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Sunday, July 18, 2021
Waterfront Worship Service
“Living 24/6” Sermon Series
Scripture: Deuteronomy 5:12-15 & John 15:12-17
Rev. Dr. Troy Hauser Brydon
I’ve lived in Grand Haven for over four years now. For most of that time, I’ve wondered what it would be like for First Presbyterian to hold a worship service down on the waterfront. Today marks the culmination of a lot of dreams and plans. We are a church that desires to be at the heart of the community. It’s at the core of what we do. It’s part of our commitment to be in the very fabric of making Grand Haven and the Tri-Cities a wonderful place for all to live.
For those of you who may not know much about First Pres, let me share just a little bit with you. William Ferry founded the city of Grand Haven in 1834. Ferry was a Presbyterian pastor, so in 1836 he started First Presbyterian Church. It started on the corner of Harbor and Washington, right where the Kirby Grill is now. Over our 185 years of existence, we’ve moved a few blocks away from the waterfront, but our mission has remained the same. We are a church committed to sharing the love of Jesus with our community through worship, study, and mission. I am very blessed to be a part of the ministry of First Pres in this particular season. So, whether this is the first time you’ve encountered our church or you’re someone who has been with us for decades, I am so glad you’re here with us today. Our aim is to lift high the name of Jesus, to learn more about what it means to follow him, and to learn especially how to love one another. Welcome, one and all!
This summer we have been thinking a lot about the meaning of Sabbath. I know for some of us, this religious word can carry a lot of negativity with it. Perhaps you were told that you couldn’t play because it was Sunday. Or your parents lugged you to church for what felt like hours on end, where you were told to keep quiet. Or you have been frustrated because stores were closed when you needed to shop. Sabbath has been used by some as a way of shaming people into behaving in particular ways, whether they wanted to or not. Sadly, it’s human nature to take good things God has for us and to turn them into burdens for ourselves and for others. Now, I don’t believe that following Jesus is a burden. I think it’s a joy! Hearing God’s good will for us leads to freedom! After the stresses of the past year because of the pandemic, we thought it was time to reclaim Sabbath.
Why? Because it is something God gives us for our good. Because it creates space for abundant living. Because in our reaction against being told we can’t do certain things, we’ve allowed our lives to be overrun by too many activities, too many appointments, and too much work. God’s will for us is so much better than that! Over the past few weeks, we’ve looked at the Sabbath from this posture of God’s love for us. Within that, we see that God knows we need space for rest, for relationships, for slowing down, and for delighting in each other and the beautiful world around us. Today the focus is on how Sabbath brings refreshment to our souls as we make space to love one another with the love of Jesus. This goes a step further than loving our family or our friends. This Sabbath space creates an opportunity for us to learn to love people different than us, people whose lives would never intersect with ours without making an intentional choice to be with each other.
We have a tendency to make simple things complex. I know I’m guilty of this. Yet, at its core, Christianity is a very simple faith. Jesus breaks it down this way. Love God. Love each other. If we lived daily with those two loves at the root of how we think and behave, we’d be better off and so would the world. Love God. Love each other. Jesus says it so clearly in what we heard from John’s gospel a few minutes ago. “This is my commandment,” Jesus tells us, “That you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). The shape of love is a beautiful circle. Jesus loves us. We love one another the way Jesus loves us, which directs our love right back to God, who loved us before there was time.
It’s simple, right? But we so often get it wrong. We disconnect from God’s love because we get busy. We stop tending to our love for God because we have no time to worship. We deplete ourselves, leaving us with no resources to love one another with God’s love, and so we grow tired of others. We get irritable or resentful. We start to think they’re not worth our time because we don’t see eye to eye or because the person hurt us or just flat out bothers us. We also just don’t make the time to share the love that God has placed in us.
Thank God that sometimes we do carve out time in our busy lives to share that love. I want to brag for a moment about the deacons of First Pres. In our church, deacons are everyday people who have said “yes” to making space in their lives for those who need a friend. Deacons embody the love of Christ to those in nursing homes or home alone or ill. In all my years as a pastor, I have never seen deacons committed to love the way the deacons of First Pres are. They are eager to visit. They made a way to see people in the pandemic who were isolated and lonely. They brought communion to those who couldn’t get it at the church. They are learning how to love God and love one another, and they are doing so because they said “yes” to making time in their busy lives to love others. Great job, deacons!
