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Love in Action

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In this week’s lectionary epistle text, Paul echoes Jesus when he says that the commandments can be summed up in the phrase “Love your neighbor as yourself.” He also notes that “love does no wrong to a neighbor” -- and therefore is a fulfillment of the law. But for Paul, love is much more than an ill-defined emotion... it’s exemplified by our actions. And as team member Beth Herrinton-Hodge points out in this installment of The Immediate Word, we’ve seen the very definition of love in action in many of the responses to the historic flooding in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. These stand in stark contrast to the harsh tone and judgmentalism of much of our public discourse, and Beth wonders whether we can afford to indulge in rigid pronouncements that might harm our neighbors when there is so much need in the world (and not merely in response to the latest natural catastrophe). Instead, Paul calls us to loving actions on an ongoing basis.

Team member Mary Austin shares some additional thoughts on the Exodus text and the similarities between the experiences of the Hebrews preparing to leave Egypt and many of those displaced by the flooding associated with Hurricane Harvey. Both groups of people are looking ahead to an uncertain future -- in the midst of departures with so little time for preparation that they could take very few belongings with them. Yet both groups are also infused with deep memories -- ones full of trauma, but at the same time also girded with a profound sense of gratitude for their rescuers. But underneath it all, the Passover story reminds us of God’s unwavering care for his people, bringing them through sorrow to a vision of a promised land in their future.



Love in Action
by Beth Herrinton-Hodge
Romans 13:8-14

One thing that unites our nation in these days following the long, slow, watery chaos of Hurricane Harvey is the outpouring of aid. Fellow citizens want to do more than watch the rain come down and the floodwaters rise. We want to do something to help.

* We hear reports of the arrival in Texas of the “Cajun Navy,” people from Louisiana showing up with boats in tow, ready to pick up those who are stranded and ferry them to safety.

* We see images of furniture stores opening their doors, offering their mattresses as a place to rest for rescuers and those displaced from their homes.

* Corner shops giving away food to hungry neighbors.

* The Red Cross and other disaster aid agencies are setting up clearinghouses for donations that will provide funds and supplies for cleanup and rebuilding.

The compulsion to help is love in action. It’s more than a response to a warm, fuzzy emotion. This is love which does good for one’s neighbor. It is love that disregards labels, allegiances, political affiliations, or socioeconomic status. This is love that responds to another’s hurt, to another’s need. It is love that acts.

In Romans 13:8-14, Paul writes of such love as a basic requirement for Christian living. We know God’s love by what God has done for us in Christ. Loved by God, we are commanded to love our neighbor, doing for others as we would have done for us. This is the way to be a neighbor, to be human -- to love one another. This is the way to follow Christ.

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13:8-10)

In the News
In addition to the examples cited above, there are additional hurricane relief stories about loving your neighbor which expand our image of who is one’s “neighbor”:

* The Islamic Society of Greater Houston, representing 21 Islamic centers in the area, has opened four local mosques as round-the-clock shelters to serve the needs of Hurricane Harvey’s displaced victims. “This is an obligation, a religious obligation to help others,” said M.J. Khan, president of the Islamic Society. “When you give, you don’t give only to your own family.... You give to anybody who needs help.”

* Even with frayed relations between the United States and Mexico, the Mexican government is coming to the aid of those negatively impacted by Hurricane Harvey. Mexico extended an offer to send boats, vehicles, supplies, and food. “We are here to help. We are neighbors. We are friends, and that’s what friends do,” said Foreign Affairs Secretary Luis Videgaray Caso.

* Televangelist Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston is helping Texans cope in the wake of Hurricane Harvey -- and trying to counter a flood of comments on social media accusing the church of turning its back on storm victims. Osteen was criticized for canceling Sunday services at his Houston megachurch while being initially reluctant to open its doors to Harvey victims -- despite the fact that thousands of flooded-out residents were desperately seeking shelter. With the large outpouring of neighborliness across southeastern Texas, the Christian megachurch appeared to critics to offer a slow response to burgeoning community need.

With images of the devastating flooding in Texas and Louisiana filling our television and social media screens, is now the time for criticism? If Paul’s admonition “Love does no wrong to a neighbor” is heeded, can we indulge in the luxury of criticism and controversial pronouncements?

