Earlier this week I attended a conference of pastors who, like me, are still serving their first church. The conference (appropriately enough) is called “first call theological education.” I was required to attend the conference for the first three years of my call. I’m sad to say that this last gathering was my last time. The conference is on a 3 year rotation of topics. These include stewardship, spiritual self care, and this year’s conference topic, conflict. To prepare for the conference we were all asked to send an example of some of the conflict we have encountered during our call and how we handled it. I sat down to email my example to the computer and just sat in front of the blank computer screen for some time. Nothing. I got nothin.
Later over a meal, one of my fellow attendees said “I struggled to narrow down all of my conflict choices” through a half hearted laugh. And me, not being one to know when to always keep my mouth shut, said “I struggled to come up with just one example.” And so we had this discussion over conflict, conflict management, and resolution. Finally someone asked me “why do you think there’s been a lack of conflict at your place?” And I answered “I dunno. I just love my people, that’s all.” That was a true answer, but probably not the most helpful one. And I tell you that I love you a lot, and although I say it a lot, please know it’s true and genuine. And I love you because Christ loves me and because Christ loves you.
So in that love, I want to share something with you all. I talked with you about this a bit in my newsletter article for this month. So if you haven’t gotten your newsletter yet or haven’t read it yet, spoiler alert. Something pretty crazy has been going on here in church. Have you felt it? There’s a buzz around this place. We have new faces in the pews every week. Our population of attendees under the age of 20 is increasing. We laugh, a lot. We take forever to pass the peace. And I love it. I love every single second of it. Friends, the Holy Spirit is up to something in this place. I don’t know what it is, but I know the feeling of it is electric. And it can also be terrifying. Because when the Holy Spirit gets a hold of us one thing is for sure: it means change. And change, no matter how wonderful and good, can be scary.
And in those moments of big change, no matter if they are personal, work related, or church related, I hope we can all rest assured in one thing: God loves us. And if we’re going to be honest with one another (which I think we should be) sometimes it’s hard to love one another. Really really hard. I’ve even told family members “I love you but I really don’t like you right now.” So when we get this commandment from Jesus to love one another, it’s tempting to respond “but Jesus!! Do you know what you’re asking of me?!?” I’ve come up with a new theory is that the reason that Jesus commands that we love one another is because Jesus knows the kind of power the Holy Spirit has. He knew that once the Holy Spirit started to stir that things would get crazy and that the only way people would survive is by loving one another and spiritually hanging on to one another.
Maybe that’s what we should keep in mind as the Spirit stirs through this place. New faces will come, sadly, older faces will go, we’ll forget new names (and maybe even some old names), we’ll get some great new ideas and some not great new ideas. And in the midst of it will be excitement, enthusiasm, and pain. I’m sure all of you have heard the term “growing pains” before. I anticipate some growing pains in the future. I said this in my newsletter article, but it bears repeating. The painful and difficult truth is this: we can’t be who we used to be. But the the joyous and life-giving truth is this: we aren’t who we used to be. God is calling us into something new, something life-giving, something exciting, something that will challenge us, and encourage us to grow not only physically but spiritually as well.
But the Holy Spirit stirring in this place means nothing if we don’t love one another. At the end of the day we are who we are because Christ loves us and we love one another. Look at someone near you (not your spouse or partner) and repeat after me. “I love you because Christ loves you.” If we lost everything that surrounds us right now, the building, the pews, these candles, our hymnals, what we would have left is the love of God, the love for God, the love from God, and the love for one another. And that’s enough. We could have the fanciest, biggest, most amazing looking church in a 3 county area. We could have marble counters in the kitchen, a fully staffed nursery, a brass ensemble that plays every Sunday, and millions of dollars in the bank account. It doesn’t mean squat if we don’t love one another. And for those of you who have joined us recently who would consider yourself new or newly returned, I hope you can feel that love. A building does not a church make. It’s the people and the love that fills it.
Soon, we will get to profess that love for one of our own. We will affirm that Ryker John is a child of God. We will promise to pray for him and his parents. We will promise to teach him as he grows older of God’s love. We will promise to welcome him at the table. We will promise to love him. We will love him no matter what, because Christ loves him. And as we say these words to Ryker, we really say it as a reminder to one another as well. We promise to continue to pray for one another, support one another, teach one another, encourage one another, welcome one another at the table, and really just love one another. This is the promise given to us in baptism by Christ through the Holy Spirit. And this is the promise we make to one another.
The Holy Spirit is just getting started with us, brothers and sisters. We’ve let it in and now we get to deal with the amazing consequences. It isn’t always going to be easy or fun, but it will always be Christ filled. Hang on to the love of God and hang on to the love you have for one another. With a foundation of love, nothing can shake us!