Easter 6—Year B
May 10, 2015
Well, it’s finally springtime and high school juniors and seniors are attending their Proms, so love is in the air. Do you remember your first “true love”? And it may not have been with a person—but maybe it was a song or a book or a place that rocked your young world. I was a senior at Westminster Boys High in Atlanta and after a football game, in which I played in the band, a girl I admired named Susan asked if I’d like to come over to her house for a party. Nothing like this had ever happened to me before, so I said yes. When I got there, I found out what she had really said was “do you want to come over to my house with Marty”. Marty being a girlfriend of hers.
The three of us sat around listening to records. It wasn’t long before I was completely smitten with Susan.
Of course this is the point that preachers usually say, “that’s cute and all, but real love, mature love, is the love of those married for 40 or 50 years. True love is the fierce love of a mother for her children. True love requires commitment, sacrifice, and for better or worse. This is what God is really interested in, not that superficial first love stuff.
While that may be true, I want to make a different point: it was in the experience of first love that it became clear to me that love is something that happens to us. I could no more generate that experience in myself than I could bench press my mother’s Ford Fairlane station wagon, which was my chariot for dates.
Love happens to us before it happens through us.
Look at the disciples: Jesus meets them where they are. He comes to the fishermen on the beach and the tax collector at his booth. Jesus loves Mary Magdalene and heals her of seven demons before she loves him. Christ came to you long before you showed up in church.
Jesus says in the gospel today: “You did not choose me, but I chose you.”
Jesus also says, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you….”
He first chose us and loved us. The love that flows between Father and Son in the communion of the Spirit flows over the disciples and rocks their world! They are as undone and overwhelmed by Jesus as anyone falling in love.
When reading the Bible we are always tempted to make the people involved the center of the story. When we do that in today’s gospel we will naturally focus on “This is my commandment, that you love one another…”
But the whole sentence is: “This is my commandment, that you love one another…just as I have loved you.”
You and I may wake up any given morning and feel zero love. Maybe we’re angry or burnt out. Maybe we don’t even like ourselves at the moment.
You can’t command someone feeling like this to love. It does little good to say things like, “Shape up and be nice”, though we often tell our kids this when they’re in a foul mood.
Our best strategy, with ourselves and with others, is to remember how much we are loved by God, for only God’s love can break the illusion of being unloved and unlovable.
Love happens to us before it happens through us.
Therefore Jesus’ central command in this passage is not to love others, but rather, “to abide in his love.”
Some of you may be wondering what happened to my first love my senior year. Maybe it just ran its course, which is what usually happens.
But it is also true that she was a grade behind me and after I graduated I got ready to go off to the University of Georgia. I was going to be a BMOC, a big man on campus, with some great looking new clothes. And of course at Georgia I was going to be surrounded by thousands of Georgia peaches who would see how special I was.
As you already know, this is not exactly what happened. The Sixties and the protest against the war finally showed up at Georgia that fall and that spring the shooting at Kent State happened and no one ever wore nice clothes again. And apparently the co-eds did not get the memo about my arrival on campus.
You could say what happened to my first love is that I traded it in for the hope of something better. Biblically, when we do this to God it is called idolatry: it is what happens when we abandon the One who loves and chooses us from before the foundation of the world. We end up chasing after false gods who do not and cannot love us, much less save us.
Every day we can abide in Christ’s love by simply remembering his radical acceptance of us. On Sundays that love becomes visible to us in Word and Sacrament and song, in bread and wine, in our caring for each other.
There is profound comfort in abiding in Christ. The hymn Abide with Me has a line that goes:
“Change and decay all around I see,
“O Thou, who changest not, abide with me”
But make no mistake there is also a challenge in this abiding: Remember how the hymn “They cast their nets”, describes what Christ’s love did to the disciples:
Contented, peaceful fishermen,
before they ever knew
the peace of God that filled their hearts
brimful, and broke them too.
Friday I heard Roman Catholic nun Simone Campbell give a talk at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge. Sister Simone has been interviewed on numerous national news shows, as well as by John Stewart on The Daily Show.
She is most famous for her role in the protest in 2012 called “Nuns on the Bus”. A group of nuns road a bus across the country stopping “at homeless shelters, food pantries, schools and health care facilities run by nuns to highlight their work with the nation’s poor and disenfranchised” and “to protest cuts in programs for the poor and working families in the federal budget that was passed by the House of Representatives” (Wikipedia)
She said we live in a time of profound individualistic isolation which produces a fear that traps us in a tomb, like Jesus was trapped on Holy Saturday. The love of Christ, however, removes the stone and calls us to come out: to come out into the world and practice radical acceptance.
She says the stone that holds us in the tomb is our hard heart but that as we abide in the love of Christ our heart melts. We are set free to recognize that now “everyone has a claim on our hearts.”
Who is everyone?
She showed a picture of a young woman named Margaret from Michigan who died in 2010 of colon cancer. The disease ran in her family but when she lost her job she lost her healthcare and lost the ability to have the screening necessary to catch the cancer early.
Abiding in the love of Christ means we will be able to weep… for Margaret and the millions of working poor in this country and the billions of profoundly poor around the world who suffer needlessly.
Love is in the air—in fact, the movie title gets it right: “Love Actually” is everywhere. Abide in His love.
In her classic The Revelations of Divine Love the 14 century mystic Lady Julian of Norwich tells us:
“God loved us before he made us; and his love has never diminished and never shall.”
“Our Savior is our true Mother in whom we are endlessly born and out of whom we shall never come.”
Blessings today on all our mothers and all those caught up in or who can remember, first love.
Love happens to us, so that it can happen through us.
And there will be weeping involved.