Last week, a group of evangelical Christian leaders meeting in Nashville released The Nashville Statement, described as a “Christian manifesto” offering guidance on how churches are to address issues of sexuality. According to Denny Burk, president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, “The aim of The Nashville Statement is to shine a light into the darkness -- to declare the goodness of God’s design in our sexuality and in creating us as male and female.” Composed of 14 beliefs, it draws a line in the sand by rejecting the idea that “otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree” on gay, lesbian, and transgender issues.

The Nashville Statement has met with cheers as well as lament. Criticism focused on the timing: its release came in the midst of a major domestic natural disaster, as well as in the wake of post-Charlottesville marches and protests related to racism. Skye Jethani, a prominent Chicago-area pastor and author, notes that the Nashville Statement and others like it tend to halt conversation -- “which is precisely the opposite of what most churches and Christian communities need right now.” Statements help to clarify, but many evangelicals are now left wondering how to apply this one to flesh-and-blood neighbors in their midst.

Another controversial topic last week was the codification into policy of President Trump’s tweet banning transgender persons from serving in the military. Yet Defense Secretary Jim Mattis quickly responded by freezing the ban’s implementation, saying that he will first establish a panel of experts to provide advice and recommendations on how to carry out Trump’s directive. Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, added that transgender service members already serving will be treated with dignity and respect as the Pentagon sorts out its new policy. “There is no place for discrimination in our Armed Forces or indeed anywhere else in American society,” 143 House Democrats stated in a letter Tuesday.

Beyond watching the rain come down and the floodwaters rise, neighbors are helping neighbors. Generals and congressional leaders are standing up for American service personnel. Pastors and other Christians are turning away from rigid pronouncements to focus on addressing current disasters and tragedies.

In the Scriptures
The apostle Paul views love as the key to one’s relationship to their neighbor. This message comes across clearly in vv. 8-10 with a call to fulfill God’s law and do no harm to one’s neighbor.

In turning our attention to vv. 11-14, we get a glimpse of the pending consummation of the age that Paul awaited. He lived with the conviction that the fulfillment of God’s future was at hand: “The night is far gone, the day is near.” This conviction infuses Paul’s words with immediacy. He urges his readers and hearers to look to God’s future -- living for God and obeying God’s law, laying aside actions which might harm ourselves or our neighbor, shaping the present as if God’s fulfillment is now.

Thus, loving God and loving our neighbor, turning away from injustice and evil, putting love into action -- these are the fulfillment of God’s law.

Is now the time to involve ourselves in reveling and drunkenness, in debauchery and licentiousness, in quarreling and jealousy? Is now the time to point out the speck in another’s eye, to concern ourselves with appearances or judgment?

Nearly 2,000 years after Paul wrote these words in his letter to the Romans, we are still waiting for the full consummation of God’s reign on earth. Paul’s words are no less urgent. Christians have an obligation to God, to our neighbor, and to ourselves. This obligation is to love as God has loved us -- by acting for and with us toward good. Christians are called to live in conformity with God’s dawning day, to live for God, and to shape our present by embodying love in action.

In the Sermon
There are several directions to take a sermon with this text.

1) Love in action. Lift up examples of love in action as embodied by the many helping hands that are being offered in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. The compulsion to help is love in action. It is love which does good for one’s neighbor.

2) Love does no harm to a neighbor. Contrast the examples of love in action with examples of judgment, discrimination, and reluctance to act. In the face of marches and protests and domestic natural disasters, what is the loving response? What helps rather than harms? Given the increasing frequency of fires, floods, hurricanes, domestic clashes, and bloodshed, is there ever a “good” time to pronounce judgment or draw lines in the sand? What is faithful to God’s law? What is loving?

3) Living in the already/not yet of God’s fulfilled promises. We know God’s love, forgiveness, and grace by what God has done for us in Christ. Knowing these, we look to God’s future and act today... making known God’s love in the way we love -- and do no harm -- to one another. We live a new reality that shapes our present, knowing that we struggle and continue to wait for the dawning of God’s new day.



SECOND THOUGHTS
Passing Over
by Mary Austin
Exodus 12:1-14

Packing up with very little notice. Check.

No way to imagine the future. Check. 

Praying for rescue. Check. 

