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I Peter 1:17-25
If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds,
live in reverent fear during the time of your exile.
You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors,
not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ,
like that of a lamb without a defect or blemish.
He was destined before the foundation of the world,
but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake.
Through him you have come to trust in God who raised him from the dead and gave him glory,
so that your faith and hope are set on God.
Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth
so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart.
You have been born anew, not of perishable but imperishable seed,
through the living and enduring word of God.
For all flesh is like grass and its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers, the flower falls, but the word of the Lord endures forever.
That word is the good news that was announced to you, the good news of Jesus Christ.
The statements of faith from our Confirmation Class included in your bulletin today
offer plenty of thoughtful doctrinal “meat” and biblical interpretation,
so I am going to take a different approach to today’s scripture.
I am going to tell some stories, stories about some wonderful people of faith
who loved others deeply as a part of their living confession
that Jesus Christ is their Lord and Savior.
Her name was Gene.
Gene had just shown up for worship when Charles wandered into the narthex.
Gene was well-dressed, very spry for her advanced age,
and she knew nearly everyone in the sanctuary.
She greeted everyone she met with a smile, and they all knew her and appreciated her.
Charles was a bit disheveled. He had just come in off the street.
He had recently spent time in the psych ward at the hospital.
Charles was not fully well – mentally or physically – and it showed.
He was shy and uncomfortable, but wanted to come to worship,
wanted to try to gain some connection with God.
Charles was about to sit down in the back pew when Gene took his hand.
Come sit with me, she said, and she walked him down the aisle to the second pew,
the pew where she had sat for many years.
Gene shared her hymnbook with Charles during the service;
she showed him where we were in the bulletin.
She smiled at him and encouraged him to come back and sit with her the next week.
And he did. For a season, Charles, who had had a very difficult life,
and who had had a mixed relationship with the church and its people,
sat with Gene on her family pew for many a Sunday.
When Charles became ill, Gene inquired about him
and helped ensure that he would have proper care.
Charles died not too much later.
When he died, he placed his life into the hands of a God whom he suspected just might love him, because that sweet lady at the church in town had shown him the love of Jesus Christ.
His name was John. John was an accomplished businessman in his 50’s.
He owned and ran his own business, but John dealt every day
with the serious mental illness of depression.
John confessed that he struggled every day just to get out of bed and go to work.
Back in the 1990’s, he was taking extremely strong medication, lithium,
that dulled his senses and clouded his brain, but kept him alive.
When it came to what he believed about God, John did not know what to say.
He did not feel at all comfortable articulating a statement of faith about the divinity of Jesus,
but John had taken to heart the central message of the Scriptures, which is to love one another.
Despite his challenging and almost debilitating personal illness, John was a very loving man.
John and his wife had a grown son who had cost them no little consternation,
but John loved him. John loved his son unconditionally.
John loved his son through a time when nobody else wanted to have anything to do with him.
He loved him even when his son lied to him, and stole from him, and spoke ill of him to others.
John knew that the power of unconditional love had literally saved his life,
and so John sought to share that love with everyone around him,
including his terribly difficult son.
Eventually, by the grace of God, after years of a roller coaster life,
John’s son made a positive turn. He accepted care and medication for his illness.
He became someone who could acknowledge and even begin to return his father’s love.
And due in part to John’s unconditional love,
John’s son moved from mostly darkness to living in the light of Christ’s love.
Her name is Sue, and Sue loved her elderly friend deeply and well.
They were not related in any way other than being in the same family of faith.
They had known each other for years, but gotten to know each other through Pastor’s Aids visits. Sue’s friend was not always easy, nor was she always nice.
But Sue continued to love her.
Sue continued to show up, to act on her love, to provide for her friend
in ways that were far above and beyond what others might consider reasonable.
Sue sacrificed a great deal of time and energy, both emotional and physical,
because her friend simply needed someone. She needed someone to love her.
Through the extremely difficult last years of her life,
Sue’s sacrificial love helped her older friend find stability and security,
and also helped her to know the grace of God.
Her name is Catherine, and Catherine loves her neighbors.
She loves all her neighbors.
When a meal needs to be served at the Hagar’s house, she is there.
When a church member needs a visit, she is there.
When a Sunday School needs a teacher, she is there.
When one of her students needed her assistance, she was there.
When her challenging brother needed someone to handle his affairs, she was there.
You may have heard that 90% of being successful at many jobs is the first step – just showing up.
Catherine has been tremendously successful at the vocation of Christian love
because she keeps showing up.
She loves even when it is inconvenient to do so.
She acts on her love even when she does not feel like doing so.
Catherine loves constantly, even when she receives nothing in return.
His name was Ralph. Ralph’s wife developed a debilitating case of Alzheimer’s.
Ralph cared for her at home for many years, for as long as he could.
He cooked every meal, washed all the clothes, took care of all the household needs.
When his wife finally had to enter a care facility, he visited her, every single day.
He visited her when he did not feel well.
He visited her when she would lash out and blame him for everything.
He visited her when she didn’t know who he was.
He held her hand and loved her, even when she was unable to offer any love,
or even any acknowledgement, in return.
Her name is Lori, and Lori knows how to love young children.
Lori is a disciplinarian. She can be strict. She gets incredible results from children’s choirs.
But all of the kids know that Lori loves them.
She communicates with her words and her deeds that they are loved by her,
and that they are loved by her God.
