This weekend I am preaching for the Annual Pastor Appeal – so I thought I would post a homily from several years ago that I gave on this same weekend.
As I have loved you, so you also should love one another (John 13:34)
In his book Surprised By Joy, CS Lewis describes being at a very proper English tea, standing there with an overly filled cup, when, quite by accident someone bumped into him, causing the jostled cup to spill some of its content out. Later, when reflecting on that most ordinary of things, he noted isn’t that a lot like life. If we want to know that with which we have filled our life, we only need to be jostled by life to see what spills out.
Wouldn’t it be great if every time life jostles us, when we hit that bump in the road, that it was love that spilled out us. There is the sacrament of Reconciliation for all the other spillage of life.
I was mentioning this to my friends Ruth and Dan, folks who have been head over heels in love for a little over 30 years. People who do not know their love for each other – only knowing them from a bit of a distance, often wonder how it is they stay together – “they are like oil and water” someone once said of them. I can understand that – they are a couple with … shall we say, great contrasts in their life. Ruth has always been passionate about life. Her current passion is the Tea Party movement, about which she is deeply driven. Her husband has a long history of social action – this weekend he is gearing up for the United Church of Christ’s campaign for immigration reform. It does make you wonder what it is that binds them and holds them together – and it is not as though politics and religion are banned from the dinner table.
Dinner at their house, especially when all four of their grown children are home, is …. How shall we say… it is a passionate affair. And yes there are spats of name calling, dredging up things from the past, loud expressions of exasperation – their favorite being, “un-be-live-a-ble” Best expressed as five syllables, with due energy and passion detonating in the liminal space between syllables. Yes, people have stormed from the table. This point at which many write them off as hopeless – as oil and water. But you need to stick around. They always return. They always embrace. They are always reconciled. They always make love the last words of the conversation. See how they love each other
Love one another passionately enough to embrace the moment of reconciliation and still more passionately to continue their opposing struggles on behalf of others. Living in one sphere they lean into a second, striving toward the kingdom of heaven that remains hidden behind the threshold of the human struggle.
Where some see the chaos and destructive denial of deep and important differences, I see new heaven, a new earth, breaking forth – living out Jesus’ new commandment.
As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is Jesus’ last message, his last words, the last important instruction for us. This is what we are supposed to do in order for that new heaven and earth to break in: love one another. Notice that Jesus doesn’t say, “It sure would be ….” He doesn’t say, “Perhaps you might think of ….” He doesn’t say, “At least, love the people who are nice to you.” He says, “This is a new commandment I give you: Love one another.” That’s that. This is the job description for the rest of our lives. This is the work before us. And there are days it is indeed work . Perhaps insurmountable work when your politics are so divergent; hard, serious work when the relationship has been injured; impossible work when you have let some other principle, some other command become primary in your life, your heart, your thinking.
We live in a world where there are many paths we can take, but if we follow Jesus, we walk one path: the way of love. The way of love leads to life, so that our life becomes love. And as our life becomes love, we discover there are boundaries. On the road of love, some behavior is no longer permissible. Because the key to the commandment to love one another is the phrase “as I have loved you.” We have to love as Jesus loved.
How did he love? He gave his life for people. He served people. He helped people. He healed people. He fed people. He liberated people. He taught people. He encouraged people. He blessed people. He prayed for people. He felt compassion for people. He forgave people. He resisted evil for people. He laid down his life in love for everyone and he says to us, “Now you go and do the same thing. Love others as I have loved you.” It’s a great challenge.
The way of love leads you here to Eucharist and from this table your are sent to fulfill our gospel “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Sent to give the one great witness in the world – love of neighbor when there in nothing “in it for you.” When there is no advantage, no thought of reward. Sent to love those around the table of the Eucharist, the family table at home, and sent to love those with whom you may or may not have broken bread at any table.
My friends Ruth and Dan love. In the witness of their love – all compelled by the love of God – they have taught their children to love, as well as countless others who have shared their family table. And I have no doubt their four kids are witnesses to love’s engagement in a world. At the end of the road of love, Ruth/Dan, all of us who love will be welcomed home into the house of love, as we hear in the book of Revelation, where there are no more tears, no more suffering, no more pain, no more violence, no more empires, no more wars, and no more death, and we will be ready to spend eternity in the land of love because we know how to love one another.
Unbelievable? Not really – it all becomes possible because you believe.