It could be the story of the Hebrew people -- and it’s also the story of Houston-area residents. Like many people, when Lisa Eicher woke up last Monday the floodwaters were climbing the steps to her home. She and her family, along with their neighbors, were in need of a dramatic rescue. “Before [Eicher], her husband and four children could pack more than a garbage bag of clothes, firefighters had rolled up outside in a muddy dump truck and were telling them to leave. ‘We have two kids with Down syndrome, a pig, and a three-legged dog,’ Eicher recalled telling them. ‘Sounds good,’ one firefighter responded. ‘Let’s do this.’ Soon Eicher’s husband and a firefighter were helping Pip, a terrier mix, swim across the murky water. Next up was Penny, a mottled potbellied pig that floated on a yellow life jacket.” Soon they were on their way to shelter, not knowing when -- or if -- they would return.   

This kind of quick departure from home happens to the Hebrew people too, as God comes to them sounding like a combination travel agent and five-star chef. Even though they’re in a hurry, God gives very precise instructions about preparing the meal for their exit from Egypt. It’s not the quality of the food God wants, but their spirit of readiness. The whole feast is a preparation for their exit, and in later years the remembrance of it. This is the beginning of their formation as a new people. With the quick exit from Egypt, after a long wait, their lives are changing in ways they can’t even expect.    

Similarly, in the Houston area many people packed up quickly and left home ahead of -- or during -- Hurricane Harvey. They faced a patchwork of evacuation orders and recommendations in different places. NPR reported that “in a lot of neighborhoods and towns in this area, there just isn’t enough space at the shelters. So people who are being affected by evacuation orders, even in places where there’s a mandatory evacuation order, what that actually looks like in practice is a lot more loose. So people who don’t want to leave generally aren’t being forced to. And in a lot of cases, people left their homes actually before an evacuation order. It’s actually yet more evidence that the emergency system here is under a lot of strain.” With the advance of the storm, the process was “hard on evacuees. It’s not just one evacuation for a lot of people. It’s evacuation upon evacuation, over and over as the storm lingers and keeps making places that were safe into disaster areas.” 

The evacuation this time followed lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina. “During that disaster, many residents stayed put -- and died in some cases -- rather than heed rescuers’ instructions to leave pets behind as waters inundated homes. Others faced wrenching choices when they arrived at shelters that would not allow animals. One small white dog, Snowball, became a national symbol of these emotional separations after he was taken from the arms of a child who was boarding a bus to Texas that did not take pets.... One 2006 poll found 44 percent of people who chose not to evacuate during Katrina did so because they did not want to abandon their pets.” This time shelters were prepared for pets, and rescuers helped people take them. 

God plans for the Hebrew people to always remember this dramatic change in their lives. Memory is built into the departure for the people. 

In an ironic way, many people faced a similar kind of remembering and reliving during Harvey. People who moved from New Orleans to Houston after Hurricane Katrina found themselves back in a swirl of memories as Harvey came to Houston. Gratitude mixed with remembered loss and trauma for Katrina expatriates experiencing Harvey almost exactly 12 years later. “Many who were flooded out 12 years ago have been forced to evacuate again. Houston was nicknamed ‘New Orleans West’ after taking in so many evacuees in 2005. Many who chose to stay in the city may now be forced to move again. ‘Pretty much the same thing, you know? It’s pretty much the same thing,’ said Dominick Robinson. Robinson says it’s like déjà vu -- once again checking into a shelter after leaving home on a rescue boat. It’s what he did when he was living in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina -- an experience that taught him life-changing lessons.... ‘Survival. Survival and just staying patient and just waiting and just kind of ride it out. That’s all you can pretty much do with these hurricanes is pretty much sit tight and ride it out,’ Robinson said.”

The memories are painful, as people re-experience another disaster. For the Hebrew people, even painful memory is part of their formation as a people. God ensures that they will always remember their deliverance, and relive it each year as they celebrate the Passover. They are instructed to build the memory into what they do. “This is how you shall eat,” God says, “your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the Lord.” Katrina and Harvey survivors have memory built into the fabric of their lives too. 

Bill White, the former Houston mayor who welcomed New Orleans residents to Houston during Katrina, found himself in need of shelter during Harvey. “Twelve years ago this month, Houston mayor Bill White did the seemingly unthinkable, opening the doors of his thriving city to a traumatized flood of homeless Katrina evacuees -- more than 200,000 of them in all. It was a complicated political gamble, which he justified in shockingly uncomplicated terms: ‘You should treat your neighbors the way you’d want to be treated,’ he argued. A controversial decision at the time, it is remembered as one of the city’s finest moments.” In a curious twist, White’s home flooded quickly during the storm, and he left in minutes with only a briefcase and a backpack. 

