June 4 the Church celebrated Pentecost Sunday, telling the story of the coming of the Holy Spirit with the rush of a mighty wind and tongues of fire. We placed streamers of red, orange, yellow and gold origami cranes to represent the flames and flicker between panels of red sheer fabric. During the reading of the Pentecost story in the book of Acts, when the Spirit enabled the disciples to speak in other languages, several members of our congregation recited the Lord’s Prayer in Spanish, German, Japanese and Latin. Music for the day was likewise celebratory!
— First Love —
By Rev. Barbara Kershner, Interim Pastor
May 21, 2017
"The one who loves Me will do the things I have commanded. My Father loves everyone who loves Me; and I will love you and reveal My heart, will, and nature to you" John 14: 21
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Do you remember that old playground chant? We would sing it if we saw Sally pass a note to Sam, or when Joe held the door for Jeannie.
Sally and Sammy
sitting in a tree,
First comes love,
then comes marriage,
then comes baby
in a baby carriage!
First comes love.
As humans we need love. If infants are denied love in the form of physical contact, snuggling, singing and cooing, eye contact — they will not flourish. We need the first love of a parent or grandparent or nanny so we might live and learn to love.
We need to know that we are loved. The whole world needs love. And here’s the good news according to the gospel of John:
God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but will have everlasting life. John 3:16
The first love ever was divine love. God so loved the world and demonstrated that love by giving, sacrificial self-giving. The first and everlasting love is divine love.
Long before our parents even laid on eyes on us, even before we were a twinkle in our father’s eye, God loved us. God knit us together in our mother’s womb. God numbers our days and the hairs on our head.
God is love.
Most scholars believe that the writer of the gospel of John is also the author of 3 letters to the church known as epistles. In the first letter of John we hear an echo of today’s gospel and an elaboration on love:
“We know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in her…We love, because God first loved us.” 1st John 4: 16, 19
In English, the word love is used quite casually and covers a lot of territory. We love everything from chocolate to the Red Sox, to our house, our job, our country, our God. Love, love, love. We’re quick to say it and often quick to end it. But in Greek, the language of the New Testament, of John’s gospel and letters, there are several words for love.
That romantic love that drives Hollywood and our fantasies is called eros from which we derive the word erotic.
There is also storge—the love of others—a love that keeps us mindful of human dignity, that shows itself in respect, good manners, and civility.
These two words for love do not appear in the Bible.
But there is also Philios—brotherly love—from which we get the name for the city—Philadelphia, city of brotherly love. Variations of Philios give us words for the love of family and others. Philanthropia means loving kindness.
But the special word for that first love, for God’s love and godly love is agape. Agape is self-sacrificing love, charitable and unchanging love.
It is the word used in John’s epistle: God is love. God is agape.
It is the word used in John’s gospel calling for our own human response to God’s love.
“If you love (agape) Me, keep my commands…the one who has my commandments and keeps them, that is who loves (agape) me; and the one who loves me will be loved (agape) by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.”
At first it sounds like a tall order. It sounds like Jesus is laying out some conditions for love.
“Look, here’s the deal. If you love me, you’ll do as I say.”
And sadly, some of us have been in those kinds of relationships.
But Jesus is not being manipulative. Real love can’t be forced. Can’t be commanded or demanded. Love can only wait and hope for a response.
But…this is God’s love—agape—self-giving, self-sacrificing, for us, for the world—that’s the first love. That’s what we can respond to or not. If we don’t…God still loves the world. God still loves us.
Jesus says in John 12: “If any one hears my sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.” (vs. 47)
Yet when we do respond to love by keeping the commandments, we are promised an even deeper, closer, sustaining relationship where Jesus comes to live and abide in us. Maybe it’s helpful to shift that word “if you love me” to “when” and see if that helps.
“When you love Me, obey the commandments I’ve given you. And I will ask the Father to send you another Helper, advocate, counselor, the Spirit of truth, who will be with you.”
We can choose to respond to God’s first love. And when we choose to love in return we show it by keeping Jesus’ commandments. OK. So what is that? The Ten Commandments? What’s expected of us? Well, actually, in the gospel of John, Jesus broke one of the 10 commandments. Jesus got into trouble for not keeping the Sabbath.
In Chapter 9, Jesus meets a man who was born blind. People had known cases of sight being restored, but never if the person was born blind. Here was a lost cause. And Jesus’ disciples were looking for someone to blame. They asked: “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
Jesus responded: “Neither one. This happened so that the works of God might be made visible. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
Then Jesus spit on the ground and made clay of the spit and anointed the man’s eyes with the clay and told him to, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.” He went and washed and came back with his sight restored. 20-20 vision! Hallelujah! A happy ending.
But…it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the clay and sent him to wash. No such work was to be done. Both Jesus and the man got into big trouble for breaking a commandment.
So when Jesus says: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” pardon the pun but I don’t think he’s talking about blind obedience!
John’s gospel tells us what Jesus’ commands:
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (John 13: 34) Agape, a self-less, self-giving love
Jesus repeats it again in John 15: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that you lay down your life for your friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (vs. 12)
That’s not asking a whole lot. Jesus asked us to love in response to being loved. And Jesus offers the help of the Spirit in keeping this commandment. And Jesus promises even more love in return. First love. Everlasting love.
And Who among us couldn’t use a little more love?
Greetings from Rev. Barbara Kershner, Interim Pastor
From the warmth of our welcome, to the inspiration of our worship, the delight of our young people, the embrace of our caring, and the diversity of our mission that we offer, you will want to see what we are all about. We invite you to visit us. We'd love to have you as part of our Church family. We welcome all!
We had beautiful weather, a good turnout, and fun music for the outdoor worship service Sunday July 9th, where ‘Birds of the Bible’ was the theme. It couldn't have been a more lovely day with the sun shining into our area of prayer. Barbara's message was uplifting and hopeful, Sue Matsui and some of the musicians from Rozen the Beau played beautiful music, and the Deacons provided us with a lovely brunch under the trees.
Each July we celebrate this special season by joining together outdoors at Field Farm in South Williamstown , and this particular time as a congregation was a great joy for all in attendance.
Put it on your calendar for next summer. We would love to share this time with you!