This post contains the bulletin, music, and sermon from Sunday’s service.
GATHERING MUSIC Come Down, O Love Divine Vaughan Williams
WELCOME and ANNOUNCEMENTS
LIGHTING THE PEACE CANDLE Sherry Santana, liturgist
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us. . . achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.
Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address In honor of Lincoln’s Birthday Feb. 12, 1809
PRELUDE Where Charity and Love Prevail Benoit
CALL TO WORSHIP
At the center, Love. In the beginning, Love. Throughout Creation, Love. From prophets and preachers, Love. Through Jesus, Love. From the church, Love. In you, in me, Love. In love, God.
Let us prepare ourselves for the word of God as it comes to us in the reading of Holy Scripture. Our hearts and minds are open.
John 15:11-13 and Romans 13:8-10
For the word of God in scripture, for the word of God among us, for the word of God within us. Thanks be to God.
CONTEMPORARY READING Nancy Mairs
Ordinary Time: Cycles in Marriage, Faith, and Renewal
SERMON A Trinity Rev. Kim P. Wells
So, evidently, we humans have a fetish for things in threes.
There is the rule of three in writing. Three characters or three events make a more
interesting, satisfying story.
There is a rule of three in computer coding. I can’t understand the intricacies, but
if something happens twice, it is ok, but if it happens three times, something needs
to be changed.
There is a rule of three in statistical analysis. There is a rule of three in aviation
used to calculate descent. There is a rule of three in economics. There is a rule of
three in the military – one third of the forces active in the conflict, one third
preparing to enter the conflict, and one third of forces recovering from the conflict.
In art and photography there is a rule of three. A space is divided into a grid of
nine squares. Items of interest in the image are placed along the grid lines or at the
intersection of grid lines. This gives the composition greater tension, energy, and
interest. Russian philosopher George Gurdjeiff proposed a law of three. The
active, passive, and neutral states, all of which are necessary for growth and
change. There is a rule of three in the religion Wicca. Whatever you do returns to
you three fold.
There is a Roman phrase for the obsession with three, as there is for most things,
omne trium perfectum, which means everything that comes in threes is perfect, or
every set of three is complete.
As Christians, we know the importance of threes for we are the religion of the
Trinity, a concept which gradually developed in Christianity and was widely
accepted by the 4th century. Maybe the early church leaders knew the Latin phrase
and wanted to make Christianity complete, or better yet, perfect! Anyway, here we
are with our penchant for threes!
In the scripture we heard from John this morning, well, three things jumped out at
me from these three verses. And we note that it is significant that these verses are
placed among the final teachings of Jesus to his disciples in the gospel of John.
When this gospel was written, around the turn of the first century, everyone knew
what had happened to Jesus. That he was crucified and was conceived of as
resurrected. They knew he was killed by the authorities and died a gruesome,
excruciating, humiliating death. And here, the writer of John tells us that on the
eve of his death, among his extensive teachings, Jesus reminds his closet friends,
of three things, right here together in these three verses.
In the first verse that we heard, we were told of Jesus saying, “I have said these
things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”
Joy. The night before he is to be killed, knowing that Judas will betray him, Jesus
speaks of joy. He tells his disciples that the whole reason for it all is joy. He
doesn’t tell them these things to save them from hell. He doesn’t tell them these
things so they will be miserable and burdened with suffering and pain. Jesus tells
his friends that his intent, his goal, is to impart joy, full, complete, and abundant, to
his followers. Joy. Like the story of wedding in Cana when Jesus turned the huge
vessels of water into wine. The best wine. That was Jesus’ first sign in the gospel
of John. A party. So it should be no surprise that Jesus is reminding his disciples,
on what might be a dismal night, it’s about joy. As much as there is. As much as
you can hold. As full as you can imagine. Joy. Following Jesus is about joy.
Christians shouldn’t go around pointing fingers or looking like someone is
pinching them. We are to be joy-filled people.
Joy. That sense of gratitude and awe. That underlying trust that all shall be well.
That creation is wondrous. That life is fundamentally good and to be relished and
treasured. Joy. That assurance that we are who we are, we are doing what we are
here to do, we are living fully and freely with all of our wonder and weakness, our
fortitude and failing. Joy. The delight and amazement at the twists and turns of
life’s path. We are here to experience joy.
Then in the next verse, Jesus tells his friends, “This is my commandment, that you
love one another as I have loved you.” No long list of do’s and don’t’s. No law
code for determining guilt or innocence. One rule. One law. One commandment.
Love. Enemies. Friends. Strangers. Neighbors. Love. And how has Jesus loved
his friends? He has cared for them. Taught them. Had fun with them. Fed them.