Lori teaches the children more than music. She teaches the children that God is love.
His name is Harry. When Harry agreed to be a part of a team to visit death row,
he did not know what to expect.
He was assigned a name. He saw a picture of the man and read about what he had done.
Then, despite the shocking story, he began to visit.
At first, there was great skepticism from the man on death row.
For the first few visits, very few words were even spoken.
The visits were brief and usually awkward.
But Harry continued to visit. He continued to show up.
Every month he made a visit, and he tried to do so on a predictable schedule,
so that the man would know when he would be coming.
Harry had seemingly nothing to gain from his visits.
His visiting at the jail did not help build up his congregation.
He had plenty of other, more welcoming or more deserving people he could visit.
But Harry kept visiting because he this man had no one else to visit him,
and because Harry wanted this man to know some measure of the love of Christ.
Soon, the man on death row began to look forward to the visits.
Before long, they began to have real conversations.
They spoke of music and sports, of family and friends,
of current events and conditions at the prison.
They shared their hopes and lost dreams, their fears and curiosities.
Eventually, over the course of years,
the two men of extremely different backgrounds became fast friends.
When the day finally came for Harry’s friend to be executed, Harry was there.
Harry visited him before they strapped him into the chair.
Harry held his hand and prayed with him, and they shed sacred tears together.
Harry loved his new friend as if both their lives depended upon it.
His name was Jimmy, though we called him Mr. Scarr.
Jimmy showed up every Sunday night to serve the youth of his church for over 50 years.
Jimmy did whatever was needed from week to week.
He served thousands of dinner. He participated in countless Bible studies.
He cleaned up untold messes.
He drove the church bus to roller skating rinks and Braves games and weekend retreats.
Jimmy knew almost every youth by name, even in those years when there were 60 or 80
there at a time, and he made a point of looking them each in the eye and calling them by name,
so that they would know that they were welcomed and valued.
Jimmy often was called upon to take a few rowdy youth off to the side and talk to them,
so that the leader could continue the program.
The rowdy ones were those who ended up loving him the most,
because they knew that Jimmy loved them.
Jimmy was in his 90’s when he died, with his dear wife Betty at his side.
Of course, his sons and daughters-in-law were there, with all his grandchildren, who adored him,
but the sanctuary was crowded, full of former youth group members,
who ranged in age from age 16 to well over 60.
They showed up at his funeral because they had all been shown the love of Jesus Christ
through pure heart of Jimmy Scarr.
Their name is Mentor.
And they have shown up for this Confirmation class over the course of the last several months.
They have shared meals with them and field trips and time at the Retreat Center.
They have asked questions and sought to respond to thoughtful questions from the youth as well.
(to the Confirmands) Through their gift of time and interest and commitment,
they have loved you, and they will keep loving you as you enter high school and beyond.
They will be here for you through college and in your young adult years.
They are the church and they represent all those who have welcomed you and taught you
and encouraged you in this place.
This church is your home, your family of faith.
And this family will love you on those days when you are easy to love,
and on those days when you may not be easy to love.
This family will love you when you are here, and when you are far away.
This family will love you when you follow the paths many of us have followed,
and we will love as you begin to blaze your own paths.
You are welcome here. And you are loved, by your mentors and by all whom they represent.
The Christian message is simple, yet profound and far-reaching.
The author of I Peter writes, “Love one another deeply, from the heart.”
Eugene Peterson in The Message paraphrases the same text,
“love one another as if your lives depended on it.”
Another translation encourages, “Love one another constantly with a pure heart.”
This is the heart of message of Jesus Christ.
Jesus told his disciples on the last night that they were together,
“this is my commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.”
If you want to change the world,
begin by loving the person sitting next to you.
If you want to save someone’s life, love them as you have been loved by God.
If you have any desire to be faithful to God or to follow the ways of Jesus,
love one another – deeply, constantly, without condition, from a pure heart.
Love as if your life depended upon it, because, in reality,
the rest of our lives and even the hope of the world depends upon our willingness to love.
To God be the glory in the lives of all who seek to love as they have been loved. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church
April 30, 2017
Allysen Schaaf graduated from Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia with a Master of Divinity and a Master of Arts in Christian Education. Prior to that she received a Bachelor of Arts in Exercise and Sport Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The Rev. Dr. Todd Speed has served Decatur Presbyterian Church since August, 2007 and has been an integral part of the Decatur community ever since. As a part of his personal calling and service, Dr. Speed regularly serves on local non-profit or education-related boards, has led or co-led over 20 mission trips in various cultural contexts, and has participated in learning seminars on five continents.
Rev. Jamie Butcher was born and raised in the Appalachian mountains of East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. She grew up at Central Presbyterian Church in Bristol, Virginia, and tried to spend every minute of every summer at Holston Presbytery Camp in Banner Elk, North Carolina.
Join us for worship on Sunday mornings at 10:30 a.m.
Worship is the heartbeat of Decatur Presbyterian Church, the most important hour of the week. In worship, we offer praise, receive forgiveness, listen to God's Word, pray for the needs of the world, and offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God.
The mission of DPC is to share Jesus Christ's love for the world.
Founded in 1825, Decatur Presbyterian Church has contributed in numerous ways to the cultural development of Decatur over nearly two centuries, transforming Decatur from a tiny frontier settlement to building the foundations of the city we live in today.
205 Sycamore Street, Decatur, GA 30030