Year C, Easter 5
May 19, 2019
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was
“I give you a new commandment that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
We just heard that text on Maundy Thursday, the maundatum, the mandate, the new commandment to love one another… “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
Of all of the things Jesus said, of all the specific direction Jesus gave in His short public ministry, this might be the hardest to actually do. Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, turn the other cheek… the whole Sermon on the Mount, living like that is the Jesus Way. And that Way is always a rocky, torturous path in the wilderness, if you are actually on it. (That’s a good indicator that you ae on the Jesus Way, it is hard). But to love one another as Jesus loved, to love like God loved, loves… now that is a tall order, a divine order of divine proportions. Loving like that is what St. John the Divine meant about when he wrote of a New Heaven and a New Earth. That’s what came through Jesus’ love on the Cross. “…the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God…” That’s what comes when we love each other as Jesus taught. This wholly new world is the world in which people actually do what Jesus told us to do, actually love each other as He, as God dwelling amongst us, loved us. Everything is made new. Agapic love. Selfless, self-giving, self-sacrificing love. That kind of love changes everything, it births a new heaven and new earth. That is what Jesus came to tell us; to show us; to give to us. That is why He was killed by the empire, because that kind of love is the one thing Empire is unable to control, unable to defend against. It was that same self-giving love pouring forth from the Cross that changed and saved the world, and keeps changing and saving it, keeps renewing this world with each breath we take, in each kindness we do, in each bit of justice we forge, each bit of empire we dismantle. And the power of agape love radiates beyond the human realm. As we sung a couple of weeks go, “Now the green blade riseth, from the buried grain… Love is come again like wheat that springth green.” Love is the force that through the green fuse drives the flower. Love moves the river on its path of least resistance to the sea. Love mates the beach to the wave, joins the sky to the mountain, connects the wind to the prairies.
There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done
Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung
Nothing you can say, but you can learn how to play the game
Nothing you can make that can’t be made
No one you can save that can’t be saved
Nothing you can do, but you can learn how to be you in time
Five points to who can sing the next line?
All you need is love Lennon/McCartney
They are right and are right in line with Our Lord and Savior. All we need is love. In the end, that is all Jesus had. Everyone was gone. He was left on the Cross to die, He was put there to die, stripped of everything but His love. On the Cross He was the most powerful person who has ever been, and all He had was love. I guess when it comes time for our ends, that’s all we’ll have. We can’t take it with us, nothing, that is, but love. Love.
Love is patient, love is kind, all that. Love is free, (though it can be costly). It is inexhaustible. Love is the perpetual motion machine of the human condition, it just goes and goes and gives and gives and never runs dry, and when given as Jesus commands (and gives to us), it gets easier and easier until it becomes second nature, the default mode of our experience of the world, world without end. And it feels good. Truly. It feels great to be loved. It feels great, stupendously great to love someone. Is there a better feeling than to love someone and to know that you yourself are loved? Not that I have experienced. The ground of my being is wholly integrated, my life is completed by the love I give to and receive from Windy as her husband and Hannah Maeve and Brigid as their father. All you need is love.
So then why is it so hard? Why is it so hard to love like Jesus commands? The love of a mate or a child, that’s easy love. (Comparatively). (Well, most of the time). (OK, there are those days when it is not so easy, but you know what I mean, in theory at least)… It is hard! So then think about loving the guy random you passed on the street, the person in the pew beside you, the politician you cringe at on TV. Can you love them? Can you love them like you love your child? Your closest friend? That’s what Jesus commands. That’s divine love; it doesn’t discriminate, and we’re not supposed to, either. It’s hard! Why? Love is the foundational mode ofrelationship in the universe, but our world is in a dire mess… Why? Why is it so hard to love?
Well, why is it hard for you to love? No one here in this room loves everyone all the time. Why not? Let’s do a little inner thought experiment. Think about someone in your life who is hard to love. Maybe it is an enemy, a persecutor or oppressor, lacking those, a workplace rival, a lousy neighbor, your best friend’s childhood friend who is always hanging around, someone who irritates you some how. Not the ex-spouse whom you communicate to via attorneys – let’s be realistic – but the lady who doesn’t pick up after her dog in Tugman, the boss who doesn’t know as much about their job as you do, the in-law that won’t stop making those helpful suggestions about everything you do or fail to do… This person might be in this room. It might be me. (I’ve irritated a few folks here). There are a lot of people in our day to day experience whom we might find hard to love. Why are they/we so hard for you to love? What gets in the way for you? Think on that for moment.
