A Communion Meditation delivered by The Rev. Timothy C. Ahrens, Senior Minister, The First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Columbus, Ohio, Epiphany 4, February 1, 2004, dedicated to my colleagues, The Rev. Ronald Botts and The Rev. Dr. Jeffrey P. Kee, Senior Pastor of New Faith Baptist Church of Christ and always to the glory of God!

"A Love Letter to American

Christians"

I Corinthians 13; Luke 4: 21-30

How often have we read or heard the words of First Corinthians 13? How many weddings or funerals have lifted up Paul's words of love as a testimony to their beloved at times of commitment, renewal or eternal releasing? Today, I take a slightly different approach. I want you to imagine something. Let your mind and heart run with this. Imagine that this week, a letter from the Apostle Paul came in the mail to me, on behalf of American Christians. How would Paul speak words of love to us today? Venture into this love letter with me.

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Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of each one of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our salvation. Amen.

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Dear American Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Grace be to you and peace from God, and our Savior Jesus Christ. My brother in Christ, Timothy, has spoken with me, sharing the good news of your faith in Christ. He has said that the church in America is faithful to the gospel, filled with the Holy Spirit, and blessed by a desire to serve our living God. For this I am grateful. I give thanks to God and rejoice every day for your faithful, Spirit- filled, and deeply desirous hearts for serving God!

Timothy has also shared news that disturbs and distresses me. He has told me that there is a growing gap in your nation between rich and poor; between varieties of people of color; and moreover between those who are the violent and those who are the violated ones. Some name this as a growing gap between the "have's" and the "have nots." While this may be true, this gap seems even more complex - spiritually and economically.

For example, I understand that America currently has more African- American men in prison than you have in colleges and universities. There is something wrong and painful in this picture. That which is wrong is deep in nature. What is wrong lies at the heart of values which have become twisted and skewed. The values which create such pain must also be addressed - values which promote violence, project warfare, spread hopelessness, mistrust and hate.

Now, I do not, for a moment blame you as American Christians for this growing gap and these staggering statistics. But, as American Christians, you must both speak and act against values which degrade and devalue life. As Christians, you must speak and act for the better way we have been shown in Christ Jesus. Christ has shown us how to share resources, how to break down prejudices and break through to hope, and how to overcome evil and violence with a love force that resolves conflict and ends hatred. The force of which I speak is the power of love. It is the most excellent way. It is the greatest gift of God to us in Jesus Christ our Lord!

Let me put it this way . . . Love is all in all. Love is everything that truly matters. If I speak like an angel, but have no love, I am a noise machine. If I prophesy deliverance with words matching the greatest prophet of all time, if I have a grasp of spirituality, if I have the greatest mind of all time, and if I have faith which moves mountains and splits the seas, but have no love, I am nothing. I am a zero. If I am the richest person in the world and give away all that I have, even surrender my body to be burned, but have no love, I gain nothing.

What I am about to share is, in my mind, the heart of the Gospel of love and grace we have come to know in Christ. I believe Love is God and God is Love. So, the qualities and measures of Love reflect the essence of God. Love embodies God's way.

Love is patient - taking time to listen and support the other. Love is kind - always generous in good thoughts for others. Love knows no envy. Love doesn't brag. Love is not inflated with its own sense of importance. Love does not behave gracelessly. Love does not insist on its own way being right. Love doesn't rage. Love does not store up memories of how it has been wronged. Love finds no pleasure in doing evil. Love rejoices in the truth. Love can endure anything. Love is completely trusting. Love never ceases to hope. Love bears everything with triumphant fortitude.

The truth is - Love never fails. Prophecies vanish. Tongues cease. Even knowledge passes away. Right now, we have partial knowledge and piece of prophesy, but when the complete comes, the partial will pass away. Three things remain when the partial passes away - faith, hope and love. Faith is crucial for growth in the Christian walk. Hope is an enduring quality which inspires us and moves us to new heights and visions. But, Love is the great gift. Love is the key to the universe. When all else has fails, Love prevails.

My sisters and brothers in the American church, what has become of Love? Have you traded in Love in the desperate and futile search for perfect romance and sex appeal? Have you forgotten that Love is always and forever connected with justice? You see, Love is not a feeling. Love is God's Way of living and breathing. Love is THE force for good. Love is the power of God to transform evil into everlasting hope.

Love is the deepening and extending of human relationships. This urgent work of love is often subtle, but always powerful. Through acts of love, we build up the power of personhood in one another, and in so doing reflect the power of God in this world. And so, my sisters and brothers in faith, I encourage you to love one another in all things.

I am reminded that recently in one church in which I worshipped, there were these simple words printed in the inside cover: "We require only two things for membership: First, that you love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, strength and soul. Second, that you love your neighbor as yourself." Imagine that. After 2,000 years of following Jesus, it all comes down to the two laws he said with you withstand the test of time - and they both are grounded in love.

The Love gap in your relationships, your homes, your workplaces, your communities, your city, your state, your nation, your world, your solar system and your universe must be closed. Through the powerful force of Love, may you begin to overcome evil with good and live into life changing covenant with your Loving God and your neighbors. God has shown you a better way - the way of Love!

In the Love of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, I am Paul, your Apostle for Christ and a lover of all humanity.

Copyright 2004, The First Congregational Church

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