Sunday, May 03, 2015

Sermon: Love one another

    One of my favorite riffs I do with the Confirmation Students is comparing the three johns—The Gospel of John, the Revelation of John, and the Letters of John.
         In the first, particular points are emphasized by affirming, as we read today, “I am.” “I am the bread of life, the light of the world, the good shepherd, the true vine.”
         In the book of Revelation particular points are emphasized with bizarre and more importantly, memorable, images—for example: Christ is the light that lights the city of God, and is a multi-horned, multi-eyed slain lamb that is also a lion, and there is found by the water of life a tree with leaves that heal the nations.

         And then there is the letters of John. It makes its points through repetition.
It makes its point through staccato snarled sentences squished together and snagging up against the soul of the reader.
It repeats points again and again with slightly different jabs and punches until it knocks out its audience.
If you haven’t heard me yet, I’ll say it a fourth time, it wears you down with repetition going at you again and again with a wrestler’s prowess, holding onto you heavily and hoping to grapple and grab onto the listener’s whole person and pull you down to the mat.
         Today, if you prune, separate out, and poke at, the messy message found in the 4th chapter of the 1st letter of John—you come up with this fairly straightforward message:
Love one another.
Love one another, because it reveals God.
Love one another, because it connects us to God.
Love one another, because of Christ’s love.
Love one another, because God first loved us.


         Love one another. Agape, in the Greek.
Agape one another.
         Love one another in an active way—This isn’t sentiment or internal stuff, it’s loving action—it’s the kind of love you can do whether or not you like the other person.
         Love one another in a sacrificial way—love like Christ loved us, all the way. Love while running on empty, love out of your weakness, love so it overflows.
         Love one another in a way motivated by God—there are other compasses that can point us to active sacrificial love, but the one that motivates us Christians has both it’s essence and origins in the God revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

         Love one another, because it reveals God.
         When we love in active, sacrificial, Godly ways, we often have aha! Moments. Moments when we glimpse God.
         There is a long tradition of Christian saints having aha! moments—moments of glimpsing God while loving in an Agape kind of way.
         It is said Francis of Assisi knelt down and kissed a leper, and he realized he had in fact kissed Christ.
         Similarly, the mythical St. Christopher took a small child upon his back in order to ferry him across a deep river—and half way through he recognized this child to be Jesus, and his strength gave out and he was pressed down into the water and rose up a Baptized man.
         Or think of Luther, who had an Aha! moment that continues to shape how Lutherans talk about the connection between God and societal roles…
While changing his son’s diapers—Luther realized that act of service was just as holy—served God by serving neighbor—just as holy as his entire time in the monastery.
         Or think about the hard but needed task of listening to sisters and brothers with whom we disagree—in doing so we might see the face of God—after all, upon the cross Christ seemed ungodly too—just as those holding opposite opinions to us so often do.
         Yes, we glimpse God when we love one another.

         Love one another, because it connects us to God.
         When we love one another that aha! moment can become something more—it is not a one-time event
—it’s like birth—it takes a while.
It’s motherly embrace—that doesn’t just happen once
It’s becoming family.
It’s knowing from experience, knowing it in your bones and in your soul.
It’s abiding—that is living, dwelling, being in it. Moving into the presence of God.

         Think about it, practicing love and becoming connected to the One Who Loves.
         Think about anything you’ve practiced.
         Not every moment on the baseball field is home runs and Gatorade on your head—it’s callouses, blisters, and sore muscles, time taken out of your day, and commitment…
and yet in doing that you become something else,
you become part of something else
and it is glorious.
         So too, loving one another shapes us, sticks with us, becomes part of us, we become part of it, we’re being reborn.
         Yes, we are changed and connected to God by loving one another.

         Love one another, because of Christ’s love.
         Christ’s command to love one another, is told while he demonstrates that very thing. He kneels and holds onto his disciples feet, washing the dirt and the dust from those feet, as he says, “Love one another.”
         Those feet trampling along, following after him to worried parents, outcast women, blind men, and faithful Centurions—serving with feet and hands—loving in a sacrificial way, following his Father’s calling upon his life.
         Loving to the end—loving with arms outstretched upon the cross, outstretched for you and for me.
         Loving too beyond the end—opening the tomb so that he might abide with us, bearing and birthing us out into the world, meeting us in our acts of service—that we might entertain him unaware that we do those things.
         Yes, Jesus loves us so deeply and we can show that love by loving one another.

         Love one another, because God first loved us.
         It’s reasonable to fear loving one another in an Agape way.
         There’s a lot to lose, potentially—it’s risky.
         The tension between emotion and action might be too much
—the hard ongoing outpouring of love drains you and does nothing to the recalcitrant heart of the beloved, they never love back
—and you grow bitter.
         The sacrifices might be too much
—you give and give and never see the results of your labor. You plant and another reaps.
         Perhaps even the actions become ends in and of themselves, the compass is lost, the north star of God is obscured.

         But beloved, it’s worth the risk!
         It’s worth loosing too much love, because the loving has already been done.
         God first loved us, and so we respond by loving our neighbor in need and loving our sisters and brothers in Christ.
         God acted first, God loved first.
         The entirety of the Acts of the Apostles could be read as God acting first and the Church catching up.
God acted first,
God welcomed first,
God loved first.
Pentecost fire showed God’s love for Gentiles—then the early Christians had to spend time and treasure on them.
         They made the Gentiles table servers, but God acted first and made them powerful preachers of the Gospel.
         And as we see today in Acts, God is already acting with this rich and powerful Ethiopian Eunuch before Phillip can do a thing—Phillip has to catch up and love.

         And that’s the story—God loved us when yet sinners and oppressed, sending his son.
         God loved us when we clung to an unjust society, by sending the prophets.
         God loved us when we blamed each other for our sufferings, by sending the wise ones who wrote the book of Job and Ecclesiastes and short-circuited that attitude.
         God loved us when we were in slavery and crying out with deepest need, by bringing us through the sea and on to freedom.
         God loved us before we even existed, calling forth over the deep, Spirit calling all things, seen and unseen, into being, that they might be loved.
         Yes, God first loved us, let us love one another.

Love one another, because it reveals God and connects us to God.
Love one another, because God, in Christ Jesus, first loved us.
Love one another.