Once in a while a courageous worshipper will challenge the unwritten and ancient rules of post-worship behavior by asking a probing question about the sermon. These courageous participants, in what is too-often a one way conversation, will one day learn that normal church protocol demands a simple, yet firm, handshake accompanied by four words: “I liked your sermon.” Furthermore, it is permissible and often advantageous to not tell the truth during this exchange. Preachers are not different from ballerinas, boxers, and politicians - our egos are fragile, especially after public performances. Erring on the side of mercy is essential, even if the sermon served as nothing more than white noise for a quick nap. Still, there are a few souls that don't know any better and refuse to settle for the status quo. At Downtown Church, the preacher's ego is still fragile, but I'm also convinced that the sermon, at its best, is the first line in a communal conversation that should persist after the service concludes. The best interpretation of scripture, we believe, proceeds from the introduction of more than one voice reflecting on the sacred texts.
To encourage this dialogue, we will highlight questions from the courageous few that dare to say something more than, "I liked your sermon." We can't promise this every week as we haven't identified enough people yet to play in the sandbox. For now, look for these exchanges in The Blog every couple of weeks. And, if you are tired of playing nice and need to throw a little sand, let us know and we'll schedule you to stay awake during an upcoming Sunday sermon and send along a few questions to get the conversation started. Of course, you are invited to join us in any sandbox by using the comment feature below.
Our inaugural question comes from Michael Greene. Michael couldn't say no when I asked him to kick things off because I'd just agreed to officiate his wedding in January. Yippee for Michael and Leigh. Michael is an attorney (scary smart), graduated from Wofford (not quite smart enough for Presbyterian College), and loves the outdoors. Listen to the sermon for context and jump in if you got something to say. Michael asks:
The commandment (love one another as I have loved you) seems unwavering. Does that mean that, even when we are the one that needs love (whether we recognize it or not), we should find a way to give love?
Michael, You identified a question that I purposefully did not answer in the sermon. Namely, what if you aren't in a position to love others? Not everyone will be able to love others all the time. At least not in the active, visible ways that we traditionally associate with love. There will be times when we need to be loved before we can love again. But, receiving someone else's love can also be understood as an act of love. Stubborn, independent people like me have a harder time receiving love than giving it. And for some people, when we are in mourning it can also be difficult to receive the love and care of others. Doing so, is an admission that the loss is more permanent, especially if the person or loss was a source of love and care.
I think it is more helpful for us to consider love as a way of being in the world, rather than as particular acts. Sure, love is more than a feeling and is known by the activities it compels. But not every act of love is evident. For example: refusing to hold a grudge is an act of love that might not be immediately recognizable by others. This way of being, though, will be transformational for the one who determined to forgive.