Monday, May 18, 2009

Sermon -- 17 May 2009

6TH SUNDAY OF EASTER — 17 May 2009
St. Paul’s, Durant — 9:00 am

[BCP] Acts 11:19-30 Ps 33 1John 4:7-21 John 15:9-17

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

Jesus was raised from the dead and commissioned his followers to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God in the power of the Holy Spirit, nineteen hundred and seventy-some years ago.

For pretty much all that time ever since, we’ve been fighting with each other about it.

I’m not picking on you! I’m picking on all of us! I’m picking on me! God knows I love religious battles as well as anyone, and probably better than most. Which is probably why our Lord frequently has to remind me, “I did NOT say: ‘I came that they may have RELIGION, and have it abundantly’!”

Or, as he also says to us all with similar frequency, and occasionally we may even hear him and pay attention: “What is it you don’t understand about: ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you’?”

In the Epistle today, from John’s First Letter, which is mostly about love, John begins, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” “Let us love one another, because love is from God; … for God is love.” What John is sharing with us in today’s Epistle, like what Jesus is sharing with us in the Gospel, is not just a set of moral rules but a vision of reality. A vision of reality. That which is the most real of everything, that which is the ground, the basis, the root, the foundation of all that is real, is Love love’s-self. God’s very nature is love. The most fundamental thing that we can say about God—even more fundamental than talking about God as omnipotent or omniscient or any of those other six-dollar philosophical words—is that God is loving, indeed, more profoundly and fundamentally, that God is love.

One of the most basic affirmations of the Christian faith. But one about which we need to be very careful. Because the truth of the matter is, our understanding of love is pretty shaky, and when we extend “love” as all too often we mean “love” and apply it to God, we end up with a shallow and sentimental deity very much in our own image. Quite the contrary, it is God who defines what love really is: obviously a reality too rich to define simply, but having to do with the mystery of creativity, indeed the very rationale of creation; the bestowing of authentic being upon another, the free sharing of life, a fundamental generosity that is not controlling or self-gratifying, but the kind of self-giving disclosed in Jesus. This is what love really is, and our loving is only truly loving to the extent that it reflects (in a finite way) the infinite divine loving of God. As St John says, “In this is love, not that we loved God but that God loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” Or as Jesus himself says, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends ….” “Love one another as I have loved you.”

Well, that’s all very inspirational, no doubt. But we easily overestimate how much interest God really has in being inspirational. “Inspiration” is often very much like “religion,” and “religion” is often what we substitute for holiness. But God tends to be disconcertingly concrete and practical. It is after all from St John—the one we like to think of as the “most spiritual” of the Gospel writers (and thus we can keep him safely enshrined on the “religion” shelf)—it is from St John that we hear, “Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.… Those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.…Those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.” “Love one another as I have loved you.” That’s the practical definition of love for us, the pattern for our loving: if we want to see what love really is, we look at Jesus. His commandment to love is not just an order to be obeyed, but a disclosure of reality, and not just a disclosure but an invitation to share in that reality to its richest depths, to share in the very life of God. “I have said these things to you,” Jesus says, “so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”

As we move beyond thinking of Jesus’ commandment to love as a sort of religious inspiration, and start catching it as a vision of reality to be lived in, and to be shared with others, and to be enacted in the world (and feeling the exhilaration of the assurance of God’s trust in us), then perhaps our love will no longer be quite so hedged round and qualified. Perhaps our love will no longer be quite so conditional, not quite so sensible. Perhaps we will be less concerned to count love’s cost. We’ll start seeing more clearly, not only with the eyes of our minds but with the eyes of our hearts, that to love one another—to love one another by the measure of how Jesus has loved us—is what it is really to be alive. As the divine love reaches out beyond itself in creation in a free bestowal of being, so we turn outward beyond ourselves in respect, in concern, in compassion, in affirmation, in cherishing—to other persons and to the whole of God’s creation. We hear more clearly Jesus’ words today, “You did not choose me, but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.” “Love one another as I have loved you”—not just a commandment in the narrow sense, not just an inspirational motivation, and not just for ourselves, but a commission, a commission to bear to the world the vision of its own truest destiny.

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