"Love Has Many Names"


Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - 10/01/2000

James 5:13-20; Mark 9:38-41


     Every profession has its share of internal struggles where a number of service providers view each other with less than kind attitudes. People practice their craft differently and are often motivated by very different values. Such differences can create turf battles.

     For example, within the medical community a number of medical doctors have "an allergy" to osteopaths. Some of them may speculate about the viability of those who practice acupuncture or those who engage in chiropractic medicine. There are still others who may view with skepticism caregivers who have become Physician's Assistants or Nurse Practitioners, both of whom have the authority to write prescriptions.

     The list of those who practice various methods of healing is quite lengthy and so are the attitudes that frequently smolder behind the masks of professionalism. But the question that needs to be answered has nothing to do with an opinion of who provides the best medical treatment or who has the more "precise science." The question that needs to be answered is this: Are people being healed? And when healing occurs, does it matter who did it or how it was done?

     We can apply the same thinking to the Body of Christ. The Christian Church is by far one of the more divided institutions on the planet. And the word "institution" was deliberately chosen. We can call St. Matthew's "a church family," but we certainly could not use that title to describe the "personality" of the Christian Church. It is not a family, even if we were to stretch our imaginations. To the rest of the world the Church must appear as a house divided against itself.

     Over a month ago, the Pope issued a statement indicating that all of us who do not subscribe to the teachings and doctrines of Roman Catholicism have placed our souls in "great peril." Missouri Synod Lutherans will only allow the members of their denomination to come to the table of grace and receive Holy Communion. We know of others who insist that their interpretation of "being born again" is what governs who are saved and who are not. And, no doubt we United Methodists have our own unique characteristics that can easily evoke the negative passions in others.

     Such differences invite confusion among the faithful. Differences may even stimulate the fears of people who are insecure about God's love. More than likely we have met people who are most anxious over their need to find "the pearl of great price." They may even assume that God will love them more when they find it.

     Quite often people will go to one church after another until they find one where "the right culture" and "the right formula for salvation" are being expressed. Then their fears are eased and their comfort levels are restored. People tend to find the belief system that best works for them, a fact that suggests that love has many names, faces and forms of expression.

     In our Gospel lesson today John said, "Master, we have just seen someone healing in your name, and we told him to stop because he was not part of our group." Imagine yourself preventing the miracle of love from being expressed because of who was doing it. It was as if John was saying to this healer, "I forbid you to express your love this way when clearly you are not one of us!"

     What Jesus taught ought to be taped to the dashboard of all our cars and placed on all our mirrors. He said, "Do not try to stop them. For whoever is not against us is for us." Why should we have conflict with anyone who is producing healing as a result? We need to celebrate whenever healing occurs. That is the miracle. Love comes in many forms. Love has many faces and names.

     A year ago in Juarez, our work teams found themselves in the middle of a fierce sandstorm. We could not see more than 20 feet in front of us. It became obvious that such conditions would prevent us from finishing the one house.

     Very close to our project was a group of Pentecostals who had just finished their house. They had been using a generator and a cement mixer. "If we could use their equipment, we thought, we could get our house to the place where the new owner could finish it himself. So we asked if we could borrow their equipment."

     There was no hesitation. The foreman not only gave us the gasoline to power the generator but he also stayed an additional day while the rest of his work crew returned to Texas. While our two groups stood in the middle of a mission field, what mattered the most was our ability to express the same love to the beautiful people of Juarez. This is what World Communion Sunday celebrates. Today we celebrate the ideas of unity and reconciliation.

     Jesus put the expression of our faith on the most basic of levels. He said, "I assure you that anyone who gives you a drink of water because you belong to me will certainly receive a reward." Those rewards have been obvious.

     Hundreds of houses have been built in Juarez because of congregations who have made such construction possible. Some of them are Roman Catholic and some are Baptist. Some congregations give money so that others among us can lay cinder block. The result is that houses are being built for those who otherwise would never have them. The truth stands that those who follow Jesus' teaching "to love one another" quite often call themselves by different names.

    We were never asked to evaluate the worthiness of those who give love hands and feet. The miracle is that we can make love visible even though we believe differently. Some of you may ask, "Are you saying that it doesn't matter what we believe?" I am not saying that, Jesus did. To Jesus one of the differences that divides people is how their beliefs cause them to behave. Beliefs can either build bridges or walls. We all know that both structures can be built on foundations that are very sturdy.

     Today, all over the world, Christians are expressing their unity. If the Olympics can bring most of the world together every four years, so can the Church. Remember, God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. Our mission, then, is one of reconciliation. That is what Jesus asked us to do. Indeed, love has many names.

THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER

     Ever present God, we have learned that there is great strength in numbers. While this is true, we have also learned a greater truth. We have learned that it has been individuals who have shattered the truths held by the many. We thank you that you sent Jesus into our midst, so that the truth of the spirit might help us rise above those of the Law. We thank you for helping us learn that we are capable of reflecting your nature to others. We thank you that education can help liberate us from living in less useful ways. We thank you for reminding us that where two or three are gathered in your name, mountains are moved, spiritual lepers are cleansed, and those crippled by attitudes can get up and walk. Use this worship experience to mold and shape our lives. Amen.

THE PASTORAL PRAYER

     Eternal and loving God, we thank you for the moments we spend together in worship. For those of us who may not understand the power of your will and spirit, we are awed by what we see today. Jesus taught us to remember the mustard seed and how from its tiny seed a large shrub will grow.

     From your Son, who never traveled more than 90 miles from Bethlehem, who never wrote anything, and who invited only twelve others to follow him, has come millions of followers of every race, in every culture. Yes, their cultural frame of reference is different. And most of us would not recognize their forms of worship. Yet radiating from their music, their prayers, and their enthusiasm for mission, is the love that unites us all. Thank you, God, for giving us such a visible testimony of what happens when people trust you for the outcome of all things.

     We thank you this day, for people of every denomination who form the chorus that proclaims what Christ has brought to us. We recognize that we have a long way to go, but our hope is heightened when we see the distance we have come. Berlin walls have fallen. The races are discovering each otherís uniqueness. People are joining hands as they yearn for the day when permanent peace will come on earth as it is in Heaven. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . . .