What does it mean to speak the truth in love?
This week’s sermon is the second in a three-week series on the three disciplines of Christian faith that form and transform disciples of Jesus. Christ. These disciplines are faithful remembering, faithful equipping, and faithful encouraging. Last week we considered how faithful remembering helps us to move forward with our lives as we remember that the biblical witness of faith is about God faithfully remembering us. In response to God’s faithful remembering, followers of Jesus praise God, as we, in turn, faithfully remember God’s faithfulness through worship and by offering our lives as living sacrifices for God as noted in Romans 12:1-2:
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Today, we consider the discipline of faithful equipping which has the goal of helping Jesus’ disciples to align their lives with Jesus’ call to follow him. Faithfully remembering the story of God’s love revealed through Jesus, Jesus’ disciples seek to connect the stories of their lives with the biblical story of God’s remembering and searching love. The Greek word used in the New Testament to describe God’s remembering and searching love is agape. When Paul advised the Ephesians to speak the truth in God’s love so they may build each other up, he was equipping them to live with a vision of life defined by concern for other persons.
Sam Rayburn served as the Speaker of the House of Representatives in the United States Congress for seventeen years. As the Speaker of the House, Sam Rayburn wielded incredible power and prestige. He was third in the line of succession to the presidency. Not being recognized as a person of faith, one day he found out that the teenage daughter of a reporter friend had tragically died. Early the next morning, Sam Rayburn knocked on the door of his friend. When the door opened, Rayburn asked if there was anything he could do. His friend stammered and replied, “I don’t think there is anything you can do. We are making all the arrangements.”
“Well, have you had your coffee this morning?” Rayburn asked. “No. We haven’t had time.” said the grieving man. “Well,” the Speaker of the House replied, “I can at least make the coffee.” As he watched this powerful man make him coffee, the father asked, “Mr. Speaker, I thought you were supposed to be having breakfast at the White House this morning.” “Well, I was, but I called the President and told him I had a friend who was in trouble, and I couldn’t come.”
Agape, the love of God that sees life through a holy concern for all people. Agape, the unconditional love of God that speaks truth as we build each other up in Christ. Agape, a holy love that is sacrificial. Agape, the faithful equipping love of God that builds us up as we live through the truth of God’s vision.
Today’s Old Testament lesson from Jeremiah also tells the story of God’s faithful love through the Hebrew word – “hesed”. Hesed defines God’s love as merciful and faithful. Jeremiah 31:31 defines “hesed” through God’s covenantal promise of faithfulness to the Israelites: “The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” Both agape and hesed describe the biblical story of God’s faithful love that defines the faith of followers of Jesus as we build each other up in God’s love. Both agape and hesed equip followers of Jesus to be witnesses of God’s love.
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, taught there were two ways followers of Jesus are equipped to speak truth in love – love of God and love of neighbor. Love of God (what Wesley called “personal holiness” or “works of piety”) is manifested in both communal and individual acts of spiritual formation such as regular attendance of worship, prayer, study of the Scriptures, and faithful accountability. Love of neighbor (what Wesley called “social holiness” or “works of mercy”) is manifested in both communal and individual acts such as feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, responding to the needs of the poor, and advocacy for justice.
Truth in love – God’s agape and hesed love faithfully equipping us to witness to God’s agape and hesed love through our lives. Agape and hesed is the love of God and neighbor that guided Mother Teresa in her care for the poor and the dying of Calcutta, India when she said,
“When you know how much God is in love with you, then you can only live your life radiating that love.”
A few years ago, a police officer was killed by an African-American man in Alabama. In response to the killing, the officers of a group called the United Klans decided that a message had to be given. In Mobile, Alabama, a 19-year-old African-American, Michael Donnell, was indiscriminately chosen to be the object of the message. He was beaten and lynched by two members of the United Klans that used burning crosses as their symbol of racial prejudice and hatred. The Southern Poverty Law Center sued the United Klans and its officers on behalf of Michael Donnell’s mother. Mrs. Donnell reported that prior to the trial, she asked the Lord for strength so she could let the United Klans know about God. As a result of the trial, the jury ruled that Mrs. Donnell should be awarded $7 million in damages by the United Klans and its officers. The result of this action was that the United Klans was put out of business as its national headquarters was deeded to Mrs. Donnell.
Even more impressive than the verdict was what happened at the end of the trial. After closing arguments had been given by both sides, James Tiger Knowles, a confessed murderer of Michael Donnell, stood up and asked the judge if he could say something to the jury. He told the jury, “Everything that Mr. Dees said we did, we did. We did it at the direction of those Klansmen sitting right over there, those leaders.” Then Knowles turned to Mrs. Donnell and said, “Mrs. Donnell, I’ve lost everything that I ever had in my life: my home, my family. I’m in prison for life. I’d like to ask you if you could find it in your heart to forgive me.”
Mrs. Donnell kind of rocked back in her chair, looked at him in front of the jury, and said, “Son, I’ve already forgiven you.”
May God faithfully equip us to tell the truth in God’s love.
Truth in Love: Faithful Equipping
by Pastor Marc Brown
October 16, 2022
Accompanying Scriptures: Jeremiah 31:31-34, Ephesians 4:7-16
Fort Hill United Methodist Church
Order of Worship for October 16, 2022
Scripture Lesson Jeremiah 31:31-34, Ephesians 4:7-16
The Good News “Truth in Love: Faithful Equipping”
Music “Jesus, I Will Follow” by J. Dishman
Closing Music “Call to Service” by David Paxton