If Love Had Other Names


In the English language, we have one primary word for love. Just… Love. There are certainly synonyms and words that expand upon it, but we typically use one word while other languages are a bit more expansive.

I’ve decided that it would be wonderful if these kinds of experiences and feelings of love had names:

— There’s a wonderful feeling of discovering that you are known in your specificity and loved in your limitations, and that without saying anything, people anticipate and accommodate what you need, including barriers that might be challenging for you.

I’ve experienced that in the last two weeks. That’s love. I wish it had its own name.

— There’s a wonderful feeling of discovering that people think about things and frame things in particular ways because they’ve internalized stories you have told, and when they reveal this to you, there’s a beautiful surprise of recognizing that they have internalized pieces of you, just as you have internalized pieces of them.

I’ve experienced that in the last two weeks. That’s love. I wish it had its own name.

— There’s a wonderful feeling of discovering you have commonality with a person, that simply being in their presence returns you to a part of yourself, a piece you didn’t even know was missing.

I’ve experienced that in the last two weeks. That’s love. I wish it had its own name.

–There’s a wonderful feeling of discovering that people now see you — really see you in some of your more challenging moments — not in an exposed way but in an expansive and affirming way, demonstrating a recognition that you have suffered and prevailed, and showing you a surprising amount of compassion, awe, and respect.

I’ve experienced that in the last two weeks. That’s love. I wish it had its own name.

Renee Roederer


The Occasion to Listen Only


Monday night, I stepped into Palmer Commons for our weekly choir rehearsal. But I sat in the back. I wasn’t going to sing that night, but rather, just listen.

Ian and I sing with the University Musical Society Choral Union. Among other large works we perform, often with orchestra, our choir has the longest, annual tradition of singing Handel’s Messiah. That’s what we’re working on right now. This choir has performed it every single year since 1879.

I walked in with a headache that had been present throughout the day. That headache had a way of making visual surroundings a bit overwhelming, so I decided I was going to have an auditory rehearsal only. I closed my eyes nearly the entire time and listened.

And it was a wonderful experience.

I know this piece well, but still, I heard parts from other sections that I had not really noticed before. And though I try to listen while singing also, it was helpful to hear the sound as a whole without my own voice.

This made wonder, in what other contexts might I make the decision to listen only? If I do, what might I hear differently? What have I not noticed before?

Renee Roederer




This sermon was preached at First Presbyterian Church in Howell, Michigan and was focused upon the story that is told in Mark 12:38-44. An audio recording is above and a written manuscript is below.

“And who is my neighbor?”

That was the follow-up question that someone once asked Jesus. First, that person had asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” and Jesus answered, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your mind, and with all your soul, and with all your strength,’ and the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Jesus speaks these words in the 12th chapter of Mark, just before our passage today.

When the writer of the Gospel of Luke tells the same story, the original inquirer the asks a follow-up question. “And who is my neighbor?” He may have been seeking to clarify, but it seems more likely that he was trying to justify the ways he was already limiting to whom he was connected and related.

“And who is my neighbor?”

I find myself thinking about that when we ponder the story that is before us today.

Jesus begins by sharing a word of warning about religious leaders. He says, “Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes” — I notice that I’m the one wearing a robe today — “and to be greeted with respect in the market-places, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers.”

They devour widow’s houses. . .

Jesus had noticed the patterns of behavior in these particular leaders and the harmful impact their actions were having upon the lives of vulnerable neighbors. And what’s more, Jesus saw into the hearts of these leaders and noted how tempting it is to desire the power of affirmation, recognition, and religious admiration. He also instructed his disciples to steer clear of this.

Jesus noticed so much about the people around him, about the world around him. He looked into the heart. And he looked upon his neighbors and our neighbors from his own heart, uplifting their worth, walking alongside them, loving them, and declaring them to be a part of God’s Kingdom. He invites all of us into that same Kingdom alongside vulnerable neighbors.

Jesus spent his life noticing.

