7th Sunday of Easter
Imprinted with Faith, Hope and Love
1 John 3:16-24 (NRSV and The Message)
Pastor Donna Buell and guest speaker Sam Hauser
In our reading from John’s first letter, were reminded that from the beginning the message we have received from God through Jesus Christ is that God loves us and that we are called to love one another. And this love is not the sappy sentimental love of a mother’s day card, it is not love in word or speech only, it is love in truth and in action, or practice, as Eugene Peterson states it. John says we know this love through Jesus Christ who laid down his life for us. And we, in turn, are called to lay down our lives for one another. This love is sacrificial, it is self-giving, it is sharing, it is risking, it is offering ourselves for the sake of others. You see, for John, the genuineness of our love for God is revealed in our practice of love toward others. And John writes specifically about our response to those in need. When we close our hearts to our neighbor in need we are cutting off the flow of God’s love and grace that is meant to flow through us.
God’s love is not some theoretical thing. It is something we experience in our lives through the love of others. And we abide in this love of God and we grow in this love of God by expressing love toward others. It flows through us. The hymn How Can We Name a Love that we sang at the beginning of the service expresses this so beautifully. We learn about the love of God through the love of other people, that’s how it works. Imperfectly, yes. But that’s how it works.
We learn about this love from our families – from mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles, sisters and brothers. As infants and children we first experience this love in the way they hold us, feed us, care for us, nurture us, play with us, teach us, affirm us, correct us, and encourage us. We experience this love in others as well, in neighbors and friends, teachers and coaches. And hopefully we learn the love of God from the people of God, from our church family. That’s our job, after all! And that’s what I want to talk about today.
I once read an article in a conference publication by a man named Brent Olson with the title: “Those first impressions create lasting memories.” And he began by describing the way that ducklings will become imprinted on the first thing that moves after they come out of their shells. They will follow this “mother” figure wherever it leads.
Then he wrote about some of the ways he was imprinted by his earliest experiences in the church. “I saw my mother taking love disguised as hot dish to people who needed both. I saw the men of the church [using their day off] to shingle the parsonage and clean the gutters. I met ministers who were good and decent men, and their wives who were often even better. I became imprinted with the opinion that we have a responsibility to make this world a better place, starting with, but not limited to our neighbors. I was imprinted with the belief that the church is full of good people who occasionally do stupid things. I was imprinted with a tolerance of frustration about church politics, and impatience with those who are content with the status quo.”
“Times change,” he continued. “Now many of the ministers I meet are women and the shingling and gutter cleaning is equal opportunity, but that early imprinting has stayed with me and kept me involved with the church.” And then he closed with these words: “Our children are imprinted every day [by what they see and experience], and I don’t need to tell you the variety of first impressions out there. Which ones are sticking with them?”
My guess is that, like Mr. Olson, the vast majority of us were imprinted with some kind of positive experience in the church as children and youth otherwise we might not be here today. Either that or we worked very hard to overcome our first impressions.
What were your first impressions of church? What were some of your earliest experiences of a church family? Who were the people who shared their faith with you? Who were the people who showed you what it means to have hope even in the hardest of times? Who were the people who helped you to experience the love of God made known to us in Christ?
Was it the older woman who rocked you in the nursery? Was it a Sunday school teacher who took a special interest in you while sharing the stories of Jesus? Was it an older youth who was kind to you? Was it the usher who sometimes let you pull the rope to ring the bell that called the congregation to worship? Was it a pastor or youth leader who planted a seed that led to a more mature faith? Was it the adult who treated you like your own person, and not just an appendage of your parents? Who were those people?
Those people were the mothers and fathers of our faith, from whom we first learned our faith, in whom we saw a living hope, and through whom we experienced God’s love.
As someone once said, “God couldn’t be everywhere, so God created mothers.” There are Biblical mothers: like the mothers of Moses and Samuel and Jesus about whom we just sang. There are the mothers of church history, like Theresa of Avilla or Catherine of Sienna or Susanna Wesley. There are the mothers who demonstrated what it means to love the least of our brothers and sisters, like Dorothy Day and Mother Theresa. There are the mothers who wrote the poems and prayers and beloved hymns of our faith, like Christina Rossetti and Fanny Crosby. And there are the mothers of our own families and the mothers of our church families.
In my own experience I can think of two particular mothers from the church where I grew up, who demonstrated God’s love through their own acts of love. The first was Mrs. Goldring who was the Christian Education director of our church when I was a little girl. I remember that each spring she would organize a big education fair in the fellowship hall and all the classes would have displays of the things they had been learning through the year. And for some reason I remember that she always had a jar of honey and those small wooden stir sticks so that we children could taste the honey and be reminded of the verse in Psalm 118 that says [God’s] “word is sweeter than honey.” Mrs. Goldring used to grow blueberries in her garden. When she found out I loved blueberries so much that my family often called them Donna berries, she remembered that about me. And I remember at least one Sunday when she sent me upstairs to the classroom in the back corner of the very top floor of the education building where I found a pint of blueberries, fresh picked that morning just for me. When Marty and I were married she gave us a plate that she had hand-painted. Simple things she did, that became lasting memories for me.
