Living in a Loving Community

“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection…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; so not to claim to be wiser than you are.” – Romans 12:9, 15-16.

Paper chain neighborhood and familyThese words of Paul give us pause to contemplate our relationship with God, creation and each other this Lent.  Paul is describing the marks of a follower of Jesus, and I feel convicted.  Following Jesus is a matter of living life connected to each other; those with whom we worship, those in our neighborhoods and families and those across the oceans from us.  Our connection is made obvious in worship when we begin by turning to those on the other side of the aisle from us and confess along with everyone else, “that I have sinned by my own fault in thought, word and deed.”  I have sinned.  I am not surprised, but now I am thinking about it, and what that means. I have to take responsibility and realize that my actions or inactions have hurt another, that my actions or inactions have hurt creation, and that my sinful actions or inactions make God weep.

We live in a very individualistic world.  A world that says, “look out for number one” and promotes success at any cost.  The problem with individualism is that it sacrifices the experience of loving other people, it sacrifices rejoicing with them, for a “me” centered response of jealousy instead.

An individualistic world says that you need to pull yourself up by your own boot straps, and if you don’t then the problem is yours. In fact it may be their problem, but it might also be that they are not fortunate enough to have what is needed to pull themselves up.  The problem is also that Jesus doesn’t ask for us to analyze another person’s condition to determine their worthiness in our eyes.  They already are worthy and loved by God.  And God calls us to love. Period.

The Christian lives in community.  I had a seminary professor who stated quite clearly, that a person can’t be a Christian without living in community.  The two go together and are inseparable.  The Bible is about living in community.  When we live life with a focus on community, we see the world as including more that ourselves. The world is a lot bigger. The world is full of people who are also broken and in need of God’s forgiveness and healing, and God uses God’s people to bring that care and unity.    Confession opens the door for each of us to do a self-inventory of ourselves.  We see our actions can hurt others, creation and God.  Viewing the world through the eyes of one whose sins are forgiven by God leads us to being grace-filled with other people; loving without stipulation and forgiving without strings attached.  Living in community helps us to live humbly, knowing that the “Gift” the “Joy” of life is Jesus whose Spirit calls us to actions of love in response to the love we receive.

This year, our HTLC community almsgiving opportunity is to share God’s love with those throughout the world who are in need of food.  ELCA World Hunger Appeal gives these statistics on hunger:

Hunger facts

  • 821 million people around the world – that’s more than 1 in 10 – can’t access the food they need to live active, healthy lives. [1]
  • According to the most recent estimates, 736 million people live in extreme poverty on less than $1.90 per day. That’s 10% of the world’s population. [2]
  • At some point in 2017 (the most recent year available), more than 40 million people in the United States were unsure where their next meal might come from. [3]
  • 39.7 million Americans were living in poverty in 2017. For a family of four, this means their annual household income was below $25,094. [4]

The world is in need of loving actions to feed the hungry in the world.  We have just confessed in worship that there are times we are selfish and think only of ourselves.  But there are brothers and sisters in need, and our hearts once again become open to the Spirit’s work.

After we have admitted our sin before God and the worship community, we hear words of absolution and pardon from those on the other side of the worship aisle.  “Almighty God grant you healing, pardon and forgiveness of all your sins.  Amen”   We can start again!  The burden we carried is removed and we can try again at love, knowing it makes a difference because we are all connected.  We can live as community connected to all people.  We are all one, created by a God who is full of mercy, love and forgiveness.

Peace! – Pastor Pam Schroeder

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[1] )Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2018

[2] The World Bank, 2018

[3] USDA, 2018

[4] US Census Bureau, 2018