May 6, 2018
1 John 5.1-6; John 15.6-17
+ Yesterday, I did something that was very difficult for me: I buried my mother’s ashes. For any of you have went through such a thing—a delayed burial, months after a loved one has died, you know the weirdness of such an event. There’s kind of a delayed reaction. What I was surprised by was the intensity of my emotions. There was a weird finality to it.
And seeing that little deep square hole dug in the ground felt just like an equally
Luckily, for those of us who cling to our faith, these are not moments of despair. These are not moments of feeling completely abandoned by God and our loved ones. They are just moments of loss.
I will say that my alleluia this morning, and actually throughout this whole season of Easter, has maybe not been as joyful as I would like.
I recently came across a quote I wrote in a notebook from a book I read several years ago called The Holy or the Broken by Allan Light. The book is about Leonard Cohen’s very famous song “Hallelujah,” one of those truly enigmatic, amazing songs that one just cannot escape in our culture right now. The quote from the book came from the Reverend Sandy Scott, a Presbyterian pastor from Saskatchewan. She says,
“There are days, I am sure, when you and I and even great King David could only muster a cold and lonely Hallelujah. It may be that the cold and lonley Hallelujah is a turning point that marks our salvation, because we know only God can save us from some of the situations we find ourselves in. The cold and lonely Hallelujah is a surrender to the mystery and backhanded glory of God.”
The backhanded glory of God. That, in a nutshell, sums up exactly what so many of us have known as we journey through grief and loss and pain.
And for me, one of the things I have been clinging to this week is working on the sermon for today. Because, as you all know, our scriptures this morning deal with one of my two favorite preaching subjects.
OK. Most of you have hearing my sermons for a long time now. You know I am a pretty simple preacher. I have about two subjects I pretty consistently preach about. And those two preaching subjects are?
Love and baptism.
And in our scripture readings for today, we get both. (I’ll spare you baptism today in this sermon)
You know, for all my preaching about love, you’d think I was some kind of hippie or something. Yes, I love to preach about love.
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 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 not about being “right” all the time. It is certainly not about being morally superior!
It is about following Jesus—and following Jesus means loving fully and completely. And following Jesus means obeying him and doing what he did. And what did he do, what did he preach? He preached:
Love each other.
Yes, I know. It actually does sound kind of…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.
For me—maybe I’m just simple. Maybe I’m just a simple priest, up here in North Dakota. I am at this incredible congregation that, on first appearances, might seem like some quirky little congregation. But underneath it all, it is this strange, powerful spiritual powerhouse of a congregation. And it is a congregation that embodies solidly this command of Jesus to
“Abide in my love.”
Maybe not perfectly. Maybe not in a classic sense. But certainly in its attempt to do what we are called to do.
Call me simple but abiding in Jesus’ love leaves no room for homophobia or racism or sexism or any other kind of discrimination. You can’t abide in love and live with hatred and anger. It just can’t be done.
When Jesus says “Abide in my love” it really a challenge to us as the Church. And, as you hear me say, again and again, the Church IS changing. And it should!
The Church of the future, whether we like it or not, has to shed those old ways of abiding 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 it 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. 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 a place of love and compassion and radical acceptance and inclusion. 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 love is abiding in love.
And abiding in 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 God by living out God’s command to love. As we remember and rejoice in the Ascension, let our hearts, full of love, ascend with Jesus to God’s side. Let us move from the backhanded glory of God, to the full and wonderful glory of God. 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.