Sermon text 2-12-23

2601 54th Avenue South St. Petersburg, FL 33712
On land originally inhabited by the Tocabaga

Date: Feb. 12, 2023
Scripture Lessons: Deuteronomy 30:15-20 and Matthew 6:24-34
Sermon: SAY YES
Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells

Unless you live under a rock, you know that Valentine’s Day is ahead this week. You are probably getting ads in your email or from your social media feed about the perfect gift for your Valentine. And then in the daily newsfeed, there are suddenly articles about relationships like, “Money ruins marriages. It doesn’t have to,” or “3 ways to deepen your relationship.” There are Valentine’s decorations in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. Then there are the shelves of candy in the stores. One chocolate bar I like has poems on the inside of the wrapper. Now they are all love poems. And there are heart-shaped boxes of candy. And, of course, the classic – Conversation Hearts, maybe helping you say what you have a hard time saying.

Conversation Hearts have always fascinated me. Words on the candy. Sayings. Really short. That pack a punch. I like that. But then I liked alphabet soup with the little letter noodles. And I like the chocolate bars with the poems on the inside of the wrapper. So, I’ve got a weakness for food with messages, evidently.

But Conversations Hearts, they really have a lot to say. BE COOL. CALL ME. HOT STUFF. WOW. CRAZY4U. HUG ME. SWEET. WINK WINK. And then there is SAY YES!

Both of the scripture lessons we heard today involve making a choice. Giving an answer. Choosing an option. In the story from Deuteronomy, Moses puts it right out there. Choose this day. And in the story from Matthew the choice is also made clear: You can’t serve God and money. Choose God. So, the Conversation Heart tempts us. SAY YES. SAY YES to God. To Divine Love. To the way of the gospel.

SAY YES in the Deuteronomy story means choosing the way of the God that promises peace, prosperity, well-being, a good life, and blessing. It is saying yes to a new paradigm of social and economic relationships based on providing for everyone and honoring the dignity of everyone. It is saying yes to obedience to God that leads to the well-being of the whole community in such a way that other communities will be drawn to the justice and peace and abundance that are evident. SAY YES! Moses encourages. Don’t be taken in by other gods or by systems of manipulation and power in the new land that lies ahead. Commit to God. Now. Ensure your well-being. SAY YES.

And in Matthew, there is recognition of how we so easily become fragmented and over committed and conflicted which produces anxiety and stress. We know about that. So Jesus puts it out there – God or money. You can’t serve two masters. He adjures his followers to SAY YES to the way of God. SAY YES to God who will provide and protect beloved humanity just as we see in nature – a carefully balanced adaptive interdependent system that promotes life. SAY YES.

Both of these stories invite us to SAY YES to Divine Love; to the eternal, universal, unconditional love that is at the heart of reality and at our heart. These invitations are like Conversation Hearts from God: BE MINE. FOREVER. I LOVE YOU. SOUL MATE. REAL LOVE.

And when we SAY YES to Divine Love, we experience the goodness, blessedness, and abundance of life. This commitment, including the commitment to obey in Deuteronomy, is not a burden but a gift. It is the way to a good life. To a life of meaning and purpose. To a life of wholeness and community. SAY YES.

Does SAY YES mean we will not have another care in the world? That we will not experience pain or heart break? That we will never be sick or die. No. It means that in the context of this human life on Earth, we can experience purpose, peace, joy, and well being.

SAY YES means having God, Divine Love, or however we may image God, at the heart of our lives. This is the most important filter for defining our reality. No two masters. No love of money. No serving other gods like: Success. Power. Gain. Status. Ideology. Only one center. One master. God. Love. The gospel. Jesus. One core. One commitment. And everything else flows from that leading to peace, well-being, and freedom.

These two stories remind us of the complications of multiple ‘ultimate’ commitments. It doesn’t work. We are divided. We strain. We fray. We concoct involved rationalizations to justify things. The glue doesn’t hold. It is enervating and exhausting.

Instead, as we heard today, we are given the faith option, to which we can wholeheartedly SAY YES, and then settle in to trust knowing that we are being upheld by Divine Love.

