Abiding in Exile - 08/20/2021 - First Love

Abiding in Exile - 08/20/2021 - First Love

August 20, 2021

First Love

By: Nan Smith

“But I have this against you: you have let go of the love you had at first. So remember the high point from which you have fallen. Change your hearts and lives and do the things you did at first. If you don’t, I’m coming to you. I will move your lampstand from its place if you don’t change your hearts and lives.” 
— Revelation 2:4-5 (Common English Bible)
This fall, our church will be celebrating 50 years of being Hope United Methodist Church. The beauty of celebrating a 50th anniversary is that you still have some of the original members as part of your congregation. You have people who remember those early years of being the church and what a blessing it is to hear their stories.

A couple of weeks ago, we were blessed with having the first pastor for this church and his wife join us for worship. After the worship service, I had an opportunity to talk with him. I asked him to tell me what it was like to be a pastor to a brand-new congregation. He talked about the challenges inherent when you blend people together from different congregations to form a new congregation, but said, even with those challenges, it had been an exhilarating experience. He shared how these people were so excited to be a part of this new faith community. They wanted to be here, they were excited to grow in their faith, and they wanted to make a difference in the community and were looking for opportunities to do just that.

Again and again, in the past few months, I have heard the stories about the early days and within those memories I have heard the love these people held for God and for this church. How I wish I could have been there at the onset when faith was so alive and filled with the movement of the Holy Spirit.

At that time, they were experiencing that first love that Christ speaks about in our scripture passage from the Book of Revelation.

However, now it is 50 years later and this congregation, like so many congregations, has gone through a lot. There have been those times of unity, but there have also been those times of conflict. There have been times when the congregation was energized, but also times when the people were weary and uninspired. There have been times of feeling the fire of the Holy Spirit, but also times when that fire was only a spark. However, even with all the ups and downs, this church has continued to be the church and has been committed to doing God’s work, but still there have been those times when faith has felt a little flat and stagnant.

That first love of being a part of Christ’s church can be difficult to keep alive and vibrant over the long haul.

That’s why I find this scripture passage from the Book of Revelation to be so compelling. This scripture is an excerpt of one of the seven letters sent to the seven churches in the Roman province of Asia. Dictated by Christ and recorded by John, these letters speak to a particular church in a particular location. In this case, our scripture is part of the letter that was directed to the faith community in Ephesus. 

What I find so compelling about this scripture is that this letter to the Christians of Ephesus could have been written to our churches today. Their issues, could be our issues. Christ’s words to them, could be Christ’s words to us.

Beyond being compelling, this scripture is also challenging. Frankly, I’m not sure how a faith community rekindles that first love of Christ that was so evident in the beginning. Honestly, I wish I had some sort of profound insight to offer, but all I have is this.

In the end, it starts and ends with God. For faith communities to be inspired, takes the movement of the Holy Spirit blowing through the weariness and fatigue and shaking things up in a new way. It takes a willingness to pray for the Holy Spirit to come. It takes an openness to accept how that prayer might be answered.

Rekindling that first love always comes back to God, as it should.