I sat in worship this Sunday after Baltimore next to my granddaughter, Carmen. She’s a regular companion with Rich and me on Sunday mornings. Thanks to Rich, she is usually well stocked with crayons and coloring books and quiet activities, but we’re always glad to enter a sanctuary and find warm, welcoming and kid-friendly folks who look like they were ready for her to come. This was so yesterday at Desert Palm UCC, in Tempe. One of three of the “Great Loves” of our United Church of Christ – the Love of Children, alive and well. Good job DP folks…from the D-P family!
When we walked into church, we were greeted enthusiastically by an old friend who was ushering, and surprised to see us. We told Carmen she had been our next-door neighbor for a number of years, and in fact we had invited her to try out Desert Palm once upon a time when she was searching spiritually. She and I had had many long theological conversations while paddling around our HOA pool. Desert Palm was close to us…and the door was open. A second of the Great Loves: Love of Neighbor.
I still feel fresh out of the jet lag from Baltimore and General Synod, and decided to wear my new UCC t-shirt for the first time. While I loved the bold “God is Still Speaking” red and black, I very much welcome the new kinder and gentler colors of earth-loving blues and greens. The Desert Palm folks were already sporting the new comma logo buttons. And the children’s time in worship was about ways we can care for our earth – ride a bike instead of a car, recycle everything that’s recyclable! Carmen came out of Sunday School with a new creation of Creation: glued leaves and seeds on a piece of paper in the shape of a tree. It reminds us of how trees help us breathe, she said. Another small, but do-able moment for a third Great Love – Love of Creation.
I can tell you all the grand and challenging resolutions we tackled, all the breathtakingly inspiring worship and sermons from great speakers we heard, all the information from a denomination hard at work we received. But, what I appreciate most, perhaps, on this Sunday after Baltimore, are these three simple, new - yet very old - vessels that now shape us as a particular tribe of Jesus-followers. Our three Great Loves – Love of Children, Love of Neighbor, Love of Creation.
It was wonderful to be a part of the great work around standing up for the rights and care of Palestinian children living under military rule in the occupied territories, wrestling mightily with the needs of adoptive children to have access to their birth information, and standing against corporal punishment of children. Clearly our UCC is navigating the challenging road to ever-more passionately love our neighbors – whether it’s by supporting farm workers in Florida by boycotting Wendy’s, or claiming gun violence is a public health emergency, or advocating for equality and justice for disabled people, under-represented clergy seeking calls, low-income workers by urging increase to the minimum wage, and for adults who live with the shadow of abuse from childhood. It was inspiring to see the swell of support for a resolution that seeks to come out of the shadows of our nation’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate talks, and says unequivocally “The Earth is our God’s – and Not Ours to Wreck!” All of these, and more, illustrate with intent for action that we are a Church of these three great loves.
These are big, national setting church stuff. But this Sunday morning after Baltimore, I can also walk into a local congregation and see these great loves already at work, teaching and transforming lives, in our children, in our neighborhoods, and in all creation! Thank you, God!