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Daily Encouragement - November 10

Romans 12:14-18  NRSV Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.  Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.  If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. John 15:12-14  RSV  “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command you. 1 John 1:5-7 NIV This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.  If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all[a] sin. Without sacrifice, there is no community; without community, sacrifice has no meaning. If you think you might have heard that before somewhere, you’re right. On the other hand , I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve forgotten it. I very nearly did myself. That sentence is the one and only sentence I can remember from a sermon I prepared for a Veterans Day remembrance at Centenary some years ago. As is sometimes the case with preachers, I spoke beyond my ability level in that sentence: it’s way too spare and concise for the likes of me. And I still remember my total surprise as I opened my mouth to speak the words I had prepared, and heard those words come out instead. That’s how inspiration works (when it does work) - you have no idea how you came up with something you didn’t even know you knew. And, in point of fact, you didn’t know it until the Holy Spirit told it to you, and through you, all at once. It’s an experience both humbling and electrifying. You can’t make it happen; it comes when it comes...if it comes, which it doesn’t always. Nonetheless, despite the fact that I didn’t write that sentence myself, I know that it’s true. I know because Scripture, tradition, reason and experience all tell me it’s true (check out the Wesleyan Quadrilateral if you haven’t lately). And as we approach another Veterans Day - and move away from a watershed Election Day - it’s worth our time, I think, to ponder the relationship between sacrifice and community. The New Testament is as clear as clear can be about that relationship as it applies to the Church. Without the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, we wouldn’t be here. The 15th chapter of John’s Gospel spells it out for us: those who are called Friends of Jesus are his friends only because of the greater love he showed in laying down his life for them. We remain his friends when we live in his love - by obeying his commandment to love his other friends; that’s the only way anyone will ever know we are his friends. The First Epistle of John kicks it up a notch, focusing on light as a defining quality of God: God is nothing but light, all light, no darkness; the only reason we can have fellowship with one another is that the blood of Jesus cleanses us from every sin and empowers us to walk in the light as God is in the light. Here we go again: our fellowship with one another depends upon our fellowship with God, and neither form of community is possible without the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. Without sacrifice, there is no community...and the sacrificing isn’t just for Jesus anymore; our sacrifice is to put self- centeredness aside and love one another. (If you don’t think that’s a sacrifice, just try showing love to someone you simply can’t stand; even with the help of the Holy Spirit, you’re going to feel the pinch.) Which is why the flip side is also true: without community, sacrifice has no meaning. Jesus didn’t die on the Cross just to pass the time of day; he died there so that we could be forgiven for sin and cleansed of it, so that the community of his body, the Church, could come into being and continue his work. Community gives sacrifice it’s meaning. We don’t sacrifice ourselves for ourselves; we sacrifice ourselves for others. No one makes sacrifices simply as a self-improvement project; we make sacrifices for someone because we love that person or persons so much that they are a part of us, and we of them. So... without sacrifice, there is no community; without community, sacrifice has no meaning.  At this time in our nation’s history, when almost every form of community is being sacrificed on the altar of individual rights, and when even ugly division is deemed more than worthwhile as long as those rights are honored, the Church has an unparalleled opportunity to show the world that there is an alternative to Me First theology. But only if we’re willing to make some sacrifices. If a candidate we preferred and for whom we voted has won an election, we’re going to have to forego gloating; no slurring the candidate who lost, and no belittling those who supported him or her. If a candidate we preferred and for whom we voted did not win an election, we’re going to have to forego griping; no slurring the candidate who won, and no belittling those who supported him or her. Given the vast array of elections that took place last week, every one of us could easily have some reasons to gloat and some to gripe, so the sacrificing won’t be one-sided by any means. In short, we’re going to have to rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep - instead of weeping over those who are rejoicing and rejoicing at those who are weeping. I know, I know; gloating can be so deliciously delightful, and griping can be such a relief. But if we give in to the temptation to gloat and/or gripe, it’s going to be well nigh on impossible for our nation to be healed. It might help to remember that some of those with whom we disagree are brothers and sisters in Christ: we are called to love them even when we’re least able to agree with them, and even when they act disagreeably. Even when those who disagree with us aren’t brothers and sisters in Christ, the injunction to “live at peace with others, so far as it depends on us” still applies. After all, if we who’ve been redeemed into the community of Christ by the sacrifice of Christ can’t make some small sacrifices for one another, who are we kidding? It’s time for the Friends of Jesus to take a deep breath and ask him for the gumption to follow his saving example and love one another. If the Church isn’t willing to do that, who will?  As one of my favorite ancient rabbis (Hillel the Elder) once said, “If not I, who? If not now, when?”  Where Charity and Love Prevail, UMH #549, Verses 1 and 4 Where charity and love prevail, there God is ever found; brought here together by Christ's love, by love are we thus bound. Let strife among us be unknown, let all contention cease; be Christ the glory that we seek, be ours his holy peace. Pastor Susan Pate Greenwood

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