Yesterday I had the privilege of preaching at St. Luke’s United Church of Christ in Independence, Mo., less than a 15-minute walk from the Harry S. Truman Library & Museum.
St. Luke’s was founded in 1878 as the German Evangelical St. Lucas Church, and services were conducted in German until the First World War. There was a name change in 1934 and then the current name was chosen when the UCC was formed in 1957.
St. Luke’s moved into their current church building in early 1960s, and the sanctuary is very attractive. June and I enjoyed worshipping there yesterday, the last Sunday of the year.
Following the lectionary, which I never did during all the years I was a (part-time) pastor, the text for my sermon was Colossians 3:12-17. That passage includes these words (in the NIV):
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
The items of clothing mentioned first are rather straightforward and perhaps need little explanation. It doesn’t take much reflection to understand the meaning of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.
Of course putting all those virtues into practice is a different matter.
The most important garment to put on, of course, is love. And in spite of the widespread use of that term, it is the most difficult to understand adequately and to put into practice.
Jesus reportedly said that the second greatest commandment is “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39, citing Leviticus 19:18). Earlier, Matthew quotes Jesus as saying, “Love your enemies” (5:44).
But who of us really loves our neighbors as much as we love ourselves, let alone our enemies!
And, as you have heard emphasized often, as Jesus talked about it love is not primarily a feeling; rather, it is an action. We love others not by what we feel or say but by what we do for them.
In a very provocative statement, Shane Claiborne is reported to have said, “When we truly discover how to love our neighbor as our self, capitalism will not be possible and Marxism will not be necessary.”
He may well be right.
Accordingly, in these days after Christmas, it is fitting to reflect again on the wonderful words of Howard Thurman. (This was the heart of my blog article for Dec. 26, 2011.)
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.
(As you may or may not know, Thurman, 1899-1981, was one of the most prominent African-American ministers in the U.S. in middle half of the 20th century; he was a classmate of Martin Luther King, Sr., and a mentor of MLK, Jr.)
Why this emphasis on what we should put on and wear in the new year? To answer that question as succinctly as possible: because it is good for you, it is good for others, and it pleases God.
How can you beat that?
How can you beat that?