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(As I sit in a boys locker room chaperoning a lock-in, telling kids to pick up towels and stop running, I’m catching up on some sermon posting. Sorry it’s late.)
Text: Romans 1:1-7
Title: “LOVE…Gotta Have It”
It was summer at the United Methodist Church of the New Covenant in Kenai, now officially named Kenai United Methodist Church because no one ever called it “The United Methodist Church of the New Covenant.” My parents were there. We were in worship and it was time to introduce guests…that time when guests can feel like they are on display…some wishing they could just hide and others proud to say that they were there.
There was a couple sitting about halfway back to my right. The gentleman raise his hand and said something like, “Hello, my name is Tom Doepken and I’m here with my wife Sally as we visit our daughter.”
I don’t remember what their names were at this point, but I looked at him and said, “Um, what was your name again.”
“Tom Doepken,” he said.
Well, worship kind of stopped there for a moment as we got a little better acquainted. With my Dad and Mom and, at the time, our three kids, that made more Doepkens than are usually in any place at once. That one introduction changed everything. By telling me he was a Doepken, it opened up a whole world of relationships. Turns out he was an uncle a couple of times removed and my dad was able to figure out who’s mother’s aunt knew the other…or something like that.
But, introductions can be important.
Let’s take just a minute here and I’d like you to do something for me. I’d like you to stand up and greet someone around you as if you were introducing yourself to them at a Christmas party or at a family reunion or you found yourself working in the cubicle next to them or driving out to the worksite together. How would you introduce yourself? What would you find important to get out there? What are the things about you that make you YOU that you would want the other person to know.
Think about it a second. Start with “Hello, my name is…” and then go from there.
Now do it. …….
As you did this what are the kind of things that you mentioned? You may have mentioned your job or your kids or the things you really like doing…like skiing. Or perhaps there someone else here who’s a big Duke Basketball fan like myself and so that’s something that you’d get out there. Only seven of us in here could have said we’re Doepkens.
We have certain things that define who it is that we are in this life. And they help persons we meet get a better picture of who we are as people. They define us.
That said, let’s take a look at Paul’s introduction of himself to the Romans. I’m reading from Peterson’s The Message Translation this time.
I, Paul, am a devoted slave of Jesus Christ on assignment, authorized as an apostle to proclaim God’s words and acts. I write this letter to all the believers in Rome, God’s friends.
The sacred writings contain preliminary reports by the prophets on God’s Son. His descent from David roots him in history; his unique identity as Son of God was shown by the Spirit when Jesus was raised from the dead, set- ting him apart as the Messiah, our Master. Through him, we received both the generous gift of his life and the urgent task of passing it on to others who receive it by entering into obedient trust in Jesus. You are who you are through this gift and call of Jesus Christ! And I greet you now with all the generosity of God our Father and our Master Jesus, the Messiah.”
In those 7 verses Paul says, “Hello, my name is…”, but the part I really want to emphasize is that first part there. Paul first introduces himself, by saying, “I, Paul, am a devoted slave of Jesus Christ on assignment, authorized as an apostle to proclaim God’s words and acts. I write this letter to all the believers in Rome, God’s friends.”
How many people here would use such language…”a devoted slave of Jesus Christ on assignment”…to introduce themselves to anyone. Frankly, as life happens to us and we go about our business, we tend to forget that the primary way we are to see ourselves in the world is as followers of Jesus Christ. That’s who we are. But we tend to forget to mention that. We…well…we get wrapped up in life.
But as Paul writes to the Romans, he wants them to be clear about just who this guy is who is writing to them. All of us have received at one point a letter or e-mail or two from someone we really didn’t know. And without some type of introduction, there’s really nowhere to go. And so Paul wants to be clear that he is a follower of Jesus Christ and, whatever else he is doesn’t hold a candle to that primary designation.
You know, perhaps we don’t use such grandiose and religious salutations or greetings because, if the first thing that was out of our mouths was that we were Christian, we’d have nowhere to backpeddle. If we all had to wear nametags that said, “Hello, my name is Christian…ask me about the other details of my life” … if we were as up front with persons as this, then people would expect us to act in a certain way. Many would expect us to act…well…like Jesus. And that’s so very hard at times.
