May this be in the name of the Holy Trinity: the Lover, the Beloved, and Love itself.
Many years ago I heard a particular sermon preached from this pulpit and that sermon has come back to me recently from the dusty archives of my mind. The preacher followed a familiar format, beginning with background on the readings, then pointing out the challenges humanity faces in the world, and finally a lead up to how we, as Christians, can meet those challenges by helping to bring the Kingdom of God into harmony with this earthly world. I was ready.
At the school for the diaconate we had been reading about God’s Kingdom and the tension between God’s desires for us and our human struggles to do God’s will. As the preacher was coming to the climax I paid attention for the instruction, marching orders you might say to come from the preacher’s mouth. And there it was, the instruction to right the wrongs of the world. Love.
Love? That wasn’t helpful for me. Love is like blood coursing through the body. It happens whether you are awake or asleep. Love is like breathing. I can stop breathing for a short period of time, but then breathing takes over again. And I can stop loving, though I find that its suspension is always temporary because new people and creatures and sights and sounds to love are constantly coming into my life. I was taught God loves us whether we are awake or asleep, physically or mentally or spiritually asleep. I was taught God claims us all, and counts each of us as the stars in the sky. And I was taught to love God, and love my neighbor. Love hasn’t solved all the problems facing humanity, so there has got to be more to do than love.
And so I put the sermon away, filing it in the archives of my mind. Over the years the file has not been accessed and the sermon has gathered dust.
In the latter part of this past Pentecost season, beginning in September, Love, so often a part of sermons here, began to seep into my very being. It was subtle at first.
Hear this from one of the readings: “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good … rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.” Paul didn’t just say, Love. He gave a whole host of actions to take and the preacher did the same. I heard the preacher say that to be truly loving we must be patient, and that it is so hard for many of us to be patient. And so I concentrated on Patience and left Love to gather dust.
A few weeks later Love showed up in the sermon again. This sermon, for me, was about the love of God for God’s people. And we are all God’s people. Listen to this reading. “When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it. But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry.” Accepting God’s love doesn’t come naturally to me, like breathing. It’s hard to believe I am loved when I am angry and not feeling lovable. I am sure Jonah could not believe himself to be loved by God nor able to accept God’s love when he was angry and not feeling lovable. And so I concentrated on Acceptance and left Love to gather dust.
Then in October the appointed readings included the great commandment. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” It being the stewardship season, we heard that what we do at St. Mary’s to be sure our financial decisions are grounded in love, is to use some of our money to foster loving community, and the second way to use our money to grow in love is by using the act of giving as a spiritual practice. And so I concentrated on Giving and left Love to gather dust.
Finally, near the very end of the Pentecost season, our Gospel reading was about the ten bridesmaids who went to meet the bridegroom. Aah. A wedding. An occasion that celebrates love. And we heard that familiar reading of Paul’s: “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. … And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” And while the preacher continued to espouse love, the focus I heard was on Hope, rekindling hope in our hearts and in the hearts of those who live in darkness. And so I may have been tempted to concentrate on Hope and leave Love to gather dust. But that little part of me that tends my mental files and helps me to remember what is important, finally dusted off that long-forgotten sermon and its climactic word: Love.
It’s a funny thing about Love. It’s present without being said. It’s present in today’s readings without the word being uttered. Isaiah speaks of a wedding where a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and a bride adorns herself with jewels. A wedding. An occasion that celebrates love.
The psalmist expresses our love for God without using the word: “How good it is to sing praises to our God! How pleasant it is to honor him with praise!” And the psalmist expresses God’s love for us: “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He counts the number of the stars and calls them all by name.”
And what greater expression of Love is there than these of Paul? “God sent his Son so that we might receive adoption as children.”
So what are we to do with this dusty old Love? Certainly accept it, but upon accepting it immediately give it away. Now, more than ever, we are responsible for love. We, the adopted children and heirs of the Kingdom of God, members of God’s church, are responsible to see that all God’s children receive the blessings of God’s kingdom. We can no longer count on the kindness of others. It is in our hands. There is plenty of responsibility to go around. Begin here at St. Mary’s, where love abounds and is shared freely. And love those in your family, too often the recipient of an unkind word. Then move on to the neighbors who are nearby. Reach out to the lonely, the poor, the hungry, and the lost. And we have neighbors who are far away. Just because we can’t personally see their sufferings, doesn’t mean we are not responsible to love them and provide for them. There are unimaginable atrocities in this world that will go unchecked if we do not take responsibility.
Figure out what it is you can do to bring into harmony the Kingdom of God with this earthly, flawed world. And begin with this: Love. The basis for it all: Love. Remembering always God’s beloved gift to us: Love.