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Sermon for the 8th Sunday after Pentecost (2019)

Aug 04, 2019

Passage: Colossians 3:1-11

Preacher: Rob Donehue

Series: Sermons for Year C (2018-2019)

Detail:

Sermon for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C (2019)
August 4th, 2019
St. Anne’s, Conway SC (Lackey Chapel)
El Paso shooting (20 dead, 26 injured)

Hosea 11: 1-11 Colossians 3:1-11 Luke 12:13-21

This sermon is for the children. 

There is a story from the early church about the apostle John. As the tradition goes, all of the other apostles suffered martyrdom, but John lived to a very old age. And when he was a very old man, he would be carried to gatherings of the church so that the people could hear a word from the man who had seen and heard Jesus himself. And towards the end of his life, John always preached the same sermon. It was a short sermon, consisting of only a few words. “Little children, love one another.” Week after week, gathering after gathering, just the same exhortation from the apostle. “Little children, love one another.” “Little children, love one another.” No hell-fire and brimstone. No righteous finger pointing or berating the people about how bad they were. No long expositions on the meaning of scripture. Just the same, patiently repeated plea for those in his community to love one another. 

If this tradition is true, there may have been specific reasons why John kept repeating the same short sermon. We know that there were conflicts within the early Christian community, so it stands to reason to suppose that John’s community did not escape some of the controversies that challenged the early church. We also know that disagreement between Christians could sometimes lead to bitter division. And if John’s church had experienced any of the negative impacts of such conflict, it makes sense that toward the end of his life, John would have only preached a message about loving one another. Questions of theology and the interpretation of scripture don’t really matter much if you can’t show love for one another. So perhaps John’s short sermon reflects the lesson that John learned from years of experience: that in the face of seemingly ever-present conflict, the only message worth preaching over and over and over is the message of showing love. 

And, again, if the story is true, the church did not take John’s repeated message as evidence that he only had one thing to say; rather the church took John’s message as evidence that there is only one thing worth saying. 

I have lost track of how many times I have stood here in the wake of a mass shooting somewhere in this country and ended with the words: God save us. Truth be told, whenever and wherever there is an act of senseless violence, it is worth saying something just so that we don’t lose sight of the fact that we do need saving. But the particular evil we’ve seen this past week in Gilroy and El Paso, and just last night, Dayton, especially drives home the reality that we need help. And so, again this morning, I will end with words that you’ve heard often enough now that they sound repetitive. But I hope that the repetition of those words does not lead you to think that there’s nothing left to say. My hope is that you’ll take it to heart that at this particular time in our common life in this land, there is nothing else worth saying. 

And I hope that you will join me in repeating those words - as the prayer book says: not only with your lips, but in your lives. Because I want this church to be a community of people daring enough to care; daring enough to have your heart broken every single time you hear of something that makes you say “God, save us.” And I want this church to be a community of people daring enough to share the message of love with others - patiently, repeatedly, and in the hope that if we do our job well, then we might not have to hear “God save us” so often. 

I want this for our church because, as you probably know, we have children among us. We have children among us who are growing up in a world that is increasingly divided and plagued by distrust and fear of others. And they are growing up in a world where it has become normal - and astoundingly easy - for distrust and fear to escalate into hatred and extreme violence. And I want our children to know that there is a better way; and not just to know that there is a better way, but to see that there is a better way: to see a community of people striving to love one another and refusing to become indifferent in the face of evil. 

So it is our job to teach our children the love of Jesus. It is our job to teach them and show them the love that Jesus taught and showed. It’s our job to teach them and show them that in Jesus, all of the divisions which might once have separated us mean nothing. It’s our job to teach them and show them that things like “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language” have to be set aside because Jesus calls us to something better.  It’s our job to repeat the message over and over and over and over and over again so that they will understand that we are not meant to live in a world where acts of violence are normal, regular parts of daily life. And it is our job to teach them that showing love is not just something that we do for an hour on Sundays and then forget about it for the rest of the week. Our job is to teach them that showing love for each other means showing love for each other no matter where we are or what we’re doing. 

I think now more than ever, it is our responsibility to take the apostle John’s lesson to heart. Because I don’t think I’m being alarmist in saying that there are plenty of voices out there that want us all to do the exact opposite. Those voices have become a dissonant refrain that is tearing at the fabric of our common life. And so I think that we need to respond with our own patient but persistent refrain:

“Little children, love one another.”

 God save us.