On a cultural scale, across societies, there are a lot of factors that make loving others difficult. Fear, being scared of someone can make them very hard to love. It is simply hard to love when you are scared, and there are scary things in the world, evil things. From an abusive spouse to an abusive government, from FBI and NSA surveillance to addicts breaking into cars and homes, from fear of violence in our schools to the latent (and too often real) fear of sexual assault that far too many women experience, there is fear of a collapsing environment, collapsing politics, collapsing economy: there are plenty of things to be actually scared of.
And there is a lot of fear that is not justified. Difference is a ready source of fear. The Know-nothingism of the current administration and its supporters, increasing public displays of racism and anti-Semitism, the fear of immigrants, our borders being encroached, barbarians at the gate, declare trade war! Move B-52s to Kuwait! Shoot another African-American at a routine traffic stop. These are the same impulses that keep 11:00 on Sunday mornings the most segregated hour in America as observed by Dr. King.
Our reading from Acts is all about this, about the fear of transcending boundaries. The reading is about encountering difference and facing, changing the rules that delineate exclusion. Scary stuff. Gentiles were coming into the church. Jewish law prohibited mixing, prohibited eating certain food, required circumcision… and yet Jesus ate with sinners, accepted water from the Samaritan woman at the well, healed one centurion’s slave and was confessed as God’s son by another. This text from Acts is one that I hope a lot of Methodists are pondering as they deal with human sexuality and the struggle to evolve as a community and allow those previously excluded to be welcomed, or not. All the -isms, racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, ageism… the list gets longer and longer all the time as we learn how easily it is that we discriminate, that we withhold basic rights not to mention love due to differences, the fear of differences. Fear, real and imagined, concrete and abstract gets in the way of love.
Stuff, things, material things inhibit the free flow of love, too. Being conscious of scarcity, having too much, not having enough, fear that someone might get, is getting more than me, or more than they should or deserve… stuff, wealth is anxiety producing for humans. (And it is exceedingly hard to love when in the throes of anxiety). Think of the parable of the vineyard workers where they all got the same pay (the prevailing daily wage even), though some worked all day and others an hour… I can feel that resentment right here and I am not particularly motivated by money. We are all messed up when it comes to our relationship with stuff, which is precisely why Jesus talks about material, economic issues so much. As I like to quip, Jesus said nothing bad about gay folks and nothing good about rich folks. But really, think about it, does anyone with unlimited resources behave particularly well? Having everything you want is bad for the human soul. I am not saying that poverty, having nothing, is an indicator of virtue, depravation morally injures too. People die of too little as well as too much. But the higher orders of spirituality are always associated with a decreased-unto-non-existent attachment to material things. People matter more than things always and everywhere, but that is very, very hard to remember. And can make it very, very hard for us to love someone whose material existence seems at cross purpose to our own.
On a personal level – feeling if not being judged by someone can make them very hard to love. Being judgmental of someone else usually gets in the way of us loving them. How many of us let a single factor of a person determine our opinion of the whole? All are welcome here, but would, say, an avid supporter of our President be welcome here? Could we transcend our judgment and love them? Could they feel welcome here? Feel welcome to receive the love of God through the people of God gathered in this place? I got complaints when we put the Presidents name in the prayers of the people. Is that how we love like Jesus commands?
Getting in your way, interfering with you doing what you think or know is right, or doing what you want to do. That makes loving someone hard. Someone being lousy, being poorly behaved… badly behaved people, obnoxious people are hard to love. Addicts are tough. They often survive by charm and charm alone, because their behavior is so often the pits.
I don’t know… it is endless, the reasons, the excuses we have for not loving some people. They don’t deserve it. Me loving them is me conceding to them, they are getting something from me, getting something over on me. What are other reasons some people are hard to love? ___
Let me give you one little thing to try this coming week, a glimmer of love and hope and then we’ll hold on for Part Deux next Sunday when the love of Christ continues.
Most people are hard to love some of the time, some people are hard to love most of the time. I like to think I am in the former category. That’s what Windy says anyway. We’ve all got our growing edges, our cold, prickly bits as well as our warm and wonderful ones. Remembering that is helpful. Remembering that I myself, while usually a delightful presence in the world, can be a real beaut sometimes, can help me see that all of us have multiple dimensions. I know that sometimes it is easier for me to love others when I consider how it is hard for some people to love me.
So try that out. The next time you encounter someone whom you find hard to love, pick up that big spirit mirror and consider yourself. Have you ever been like/acted like the person in question? Could anyone ever observe what you are doing/how you are acting in a way different than you intend? What was going on for you in that situation or in any situation where you found yourself not at your best? What other stories could explain their behavior? What other stories could someone conclude about yours?
Think on this. Pray on it. Hold it up to God as you take communion today, or in however it is that you pray this week. We’ll take it up again Sunday. AMEN