Being a people who embody Jesus’ love is simple, but sometimes we just need to draw back on our busy lives, just a bit, so we have the space to do so. Before the pandemic, a team from our church took a week from their lives and shared in ministry in Orange Walk, Belize. We did some fairly simple things while we were there, but they were things we often would not have made time for had we not scheduled the week off. A high school invited our team to talk to their students about our careers, helping them see where a good education could lead them. One of our team members met with the principal to help her sort out the school’s finances. On another day, part of our team went to a church that ministers to those with special needs. There we offered help to caretakers who were looking for insight into physical therapy or some health care needs. Others just offered friendship and conversation to those gathered. It was a picture of the way life looks when we live in the manner of Jesus. It’s what Jesus calls “the kingdom of God drawing near.”
Of course, you don’t have to leave the neighborhood to make space to be with others. I know plenty gathered here who drive neighbors to appointments, who bring meals when someone needs a break, and who volunteer with ministries like Love in Action and the People Center.
These ministries only happen because we paused our busy lives, got out of our comfortable routines, and put ourselves in the position to open ourselves up to others in love. Love needs room to breathe, so carving out space in our lives is essential to taking these next steps in living into God’s love.
Part of the challenge for us is that no one forces us to love. As a pastor, I can encourage you to take steps towards love in your own life, but it’s up to you do so. Even if I ran for office around here and got elected, I couldn’t write laws that would force you to love. Making a rule that said, “Every Thursday from 1:00-5:00 we all have to stop and love each other,” just wouldn’t work. “You can’t legislate for love,” Tom Wright tells us, “But God, through Jesus, can command you to love. Discovering the difference between what law cannot achieve and what God can and does achieve is one of the great parts of being human, and of being Christian.”
I think what Wright is saying is this: Becoming fully human, that is becoming fully who God created us to be, means that we come to believe that what God says is good for us is actually good for us! I think this is something we doubt at times, particularly when things aren’t working out, yet God’s love isn’t this far off thing. It’s right at hand. Listen to Jesus make this staggering claim, “You are my friends,” he says. It’s not that God is far away – out there, distant. Rather, in Jesus God has drawn intimately close to us and calls us friends. Friends love because they are friends, not out of obligation or rule-following.
So, at the outset I said this was about Sabbath, and you’re probably wondering if I forgot about the Sabbath. I haven’t. What does this have to do with the Sabbath? What does this have to do with love and not obligation? It’s right there in the fourth commandment, which is our text from Deuteronomy. It’s a “one another” commandment. Keeping the Sabbath, setting aside sacred time to be something other than what we are all the rest of the week, gives us the space and time to bless others. Observing Sabbath isn’t just for a spiritual elite group. It’s for everyone at all parts of society. It’s for animals. It’s for God. No one is excluded from God’s design that we all need to pause and re-center into our God-given identities. It’s about reminding us of who we are. The entire book of Deuteronomy is a restating of God’s intentions for the people as they entered the Promised Land. It’s a reminder of identity. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt. That is, keep in mind that you used to do nothing but work, work, work, until you collapsed at the end of the day. You were human “doings.” When you live into your God-given identity, you realize that your life isn’t just about the doing, it’s also about the being. And that’s what Sabbath is a constant reminder of – that the world will keep spinning without our input! That the world actually needs us to slow down and love one another! The world needs us to make space for rest and for others.
The shape of love is a circle. It comes from God to us. It flows from us to others, and it keeps on going back to God. By being here in worship today, we’ve stepped in the path of that circle. We’ve received God’s love and returned some of that love in worship. That’s awesome! We need to do that – not just on beautiful days at the Waterfront Stadium. But, friends, we need to create space so that God’s love can flow through us to others who are discouraged, angry, hurting. We can do that right in our own community. Surely you know people who need your time, your listening ears, your help. Start there. Test God and see how leaving some space in your life for others spills over to blessing and abundance throughout your days. Open your lives up to love. You’ll be surprised where it takes you.