I hope that I won’t soon forget the smiles and laughter of our youth and adults as we bowled last Sunday afternoon in Kingston. I hope I’ll remember the encouragement and cheering everyone was giving to each other, and the little side conversations where people were sharing about their lives and what they are up to. It was a beautiful space of kindness shared (might I even dare say Christian love).
I don’t know about all of you, but I get overwhelmed sometimes. Overwhelmed by what’s going on for me personally, with my family, with my work here at Redeemer, with what’s going on in the world, with trying to authentically live life as a person of faith in a polarized world that just seems to move faster and faster and faster. Hmmm…I think we need to harvest in the kind of memories I was just describing to see us through the winter moments of life.
I also think that at such times we might need to slow down and remember the foundation of faith that seeks to undergird our life, pray and read and ponder together scripture texts such as the ones before us today. And we probably also benefit from naming all the good that is already happening through our hearts and hands as a church. So, I’d like to share a few snapshots with you of who Redeemer, New Paltz is as a church and the kind of impact are we having on the lives of people and the world around us as we consider how the scripture texts assigned for today can help us continue to build the kind of foundations we need to support us all.
In just the last couple of weeks, as I already mentioned, Redeemer New Paltz had our first post-confirmation youth outing – with bowling and laughter and a chance for community-building with some of our youth who are already looking towards apple picking or some other such fun in October. Redeemer was present at a Festival Partners event for the International Festival of the Voice – who are looking to utilize space here (in the process we connected to local and regional officials such as County Executive Jen Metzger and State Senator Michelle Hinchey). Redeemer’s Community Coordinator has been helping us get ready to welcome the Kol Hai community for their Rosh Hashana celebrations, as well as the Life-Long Learning Institute, both organizations that nourish body, heart, mind, and soul. Thanks to the amazing efforts of Council and other volunteers, we have finally received the approval needed from the State of New York to move forward with getting our loan to install a solar array that will help take care of God’s good earth and help us develop further financial stability as a congregation, and today Redeemer hosts the Free Fresh Food Giveaway and Food collection for FAMILY of New Paltz.
In the weeks and months ahead, we have our ecumenical Sunday School kicking off, two children from one family getting baptized next week, the Blessing of the Animals, a Gospel/Jazz worship service and our Worship Incubators Team Meeting. Our ecumenical Adult Academy is partnering with community organizations to co-sponsor a Second Sunday Speaker Series beginning in October with topics such as anti-racism and Climate Action – and there will be a very special Gathering for all of us – whether we’ve been around Redeemer for weeks or years – at the end of October – more on that to come.
This is just a partial list that gives a mighty picture of what God in Christ is up to through Redeemer. It’s a lot to celebrate and it’s a lot of potential nourishment for those wintertime moments in our lives and it’s also a description of a whole lot of love being poured out through Christ, into and through us. And the impact this has on peoples’ lives and the world around us? This can be tough to calculate. Do any or all of us remember the words someone said, or the prayers offered that helped get us through difficult times? Or the ways our volunteer hours translated into folks being renewed in their life and faith on Sunday and then being able to be a better grandparent or great aunts or uncles on a Monday, a more empathetic and compassionate coworker, or having a better ability to move from a moral center in our daily actions and interactions as citizens? Do we know how our presence as a church shifts the landscape of New Paltz, the Hudson Valley and the world for the better? Much of God in Christ’s work through us is like pebbles landing in a lake, right? With ripples that continue outward we know not how far.
Yet one thing that we can know, that we do know, is that to continue to be grown in the arms of grace as a congregation serving Christ in and for the world, we need to continue to build a strong foundation to support the kind of endeavors I’ve just listed. This includes our regular prayers in support of Christ’s mission through Redeemer, our regular financial contributions, and discovering where and how the Holy Spirit is “nudging” us to serve (whether it be for fifteen minutes or fifteen hours and whether it be it to welcome folks at the door, weed a garden, or serve on Council). It definitely includes seeking to help each other embody the love of neighbor described by the apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans.
For those of us who, amidst all the other ways we get overwhelmed, also can get overwhelmed by trying to live out our faith and remember all the ways this should be done, Paul is distilling things down for us today in his letter to the Romans. Look, Paul says, all the commandments can be summed up in this one: love your neighbor as yourself. If you do this, you will be carrying out the other commandments. Yes! If we are working to love our neighbors then it will be mighty difficult to break the other laws with them! Harder when you love someone to lie to them or steal from them or wish their stuff was your stuff…Ok, I have totally coveted swimming pools and hot tubs of people I loved…But you get the point this scripture is making! And this work of loving neighbor – this is the foundational work that builds the foundation that makes everything else I was listing possible. It is through love of neighbor that we nurture youth, partner with organizations doing inspiring work that aligns with our values, and help those in need.
And our gospel lesson reminds us not only that there are ways, when we have trouble or concerns with each other, that we should in healthy fashion approach those challenges; our gospel lesson reminds us that where two or more are gathered Christ has promised to be there in a very special way. We are more together than the sum of our parts, for Christ gets in the mix and amplifies the good we are undertaking, the people we are reaching, the distance those ripples in the lake from our pebbles of love will travel.
Yes, I hope that I won’t soon forget the smiles and laughter experienced last week. And, whether you find yourself today feeling on top of the world or deep in one of those wintertime and overwhelmed moments of life, it’s a good time to be remembering that our foundation in Christ is one of love for neighbor, love best carried out two by two and community by community. Love amplified by undertaking this labor together, and celebrating the stories of what God in Christ is up to, even as we dream together for where God will be leading us next. Amen.