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1 John: Being at Home with Love

May 4, 2015

A sermon preached by The Rev. Jeffrey A. Geary at the White Plains Presbyterian Church on the Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 3, 2015

1 John 4: 7-21

 A week ago early Friday morning, an absolutely gorgeous, sunny day, my son August and I pulled the car up on the side of Martine Avenue in front of the Slater Center to deliver bags of groceries that had been donated to the Emergency Food Pantry by our church.  Piled with at least 6 bags in his arms – look Dad I can carry this with my pinky; my PINKY dad! – he made his way surefootedly into the building, through two sets of double-doors into a big gathering room.  Maybe a hundred people were already gathered there to pick up their food.  We walked past them down to the food storage room. Hi August, the man who coordinates deliveries called.  Hi, August enthusiastically replied.  We signed the paper on the door that said all donations were from White Plains Presbyterian Church.  And as August kept putting up bags, I went over to Loraine Buonoconto’s desk to say hi.  And August bounced over and they talked about school.  Then we returned to the car and continued on our way to George Washington elementary and the day moved forward.  A regular day.  Nothing extraordinary.  But a day in which we abided in God and God abided in us.

food steward

The texts arrived on her friend’s phone one after the other – he’s not right, he’s upset, he’s going to the hospital and the friend texted back – are you OK?  How is he now?  Shall I come by?  No, came the reply, we’re OK.  Then, he’s not but he’s at the hospital now.  Looks like they’re keeping him.  And the friend texted back – let me know how things go.  I’m praying.  It’s ok to call even if last.  Oops, late.  A day with an unexpected and unresolved turn, but a day where a friend’s love was dependable.  A day in which we abided in God and God abided in us.

Last fall members of our church gathered together to talk about race, about policing, about gun violence following the shootings of Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in Staten Island.  It wasn’t the first time we had gathered to talk.  We’d been talking together, studying together, praying together about violence, the criminal justice system and race as we discussed the General Assembly’s study on gun violence back in 2012.  And in 2013 more than thirty of our members had marched together in downtown White Plains after the court returned a non-guilty verdict for the man who killed teenager Trayvon Martin, in order to draw attention to the need for dialogue and reform here in our own community as well.  So we’ve not only talked but publicly witnessed as well.


But that night last fall we gathered together with others in the presbytery and began to share experiences from our own lives, hard things, things some of us had never spoken of before, things that needed to be said, to be un-silenced.  And we listened; listened intently to one another; listened without looking to get a word in edgewise; listened without worrying what the right response would be.  This past week following the horrifying injury and death of Freddie Gray at the hands of Baltimore police, I witnessed that kind of listening, that kind of being present to one another, happening again in the hallways and meeting rooms of our church.  Days in which we hear news that we’ve tragically and shamefully heard before, days when we are both in need of talking and exhausted from talking, days in which we hear one another into speech and loving action, days when we abide in God and God abides in us.

They were there to sort again this past Friday – the Nifty Thrifties.  The stupendously successful tag sale of the weekend before now behind them, there they were, four women in the hallway, sorting through new donations, carrying items from the foyer, down the hallway, down the stairs, around to the basement room, ordering clothing, dishes, bric a brac, laughing and planning for the next sale. It was an ordinary Friday, nothing unusual, but we were abiding in God and God was abiding in us.


I played with a little baby this week.  I watched as he toddled around and made those wonderful baby noises.  I smelled his fresh, sweet baby hair, bounced him on my knee, and walked with him up and down and up and down and up and down and up and down the stairs as his mom and dad joined Rev. Sarah Henkel in a cable TV interview about our CSA that will begin its second year here at the church.  Basic details about what Community Supported Agriculture is were shared and the farmers – Jen and John, the baby’s parents – spoke about why their produce was organic, the kinds of fresh vegetables that were provided to the community, and Sarah talked how the left overs were donated to a nearby Muslim food pantry.  I remembered the wide array of members and neighbors who came each Saturday morning last year to load bags full of kale and carrots, tomatoes and eggplant and thought about how, through supporting local food, we began naturally to talk with one another – about ourselves, our community, our life together.  Ordinary people figuring out how to enable healthy, justly grown produce find a home in our corner of the city.  We were abiding in God; God  was abiding in us.

The most common synonym for abide is to dwell – to make a home with.  We sometimes call our homes, abodes, drawing from the same root.  When the writer of 1 John talks about love that abides, he’s not talking about dramatic one-time gestures or random acts of kindness.  He’s inviting us to normalize God’s extraordinary love within our very ordinary lives.  To become “at home” with love; to have the kind of familiarity with one another and with God that we can bother each other and God.  We can call on and count on one another and God.  We can disagree and agree and remain committed to one another and to God.  We can dare new projects, invent new ways of living together with one another and with God.

Such abiding love is truly sacramental love – a visible sign of an invisible grace; the extraordinary found precisely, exactly within the ordinary.  Imagine this:  that God took human form and walked among us, abided with us.  Imagine this:  that in this bread and this cup we taste and see God’s goodness together with the faithful across millennia.  Imagine this: that before we were born, now and into life beyond death God abides with us.

We had a council meeting on Tuesday night; it was not extraordinary.  It was a meeting much like other meetings, chock full of business but also chock full of love.  Midway through the evening we did something wonderful.  We paused and reflected on how very difficult it is for formerly incarcerated persons to obtain employment.  You may remember our congregation send cards to people incarcerated in nearby prisons and purchases gifts so men and women who are in prison can send presents to their children at Christmas.  As the council talked, I thought about how, through our church’s mission, we care for others.  Before us was a proposal to “ban the box” – an effort to prohibit employers from inquiring about criminal convictions of job applicants on a job application form or during the initial application process and prior to the end of the first interview.  While background checks and later interviews could explore such convictions, eliminating inquiry and check boxes from the initial form and interview gives ex-convicts a chance to be judged not on their misdeeds but on their work experience.  We discussed it and voted to recommend it to you and invite you to join us in signing the petition that is enclosed in your bulletin.

Tomorrow night is a hearing by White Plains Common Council to consider whether White Plains will join Yonkers and other municipalities in banning the box and giving ex-convicts a chance at new life.  It’s just a box, right?  But eliminating that small square from the initial form allows formerly incarcerated women and men to be seen first as women and men.  A simple change that is not so simple after all.

This day, each day, we are invited to abide in God and allow God to abide in us, to make a room with us, to settle down with us, to be “at home” with us.  And of course when we make room to love others, when we settle down and love others, when we are “at home” with loving others, when we abide with others, that is precisely when God abides with us. For God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.

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