Mayor White doesn’t know yet if his home will be habitable again. “If it is, he said, he intends to rebuild, but isn’t worried about his residence at the moment. ‘We lived in the house 18 years and raised the kids there -- had a lot of memorable events there,’ White said. ‘I arise each day lucky to be alive and I know there are people who don’t have the safety net that my family does. And frankly, my thoughts are more about them than material things I have lost.’ ” 

People are beginning to return home, and starting to clean out waterlogged houses, file insurance claims, and see if their schools and workplaces are open. Out of necessity they are looking forward, wondering what the future will hold. Professional prognosticators are divided about Houston’s future. Some advocate buying and bulldozing waterlogged homes to create a flood plain. The “destruction in the Houston region includes 18 dead, 50,000 rescued, and 500,000 cars waterlogged. ‘We’ve got probably 30,000 to 40,000 homes that have been destroyed,’ said Harris County Judge Ed Emmett. Damage estimates surpass $20 billion.... One element of a possible long-term solution to Houston’s flooding woes: buy out hopelessly flooded homes and return the spongey land to the watershed where it can soak up more rain.” 

Others see change in the future. The city has to plan for frequent flooding, they suggest. “Buildings continue to go up in vulnerable flood plains all over Harris County. A few years ago the city of Houston tried to ban new development in the most flood-prone areas. But developers sued, and the policy was severely weakened by the city council. Although some have chosen to elevate their lots to protect homes and businesses from rising floodwaters, that strategy may only increase the flood risk for those around them.” Climate change makes the future different from the past. “In planning for flooding from future storms, local officials largely look to past rainfall totals and weather patterns. But climate change will heighten the risks that the region already faces. That’s particularly true because it sits so close to the Gulf of Mexico, where sea levels are rising and waters have been warming as the planet gets hotter. Warm water means more evaporation and more water vapor in the air -- so when a storm comes along, there’s more water to pick up and dump on nearby land.” 

The people of Houston are looking ahead -- and they will also surely look back, remembering where they were when Harvey came, and what happened to them during and after the storm. They will have to look back to lament friends and homes lost, just like the Hebrew people did when they left Egypt for a future they couldn’t yet imagine. The future in Houston is still unknown, and there are tears and struggles ahead. The survivors of the storm will become different people because of their experience, with the storm memories woven in to their new lives. 

The people of Israel and the people of Houston have much in common as the future emerges. God has traveled this path with God’s people before, and so we pray for God’s unwavering care for the people of Houston, bringing them through sorrow, tears, and lament into a hopeful future.



ILLUSTRATIONS

From team member Ron Love:

Exodus 12:1-14
Professionals, such as physicians, veterinarians, lawyers, and chaplains (to name a few), receive direct commissions into the United States military as officers. But there is a difference, a very big difference, between chaplains and all others who receive direct commissions. Chaplains, although they are kept separate as a group from enlisted personnel, must attend basic training. And so, as a chaplain who served four years in the army, I embarked on my odyssey at Fort Dix, New Jersey -- with drill sergeants who were required to temper their speech but not their fury. The first day began with adrenaline flowing as we were to run the obstacle course. Having stood in line, it was now my turn to rush forward. I first came, with fear and trepidation, to a tall rope ladder that you ascend and descend. But perhaps I was more afraid of the drill instructor standing at the top than I was of the height of the obstacle. Having descended, I encountered a large canal that I had to jump into with both feet, with the water swirling up over the top of my boots. I continued along the remainder of the course, like all the other recruits, with wet boots and even wetter socks. Running, jumping, and crawling with wet feet is not really the most enjoyable experience. Having completed the obstacle course, the drill instructors sat us all down in the bleachers and explained why we began the course, and continued the course, with wet feet. It is because a soldier’s feet are seldom, if ever, dry.

Application: Moses told his people to be wearing their sandals to hasten their departure.

***** 

Exodus 12:1-14
In a recent Born Loser comic, Rancid Veeblefester is standing behind the desk of Brutus Thornapple. Brutus has both elbows on his desk, obviously discouraged. Veeblefester, the president of the company, is known for bragging about his wealth, and Thornapple, an employee, is known as “the born loser.” Veeblefester looks disgustedly at Brutus and says: “Thornapple is having a bad day. To use a football metaphor, he went for it on fourth and goal and got stuffed!”