Forgiven them. Comforted them. Prayed with them. Argued with them.
Observed religious rites with them. Healed them. Embodied equality and
mutuality with them not patriarchy and hierarchy. Served them. Saved them. With
Jesus love really means sharing the commonwealth of God together. It is
community. It is solidarity.
In this loving, there is joy. Joy is found in the deep connection and compassion
that goes with loving. We feel joy when we are are with those we love. Loving
also unites us in our common humanity and we find joy in that primal bond.
So, in these three consecutive verses from John, we have one verse about joy. And
one verse about love which connects to the verse about joy. Yes, there are joy and
love but there is a third component to the fullness and abundance that Jesus desires
for his followers. Here is the third verse: “No one has greater love than this, to lay
down one’s life for one’s friends.” Sacrifice. Self giving. Yes, Jesus is about to
lay down his life for his friends. But in this teaching, we are reminded that this is
not just a one time gesture. It is a model for all those who will follow Jesus. Jesus’
followers are to be willing to lay down their lives for others. To put the well being
of others, the community, ahead of their own lives. This is not a devaluation of the
self. It is not denigration. It is not debasement. Actually, it is the the honoring of
the self and human life with the highest dignity, value, and worth.
Human life is of such value, it is so sacred and holy, that any sacrifice, even of
one’s own life, is to be offered willingly for the sake of the protection and care and
wellbeing of another human life. So precious is our humanity.
To know great love, and with it great joy, to know the fullness of love and joy, this
third component is necessary. Sacrifice. Self giving. The offering of one’s self to
others. These three things love, joy, and sacrifice together frame the life of
discipleship and we see them together in these three verses, among these last
teachings of Jesus. So we have a holy trinity in these few verses that can serve as
a foundation for living abundantly. We could call it a love triangle. But these three
things, joy, love, and sacrifice go together like the three legs of a stool that hold up
the seat, or the three locks of hair that form a braid. All three are needed, they
function together, they are interdependent. With joy, love and sacrifice are close
by. With love, joy and self giving are woven in. With sacrifice, love and joy are
incorporated. All three, together, supporting and enriching the living of our days.
Recently I read a story in the paper about a couple that fell and love and got
married in spite of the challenges of the pandemic. They planned one wedding
scenario. As it turned out, it was not possible because of covid. They planned a
second scenario. The wildfires got in the way. They finally got married on Jan. 6,
outdoors in Frisco, Colorado, where it was 0 degrees and they had the snowy
Rocky Mountains for a backdrop. Who was at the ceremony? The two women
getting married and their dogs!
We’re told: “So although they’d always wanted to get married next to water, they
settled for ice. There were no guests, just their two miniature Schnauzers shivering
at their feet. The couple [who live in San Antonio, Texas] chose to get married
there partly because the state allows paw prints (as well as handprints of young
children) on marriage licenses. ‘We’ve been fixated on getting married in
Colorado because we love our dogs.’”
The couple have been together for 10 years and have had many ups and downs in
their relationship. They have been thoughtful and honest about discerning the
issues they have faced in trying to get along with each other. In discussing how
they have met those challenges, we are told, “They sought advice from song lyrics
and the Sunday sermons at Oak Hills Church, a nondenominational church in their
neighborhood. ‘What brought us closer together was going to church,’ Ms Bishop said.” [“At Zero Degrees, Joining Two Together as One,” Lois Smith Brady, New
York Times, 1/24/21]
Going to church? That surprised me. Yes, I know that the divorce rate is lower
among people who go to church. [There may be many reasons for that. . .] Yes, I
know the benefits of going to church for strengthening a relationship. Church
helps to make each person a better person, more whole, so that contributes to a
better relationship. But, somehow, it was surprising to read that in the newspaper.
But just think about it. As we have talked about it this morning, this threesome of
joy, love, and sacrifice that Jesus offers his followers, this is a solid foundation not
only for life, but for a long term loving relationship. There will be joy. That fills
and nurtures the soul. There will be love. That sustains and fosters growth
through acceptance and affirmation and honesty. And, there will be sacrifice, self
giving, getting over, working through, adjusting, helping out, supporting. This is
the Christian view of loving relationships that sustain and enrich the living of our
days. So it should not be surprising that people seek insight and healing for their
relationships in church.