Jesus spent his life uplifting.

And so, the story continues. . .

He sat down opposite the treasury, and again, he began to notice things.

The story tells us that many rich people came and put in enormous sums of money. These enormous sums didn’t go unnoticed. The sound of them clamored through the air. The treasury of the temple had long, metallic receptacles that were shaped like trumpets, and people placed their offerings inside. Sometimes, they flung their offerings inside these receptacles, and when all those metallic coins made contact, the sound went before the givers, and all took notice.  So what happened when Jesus saw the rich, the powerful, and the leaders of this religious institution making spectacles of themselves only to be followed by the little tinkle of two copper coins given by a vulnerable widow?

Jesus saw her. He called attention to her and voiced his observations perhaps because the others, including his disciples, said nothing and noticed nothing. Some around them were too busy making spectacles of themselves. Why would they value the great sacrifice of this widow? 

The tragedy is even actually greater than ignoring her: The people surrounding her had the resources to help and come alongside her, and yet they were spending their time “devouring widows’ houses.” This woman, this child of God, gave all she had to live on in the very same receptacle as those who were willing to destroy her. She gave to God, and Jesus uplifted her gift. But the story has tragedy in it too. I think Jesus wants us to notice this, just as he noticed it.

“And who is my neighbor?”

Mother Teresa used to say, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to one another.”

Are we aware of how deeply we belong to one another? How far will those boundaries stretch? Who be included? Who will be viewed with worth? Who will be uplifted? Who will be seen, known, noticed, cared for, valued, and empowered through the lens of neighbor? Through the lens of kinship?

Because if the most vulnerable of this world and noticed and loved by Jesus, if they are uplifted as people belonging to the Kingdom of God, and we are invited into that Kingdom, it means that we are invited into that Kin-dom. We are invited to all our barriers breaking down, for our sense of relatedness to expand, to be one family together, one humanity together, living in this creation that God has spoken into being and loved with all God’s being.

It’s that freeing. But it’s also that challenging because truly, if we have no peace, it’s because we have forgotten that we belong to one another. And let’s be honest. Quite often, we have forgotten that we belong to one another.

Our nation honors veterans today, and we rightly give care and respect to the members of our families and larger circles who have entered national service, and at times, known the pain of wars. They are deserving of our care and respect. I wonder, do we also have a sense of kinship with veterans who are currently experiencing homelessness? Do we have a sense of kinship with poor, young men and women who would prefer never to enlist, but feel that is their only way out of poverty? How far does our relatedness go? Sometimes, we have forgotten that we belong to one another. I know that I have forgotten.

Today, so beautifully, we have blessed these shoeboxes. We don’t know the names of the children who will receive them, but we know those children do have names. We hope that when they receive them, they experience a sense of love and value — love from God, love from neighbors like us. I wonder, do we also feel a sense of relatedness when these children become more visible to us? When they are enduring poverty and have tangible needs? When they are fleeing violence? When children just like them end up in the stories of our news cycles, are they still our neighbors, or are they viewed primarily as symbols, maybe even objects of debate? Sometimes, we have forgotten that we belong to one another. I know that I have forgotten.

Today, we also saw and heard the beautiful report from the Romanian Mission Team. How wonderful it is to see that this congregation is in relationship with neighbors across the world. Not simply going for one week to give things away but to be truly in relationship with one another, to delight with one another in care, mutuality, and kinship — to see those who are often forgotten, and for all of us, including the team itself, to see and experience the presence of God in the presence of one another. This is the kind of partnership and kinship that Jesus keeps calling us to again and again.

“And who is my neighbor?”

The truth is, we never arrive fully in these relationships, certainly not through our own efforts. But again and again, Jesus is calling us…

It makes me wonder, what might Jesus want to uplift in this congregation? How might Jesus want to challenge each one of us? How might Jesus be inviting us now once more to love our neighbors — to love our neighbors as ourselves — more expansively?