Think about how you’d act if you had that “Hello, my name is Christian” nametag on. Or if you had to wear a shirt that clearly pointed you out as a Christian all the time. Do you think people would look at you differently as you hurried on by the Salvation Army bell ringer at Fred Meyer or Carrs? Do you think persons would approve of your driving? Do you think persons would agree with the e-mails you send out of the websites you go to? As we approach this Christmas, do you think it would altar the way you shop or how much you drank at a party?
People would expect us to act in love.
It was another summer day at a different place and time. It was Nome and, even though it was just about the middle of June, it was cold. Nome, for those who don’t know, has a real bad alcoholism problem…among Native Alaskans in particular. It was the summer of 1990 and I was there as a 21 year old intern, staying in, and working in, the church.
There was a knock on the door and it was one of the Natives. I’d seen him around I think. He was drunk. He was cold. And he was hungry. He asked me my name. I told him it was “Jim.” And he told me his. I don’t remember what it was. He asked if I could help. I had decided earlier in the summer that I wasn’t going to hand out money because I feared having every person in need coming to our church and me having to deal with them. But I told him I’d go look. I came back to the door and offered him some canned food and frozen fish. He asked if I would pray with him. I did. And then I sent him on his way.
Now, I don’t think we had a lot of food in the church, but surely I could have come up with something better than frozen fish and canned food…with no can opener…on a cold summer night. That was weak.
I wonder what food I would have come back with if, when he asked me what my name was, I took some text from Paul and said, “I’m Jim, a devoted slave of Jesus Christ on assignment.” It would have been true. And perhaps my response would have been a little truer to who I really was called to be. It would have been more loving. I hope.
We are wrapping up our “Life-Giving Christmas” series and we’ve journeyed through some of the themes of this season as we lit our Advent candles and read our Scriptures. We entered the series bruised and battered from a mournful November and we prayed for HOPE…the HOPE of Christ to enter into the lives of those whose lives seemed hope-less. We talked of persons and places in our world where there was unrest and we prayed for peace. Last week, our hearts turned to joy and we thanked God for those persons and those things of this life that give us that joy, joy, joy, joy down in our hearts. And, each week all of sorts of prayers have been placed on our Christmas tree and all of them have been prayed for.
Today we turn to LOVE…the love that came down at Christmas. And we remember that the coming of Jesus Christ to us is nothing less than the love of God in action in our world. And those of us who believe that our God has indeed loved the world so much that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him will not die but have eternal life…that we who believe this would OFFER THE LOVE OF GOD…not haltingly…not in part…like my underwhelming offer of food in Nome. But we are to offer the love of God in powerful ways…as ones who do so as slaves to Jesus Christ and revel in that identification.
And it does happen. Love is shown. Relationships are mended. Grace is experienced. Wondrous gifts are given. And persons do offer themselves…knowing that God has, in this coming Savior, offered himself to us.
We will, within a week, celebrate the Love of God who comes to us in Jesus. We will gather around and sing “Silent Night.” We will get to see the kids come for the Children’s Pageant…with some being able to handle it more than others. We will light all those candles and we will hear the story of Christ’s birth.
But, Love didn’t show up once and was gone. The Love of God is with us and Love is still carried on in his name. And, perhaps, you have seen some of this love over this season of Advent. Perhaps you’ve seen it in your family. Maybe your kid did something wonderful. Maybe your spouse out of love for you has tried to make amends…or has forgiven you…or gotten you a gift you already know about. Perhaps you’ve seen persons respond with love to those who are hurting or have seen a gift given to others that you celebrate.
Where have you seen LOVE this Advent season?
After we close with prayer, I want you to think about that one person or one incident where you have seen or experienced or felt God’s love in action in the world and offer it up to God. You’ll have a chance to put it on an ornament and it will be placed on the tree so that our prayers may continue to be lifted up.
And, maybe, we’ll expect to see more love flowing from those of us who worship the King of Love who comes as a baby this Christmas season. This love…we gotta have it.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.