We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?1 John 3:16-24 (NRSV)
Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.
And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.
I had an eye-opening experience this week. On Wednesday, I took a ride with my mom up to Northborough to see my daughter. You see, over the summer, she and her husband bought a new house. But because of the pandemic and other life situations, my mom had not yet been up to see it. The interesting part about my daughter’s move is that without even realizing it, she moved to a new house, that is six-and-a-half miles from the house my mom grew up in.
After stopping and visiting at the new house for a little bit, the three of us got in the car and took a ride. Now, I remember visiting my grandparents a lot when I was a kid. This time, however, driving down the roads of their town, so much had changed! And for my mom, who remembered the years she grew up there, it was unbelievable.
As I drove, my mom and I remembered the buildings and the businesses that used to be there, and we couldn’t believe how the town had changed. My mom told my daughter and me stories about the amusement park that is now a shopping plaza and the drive-in movie theater that is in the process of becoming an apartment complex.
We drove by the church where my parents were married, that was once a Methodist church and is now a Baptist church, but hey, it’s still a church! And the elementary school that my mom went to that once housed first to eighth grade and is now twice the size with additions built on all sides to now accommodate grades one through four. My mom fondly remembered the playground that was separated by a fence so that boys could play on one side and girls on the other.
We drove down the street where she grew up, remembering the old farm where my grandparents lived which is now a neighborhood, and the house where my mom grew up. She remembered who lived in the houses that were still standing and was amazed by the new neighborhoods that filled the open fields where she and her friends used to play.
On the way back to my daughter’s house, my mom told us the story of the 1953 tornado that came through the area killing ninety-four people and injuring over a thousand. She remembered how school was closed for the rest of that year, and how friends came back to school in the fall still using crutches.
On our ride, the stories were sacred, and the memories were treasured. There was still an amazing sense of love and honor for the community, the moments and milestones that were celebrated, and the years that were spent there. But what a reminder to each of us of how, over the years, not only do children and families grow but times and communities change. Nothing stays the same, except for maybe our stories and our memories. Folks, change is all around us, and that is not a bad thing. Because it’s through that change that we meet the needs of our families, our communities, and our future generations.
Many times in the Bible, we hear stories about people laying down their lives for another. And I always thought that that meant that they gave their life and died for them. But sometimes laying down your life for another means putting your comfort, your preferences, and the way that you have always done things aside to better serve others.
I have been thinking a lot about what it will be like when we return to our church building. Sure, we all long for a sense of normalcy. But folks, we have the opportunity at this point to really change and grow into a faith community that will share the love of God, not only within our walls but with our community and the world.
The pandemic has changed us, my friends. We have experienced things that we never dreamed we would experience, and our eyes have been opened to new and different ways of being followers of Jesus. If we truly want to follow our call to love one another as God has loved us and to work towards the peaceable kingdom here on Earth, we need to be fearless and bold. And rather than looking back to where we were, we need to look forward to where our children, our grandchildren, and our great-grandchildren will be, understanding that things may not look or feel just like we remember them, and there may be new ways of being the church, but that is not a bad thing!
The truth is every generation wrestles with balancing the treasured past and the call to step out into the future. Sure, we want things to stay the same because that is what is comfortable to us. But this is the time when we need to truly listen to the stories of our faith, not being blinded by experiences of our past or judgments that we have learned over the years, but hearing them anew through the lens of love. Not worrying about getting back to where we have been and holding firm to lists of beliefs and old traditions, but with love and joy, opening ourselves to where we are going. Using our imaginations, asking questions, experiencing sacred moments, and sharing the stories of our faith as we allow them to change us and make us into something new, laying down our lives and what has been, for what will someday be!