Love and joy are complex. The passage today is more poetry than anything. It is an artistic invitation to the challenges of Christ’s call as well as the peaceful assurances of Divine presence and intimate union with us. The following reflection will tease these concepts out using three examples from the movie Lars and the Real Girl, the traumatic shock of the Newtown, CT school shooting in 2012, and the United Church of Christ’s current invitation for all churches to testify to the 3 great loves of children, neighbor and creation. All this occurring on our Sunday, Rural Community Sunday. This is a lot. I believe the poetry of Christ’s words shows the intersection and revelation of God’s truth. The hope is we discover in our own reality the already full presence of Christ’s love and joy in our lives as well as renew our sense of purpose as Christians seeking to fully live in union with one another, God’s creation, and the Divine Trinity.
Lars and the Real Girl is a fantastic film capturing the 21st century issue of loneliness. The story centers around a young man in the mid-west who is not special in any manner. He, like many in today’s society, struggles to find friends and companionship. He starts dating a life size plastic woman. She is fake. Family and friends are shocked when they meet this “girlfriend.” These small town rural folks are led with love for Lars. They meet him where he is. One of the turning points of the movie is when Lars’ “partner”, Bianca, gets “sick”. The church ladies come. They joyously announce they have brought casserole. Surrounded with three church women crocheting, Lars asks, “Is there anything I need to do?” One of the ladies immediately responds without thought, “You eat. We have come to sit. This is what people do when tragedy strikes. They sit with one another.” No questions, no second thoughts, no deep conversations or quick fix-it statements like, “God has a plan.” Silent companionship, food, and friendly conversation. Can joy, the gift of God’s full presence and Christ’s command to love, be so simple?
Yes, and there is more. I move us from this fictional and humorous story about a man dating a life size doll to an unthinkable real trauma that still challenges all human hope. The Newtown shootings of 2012 violently took the lives of 28 people including the shooter, his mother, 20 children ages 6 to 7, and 6 adult school staff members. All within 12 days of Christmas. The birth of Christ came closer as the gun smoke loomed over a nation and town in shock. How do you respond? Where is God? Is love possible? Is joy possible? Does any of it matter?
A UCC pastor was called to carry the burden of being a beacon of Christian hope in the face of unimaginable suffering. Rev. Matt Crebbin was interviewed on national television and asked for the word of God. Part of his response was the search for joy not happiness. He stated, “Happiness is about circumstances. Joy is much more.” Rev. Crebbin became renown for living these words out as he led Newtown in interfaith worship services to grieve and to seek new life only possible through God’s miraculous presence. He spoke of how Muslims, Jews, Christians of all types and everyone came together to support one another. They, like the church ladies with Lars, came to be together. They came to remind one another no one is alone. They came together to share the burdens of life especially the burden of violent trauma no words could explain or comfort. The same people whose ancestors had fought wars with one another because of theology, philosophy, and lifestyle came together to move beyond the terrible circumstances and find the promise of God’s joy. The joy that comes from love.
These stories about other communities come to demonstrate the power of Christ’s call to love. They are stories of being neighbors. Christ chose to love and teach love to people who had serious problems. Christ loved working class, the sick, and the desperate. He lived out God’s commands of being a neighbor, being a friend, being a loved one to all who would receive and share such human care. Our call is to find our own stories. Not only our stories of success. We need to find the stories of need in our lives, in the lives of others, and in the lives of neighbors.
Our denomination, the United Church of Christ, is inviting every church to share its story of love. The denomination calls us to specifically focus on the love of neighbor, children, and creation. Yes, we can celebrate the many ways we celebrate love. We can celebrate the immediate response time of our meal squad, our crocheting church ladies, who swiftly respond to any neighbor’s challenge with food. We can celebrate our abundant love of children shown in raising the needed funds and support to send to of our young female members to the regional youth event. We have many loves to celebrate. Our challenge and call is to seek how we, the Mountain Home Congregationalists, continue to seek to grow our love.
Last week during Sunday school we had a vibrant conversation on the unique and powerful perspective we have on what it means to love God’s creation. Farming is the second largest employer of our community. This is a blessing of our rural community. Our daily lives depend upon creation more than our urban siblings. How do we celebrate and proclaim the special and unique call we have to love creation?
The question is today’s lesson. How do we, the rural Mountain Home Congregationalists, love today? Who needs our love? Yes, we have many reasons to celebrate. Our celebrations demonstrate the gifts we have to offer the broken world. We have a special gift. We know the power of sitting with someone whose pain is not our pain, and still taking it on. We know the power of the love shared when we join with Catholics, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Christian and Baptists, non-denominational, and LDS siblings to share God’s love with those most in need. Christ’s word is our source of life and complete joy. How do we renew it and let God’s miracle blossom beyond our imaginations?