I am grateful that Jesus sits with us too. I am grateful that Jesus notices us in great love too. And that love beckons us into a calling that keeps emerging, a calling that keeps challenging, a call that keeps expanding.

Renee Roederer

I love LOOKITs


Kiddos delight in calling for our attention because in the moment of being seen — “Lookit me do this!” — they get to witness us delighting in them.

And I’m convinced that adults never outgrow this need. Far from it. It just changes form. That being said, it can still stay playful too.

I have many people to whom I send my own versions of LOOKITs. These often emerge in photos and texts. I especially love connecting with my elders about moments that energized me.

“Can you believe this happened?”

“Lookit this wonderful photo from today.”

“Can I tell you a story? I want to tell you something I learned.”

And truly, one of my very favorite things about the rhythm of my life is that I receive a plethora of LOOKITs. I bet you receive them all the time too. They come almost every day. I love them.

Just this weekend, I rejoiced during the occasion to learn about someone’s new job offer and received a bunch of photos of folks’ joy, including a photo of beloved couple who just thought they looked cute in a particular moment together (and they did! “Put this pic on the fridge!” they said) And yesterday, I received a banjo serenade of the Michigan fight song over the phone (Well done!)

I love the daily LOOKITs. I love their variety.

I love that there are so many occasions to delight in one another; I love that there are so many occasions to see ourselves seen with delight.

Renee Roederer

Electoral Politics: What would it take to inspire? To affect substantive change?


Good morning after staying up late to watch the midterm returns.

Well, if you stayed up.

I said I was going to stay up and watch, then started to get stressed and decided to go to bed (it’s amazing how a body can remember 2016 in its muscles) but then I tuned into a livestream with less stressful hosts and watched anyway.

I didn’t sleep as long as I would like, but I’m glad I watched until most races were called.

Yesterday, a few questions swirled around in my mind quite a bit. What would it take to inspire greater hope and possibility through politics? What would have to happen for that to take root? And what would have to happen for politics and governance to create widespread, positive changes in the lives of more people?

Two things brought these questions to mind:

1) Throughout this election season, many of my friends, both local and across the country, framed the importance of voting through conversations about “harm reduction.”

I saw this quite a bit on social media this year, and I think that’s an absolutely necessary conversation. Similarly, the same friends were quick to point out that voting is only one tool in the toolbox, and we cannot expect to enact positive change through electoral politics alone. If we want to participate in movement-building and the protection of neighbors, that requires much more than a vote every two to four years. I completely agree.

But I also thought, how sad that we have reasonably come to expect that voting is capable primarily of harm reduction, and perhaps not much more? I’m not criticizing this. I’m wondering what could be possible if electoral politics and governance were more inspiring with tangible, substantial changes in the lives of many more people?

What could politics be? What is possible?

2) Yesterday, someone sent me an excellent podcast. It’s an episode from Freakonomics, which makes the argument that the two-party system of U.S. politics is a duopoly — that it’s an industry which primarily serves its own interests rather than creating substantive changes in the lives of the majority of people.

On the podcast, Katherine Gehl and Michael Porter are two guests who have done a great deal of research into this. Having asked themselves how this duopoly could be altered and transformed, they also propose several solutions. One is non-partisan, citizen led redistricting, something that my home state of Michigan passed just last night.

But all of this brought up my larger questions too: How might we transform campaigns and governance? How might we envision politics and transform it toward greater possibilities?

These are the kinds of questions that need to linger and marinate for a long time, but here they are, sitting with me and maybe with you this morning.

Renee Roederer

Today and every day, we belong to one another


I often think about this quote from Mother Teresa:

If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to one another.

When we exercise our vote today (I hope most will be able to participate!) I also hope we will remember that we belong to one another. Voting is one way we do that.

It is, however, only one way we do that. Movement-building toward collective change requires much more than a vote every 2 to 4 years. (Maybe more about that later in the week).

Nevertheless, today matters a great deal. Praying for a safe and peaceful day.

Renee Roederer