I See A New Church: Open Hands

This sermon was originally preached at Mission Hills United Methodist Church in San Diego, California on September 22, 2019. To watch the full recording, visit Mission Hills’ Facebook Page.

1 John 4:7-12

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent God’s only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that God loved us and sent God’s Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and God’s love is perfected in us.

 

1 Timothy 2:1-7

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God;

    there is also one mediator between God and humankind,

Christ Jesus, himself human,

    who gave himself a ransom for all

—this was attested at the right time. For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.

This past month, we’ve been talking about inclusion and welcome in our “I See A New Church” series. We’ve talked about what it could mean to have truly open hearts, minds, and doors in our church, both our local church as we continue growing in love, and our denominational church. We have explored the idea of vision, of imagining what is next, and of asking ourselves tough questions, questions we may be afraid of answering.

Today, I want to shift us a little bit, for this last week of the series, titled “Open Hands”. When I really truly started to ‘get’ the idea of public prayer, or prayer that wasn’t simply in my own head, I remember changing my posture from my hands folded or in my lap, to my hands up, facing the ceiling or the sky. This posture came from a sermon my pastor turned mentor, Jenny Smith preached in Alaska several years ago. She explained this concept of being open to God working in our life as a “Palms Up” life, which is a concept Bob Goff explained previously. I remember the idea of our faith being one that is active, alive, always seeking and asking questions, and how praying or showing up with this ‘palms up’ posture, this open hands posture, helped us to remember to embody that. Sometimes for me, and maybe for you too, it’s easy to keep our faith contained, to see it solely in scripture or in the things we see at church an hour a week. But when we commit to encountering God with our palms up, with open hands, we see God everywhere, in everything that is love, or that could be love.

 

Talking about love is a really popular thing here in the church. We like to stand on ‘love everyone’, and it’s not a cop out to be there. It’s literally what Jesus said. So as important as it is to love, it’s equally important for us to be loved also. We use the phrase, “love God, love neighbor”, but that’s a shortened version. We should actually be loving neighbor, as we love ourselves. This implies that we need to be open loving ourselves first, so we can be open to loving others. This isn’t exactly the most revolutionary concept, because it’s right there in the text. But the first time I heard it framed that way, it stuck with me.

Today our theme is open hands. This month, we’ve been exploring welcome and inclusion through the lens of “I See A New Church”, looking ahead to see where God is calling us next. Perhaps today’s message should have gone first in the series, because it’s all about loving ourselves, in order to prepare ourselves to face our lives with this ‘Palms Up’ mentality. with open hands.

The scripture today from 1 Timothy is a list of instructions. Paul is writing to the people, giving them ways they can engage, ways they can see the truth. Paul offers the preface ‘first of all’ to make it seem like he’s going to be supplying a list to the reader. It turns out, he has only one point to make. This denotes a certain simplicity from Paul, that what he’s telling people to do isn’t as hard as they’re making it seem. Paul tells them that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving are for everyone. These things help us to focus on God, “in all godliness and dignity”, he says.

The four things he lists are important, because they show the vastness and openness of God, and the ways we can participate with God, preparing us to love. The first is supplication, which means, the requests of the people. This is a kind of prayer, one we do each week here right after children’s time, raising our prayer requests in community. The second is prayer itself. Prayer is simply a focused, intentional space of connection with God. Often, I think we make prayer seem more complicated than it actually is, because at the root, it’s simply us celebrating our oneness with God. Third, Paul instructs us to engage in intercessions. The definition of this kind of prayer is “an intimate petition made by a friend to a king on behalf of someone else”. Again, our prayer time together is often an expression of intercessory prayer, because we will lift up friends or family who may not be present with us, but are being lifted up to God on their behalf. Finally, Paul’s last urging to the people was thanksgiving. We are instructed to give thanks to God, simply put. The goal, is that this is what we do all the time throughout worship, through our hymns, through our call to worship, through our offering time, and through the message. Whether we are giving thanks to God for who God is, for who God is blessing or whether it is giving thanks to God for challenging us to continue growing in our faith, worship should be surrounded in our thanksgiving.

This letter in 1 Timothy is one of preparation, where Paul is preparing the people to be active participants in the church. Paul talks about why this is important at the end of our passage. 1 Timothy 2:6 talks about Jesus’ death, and it does so through secular imagery. The death on the cross can be grasped as something existential being exchanged for the purpose of providing new life for humanity.

And so, the ‘reward’ for us preparing ourselves in love, through these four things (supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving), is that we then can be love in our lives, being open to God at work through us for others.

Our second scripture, from 1 John continues to show us that at work.

1 John 4:7-12

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent God’s only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that God loved us and sent God’s Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and God’s love is perfected in us.

Us being able to love ourselves is a product of our relationship with God. No, there is no point when we are not fully and deeply loved by God, but I’m sure we’ve all had moments where God feels more distant to us than others. Like 1 Timothy speaks about, there are many things we can do to work towards feeling that closeness towards God. We pray. We come together in community. We talk about difficult topics in safe spaces. All of these things can bring us to a point where we feel loved by others, and to a point where we can love ourselves with a fullness that equips us to then love others with that same velocity.

The passage in 1 John that we just read reminds us of the fullness of God and God’s love. It reminds us of the divine connection we have with everyone, with the body of Christ. And it reminds us that at the heart of the ways we love others, at the heart of it is how we love God and how we love ourselves. That holy and mystifying relationships is what allows us to be love in the world, is what allows our palms to face up, open to the work God is doing for us and through us.

So Friends, today what I hear, from the scripture at work in the world, is that yes, we are called to love one another. And in order for us to do that, we need to love ourselves first. Like the oxygen mask debate, we cannot do the work for others until we take care of ourselves first. And in our case, that work is love. That is our priority, to be focused in on the ways we need to commune with God, to know love, so that that love can be shared widely.

We are given permission, by the God of the universe, to take a step back, to examine what love looks like, and to offer that to ourselves without shame or embarrassment or feelings of selfishness. If we can commit to that self-love, we are committing to a purpose-driven relationship with those around us, our siblings in Christ, who we are called to love.

So as we leave this place, may we give ourselves permission to love ourselves first. May we seek the love around us as God, seeing God at work in the wide-open spaces and the tucked-behind corners of our lives. And may we know that God’s love is a sacred and holy space where relationships get to thrive in the fullness of God.

Let us pray. God of mercy and vastness, we give you thanks for your unending love. No matter our own anxieties or fears or moments of complacency, you show yourself fully to us, your open palms outstretched to each of us. Help us to make time to see you in ourselves, finding love in the places we have never seen it before, so that we can be love to the ones who need it the most. In your holy name we pray, Amen.

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