The Love of Christ Compels us

The Love of Christ Compels Us

Over 100 years ago, a group of United Church of Christ ministers (actually German Evangelical Pastors) in the Chicago area wanted to respond to the large number of children who were left orphaned by a diphtheria epidemic.  So they consulted with Jane Addams the pioneering social worker and founder of Hull House.  She encouraged them to try a radical new experiment, and the ministers, uncharacteristic for a group of German pastors, gave themselves permission to create a new concept for a home for orphans and impoverished elderly people, where the old people and the orphans helped looked after each other.

One of my predecessors at St. Paul’s Pastor Heinrich Staehlin and his wife Karoline became the first superintendants of the Old people’s Home and orphanage.  Florence Becker would reminisce how Mrs. Staehlin wrote back to the ladies at St. Paul’s to sew individual dresses for the orphan girls, because she didn’t want to dress them all alike, so that each little girl could have her own unique dress.  So each little orphan girl could feel special and loved.  (Why does that remind me of United Church?)  Heinrich and Karoline had their hands full working out the relationships between the old people and the children, but years later, orphans who had grown up at the home testified to the value of those relationships.   And that concept worked for over sixty years right up until there weren’t enough orphans in the late 1950’s to support an orphanage.  (Now let me offer a small footnote of interest to United Church.  Pastor Staehlin served as the first Superintendant of the Bensenville Home Society for 15 years, and then answering Christ’s call to a new mission field he and Karoline went to Honduras as missionaries.)  To this day the Bensenville Home Society still operates nursing homes and adoption services, one of our United Church of Christ Health and Welfare Institutions.



In their statement of purpose the German Evangelical ministers wrote, “the love of Christ compels us”. . . . (from II Corinthians 5:14)  In all that we do at United Church it is my hope that “the love of Christ compels us,” for when we allow ourselves to be compelled by the love of Christ we are transformed, we become new creations.

As we seek a common vision for United Church, I return to II Corinthians 5:14:  “the love of Christ compels us.”   We are a community of faith seeking to follow in the way of Jesus, and as we follow that way, we are transformed by faith.  What does following the way of Jesus look like?   Following the way of Jesus first means loving God and loving our neighbor.  So we invite and welcome everyone into our faith community.  We even try to let people know where we are in Huntsville, so they can find us.  We spread the good news that here is a church where everyone is welcome.

Following the way of Jesus also means not pretending, living authentically, embracing honest doubt, and respecting individual conscience.  The way of Jesus includes sharing our material blessings and sharing faith and hope with others.  Following in the way of Jesus is praying with and for each other, working out our relationships with one another in community.  And that is hard, because our pride gets in the way.  “Do nothing out of selfishness or pride, but in humility consider others to be as important as yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)

The love of God compels us to love one another as Jesus loved us.  “Do you love me,” asks Jesus?  Then feed my lambs.  We are compelled to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give clean drinking water to the thirsty, visit and pray for the sick and imprisoned as if they were Jesus.   As Mother Teresa said, “Each one of the poor is Jesus in disguise.”

The love of Christ also compels us to be free.  As Jesus said, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”  We are free to be ourselves regardless of race, class, political affiliation, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation.  We are free to be who we are, and God accepts us as we are.  And so we welcome everyone as they are saints and sinners, free but lost on the way to follow their own conscience.  We are free to interpret scripture as God gives each of us insight.  We are free to define our own beliefs, as God leads us in spiritual formation.  As our Thursday night group said, “People can be safe here to share diverse ideas and feelings.  Sharing our faith with each other feeds us and helps us to grow spiritually.”  We don’t simply tolerate our differences we embrace and value our diversity.

We are free to embrace and participate in missions and ministries appropriate for our individual gifts and talents as we are equipped by the spirit – to become the hands and feet of Jesus in the world.  We value every individual as a uniquely gifted child of God.  So we encourage people to discover and embrace their gifts and then use them in service for the ministry of Jesus Christ.  In order to accommodate the gifts and talents of our diverse membership we have to become a permission giving community of faith, where we trust and allow individuals and teams of people to try out new projects and programs, like those Pastors who started an old people’s home and an orphanage, in order to touch the lives of other people in the name of Christ.  We can give timely permission without allowing committees and gate keepers to sit on change and progress.  We can also learn to be free to fail without blame or reproach but through open accountability we can learn from mistakes.

Before Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, he had almost 10,000 failed experiments.  He tried 10,000 different materials, before he found the right filament.  When he finally produced a long lasting practical light bulb he said, “I failed my way to success.”

And that reminds me of a Peanuts cartoon I dearly love.  Charlie:  “Another ball game lost, good grief.  I get tired of losing.  Everything I do, I lose.”

Lucy:  “Look at it this way Charlie Brown.  We learn more from losing than we do from winning.”

Charlie:  “That makes me the smartest person in the world!”

Have you ever felt like that?  I know I have, especially trying to help a congregation grow and thrive in this culture.  Who knows, maybe before we are done, we will fail our way to success.

Success and failure, though, are sometimes relative.  Like the two men who were walking in the jungle, when they noticed a man eating Tiger some distance down the trail running right at them.  The one man started to put on a pair of Nikes, and the other man said, “You don’t seriously think you can out run that Tiger do you?”

“No,” replied the first man.  “But all I have to do is to out run you.”  Success and failure can be relative.  Maybe the relative measure of success for United Church will be our ability to embrace and value our diversity.

A week ago Thursday Bill Viall offered up a prayer in the Renewing the Mainline Church Group.  His prayer was that a vision will emerge and find a home in the congregation.  I like that prayer, and I want to invite you this morning to become a part of that visioning process by completing the sentence:  “The love of Christ compels us. . . .”   You can do it by writing down your answer on the space provided in the bulletin, and tearing it off and putting in the offering plate, or you can e-mail it to the church, or post it on the United Church Facebook Page or the United Church Bible Study Facebook Page.  We will post all contributions however they come in, and I encourage all of us to identify ourselves, when we post a contribution.  Our purpose is to encourage a dialogue, a community discussion to allow a vision to emerge and find a home here in the congregation.

The love of Christ compels us to share our vision of a faith community where people are free to be authentically themselves and follow their conscience, free to define what they believe, and use their God given talents to touch the lives of others in the name of Christ.  For if we are in Christ we become new creations;the old has gone, the new has come!   Amen.


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