As I grew older and began thinking about going into ministry, I was greatly influenced by another woman named Ada Linklater. At barely 5 feet tall, she was a pillar of the church. Ada was an example to me of commitment to the church and its ministry, not only within the congregation but at the Presbytery level, as well. And so she was there, every step of the way, encouraging me in the process of my preparation for ordination. And she continued to be one of my best encouragers even well into her 90’s.
There have been many others, women and men, young and old alike, some of them right here in this room, who at different points in my life and ministry have nurtured my experience of faith, who have inspired me to live in hope, and who have demonstrated to me what it means to love with the love of God, for it is true that faith is more caught than taught. Or as John writes, we ought to love not in word or speech, but in truth and action, because that is how we experience God’s love, and express God’s love, and pass God’s love from generation to generation.
Each of us has a story to tell about how we caught our faith. And this morning we have the opportunity to hear one such story, from one of the children, now young adults, of our congregation, Sam Hauser.
Faith journey – Sam Hauser
I’m sure majority of you all know me and probably since I was “yay big,” but for those of you that don’t I’m Sam Hauser. I have gone to this church for about 20 years and this church family has always had a special place in my heart. I approached Marty and Donna a while ago and asked them if I could come in front of you all and tell my faith journey so far. Growing up in this church I learned from a young age the stories of Jesus and where he came from and participated in all of the necessary activities that a church provides. I went to Sunday school, went on mission trips, completed confirmation, sing in the choir, play bells and much more. I’ve known all my life that I need to keep my life centered around God to make sure that I live to the fullest, but didn’t really figure out what it means to do that until fairly recently in my life.
Now I’m going to bring it back here for a bit and go back to high school to start things off. High school is it’s own kind of ballgame where you are trying to make sure you have good grades, do extra-curricular activities, maybe have a job, volunteer, all while maintaining a social life with your friends. High school was a time in my life that started to make me question how to balance everything going on. Senior year was probably the most interesting year in many ways. I had maintained a great group of friends that always had my back, I was playing in the highest orchestra, I was one of the captains of the drama club (I was a really cool kid in high school haha) which was all going great as well as keeping my grades up. There were also the stressors though of applying to college and getting rejected by some schools, but then something magical happened and I was accepted to a school that was in my top three to go to. I was beyond happy and very excited that I was able to get into school and get a degree in something that I am extremely passionate about. Then at the end of my senior year something happened that really created a reality check for me and was the first time that I started questioning why God lets bad things happen. My mom and her husband ended up getting divorced which was a tough road that we had to go down. My mom has and still is one of my biggest supporters and also one of my best friends and I wish I could have done more to help her get through what she was going through. On top of everything I had to leave in a couple of months and move away and go to college.
To say that I was nervous about going to college was an understatement. Luckily my school was only 4 hours away, but that means that I was 4 hours away from my friends, family, and familiarity. I only knew one person that was going to my college and so I had to make new friends which is something I haven’t done in a long time. Since church has always been such an important part of my life I wanted to find one at school that I could go to. Luckily I knew someone that was directing the choir at Grace United Methodist church. Becca reached out to me when she knew I was moving up there to invite me to her church and I loved it there right away. It reminded me of this church and was a bit of being at home. I went there every week to sing in the choir that Becca directed and played in the bell choir up there as well. So far college was going well! I made new friends, was doing well in my classes, and found a church that was a great fit for me. In my second semester of my Freshman year I was given the opportunity to do an exchange program and go to Hawaii in my second year of school. My sophomore year was very different than my first year there. I started to get more anxious and nervous about things that were outside of my control and didn’t know why. My friends were there for me during this time and helping me work things out. I thought I would be alright and had everything under control. I left in December to go to Hawaii for 4 months with a few friends. Those four months were a big part in figuring out who I was as a person. Now being the family and friend centered person that I am, it was tough to be so far from them and not be able to just get in a car if I needed to go see them. Eventually paradise didn’t seem like paradise anymore and I just wasn’t enjoying myself like I should have been. My anxiety was getting worse and I couldn’t figure out what to do. I decided that maybe part of the reason it was getting bad was I didn’t find a church to go to and so I was starting to forget who was supposed to be at the center of my life. I decided that I needed to take time each day or at the very least a few times a week to take time and pray and read devotions to try and re-connect with my faith again. I finally came home and thought that things were going to just go back to the way things were when in reality they only got worse before they got better.
The next year I discovered a lot about myself that may have been just under the surface for a long long time now. My anxiety and depression weren’t getting any better and so I decided to go and see a counselor to try and figure out how to handle what was going on inside my mind. I had to keep remembering the constants in my life. I had a family that loved me unconditionally, friends who supported and helped me get through some extremely tough times, and 2 church families that I could depend on. I loved my church that I started going to up in Moorhead, but knowing that when I came home I was able to come here always brightened my day. With the help of everyone I was able to come out of a pretty dark place and start living my life to the fullest everyday again. I started to really work on myself and do things that made me happy and a couple of years later I graduated college with an Elementary Ed degree.
