May 13, 2012
1 John 5.1-6; John 15.6-17
+ Last week I told you how the previous week I was “off.” Well, let me tell you, this past week made the week before look positively wonderful. Two weeks of being “off” and pure chaos get to be a bit much.
But one of the things I have been clinging to is working on the sermon today. Because, as you all know, our scriptures this morning deal with one of my two favorite preaching subjects.
Let’s take a quiz. My two favorite preaching subjects are what? That’s right, Baptism and love.
Yes, I love to preach about love. I was telling someone about this fact last night at Aanders Johnson’s graduation supper at Monte’s, and this person turned to me and, in all seriousness, said to me: “I am so surprised, Father!”
“Really?” I asked.
“Yes,” this person said. “You just don’t seem like the hippie-type.”
The hippie-type! Lord!
Today, we get a double dose of love in our scriptures today. Jesus, in our Gospel reading, is telling us yet again to love. He tells us: “Abide in my love.” A beautiful phrase!
And St. John, in his epistle, reminds us of that commandment to love God and to love each other.
Now, as you hear me preach about again and again, this love is what being a Christian is all about. It is not about commandments and following the letter of the law. It is not about being nice and sweet all the time. It is about following Jesus—and following Jesus means loving fully and completely. Loving God. Loving each other.
Yes, I know. It sounds hippie-like. It sounds fluffy But the love Jesus is speaking of is not a sappy, fluffy love. Love, for Jesus—and for us who follow Jesus—is a radical thing. To love radically means to love everyone—even those people who are difficult to love. To love those people we don’t want to love—to love the people who have hurt us or abused us or wronged us in any way—is the most difficult thing we can do. If we can do it all. And sometimes we can’t. But we can’t get around the fact that this is the commandment from Jesus.
We must love.
Last week I preached one those sermons that I wasn’t certain how it would go over. I preached about change—how about we must change our views of how to do church. And about how we, ourselves, must change. In my sermon, I said that our old ways of doing church are dying off. Since last week, we got to see some of the old, bad ways of doing church.
I don’t know if you watched the votes about Marriage Equality in North Carolina. But if you did, you got to see Church at its worse. You got to see angry so-called Christians raging and carrying hate-filled picket signs. I don’t quite know what those people think or how interpret our scriptures for today. I don’t know what they are thinking or doing when they march with those signs. But I can tell you this: their form of Christianity is not mine. Their way of doing Church is alien to me. I do not understand it. That way of doing Church is dying! And good riddance!
For me—maybe I’m just simple. Maybe I’m just a simple priest, up here in the hinterlands of North Dakota. But for me, following Jesus and living out his message of love does not include speaking out in anger and hatred at anyone. Especially in the name of Jesus.
“Abide in my love” does mean living with anger and hatred.
Abide in my love leaves no room for homophobia or racist or any other kind of discrimination. You can’t abide in love and live with hatred and anger. It can’t be done. When Jesus says “Abide in my love” it really a challenge to us as the Church.
The Church IS changing. It is always changing. But the Church of the future, whether we like it or not, has to shed these old ways of speaking out in anger and fear and hatred. The Church of the future needs to constantly strive to abide in Jesus love. If it does not, it will become an antique. It will become an outmoded, hate-filled cesspool. And if does, then that’s the way will be.
Now, for me, I won’t stop following Jesus. Because if that’s the place the Church becomes, I know it is not the place Jesus is leading me to. And hopefully none of the rest of us either. And if that’s what the Church becomes, it will, in fact, stop being the Church.
There’s a great quote my one of my personal heroes, Archbishop Desmond Tutu. He once said, “If God is, as they say, homophobic, then I would not worship that God.”
And if the Church becomes a place of hatred or anger, I doubt many of us would remain members of that church. This is why the Church must change. This is why the Church must be place of love and compassion and radical acceptance. Because the alternative is too frightening for me.
This coming Thursday, we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus. On that day, he was physically taken up from us. But what he has left us with is this reality of us—his followers—being the physical Body of Jesus in this world. We can only be that physical Body of Jesus when we abide in his love. When we love fully and radically. There’s no getting around that. There’s no rationalizing that away. We can argue about this. We can quote scriptures and biblical and ecclesiastical precedence all we want.
But abiding in my love is abiding in my love. And abiding in that love means loving—fully and completely and without judgment. To be Jesus’ presence in the world means loving fully and completely and radically. Call that hippie-like. Call that heresy or a simplistic understanding of what Jesus is saying or part of the so-called “liberal agenda.” I call it abiding it in Jesus’ love, which knows no bounds, which knows no limits.
So, today, and this week, abide in this love. Let us celebrate him by living out his command to love. As we remember and rejoice in the Ascension, let our hearts, full of love, ascend with Jesus. Let them soar upward in joy at the fact that Jesus is still with us. And we when we love—when we love each other and God—Jesus’ spirit will remain with us and be embodied in us.