes us, ourselves in loving people. We should treat ourselves with the same love that we treat God and other people. Just as we would not kill others or lie to others, we must not kill ourselves or lie to ourselves. 

So being faithful to God really comes down to one thing, Love; treating God, ourselves and others with love. Now Love is a word that gets overused and misunderstood, so I might add the word compassion. Let’s treat other people and ourselves and God with compassion. Let’s show our love for God by treating ourselves and others with compassion. Compassion means literally that we “suffer with” or to “feel with” someone. It means that we put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. 

When my own father died, I was going to therapy at the time. I was in seminary and I was dealing with some family of origin stuff, the kind of stuff it’s a good idea to deal with before you go out and start being a pastor and trying to help other people. You need to work through your own stuff first. I was pretty mad at my Father for some stuff. And then before I could work through my anger at him, he dropped dead of a pulmonary embolism at the young age of 62. As you can imagine, I got pretty mad at him.  I could have stayed bitter forever. Thankfully I did not. Over the period of about a year or two, I came to forgive my dad for not being a perfect father. I realized that he did the best he could with the hand he was dealt in life. I tried to put myself in his shoes. I dug deep and found some compassion for him. I decided it would not do me any good to live my life angry at him. And so I let go of my anger and decided to forgive him, and just remember the good things about him. Thankfully, there were some really good things to remember.   And I knew that he loved me. 

I am not a perfect person either. There are plenty of people that I still find it difficult to love. But I was able to love my Dad and forgive him.

When Jesus was trying to help the people not get so caught up in oh, so many rules.  What he said, “Let’s keep it simple. Love God, and love your neighbor and yourself.” 

Sometimes I just sit back and imagine  what the world would be like if we could just do that.  How many of our world problems, our community problems, and our family problems would be solved, if we would all just treat one another with love and compassion. Just do that with me for a moment. 

Imagine ISIS militants deciding to treat their fellow Iraqi and Syrian citizens with compassion. Imagine gang members in Toledo deciding to turn to love for all rather than out of violence. Imagine family members who snipe at one another day after day, deciding to say instead words of kindness and encouragement. 

What if we decided to love God so much that we treated every person as a beloved child of God? Look around this room for a moment. Everyone in this room is a beloved child of God. Turn to the person next to you and say: “You are a beloved child of God.” That person may never be your best friend, but he or she is precious to God, and that means that God wants to you treat that person with love. 

Now, look at your own hands. These are the hands of a beloved child of God. God loves these hands and the person they belong to. God knows that you don’t make perfect decisions every day, and yet, in God’s eyes you are a perfect and whole creation of love. God is your God. God is a god of Love.  God loves you unconditionally, and all God wants in return is your love. 

        This is the invitation today: Will you love God by loving yourself? Will you love God by loving your neighbor? Will you love God with all of your heart and soul and strength? The ground rules are simple. Jesus said we need some rules but we don’t need to be prisoners to too many rules. Just stick to this: love God, love your neighbor and love yourself. Do that, and this world will be a good place for everyone. Amen.