Acts of Love

Gail Arnall

Gail ArnallAugust 26, 2012

Text: Romans 5:1-5; 8:35-39

We live in troubled times. Does it seem like the world is a much darker place than ever before in our lives? Well, it probably depends on how old you are. My guess is that for some of you the darkest of days was during WWII. The difference between then and now is that everyone in the country was on the same page: we had to defeat Japan and Germany. Today's darkness is perhaps more insidious because we are living in a country that disagrees with itself about fundamental things: how best to take care of the poor; how to structure our education system; what to do about the environment; the benefits of capitalism; and even the truth within Christianity. It is a confusing time. Unfortunately, we have a 24-hour news cycle documenting every misstep and mis-statement, and failing to report the goodness and sacrifice that many display every day.

What are we to do?

We come here every Sunday hoping to find rest for our weary minds and hearts; hoping to get a different perspective on the ugliness we have seen the previous week; hoping to feel the love that the Bible says God pours into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. Sometimes it happens. Sometimes we are able to lay our burdens down, at least for a while. But if you are like me, I really would like some definitive answers for how we can make major, lasting improvements in our community and world. I want a magic bullet.

I thought I would share with you what has helped me in my journey and what new things I am learning.

First, I have learned that it is not all up to me. The operative word is "all." This was a difficult lesson, especially for someone who—the same year Nixon resigned—came to Washington at age 27 in order to "save the government." Really! This church helped me to grasp the fact that as gifted as I am, I do not have all the gifts needed. AND, my job is to offer my gifts and get out of way so others can offer their gifts. Almost 10 years ago I called Harriett Mohr to find out more about a Spiritual Director that she had told me about. Within a few weeks I set up an appointment with Charlotte Rogers. At our first meeting I told her that because I have such a strong personality and high energy, I was afraid that all I was really doing was praying for God's help with something, and then just going and doing it myself instead of waiting on God's direction. Could she help me? For 10 years she has been on the journey with me. Almost every time she will ask: And, where is God in all of this? In fact, she is the one who introduced me to Sue-God. Some of you have heard that sermon. God now is someone I can invite in to sit at the dining room table and talk as friends. These conversations remind me who God is. Years ago in an Al-Anon meeting I heard helpful words: one of the men said: "I finally realized that my wife has a higher power … and I am not it." It is not all up to me. I do not have the responsibility for the final outcome. That's God's work. Give it over to God.

Second, I have come to learn that, although I had a wonderful childhood with all the advantages any child could want, I came into adulthood wounded. And that without the support and love of a community such as 8th Day, my wounded self could have wreaked havoc in my own spirit and in the lives of others. So many times members of this community have provided guidance, counsel and advice to help me think through a plan of action. It is simply impossible to confront the darkness by yourself—internal or external darkness. Planting yourself in a community that represents the values you aspire to hold for your own life makes it possible to weather the storms, together. As we think together about the vision for 8th Day's next 30 years, we can be bolder and more confident having lived together already for 30 years. We are not a new community; we can build upon what we know. The computer geeks would say: we have the basic operating system software in place upon which we can build new applications for today's world. By the way, in the computer software business, typically you are either a systems programmer or an applications programmer. That is to say, some of us are gifted at keeping the operating system free from bugs and irregularities while others will be good at coming up with new applications. From my experience, I urge each of you to plant your feet solidly in 8th Day, or go find the community you can become a part of. This is not a country club membership. In the darkness, it can save your life.

But here is the best news: I think I found the magic bullet. Really! How do we live in these dark times? The scripture reading today tells us: "Hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit." But here's the catch: It only works if we work it -- if we ourselves are about love. That's what I am still learning. When I get depressed, discouraged, angry, frustrated, the only lasting effective antidote is love. ACTS of love. Being love.

I think the idea of "call" is related to this silver bullet called Love. When we are called to some task or some work, it means we have fallen in love – it is something we just have to do no matter what. It is our passion. Only love could have that kind of pull and tenacity. The scripture says it: "...neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God". and I would add, "from the love that God has given us to give to one another."

I am not talking about sentimental love. I am talking about the tough love that is described in 2 Corinthians: love that is patient and kind; love that does not envy or boast or is rude or self-seeking; love that is not easily angered; keeps no record of wrongs; does not delight in evil but rejoices in truth; love that always protects, always trusts, always hopes and always perseveres. Put this love up against the darkness. Even describing this love makes the darkness lighter.

So, my message today, my instruction to you today is that when you are feeling discouraged, disconnected, depressed, angry or frustrated, find someone or something to love with all your heart. Let God love through you. That's the antidote.

Let me tell you about my love:

One time I was talking with my brother about going into the jail to teach, which is about my favorite thing to do. I said something like: Here I am, an old white woman teaching young men, many of whom are African American, and they just accept me and seem to really value me. "Why is that," my brother asked. "I don't know," I said. And, not having thought it through, I continued: "I guess they sense that I love them."

Many of you know about Offender Aid and Restoration (OAR) and the work we do there. I thought I would like to close by showing you a 7 minute video that tells you about our work and introduces you to three of our clients. For me at this time, this is my place of love. [See: www.oaroline.org and click on the video at the top of the right column.]