Application: This is how the Hebrews must have felt until Moses came as their liberator.

***** 

Exodus 12:1-14
A statue of Martin Luther King Jr. has just been unveiled in his hometown of Atlanta. The 8-foot statue, located just a few blocks from where King grew up, shows King leaving a courthouse in a business suit. His left arm holds a stack of papers and an overcoat. King’s head, with a thoughtful expression, is turned slightly toward Martin Luther Jr. Drive. Sculptor Martin Dawe hopes that the slight tilt of King’s head inspires viewers to ask themselves: “What is he thinking?”

Application: The Hebrews were looking down a new highway of freedom.

***** 

Exodus 12:1-14
Painted on the president’s chair at the Constitutional Convention at the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia was a sun. Though George Washington distinguished the chair by his presence, during the dull moments of the legislative sessions the delegates would amuse themselves by debating if the sun was rising or setting, for the orange cast lent itself to either persuasion. The discussion of the sun ceased the day the document was signed on September 17, 1787, when Benjamin Franklin declared: “I have often and often in the course of the session, and the vicissitudes of my hopes and fears as to its issue, looked at that sun behind the president without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting. But now at length I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting sun.”

Application: The Hebrews must have known that the sun was rising.

***** 

Ezekiel 33:7-11
There is only one flag that is permitted by law to fly above the stars and stripes of the flag of the United States. That is the flag of a United States naval chaplain. When religious services are being conducted onboard a ship, the United States flag is lowered, the chaplain’s flag is raised, and then the United States flag is raised beneath it. The chaplain’s flag continues to fly in such prominence until the worship service is concluded. Then once again the United States flag receives the highest standing.

Application: Ezekiel teaches us to put nothing higher and more important than the Lord.

***** 

Ezekiel 33:7-11
Professionals, such as physicians, veterinarians, lawyers, and chaplains (to name a few), receive direct commissions into the United States military as officers. But there is a difference, a very big difference, between chaplains and all others who receive direct commissions. Chaplains, although they are kept separate as a group from enlisted personnel, must attend basic training. Chaplains are required to go through the same basic training rigors as anyone who enlists in the military. The reason for this is that (theoretically) all other professionals serve considerably behind the front lines in relative safety. Chaplains, on the other hand, are expected to be on the frontlines where the troops are dug in -- places of conflict and horror where a chaplain’s spiritual counseling and comfort are in dire need.

Application: Ezekiel instructs us that as sentinels we as Christians are on the frontlines.

***** 

Psalm 119:33-40
Kate Bowler, who teaches at Duke Divinity School, recently wrote an op-ed piece for the Washington Post titled: “Here’s Why People Hate Joel Osteen.” Bowler wrote that “Houston’s megawatt-smile, megapastor Joel Osteen” has recently been attacked on social media for his slow response in providing shelter for victims of Hurricane Harvey. Houston, Bowler points out, has the largest number of megachurch pastors of any city, so why did Osteen receive such criticism? Dr. Bowler gave three reasons. First, Osteen only represents one percent of Christians. Second, people wonder where all the prosperity gospel money goes, especially since Joel and his wife Victoria live in a mansion and have yachts (plural) and private jets (plural). Third, and most importantly, is his prosperity gospel theology. Hurricane Harvey is what theologians call a “natural evil.” How does Osteen’s theology of “everyone can be prosperous” answer the death and devastation of Hurricane Harvey? How does Osteen’s gospel that thinking positively will bestow you with health and prosperity “explain the persistence of suffering”? Bowler concluded: “The prosperity gospel has never found a robust way to address tragedy when their own theology touts that ‘Everything Happens for a Reason.’ ”

Application: Joel Osteen, as well as many of us in the pews, needs to learn the admonition of the psalmist to “teach me understanding.”

***** 

Romans 13:8-14
The National Rifle Association has just started a new advertising campaign titled “Coming for You.” Since the Republicans have been in office the NRA has secured much of its desired legislation, but now liberal forces are undoing some of their progress. So in the “Coming for You” campaign the NRA says we must keep intact current gun rights legislation in order to protect ourselves from the liberal media that uses fake news to misrepresent supremacists. The ad says to its opponent that the gun-rights group is “coming for you.”

Application: We need Paul’s message of love.

