If you were asked to name what the opposite of love is, what would you suggest? Often, when I ask this question, many say hate. But actually hating something that is wrong, or evil or life diminishing is not a bad thing, and could even be an expression of love. We read in the Book of Amos for example, God saying, “I hate your feasts and your festivals.” Why would God say that? Why would God hate religious expressions given to God, especially when they are given in gratitude and thanksgiving? Because they have not changed how the people treat each other. The merchants still cheat those who come to the marketplace. People are used and not uplifted. We can see that Jesus, himself, gets angry in the Temple because there are those who have desecrated God’s house. So if anger and hatred are not the opposite of love, what is? Actually many claim, and I believe they are correct, that the opposite of love is apathy, a lack of commitment or deep conviction toward something. Apathy, is the ability to not be moved by what you see or experience and not act upon it, even if it is diminishing the life of another. In fact Scott Peck, in his best selling book, The Road Less Traveled, says that “commitment is the foundation, the bedrock of any genuinely loving relationship. Unless you are committed to someone or something, you can easily not feel any need to extend yourself for the good of that person or group.
Look at Jesus’ own words about love. “No greater love has anyone than this, but that a person lay down their life for a friend. You are my friends.” And Jesus did literally lay down his life for each of us. Jesus was, and is committed to us and our relationship with God. As we approach this Lenten season and prepare for Holy week, we are reminded how this statement of Jesus’ is literally true. The hard part is he says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” It is our calling, it is Jesus’ authorization, Jesus commissioning of us to carry on his work.
I want to take a very quick look at commitment today as it applies to us and our life together as the church. Commitment is a key to any loving and I would add successful relationship, whether that relationship is with another person, or with a community or group of people. The reason is that Jesus tells us that this is what helps s receive his joy and makes our joy complete. What can he possibly mean by that?
I believe that God gives us the commandment and asks us to live it, for it is the source of our own feelings of success, accomplishment and meaning. If we do not participate and contribute in some way to a success, if we, in our commitment to helping achieve a goal is not present, we will not feel the joy of accomplishment.
I have to admit that I have not always understood what it means to have a commitment to another. I am a caretaker. I hate to see anyone struggle if I can help them and make their task easier. I remember I was teaching someone Greek, and every time the person stumbled and had to work at an answer, I would give them a hint or sometimes even answer the question for them. Finally in their frustration they said, “Will you please let me do it myself!” I was baffled by the response. But I learned that if someone does not do it themselves, then it is someone else’s success, and we have no sense of ownership in the achievement.
The seminary I attended was Colgate Rochester Divinity School. Crozer Theological Seminary merged with Colgate several years before I attended. Crozer is the seminary that Martin Luther King Jr. attended. So needless to say we had a huge Black Studies Program. Consequently, I had the opportunities to be in class with many African Americans and have talks with them in the refectory. One of the things they would say continuously was how the welfare system had been handled and perpetuated was one of the worst things that ever happened to the African American community. The message received was you are not able to be competent and successful. You are to betaken care of, and not brought into the life of the society as capable and contributing members. It was an is a system that diminishes another’s humanity and sense of being capable and productive.
This is an important part of why I want to focus on commitment today, for I believe it helps us understand why God has entrusted us to be the presence of Christ as the church. Why Jesus asks commands us and commissions us to now love as he loved. The challenge we have received to work together, to wrestle together, and to succeed together as the body of Christ. It is a time when we accomplish our mission and ministry we can feel successful. We can feel like productive, competent and capable. In our achieving together, we do experience a sense of meaning and purpose in our lives. Don’t we all want to feel that we, our lives have a purpose and meaning? Don’t we all want to believe that we, as the church, are making a difference in this God’s world? Don’t we all want to believe that the world, our community is a little better, more caring and compassionate place because we are here? And when we are able to achieve this, do we not feel a sense of joy in knowing we matter? It is why I believe God asks us to commit ourselves and our lives to each other and the world.
I share this, because today, I want to begin to celebrate what we have accomplished this past year, and to acknowledge that the reason we can celebrate and feel the joy is because of all of you who extended yourselves this year, who committed yourselves to the life and ministry of this church and helped us to achieve what we did.
Last year at this time, we were really struggling with our budget and what we could commit ourselves to as the church. We are asked to respond to so many needs, and all are important. How do you choose which to support and which to say I am sorry. We believed we were facing somewhere around a $40-50,000 budget short-fall. So we appealed to you, and you responded to our March Miracle by giving another $48,000 to the church’s mission. What a great gift of commitment. I am someone who believes that we, as the church, do not celebrate who we are and what we do enough. Jesus said, “I command, I authorize so you may feel my joy.” I want to celebrate with you that this year, we ended the year on budget for the first time in 4-5 years, The last 4-5 years the church had to his it’s reserves to meet expenses, and last year we were at the end of those reserves. What I also want to share is we did this without having to use the March Miracle. Please hear me. Because of our ability to do this, we can look at how we can offer ministries that will strengthen our congregation, and truly expand our theme for this year of being a beacon of hope to the church, to the community and to the world. But, I want to also say, we already are proposing what we believe is a balanced budget to Church Council this Tuesday, and that we are trying to honor your pledges by committing to the very limit of what we believe we will receive. We know you do not give to build a bank account, but to make a difference in the world.
The other success I want to celebrate with you, is we received 73 new members into our congregation this past year. Couple this with the 59 from the year before and even after deaths and people moving we have a net increase in membership of over 80 people in the last two years alone. This is something to truly celebrate, as most mainline churches find themselves experiencing declining membership every year. We also realized this year that over 1/3 of our members were not a part of this community when we built this new facility. So we put out a plea for your help with our mortgage, and again you responded beautifully. As exciting as this s, we also know it takes a while to feel a sense of ownership, of community and deep relationships as a new member, so maybe it is not as easy to feel the commitment. But this is why we stress, it is not a commitment per se to PUMC as it is to being children of God trying to build the kingdom of God. It is not the church we pledge our loyalty to, but to our God who seeks to lead us, guide us and help us to receive his joy.
We have been blessed and we have been a blessing this year, and we have because we have committed ourselves to being disciples of Jesus Christ. I have been reminded that when we trust a God and commit our lives to building the kingdom, we have then given God the opportunity to bless who we are and what we do. I have been reminded that when we are faithful servants we can and will accomplish things beyond what we may even imagine. So as we begin our journey as the church, as the followers of Christ, may we once again commit ourselves in love to the one who calls. May we live so his joy may be in us and our joy may be fulfilled. May we love as we have been and are loved. And if we commit our lives to this journey, only God may know what we may achieve and the lives that will be blessed. Thank you for a great year. Let’s do it again.
Sermon delived by Rev. George Cushman on January 27, 2008.
Materials on this web site are owned by PUMC, or used with permission,
and cannot be used elsewhere without PUMC permission.
Go to Top of Page