Unfortunately, our patriarchal society sends very different messaging about loving
relationships. In social media, pop music, advertising, and celebrity culture, we
see a twisted view of loving relationships. It’s about what I can get, what is in it
for me, how I will benefit, how my needs will be met. There is no holy trinity of
love, joy, and sacrifice in the contemporary idealization of love. We just see an
iteration of the capitalist self serving mentality of competition, acquisition and
In the book, Love the Way You Want It, Robert Sternberg, a psychologist and
professor of Human Development at Cornell University, says this: “If I were asked
the single most frequent cause of the destruction of relationships. . . I would say it
is selfishness. We live in an age of narcissism and many people have never learned
or have forgotten how to listen to the needs of others. The truth is, if you want to
make just one change in yourself that will improve your relationship – literally,
overnight – it would be to put your partner’s interest on an equal footing with your
own.” [Quoted in All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks, pp. 162-163]. And, incidentally, Sternberg is also known for the Triachic theory of intelligence, the
Triangular theory of love, and the Three process view. [Wikipedia] Evidently,
Sternberg is captivated by threes, too!
Yes, concern for others. And their needs. In Christianity, we would even go on to
putting the needs of the community, and of others, ahead of the concerns of the
individual. Because when the community is healthy, the people in the community
are more likely to be healthy.
Laying down your life for your friends. For others. It wasn’t just something that
one person, Jesus, was to do one time, as part of God’s grand scheme of salvation.
Jesus is remembered for teaching his beloved friends and followers that this was
their calling, too. To lay down their lives. Because Jesus knew that we can only
experience the fullest joy and the deepest love when we are willing to lay down our
lives for others.
Friends, this Valentine’s Day we are reminded that we are here to love. That is
what we are created for. We are created in the image and likeness of the God of
love. Loving is our job. Our calling. Our life’s work. We are here to know joy
and to take delight in the richness and fullness of the human experience. That is
our birthright. And we are here to serve, to live for others, to give ourselves away
with passionate abandon. These all go together. Love. Joy. Sacrifice. A holy
trinity. Embodied in the life and ministry and teachings of Jesus. Guiding his
followers to abundant life.
And this Feb. 14, for a Valentine’s treat, sacrifice your healthy diet and find joy in
chocolate trinity ice cream. Chocolate three ways: fudge swirl and fudge cups in
chocolate ice cream. You’ll love it!
UNISON PRAYER Frank Topping
Lord, your harvest is the harvest of love; love sown in the hearts of people; love that spreads out like the branches of a great tree covering all who seek its shelter; love that inspires and recreates; love that is planted in the weak and the weary; the sick and the dying. The harvest of your love is the life that reaches through the weeds of sin and death to the sunlight of resurrection. Lord, nurture my days with your love, water my soul with the dew of forgiveness, that the harvest of my life might be your joy.
MUSICAL OFFERING Wondrous Love Sacred Harp/HKJ
MISSION STATEMENT The mission of Lakewood United Church of Christ, as part of the Church Universal is to:
- Celebrate the presence and power of God in our lives & in our world
- Offer the hospitality and inclusive love of Christ to all people.
- Work for God’s peace and justice throughout creation.
MORNING OFFERING Morning offerings may be brought forward and placed in the plates on the altar.
Offertory Ubi Caritas HKJ
Prayer of Dedication Dawna Markova
May we learn to open in love so all the doors and windows of our bodies swing wide on their rusty hinges. May we learn to give ourselves with both hands, to lift each other on our shoulders, to carry one another along. May holiness move in us so we pay attention to its small voice and honor its light in each other.
MUSICAL CALL TO PRAYER Have This Love HKJ
COMMUNITY PRAYERS – SAVIOR’S PRAYER
Holy One, our only Home, hallowed be Your name. May your day dawn, your will be done, Here, as in heaven. Feed us today, and forgive us As we forgive each other. Do not forsake us at the test, But deliver us from evil. For the glory, the power, And the mercy are yours, now and forever. Amen.
*BENEDICTION Andrew Harvey, inspired by Ibn Arabi
Whatever way love’s camel takes May that be my religion, my faith.
*POSTLUDE Now Praise, My Soul, Our God Prätorius
Ash Wednesday Ahead: Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 17 this year. There will be a beautiful fireside service held on the church grounds that evening at 7:00 p.m. Bring a chair if you can. Masks will be worn and there will be physical distancing. It will be a meaningful start to the journey into Lent, the 40 days of preparation for the celebration of Easter.
Lent Ahead This week, the season of Lent begins. Like a seed in the ground during the winter months, Lent is a time of preparation for the new life that we celebrate at Easter. The Lenten season begins on Ash Wednesday and lasts 40 days not including Sundays. It is traditionally a season of repentance; a time to turn your life back toward God, Spirit, Divine Love, however you envision that. The Lenten season at LUCC this year will be a time to reflect with women mystics of centuries past and consider the wisdom they offer for our walk of faith today.
Next Sunday: Worship will be held in the sanctuary with an indoor/outdoor arrangement so that the congregation may sit inside and outside. Physical distancing and masks will still be required.