I was so excited to start my teaching career and establish a life for myself. This was also a journey in itself. Everyone was right that it would be tough to find a teaching job and that I needed to really put in the effort if I wanted to teach. No surprise, but everyone was so supportive of my dreams in this congregation and reminded me that even though my career hasn’t exactly gone the way that I thought it would, that I would still be good at teaching and not to forget to pursue that.
I just want to take a moment and personally thank a few of you individually:
Ptaceks – you have both come up to me on multiple occasions letting me know that there are teaching jobs in the area that I should apply for. Too bad I live in Bloomington!
Ann Haroldson – you have always been so supportive and checking in to see how interviews went and how the job search was going.
Leines family – you all have been such wonderful supporters and even better friends for most of my life and have always wanted the best for me and that shows.
Marie Bauer – for always being a great friend and going with the flow of things when I ask you to sing a duet with me!
Marty and Donna – you both have always checked in on me to see how things were going in the job search and interviews as well. Little do you both know, is that you helped me re-ignite my faith again when I was at my lowest point.
If I didn’t mention you it’s not that I’m not thankful, we would just be here forever if I thanked each and every one of you. I wish I could though because you all have been there for me in some way of another.
Like I said earlier, growing up in this church has taught me all of the stories of Jesus and the different ways that I can follow him and his word. One thing I didn’t realize would happen is that God would give me an unbiological family that I know I can always come back to and depend on for anything. I know that I am young and this is just the beginning of my faith journey and I really just want to say thank you to all of you for believing in a little girl that used to run around the church causing a ruckus and teaching that little girl what it means to have faith.
Thank you Sam, for your willingness to share your faith journey with us this morning.
Earlier I said that we first learn the love of God through the love of others, and we continue to experience that love and to grow in that love and to abide in that love when we express that love toward others, sharing that love with the people around us. This church is one of the places where Sam was imprinted with God’s love…through you. And it is also one of the places where others are being imprinted with that love through Sam. I’ve seen it time and time again over these last couple of years, and we’ve all experienced it today.
Take moment and look around this room and take in the faces of people who have imprinted your life with the love of God, and give thanks. And remember that each one of us, no matter what our age, has the opportunity to share the love of God that we have experienced with others, not only in word or speech, but in truth and action. In practice! And if you’d like a way to cultivate that practice, try taking time at the end of each day to think about how you experienced God’s love during the day, and through whom you experienced that love. And think, as well, about how others may have experienced God’s love through you. If you give attention to this, each day, I promise that you will grow in your awareness of God’s love in your life, and you will also grow in your practice of love toward others in deep and meaningful ways.
The apostle Paul concluded his familiar words about love by saying “Now faith, hope and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” So this morning I invite you to sing and pray with me for the abiding gifts of faith, hope and love.
PRAYER OF FAITH Miriam Therese Winter
Help us, O Keeper of Faith, to keep the faith entrusted to us, faith in a world worth saving, faith in a dream worth sharing, faith in a heritage worth keeping even as we reinvigorate it to have meaning for us now. Help us keep faith in you, and help us not lose faith in ourselves, for faith is the substance of our hope, and hope, the assurance of our love. Praise to you, O Faithful One, now and forever. Amen.
PRAYER OF HOPE Christina Rossetti
O Lord, in whom is our hope, remove far from us, we pray thee, empty hopes and presumptuous confidence. Make our hearts so right with thy most holy and loving heart, that hoping in thee we may do good; until that day when faith and hope shall be abolished by sight and possession, and love shall be all in all. Amen.
PRAYER OF LOVE William Temple
O God of love, we pray thee to give us love: love in our thinking, loving in our speaking, love in our doing, and love in the hidden places of our souls; love of our neighbors near and far; love of our friends, old and new; love of those with whom we find it hard to bear, and love of those who find it hard to bear with us; love of those with whom we work, and love of those with whom we take our ease; love in joy, love in sorrow; love in life and love in death; that so at length we may be worthy to dwell with thee, who art eternal love. Amen
Now faith, hope and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. – I Corinthians 13:13
Call to Worship:
Psalm 46: A Song of Preparation
by Debbie Perlman from Flames to Heaven
As a mother draws her child beside her,
So will You draw us near to You;
As a father swings his child upon his shoulder,
So are we lifted onto the shoulder of the Eternal.
Succored by the fullness of Your love,
We enter into Your family,
Striving as children strive
To blossom beneath Your smile.
As a grandmother croons an ancient lullaby,
So do You sing the songs of our ancestors;
As the uncle tells of past glories,
So do You recall the victories of Your people.
When we remember our stories,
We continue the chronicle of your people,
Adding our new life to their tales,
Making new again the ancient miracles.
As the brother shields us from the bully,
So do You humble our enemies;
As a sister shares her treasured secrets,
So do You relay the message of Your care.
Through the daily acts of our lives,
You allow us to praise You,
Making our kindnesses holy,
Binding us together.