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What Does Love Look Like?

We picture a child cuddled in her mother’s arms, or the high-five shared on the sidelines after a good game. We imagine a husband sitting at his wife’s bedside, gently stroking her hand to remind her of his presence. We remember family gatherings with hands held in prayer and laughter shared around the table. When I think of love in our of faith community, I remember with my mind’s eye warm greetings and handshakes at the door and more handshakes and hugs at the Passing of the Peace. Most of you know from experience that there is no way to get past Mary Jane without a hug! Again and again, we see in the gospel stories how Jesus expressed his healing love with touch. Over the years, we have tried to follow his example, often expressing our Christian love with touch and closeness. Until a pandemic forced us to stay at a distance… families separated… life experienced virtually… masks worn to protect increasing our sense of isolation. This past year, we have had to find creative ways to show love from a distance.
But now life is opening up again. People are eating out. Cheering crowds now populate our stadiums. Our graduates are able to walk across the stage to receive their diplomas to the applause of their families. The ropes that have segregated our sanctuary to create social distance have been stored away. There is renewed joyful energy in our community as families reconnect and our favorite activities resume. And many of us have tucked our masks into a drawer, hoping to never need them again. How much we are enjoying seeing the smiles that have been hidden this past year! The other day, I greeted one of our new members. He and his wife started worshipping with us during the pandemic, and they have decided to make Lenape Valley their home. When they entered the church on Sunday without their masks on, I was surprised to learn that he has a mustache! Oh, the faces that we had hidden behind our masks this past year. We will need to reacquaint ourselves with each other!
I join you in celebrating the benefits of re-opening, but still I find myself wondering in this emerging reality- What does love look like? While many of us are vaccinated and thus allowed to take off the mask and gather without social distance, there are still those in our fellowship who cannot take those steps yet. Our young children are months away from an available vaccine. Their parents have worked diligently to protect their young ones from the virus. Many parents, though vaccinated, stand in solidarity with their children, masks on. Some in our fellowship are unable to be vaccinated because of health complications. Others are hesitant for reasons that are deeply personal. And still others, though vaccinated, continue to be cautious about the potential dangers that may linger. Not all of our fellowship are able to step into the opening realities of this new day. How will we love one another now?
St. Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, “Honor one another above yourselves.” The Message translation puts it this way: “Be good friends who love deeply. Practice playing second fiddle.” I love that line- ‘practice playing second fiddle’! When I do pre-marital counselling, I teach this concept by encouraging the couple to seek each other’s best. Imagine if we all did that- if we all sought what was best for the other above our own needs and desires. During the pandemic, that attitude of sacrificial love disciplined us to wear a mask and keep social distance so that all would remain safe and well. Wearing masks and keeping social distance has not been a matter of politics or personal freedom, but rather an act of sacrificial love. I have been so proud of our Lenape Valley community that has been willing to sacrifice our personal comfort and our usual practices to create a safe space for all to gather. Now, as the world re-opens, what does that commitment to sacrificial love look like?
In the next several weeks, we will welcome ‘home’ some of our youngest families as they bring their babies for baptism. Already some of our young families have ventured through the doors of our sanctuary. They come trusting that Lenape Valley is a safe space for our little ones. So many others would like to come ‘home’, but they need to know that we will respect their mask and their desire for social distance. Our instinct is to hug and shake the hand, but they need the safety of a ‘holy wave’. We wonder why they are still masked, but they need to be able to cover without judgment. Can we create a community where all feel welcome and safe? The leadership of Lenape Valley are committed to creating that safe and welcoming environment. We continue to have spaces secured in our sanctuary that allow for social distance- in the back on both sides and in the chairs along the sides of the sanctuary. If you come in person to Lenape Valley, you will notice that I continue to wear a mask. That is my personal commitment to stand with our most vulnerable until they too can show their faces safely. I know you will respect my decision as I respect your decision to show your beautiful smile. Together, we will emerge from this pandemic year a stronger and more grace-full fellowship. May we be the living expression of God’s welcoming grace to all.
With you in joy!
Anita
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