God sets the solitary in families. – Psalm 68:6 (NKJV)
Last Sunday I had the pleasure of preaching at Congregational UCC in Arlington Heights. I spoke about “Excessive Love,” based on Luke 6:27: “Love your enemies; do good to those who hate you; bless those who curse you; pray for those who abuse you.” I told the church Jesus calls for a love so over-the-top that it overshoots the haters and abusers it targets. And that makes a whole lot of sense because its real objective is enabling us to get over and around hatred, scorn, and emotional violence we may suffer for the sake of believing God is big enough and powerful enough to love everyone without condition.
Excessive love started making sense as I thought about civil rights icons who took this notion to glorious extremes and then I scaled it down further, using Gather as an example of how excessive love works in faith communities. I talked about how often we hear from people who’ve been “wounded by traditions and congregations… by pastors who were supposed to be shepherding them but instead beat them out of the fold… of families who would rather hold on to their religion than their own kin and blood.” (Catch the sermon here: https://youtu.be/CZeeHaq9t5Q.)
I felt the congregation lean in. They recognized what we understand all too well at Gather: too, too often spiritual trauma hangs a neon DO NOT ENTER sign over church doors. The horrors of previous abuses advise against ever taking that kind of risk again. Just stepping into a space that feels “churchy” can trigger unwelcome emotions and memories. (The late great bell hooks called the lovelessness that creates these sensations “soul murder,” and she’s right.)
Yet an avoidance strategy only works so long because it doesn’t address the primal issue: our soul needs a home. The God in us craves the company of God in others. Spirituality is—has always been—a group project, despite trendy attempts to work out an eccentric solo variety. Our soul needs a home. The souls of others we love need a home. We all long to sit at table surrounded by eagerly loving family… to know a place where home-cooked flavors are tasty yet free of toxins and dogma we recall from past kitchens… a home where we show up exactly as we are, with whomever we invite, confident there will be no cold shoulders or drama or backlash.
This Sunday, Gather invites you to come on home. Don’t come alone, either. Find someone whose soul is looking for a home. We’ll be serving up some old-school home cooking with some fresh, life-giving flavors. There will be plenty good room at the table. We’re going to do all the things we think of when families get together: we’re going to rejoice, tell stories, think about the future, eat and laugh and dance and love on one another. Come home for the holidays. You’ve been away far too long.
With all my love,