The Nobel Peace Prize. Since 1901, it has been awarded 99 times to130 laureates: 89 men, 17 women and 24 organizations.
Last October, the prize went to Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war. In 2017, the Nobel was given to the organization International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. Ten years ago, President Barack Obama received the prize for his efforts to strengthen international diplomacy.
And forty years ago? That was 1979. The year of: the Sony Walkman, the Dustbuster, Honeynut Cheerios, the McDonald’s Happy Meal; and leg warmers.
1979 was 40 years ago—the exact same number of years the Israelites wandered in the wilderness, because forty years is the amount of time it takes for a new generation to arise.
Over the course of four decades people can move from one era to another. Over four decades people evolve and change; they grow; are exposed to new people, new teachings, new ways of doing old things.
This happens to people, just like it happens to products. We still have music players inspired by the Walkman. We still have handheld vacuums, breakfast cereal, happy meals, and leg warmers—all of them newer and improved; more efficient and far more ubiquitous.
Forty years ago, on October 17, 1979, when Mother Teresa of Calcutta was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. She heard a call from God to help the poor, and she founded a group called the Missionaries of Charity that built homes for orphans, nursing homes for lepers, and hospices for the terminally ill.
In her Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Mother Teresa said,“I am sure this award is going to bring an understanding love between the rich and the poor. That is why Jesus came to earth, to proclaim the Good News to the poor. And through this award, and through all of us gathered here together, we are wanting to proclaim the Good News to the poor that God loves them, that we love them, that they are somebody to us, that they too have been created by the same loving hand of God, to love and to be loved. Our poor people are great people, are very lovable people, they don’t need our pity and sympathy, they need our understanding love.”
Did you to notice one particular word popping up again and again in these lines from Mother Teresa’s speech? The word love.
Mother Teresa believed her Nobel prize was going to “bring an understanding love between the rich and the poor.” She stressed that God loves the poor and that she loves them. Those who are poor “have been created by the same loving hand of God, to love and to be loved.” Mother Teresa saw those fighting poverty as lovable people who need “understanding love.”
This group founded by Mother Teresa, Missionaries of Charity, was focused on charity, but unfortunately that term is often misunderstood. Most think of charity as the act of giving help to people in need, typically in the form of money.
But the word “charity” comes from the Latin caritas, which means “affection.” Have we ever thought of charity being an act of affection? Charity is not simply a monetary gift. Fundamentally…at its basic core… charity is love and affection.
Mother Teresa died in 1997 and was declared a saint in 2016. In the forty years since she gave her Noble Peace Prize acceptance speech a new generation of Christians has arisen, and we have moved from one era to another.
So it would be good to ask, as those who are part of this new generation, and as a church in the midst of our annual consecration campaign… How are we doing at charity—that is how are we doing with sharing and spreading love and affection?
In his second letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul challenges the church by reminding them, “For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.
Paul is not simply talking about becoming rich monetarily, he’s speaking of course of becoming rich with the gifts of God—hope, peace, joy, and love chief among them—and we honor and remember the work and love of Jesus when we share that truth and wealth with those who are in need, with those who are impoverished from such, as an act of charity, affection and love. This was Jesus’ constant and consistent call.
We remember his words about love— words which are not so much a warm fuzzy feeling as they are a challenging call to action: “Love your enemies,” commands Jesus, “and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5)
When asked which commandment is the greatest, Jesus says, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22)
Jesus also gives the command, “Love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. (Luke 6).
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13)
“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15)
So, what does it mean to know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ? It means we know we are to: Love God. Love our neighbor. Love Jesus. Love one another. Love our enemies. Show so much love that we lay down our life for our friends. In other words, like Mother Teresa, be a missionary of charity. A missionary of love and affection.
Without question Jesus gives a daunting challenge— a call to action to love—which is why the apostle Paul affirms the eagerness the church has—an eagerness to offer charity, affection, and love in ways that are, yes, challenging, but in ways that are fair and faithful.
Jesus wants us to show our love to the fullest, and to show it to the very end of our lives.
Jesus wants us to be charitable, offering love and affection in ways that are unexpected, even unlikely, because that is what the world needs—and it’s needed by those who are struggling and fighting to overcome the brutality of poverty—socioeconomic poverty, yes, but also poverty of compassion, empathy, and dignity.
The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer—poorer in terms of money, but poorer in terms also of being seen as fully human, as being God’s holy and beloved children.
Income inequality has profound negative effects, including increases in crime, increases in illnesses, and decreases in high school graduations.
Mother Teresa won the Nobel Peace Prize for reaching out with love to those fighting poverty.
She didn’t judge them, but instead offered them charity—true charity, Christ-like charity that included: compassion, empathy, assistance, affection, and love— all of it an acknowledgement that those fighting poverty are human beings, holy and beloved children of God who deserve the dignity to be recognized as such.
We are called do the very same through our charity—through affection and love I know this church has always been eager to share.
For the past few weeks we have been hearing our narrative budget—a story telling method of how we put to use the gifts faithfully given to this church—and how we aim to keep doing this.
We have heard of our outreach ministries supporting programs, institutions, and people.
We have heard from our Alcoholic Anonymous friends and about our support of their life changing work.
We know we are host to The Nest Early Learning Preschool, to Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, and Girl Scouts.
We are home to an amazing and fantastic music program, and programing for our children and youth.
We know how we have helped alleviate homelessness in Summit County through the Chalice Grant—a grant we aim to give again in the coming year.
We have heard much about how we are church, and we are aware of even more. There is one more aspect you may not be as readily aware of, but it won’t come as any surprise. Since we are a church in a prominent location in Stow it is common for us to have visitors come to the church requesting assistance.
I could tell you many stories of people who have come needing food, and our on-site pantry provided for them. I could tell you about how we have assisted with temporary housing needs, utility bill assistance before being turned off, clothing and bedding assistance, and the like. We have given rides to job interviews, hospitals and mental health agencies, and to other agencies where broader assistance could be given.
This church has been present with, and to, and for: the struggling, the homeless, the alcoholic, the drug addicted, the single mother, the single father, the injured, the newly paroled, the lost, the forgotten, the scared, the lonely—each time listening to their story (stories that often resonate with an undertone of shame) then doing all we can to share love and affection; always treating each person with kindness, empathy, compassion and dignity; while offering and a word and prayer of hope (that hopefully refutes their shame), reminding them they are not forgotten, they are a child of God, and God is with them. It is all yet another way we as a church respond to our call to be missionaries of charity.
Every time we are church to those who are fighting poverty, every time we are church to those who are struggling to know they are a holy and beloved child of God who deserves empathy and dignity, we discover the truth of what Mother Teresa knew in 1979:
Those who are poor “…are great people, are lovable people, they don’t need our pity and sympathy, they need our understanding love. All of us, rich or poor, are created by the same loving hand of God, made to love and to be loved.”
So as we look toward how we will be church in the coming year, let us do so with the same eagerness as the Corinthians, and let us again live up to the challenge Jesus gives—to love as he loves.
Let us be Christians who actively love God, love neighbor, and lay down our lives for our friends. Let us all be… missionaries of charity. Amen.