It’s remarkable that a barely noticeable, simple unassuming mark represents everything you’ve done in your entire lifetime. How does that make you feel? What does it make you want to do?
Imagine sitting as a spectator at your own funeral, listening to people talk about your little dash. What would you hear? Or better yet would you like them to say? That you worked hard, but could have worked harder? Or that you had a nice house filled with really cool stuff, but it could have been nicer had you bought cooler stuff?
At the end of the day, what really matters most? As the poem states, it’s how we spend our time, living and loving between the years of our birth… all the way to our very last breath. When my time comes, I hope I’ll be remembered as a great lover… and caretaker to all people, in spite of our differences of opinions or affiliations.
Now in this morning’s reading, Paul lays out a poetic yet profound “how-to” manual on living life in a way that represents God’s love for us. Like the 10 Commandments, he provides a list of core values that help define us as a church, and teaches each one of us on how to live into the world as ambassadors and imitators of Christ. And surprise, surprise, it begins with Jesus’ favorite topic…love.
Love was and is very important to Jesus. The dash that represents his life is a perfect testimony to this assertion. So it is with Paul, who emphatically states, “Let love be genuine; Hate what is evil. Hold fast to what is good.”
This is the bar set by Christ. The one we all must strive to grab hold of if we desire to be like him. If we let our hearts be real and do what is right in the eyes of God, then we will do what Christ did…leave the world a better place than how we found it. What a great way to be remembered, don’t you think? Someone who changed the world.
Paul, like Christ, understood love is an action, not an emotion. It needs to be put to work in order for it to work. But first we have to be willing to do the work, to love with a genuine heart for good.
For those who set Jesus as their example, you must not cling to pride, selfishness, favoritism or revenge. These are the things of the world. Instead, hold tightly to humility, selflessness, generosity, and servanthood. If the sacrificial and self-giving love of Jesus has taught us anything it’s: love without action is not love.
As followers of Christ, we must be willing to lead the way. We must be the first to set aside our differences, and lift each other up to touch that bar he has set for us; by forgiving one another as He forgave us, and serving each other as He taught us to serve.
Paul goes so far as to encourage some friendly competition; calling us to outdo each other in the ways we honor one another. To his point, when we think first about what we can offer in a relationship rather than what we will receive, we might be surprised at how quickly we can understand or (dare I say) actually like someone who is different than us. That’s love at work.
Love that takes the initiative has the power to be transformative. It has the power to change the world.
When we put our faith and heart to practice, it becomes easier for us to share God’s grace and mercy with others. When we put our faith and heart to practice, we are better able to rejoice in hope when a relationship seems hopeless. And have the patience to overcome the pain or suffering others might inflict upon us.
Putting our faith and heart to work can free us to pray with authority, give to the needs of others without thinking twice, and extend radical, Christlike hospitality to strangers. We can set aside our differences and leave our judgments and anger with God.
When we put our faith and heart to practice, we bless others by sharing their joy and pain; we are able to live in harmony. There is no need to separate yourself because you’re richer, smarter, or born in the right place. Real Christlike love gets down in the mud and lifts up anyone who is need of what you have to offer. It encourages and supports, and invites others to participate in peacemaking and joy.
Sharing your love with others is the best way we can bring others back to God.
By being present in someone else’s joy and pain, we build bridges not walls. We create communities that draw people together, not tear them apart. And uphold the virtues that represent God’s grace and mercy that heal relationships instead of inflicting more damage.
We may not be perfect at this, and in fact it’s a guarantee we will fail. We will have to rely on other’s help just as much as others will have to rely on us. But the point is not so much about perfection as it is about participation. For love without action is not love.
Jesus will always be remembered best for the ways he represented God’s love in the world. It was so important to Him that it compelled Him to give up His life for us!
And so I leave you with this question: What will God’s love compel you to do that will change the way people will speak of the dash that separates your years?
The sermon concludes with reading the final verses to the poem.
Ellis, Linda. The Dash, (www.linda-ellis.com/the-dash-the-dash-poem-by-linda-ellis-.html). Sept. 2, 2017.
Paul's "How To" List
Let love be genuine
Hate what is evil
Hold on to what is good
Love one another with mutual affection
Outdo one another in showing honor
Do not lag in zeal
Be ardent in spirit
Serve the Lord
Rejoice in hope
Be patient in suffering
Persevere in prayer
Contribute to the needs of the saints
Extend hospitality to strangers
Bless those who persecute
Rejoice with those who rejoice
Weep with those who weep
Live in harmony with one another
Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly
Do not claim to be wiser than you are
Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.
Live peaceably with all.
Never avenge yourselves, leave the wrath to God
If your enemies are hungry, feed them
If they are thirsty, give them something to drink
Do not be overcome by evil,
Overcome evil with good.
has been blogging under the name: Jesus not Jesús: Looking for Christ in the face of strangers. You can read his posts and browse his archives by clicking here.
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