***** 

Matthew 18:15-20
This United Methodist recently attended a Southern Baptist worship service in Florence, South Carolina, and as an interdenominational experience allows, I came away very inspired. The title of the sermon was “Love the Mud.” The theme, in short summary, was that just as Jesus washed the mud off the feet of his disciples, we are called to wash the mud off the feet of anyone who is in need. The pastor, Rev. Lucas Cunningham, then used this analogy. He asked the congregation to consider if they were on a cruise ship or a battleship. Cunningham said that on a cruise ship you pay your fee and you expect things in return. You expect good food, an exciting schedule of activities during the day, and outstanding evening entertainment. If you are not satisfied, as a paying customer, you just complain to the steward or another cruise official. But on a battleship all of the sailors have a mission, for the ship has a mission. There is no place for complaining, only a place for faithfulness to duty. Then Cunningham asked if we in the church, because we give financial support, have the mentality of being on a cruise ship and feel that everything has to be the way we want it. Cunningham said that instead we need to view the church as a battleship on an evangelical mission. Everything on that ship -- in the church -- will not be the way that I want it. But on that battleship we are a part of the crew -- with no place for complaining, only a place for doing.

Application: There would be no room for strife if we all understood that we are on a mission for the Lord, and not on a mission for ourselves.

***** 

Matthew 18:15-20
At Fort Bragg, North Carolina, I was the chaplain with the 429th Combat Engineers (Heavy). Our battalion had 800 soldiers assigned to it, and I was the only chaplain. In the army, it is not mandatory that a soldier attend religious services on Sunday, but it is mandatory that the soldier be released from duty if he or she chooses to attend. After a number of Sundays in which the chairs set before the altar were only populated by a few individuals, I causally mentioned to the first sergeant my disappointment that more of the personnel did not take worship more seriously. The following Sunday, as I prepared to start my service, I saw nearly 800 souls seated before me. Astonished to the point of almost being speechless, I conducted the service of worship. Later that morning I walked by the bulletin board where the duty assignments were posted for the day. It became immediately obvious to me that the duties the first sergeant assigned to those who elected not to worship the Lord made attending divine services seem rather inviting.

Application: All churches need a first sergeant to help judge and keep things in order.

***************

From team member Chris Keating:

Ezekiel 33:7-11
Listen to the Sentinel
As disaster and relief teams spread across Houston and other areas impacted by Hurricane Harvey, there are signs that the massive storm could be a sentinel’s call to pay attention to warnings about future storm- and climate-related issues. But the concern is whether or not anyone is paying attention to the sentinel’s cry. Obviously, responding to the immediate issues surrounding human life is paramount -- but there are critical warning signs that shouldn’t be neglected either.

* One question to be explored is the storm’s impact on Houston’s oil and gas infrastructure. The city is seen as the energy capital of the world, and is home to many of the world’s largest energy corporations. Short-term impacts include the shutting down of refineries and the halting of exports. In 2016, a study by Pro Publica and the Texas Tribune sounded an alarm for potential threats by flooding, and called Houston a “sitting duck for the next big hurricane.”

* Globally, there are concerns regarding climate change and the costs associated with not taking action on cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Environmental activist Bill McKibben, sounding very much like a climate-change lifeguard, tweeted his thoughts last week: “Houston: slowly draining; Los Angeles: on fire; Miami: worrying about category 5 Irma; Trump: Paris climate agreement would be ‘bad for America.’ ”

* Another concern is more pragmatic. Faced with ever-rising floodwaters, FEMA’s flood insurance program is running out of money. It already owes the Treasury Department more than $25 billion, and could face claims in the hundreds of billions from Harvey alone. The federal agency only has $5.8 billion left to meet new claims -- yet 2016 saw claims exceed $3.5 billion. The Government Accounting Office (GAO) has labeled the program “high-risk.”

***** 

Exodus 12:1-14
A Bit of Levity
At the heart of the Passover instructions is the command to remember. God’s people participate in the rehearsing of this memory of liberation annually as a way of binding themselves to the covenant and recalling the God who doesn’t forget.

And yet we are a forgetful people. We forget car keys, shopping lists, dry cleaning -- and if you’ve been through an airport recently, you know that people are always forgetting things at the security line.

Apparently, patrons of the Dublin, Ireland airport are even more forgetful. Over the years, workers at the airport have reclaimed numerous lost items, including an urn containing human cremains, a life-sized mannequin, a toilet seat, and a large number of wheelchairs. The capstone to this weird collection of things forgotten -- and certainly the most ironic -- was a cemetery tombstone which was inscribed “you will always be remembered, never forgotten.”