SAY YES. We are promised that saying yes to Divine Love ensures a good life. And we see that in our relationships. While relationships are often the most beautiful, mysterious, and satisfying part of our human journey, they can also be fraught with stress, anxiety, and heartache. We know this from experience. We see it in the relationships of those around us. We see it in our society.

What we find is that when we devote ourselves to God, when we SAY YES to Divine Love, well, things tend to go better in our relationships. Our commitment to love of God positions us to be more loving and committed to those who are important to us. Instead of creating polarization and a tug of war, when we SAY YES to God, we are headed one direction, the way of love. And we seek to express that love in all of our relationships. Instead of perhaps experiencing a pull between our faith commitment and our commitment to those we love, we find that our faith commitment helps us to better fulfill our commitment to those we love.

Saying yes to the love of God means saying yes to love of self, love of neighbor, love of enemy, and forgiveness. Let’s look at each of those for a moment and how they may impact our primary relationships including our romantic love relationships.

An awareness of love of self and self care helps us to be more healthy so that we have more capacity and energy to love and help others including those in our families. Love of self makes us more accepting of others. We are more capable of infectious joy from which those around us benefit. It increases our generosity of spirit. Love of self engenders empathy for others and a desire to help others care for themselves so that they can be more loving. Love of self makes us more able to be loving of others including our partners, families, and friends.

Love of neighbor increases our understanding, empathy, and generosity. For people next door, people around the globe, and our families and significant others. The impulse toward being generous and helpful benefits not only the random public and society at large but those in our household and in our families. And we can find common ground working together to help others which strengthens our bond to each other. So love of neighbor helps to strengthen our primary relationships as well as making the world a better place for all.

And love of enemy. Well. I was recently in a clergy discussion group that talked about a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. about love of enemy. In the comments, people talked about loving those who hate them. They were from historically oppressed groups. Besides being a woman, I am not part of such a group and have not experienced hate directed toward me personally for who I am. But love of enemies? I have experience with that. There have been times when, if I had a gun, I could have taken out my husband. And then my kids. And then, probably, myself. It is only the grace of God that prevented that – grace that translates into devotion to pacifism, to not having or wanting guns, to not being left to my own devices, to trust in forgiveness. Love of enemies does have an impact not only in society but also in families. It keeps hate out of the home so that love can thrive.

And when we think about our choice to SAY YES to God, we know that we are making a commitment to forgiveness. We are told of Jesus teaching forgive 70 times 7. And of Jesus forgiving his killers from the cross. So commitment to God involves trust in forgiveness. Knowing that we have an infinite capacity to forgive. And forgiveness can transform human relationships in society, in the boardroom, in the classroom, and in the bedroom.

Two years ago, when Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary, Carter was asked about advice for a long and happy marriage. The oldest-living American president said there are only two secrets to a long and successful marriage: “First of all, choose the right person to marry. And every night, we try to make sure we’re completely reconciled from all the arguments during the day.”
[] Maybe the Carters gave the Clintons some relationship advice.
Forgiveness. Reconciliation. Working out the kinks and the knots and the jams. Forgiveness is one of the most powerful manifestations of love. A commitment to God, to Divine Love, makes it possible. SAY YES.

So when we SAY YES to Divine Love, when we choose this day, when we select our master, we are saying yes to embodying Divine Love in all of our relationships. To living from the image-of-Godness within us. To letting our light shine and our salt savor. And that makes us better people: better citizens, better friends, better family members, and yes, better partners, spouses, significant others, and better lovers.

Every day we have the choice. Choose this day. Whom you will serve. When we SAY YES to God, to the gospel, to the way of Jesus, we become God’s valentines to the world. We are God’s Conversation Hearts saying SMILE. BE HAPPY. MISS YOU. YOU ROCK. ASK ME. YOU SHINE. DREAM BIG. BEAUTIFUL. BE GOOD. TRUE LOVE.

Choose this day. Choose every day. Not just Valentine’s Day. The way of love. SAY YES! Amen.

A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.

Author: Rev. Wells

Pastor of Lakewood United Church of Christ since 1991. Graduate of Wellesley College and Union Theological Seminary of New York.

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