The Gospel lesson for this Sunday was the Great Command - Love God and love your neighbor as you love yourself. Part of being loving is being invitational. Another part of loving is providing a safe space.
Have you had a time when a church was not a safe space for you or someone you knew? How do you provide safe spaces for those around you, whether it be in a church or your home or even in how you interact with strangers? Please comment below.
“I Wasn't Sure if the Church Would be a Safe Space”
Sermon, Year A, Proper 25, October 26, 2014
Plymouth United Church of Christ, Eau Claire, WI
© Rev. David J. Huber
Focus Scripture: Dt 34:1-12 (Moses sees the Promised Land) and Matthew 22:34-46 (TheGreat Commandment)
Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself. In that command is also a command to love yourself. Love your neighbor and love God, but also love yourself. That’s something we often miss when we talk about not being prideful, being humble, make sure to put others before yourself, etc. But here is a command that we are to love ourselves as well.
Maybe not be haughty and obnoxious about it, but a command to love ourselves. It’s okay to do that. It’s important to do so. Because then we can love others. If we love ourselves then we can love others. And the starting point of loving yourself is knowing that God loves us. Relying on that. Relying on the truth that God loves us, no matter who we are or what we’ve done. None of that matters to God. Anything that we might think that makes us unlovable, does not matter to God. God loves us anyway. Unconditionally. So embrace that love.
And then – spread that love to our neighbors! Spread that love to our neighbor. Those you work with, those you live by, those around this church in the neighborhood, in Eau Claire, and the entire world. Spread that love to our neighbors.
Think of God’s love as a bag of seeds. A bag that we are told to take and go sow. It is a bag of seeds that never run out. Whenever you take a handful and sow it around, it refills. There is always sufficient love. Think of them as whatever kinds of seeds you like. Violets, marigolds, wheat, or some other vegetable you really like. Perhaps turnips or parsnips. Or acorns. Throwing seeds for trees. Whatever it is. We all have our own kind of seeds, and our own way of doing this, and our own kind of godly love to share with the world. It’s a bag of seeds that never runs out, so there is no need to keep any in reserve. There is no need to be afraid of running out. We can toss it around with reckless generosity. There is always more love. The more you give away, the more you have. That’s the paradox of God’s love, and what God’s love is like.
We have here in this passage the command to love God, love your neighbor, and love yourself. That’s what we’re all about as the Church, as the carriers of Jesus’ message. We’re all about love and sharing it. So we should be inviting people in to share in that love. To be part of it.
More than just inviting people, or asking them to come here to buy stuff at a thrift sale or a pie and ice cream social or holiday bazaar. Those are wonderful and good things. They are a way to bring the community in, and especially for us to work together in fellowship with one another. But we want to go beyond inviting people to come in to just consume our product, to invite them into our community and produce with us. To be part of our fellowship. To be part of us and produce the fruits of God’s love, the Spirit Fruits, beyond being consumers to sharers of what we have. To come produce with us, adding their unique seeds of love and for us all to become stronger because of it.
So I am pushing this invitation idea a lot and the idea of hospitality in our talk of church growth and vitality. A really important part of being a strong church is to be invitational and to show hospitality.
So what does “being the church” look like? It looks like loving our neighbor. It looks like helping one another. Helping in our community. The radical message that we hold here as Jesus’ people, the one that Jesus preached, is the message that it’s not God’s intent that we have to be self-sufficient by ourselves. Not God’s intent that we have to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. Not God’s intent that we have to be the self-made man or self-made woman or self-made however you self identify. No, the message is that God’s intent is that we do this in community. To do this with one another. We can’t do any of those things alone. I think it is a fiction to think that we can be self-sufficient, pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, or be self-made. We always rely on other people. We do that in community.
We help each other to be sufficient. We pull each up others’ bootstraps. We help one another make ourselves.
What does “being the church” look like? It looks like loving our neighbors. It looks like inviting the community in, such as to our Halloween party to share in our festivities. Or whatever else we are doing, such as helping with our street ministry. Inviting people in to help us with that. Or inviting your friends to come to Community Table and help us serve there in November (the 22nd). That will expand our circle and expose more people to us.
What does “being the church” look like? It looks like loving our neighbors. Which looks like hospitality. Yesterday (October 25) we opened our doors to the Memorial GSA (Gender and Sexual Awareness group, including LGBTQ teens and their allies and advisors). They had asked if they could have a Halloween party here at Plymouth. I said, “Absolutely!” We said a big “Yes!” to their request to use our space, and then they extended an invitation to the North High School GSA and also to ChiHi. We opened our doors to the community. Especially, we opened our doors to those who aren’t served as well as the rest of the community. So we opened our doors and some things happened. As I talked with Jamie, the advisor from Memorial, she mentioned that when the party had first come up in the group and told the kids they had found a place for the party and said it was going to be at a church, some of the kids weren’t so sure about that. Some weren’t sure they wanted to have it at a church. Not because they worried about church-state separation, but because they weren’t sure they could trust a church because of past abuse they’d experienced or seen. But they went ahead, and did it, and came and we had a wonderful time and they trusted in it. After the meal, we got in a big circle and introduced ourselves and shared some stories. In that sharing, the president of the GSA said that he hoped everyone experienced a safe space here at the church and in the group.
One of the teens, who was wearing a cross-dressing crazy psychotic nurse costume, told the story that he came here with his mom who drove him here. When they arrived, there weren’t many cars here because other kids had been dropped off by parents or came as a group. They had not been here before, so they weren’t sure if they were in the right place. But they pulled in, and as they drove up to the building, he said – and this is in relation to that comment about being in a safe space – that they weren’t sure if they were in the right place, but he saw the rainbow flag that is in my office window and he thought that even if they weren’t in the right space, he at least knew he was in a safe space. If they have a rainbow flag in the window, this should be an okay place for me to be. That he felt safe that he could come in and, if not the right place, could ask directions and not have to worry.
That question, “I wasn’t sure if the church would be a safe space,” no one should ever have to ask that question or to say it. “I’m not sure if the church is a safe space.” But for many, for too many, the church is not a safe space. So we – Plymouth – provided a safe space with something as simple as a rainbow flag in the window to say, “Yes, this is a safe space for you.” A remarkable moment that touched my heart when he shared that story.
We had a wonderful time, and Plymouth provided a safe place for 35 or so teenagers who are gay, transgender, questioning, not sure, and some who are their allies, who were impressed and very grateful that a church opened its doors so that they could have a party. And not just a party, but a Halloween party, which not ever church would allow, either.
They left a note, which I made photocopies of placed on the tables in the fellowship room. After they left the party, I found a thank you note on the table from them. “Thank you for allowing us to hold a party here. (heart). It’s greatly appreciated, North GSA”.
I left copies of it because I thought you all need to see and to know that opening our doors meant a lot to the teenagers that were here, and to their advisors.
After the party, some of the teens weren’t picked up right away. A number of musicians were in the group sitting around, so we came into the sanctuary and they played on the piano, and guitar, and sang. Great musicians. I made some good contacts and have invited a couple of them to come sing in worship. A few of the girls had beautiful voices, and one is a wonderful songwriter.
So we have made some connections by inviting people in.
We show our love for God in the way that we love our neighbors. Through invitation, through hospitality, by meeting their needs, by making a safe place, and by taking some risks in generosity by opening our doors.
Taking risks in generosity. That’s what “being the church” looks like.
And in the months and years to come, we will become more and more that church.