Will the person who is red-faced and overcome by embarrassment please return to carousel one?

***** 

Romans 13:8-14
Somebody Oughta...
Singer, author, and peacemaker David LaMotte found himself pondering the complexities of political and cultural divisions in the United States last winter. The divisive nature of American life left him wondering what should be done about it. “Not what ‘people’ should do about it,” he writes, “but specifically me.

He found himself repeating “somebody oughta” over and over.

LaMotte’s response to the acrimony of our culture was formed by his own understandings of what it means to be a peacemaker and follower of Christ. In many ways, what he did next highlights Paul’s admonitions in Romans 13. In a nutshell, Paul argues that the gospel is about doing something in real time and space, as Kyle Fever observes, not something that remains in the “theological stratosphere.”

So what did LaMotte do? He nailed something to the side of his North Carolina home. In particular, he put up a sign that indicated his family’s commitment to being part of a community. On Christmas Eve, he and his eight-year old son put up a large banner which read: “You are our neighbors. No matter who you vote for, your skin color, your faith, or who you love, we will try to be here for you. That’s what community means. Let’s be neighbors.”

LaMotte believes that heroes do not fix big problems, but instead inspire others to do a little bit to change the world. “If we want the people around us, and ourselves, to grow, shift, and change,” he writes, “we have to come to know each other across the lines that often separate us.”



WORSHIP RESOURCES
by George Reed

Call to Worship
Leader: Praise God! Sing to God a new song.
People: We will voice our praise in the assembly of the faithful.
Leader: For God takes pleasure in God’s people.
People: God adorns the humble with victory.
Leader: Let the faithful exult in glory.
People: This is glory for all God’s faithful ones. Praise God!

OR

Leader: Come and be embraced by the love of our God.
People: Our hearts long for the arms of God.
Leader: Come and learn of God’s great love for all.
People: We open our hearts and minds to God’s love.
Leader: Let the love of God flow from you to others.
People: God’s love moves us to care for the hurts of others. 

Hymns and Sacred Songs
“The King of Love My Shepherd Is”
found in:
UMH: 138
H82: 645, 646
PH: 171
NCH: 248
LBW: 456
ELA: 502
Renew: 106

“Jesus Loves Me”
found in:
UMH: 191
PH: 304
AAHH: 335
NNBH: 506
NCH: 327
CH: 113
ELA: 595
W&P: 437
AMEC: 549

“Love Divine, All Loves Excelling”
found in:
UMH: 384
H82: 657
PH: 376
AAHH: 440
NNBH: 65
NCH: 43
CH: 517
LBW: 315
ELA: 631
W&P: 358
AMEC: 455
Renew: 196

“The Gift of Love”
found in:
UMH: 408
AAHH: 522
CH: 526
W&P: 397
Renew: 155

“Where Cross the Crowded Ways of Life”
found in:
UMH: 427
H82: 609
PH: 408
NCH: 543
CH: 665
LBW: 429
ELA: 719
W&P: 591
AMEC: 561

“All Who Love and Serve Your City”
found in:
UMH: 433
H82: 570, 571
PH: 413
CH: 670
LBW: 436
ELA: 724
W&P: 625

“Lord, Speak to Me”
found in:
UMH: 463
PH: 426
NCH: 531
ELA: 676
W&P: 593

“O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go”
found in:
UMH: 480
PH: 384
NNBH: 210
NCH: 485
CH: 540
LBW: 324
AMEC: 302

“The Steadfast Love of the Lord”
found in:
CCB: 28
Renew: 23

“They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love”
found in:
CCB: 78

Music Resources Key:
UMH: United Methodist Hymnal
H82: The Hymnal 1982 (The Episcopal Church)
PH: Presbyterian Hymnal
AAHH: African-American Heritage Hymnal
NNBH: The New National Baptist Hymnal
NCH: The New Century Hymnal
CH: Chalice Hymnal
LBW: Lutheran Book of Worship
ELA: Evangelical Lutheran Worship
W&P: Worship & Praise       
AMEC: African Methodist Episcopal Church Hymnal
CCB: Cokesbury Chorus Book
Renew: Renew! Songs & Hymns for Blended Worship

Prayer for the Day / Collect
O God who is love: Grant us the wisdom to see the power of love and the courage to use that power for others; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

OR

We praise you, O God, because you are love. Help us to be wise enough to understand the incredible power of love. Give us the courage to use that power for the healing and wholeness of your world. Amen. 

Prayer of Confession
Leader: Let us confess to God and before one another our sins, and especially our failure to love as God loves.

People:
We confess to you, O God, and before one another that we have sinned. We know you are love and that we were created out of that love, and yet we often act in very unloving ways. You show us grace and continually work to bring us to wholeness, and yet we turn on others and harm them with our words and actions. Call us back to your love, and empower us with your Spirit to act in love as you act in love. Amen.

Leader: God is love and rejoices when we live in that love for ourselves and for others. Receive God’s grace and power to live in eternal love.

Prayers of the People (and the Lord’s Prayer)
We worship and adore you, O God of infinite love. Your love is so pure and deep that it is beyond our comprehension.  

(The following paragraph may be used if a separate prayer of confession has not been used.)

We confess to you, O God, and before one another that we have sinned. We know you are love and that we were created out of that love, and yet we often act in very unloving ways. You show us grace and continually work to bring us to wholeness, and yet we turn on others and harm them with our words and actions. Call us back to your love, and empower us with your Spirit to act in love as you act in love.

We give you thanks for all the ways in which your love is expressed for all creation. We thank you for the wonderful bounty of our earth and its spectacular beauty. We thank you for those who have learned of your love and have shared that with us. We thank you for those you have given us so that we can share your love with them. 

(Other thanksgivings may be offered.)

We pray for all your children in their need. We ache with the knowledge that much of the needs around us are caused by us and others who act in unloving ways. As you love your children, help us to love them as well. 

(Other intercessions may be offered.)

All these things we ask in the name of our Savior Jesus Christ, who taught us to pray together, saying:
Our Father . . . Amen.

(or if the Lord’s Prayer is not used at this point in the service)

All this we ask in the Name of the Blessed and Holy Trinity. Amen.

Children’s Sermon Starter
Show the children pictures of people helping others. You might include pictures from Texas and Hurricane Harvey, being careful not to show anything that would be too upsetting to children. Show pictures of trucks being loaded with supplies, cots set up to sleep on, and people feeding or hugging other people. Also show some pictures not related to Harvey. Talk about how God loves all people and wants us to love others as well. God doesn’t want us to just feel nice about other people -- God wants us to help. Encourage the children to talk at home later about how they can help others, either in Texas or nearer home. 



CHILDREN’S SERMON
Where Two or More Are Gathered
by Dean Feldmeyer
Matthew 18:15-20

(Using Google or Bing or another internet search engine on your computer, find and print pictures of the items listed in bold print below.)

Good morning! Today we’re going to talk about some special words called “collective words.” Collectives are words that describe groups of things. Here are a few that you may already know:

(Show pictures as you pronounce the following.)
A herd of cattle.
A flock of geese.
A pack of wolves.
A school of fish.
A litter of puppies.

Those are pretty easy ones, but there are some other collective words that are a little stranger, ones that we hardly ever use or hear.

(Show pictures as you pronounce the following.)
A gaggle of geese.
A hive of bees.
A pride of lions.
A troop of monkeys.
And my favorite, an exultation of larks.

Collectives are fun. Sometimes we can make them up. I like to call a group of organists “a chord of organists.” And I like to call a group of pastors “a preach of pastors.” But there’s one other collective I want to talk about this morning, and it’s one that I didn’t make up. In fact, it was Jesus who made this one up.

What do you think we call a group of people who all come together to learn and encourage each other to live like Jesus lived? (Show pictures of people worshiping together in different settings.) Any ideas?

Well, Jesus called them a “church.”

It’s like the song says: “The church is not a building. The church is not a steeple. The church is not a resting place. The church is the... people! That’s right. The church is the people” (“We Are the Church,” by Avery and Marsh [Hope Publishing Co., 1972]).



* * * * * * * * * * * * *


The Immediate Word, September 10, 2017, issue.

Copyright 2017 by CSS Publishing Company, Inc., Lima, Ohio.

All rights reserved. Subscribers to The Immediate Word service may print and use this material as it was intended in sermons and in worship and classroom settings only. No additional permission is required from the publisher for such use by subscribers only. Inquiries should be addressed to or to Permissions, CSS Publishing Company, Inc., 5450 N. Dixie Highway, Lima, Ohio 45807.
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