A Sermon for the Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost
October 25, 2020
Preached at Trinity Episcopal Church
In Easton, Pennsylvania
“Teach us to rely on your strength and to
accept our responsibilities to our fellow citizens, that together
we may elect trustworthy leaders and make wise decisions for
the well-being of our society; that we may serve you
faithfully in our generation and honor your holy Name.
For yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted
as head above all. Amen.”
Modified from “A Season of Prayer for an Election,” by Forward Day by Day.
Our Presiding Bishop, The Most Reverend Michael B. Curry (formerly the Bishop of North Carolina) likes to remind us, “If it is not about Love, it is not about God.” Clearly, he takes to heart the admonition that we hear our Lord share with us in today’s Gospel, “He said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Bishop Curry has also spoken expansively about the ways in which the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement seeks to make that love real, present, and effective in our world today as “Beloved Community.”
Today, I would like to reflect with you on what it means for us to love, to be a people committed to love, and to explore the possibility that love is an answer to the most pressing questions which we face at a time of profound crisis in our world, and in our nation.
As wonderful as the emotion of love can be—and we use phrases like “walking on air,” to describe it—love, as Jesus teaches us, is far more powerful. It is the ultimate force for good in creation which holds all of reality together in close and unbreakable bonds. The bonds of this love are so strong, St. Paul reminds us, that not even life or death can tear them apart. Love is the very essence of who God is! God is love, we are reminded, over and over again!
God invites us to give ourselves to love in such a radical way that we become transformed. We are called to become a vessel, a fountain, a source of love. We are called to allow that love to overflow in such a profligate way that we show love in every thought, word, and action. But, of course, this will only be possible if we have first experienced that kind of amazing, delightful, joyous, and transformative love. Unless we know the power of love in our own lives, how can we possibly share love with anyone else? I am convinced that this is the single most important issue in the history of our world. It is nothing new, and it will remain a perpetual issue for us. It is all about love!
What does is mean for us to be a Beloved Community? How can we enable this healing, redemptive, and transformative love which we proclaim to become a source of “light, salt, and yeast” in our world?
The German Jesuit and theologian, Karl Rahner, once suggested that love is unique in one essential way—it is expressive. All love reaches out. All love is generative. True love is always more than something which is focused inward. And so, love inevitably creates relationships, interactions, and community.
We recall the story of the testing of Adam and Eve in our Garden-home of Eden. Through their actions they discovered that there are three essential relationships: The Relationship with God, the Relationship with others (community), and the Relationship with Creation and/or Nature. Each of these relationships challenged them–and challenge us–to be people of love. And the kind of love which we are invited to have is not an insignificant or trifling thing. No, on the contrary it is a passionate, powerful, and creative reality: “love with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” In other words, we are called to throw ourselves into the abyss of love.
But how do we evaluate our love—as individuals, and as a community? How can we know whether the love we profess is real? We must assess our love. We must ask ourselves difficult—and perhaps, painful questions. What is the effect, the impact, the consequence of this love? Is it truly expressive, creative, empowering, and transformative?
Recently, I was taken by surprise by a reflection by Pastor Sarah Hardman of the Third Way Church, from the mountains of Western North Carolina. Sarah did something completely unexpected with St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. She used those beautiful words as an invitation to self-examination. She challenged her listeners to view the qualities of love, which St. Paul describes so movingly, in a new and powerful way.
How can we know if we are authentically being loving? How can we know how to show love? “Are we patient? Are we kind? Are we envious? Are we boastful? Are we arrogant? Are we rude? Do we insist on having our own way? Are we irritable? Are we resentful? Do we rejoice in wrongdoing? Do we rejoice in truth? Do we bear all things? Do we believe? Are we really people of faith? Do we hope? Are we able to endure difficult challenges, and not lose hope–when that is needed? Do we reason in immature and childlike ways? Do we act like spoiled children—expecting to have our every desire be met? Do we reason in selfish and self-centered ways? Have we grown up? Have our thoughts, and words, and actions made love real, present, and effective in our world? Or, have we been an unbelievable, and distracting, gong or a noisy, clanging cymbal? Have we really been about God, or has it, too often, mostly been about us?”
I must tell you that Pastor Sarah’s invitation–to conversion, to change, to growth, and to transformation–went directly to my heart! When asked as questions, St. Paul’s words were uncomfortable to hear. Wow, I have a long way to go in my attempt to love, to be loving, and to even understand what love is all about!
The $64,000 question is “Where do we go from here?” What would it take for us to move from an inauthentic love to an authentic one? What can we do to become Beloved Community? How can we really love God, neighbor, and creation with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength?
We find ourselves as a nation, and as a global human community in a time of unprecedented crisis. We are faced with a pandemic which threatens the lives, security, and stability of everyone. No one is immune! In our own country this also comes at a time of change and growth regarding our besetting sins of Racism and White Supremacy. It is not that these sins have been any worse recently than they have been throughout our past. It is rather than they have been revealed to us in heart-breaking and brutal display because of advances in technology.
It comes at a time in which we are called to realize that equal justice and equality under our system of law does not exist—and has never existed! Violence, and hatred against BIPOC persons, against Women, against our LGBTQ+ siblings, against immigrants and refugees, and against our Jewish and Muslim siblings have been normalized! And we are faced with a difficult choice—Will we stand up, and speak out, on behalf of love? Will we mouth empty and meaningless cliches–or will we fight with all we have and with all that we are for love? Will we love God? Will we recognize the image of God in every single person? Will we treasure and protect the beautiful creation which God has entrusted to our care?
In just a few days, we will elect officials to represent us. How will we choose? Have we prayed about this? Have we asked God to help us know for whom we should vote? Have we been open to the movement of God’s Spirit in these matters? I am convinced that prayer is essential!
It is not helpful to ask God to bless a particular candidate or ideology that we happen to like! It is not helpful to tell God what the outcome of these elections ought to be. What is helpful is to ask God to lead us and to guide us into what is best for all! What is helpful is to ask God to show us how to be truly loving. What is most helpful is to pray “Your will be done.”
Our Friends at Forward Day by Day, have provided us with an excellent resource: “A Season of Prayer: for an Election,” a novena, which we can pray in the nine remaining days leading up to the election. Every day there is a different prayer for us.
Your challenge, my challenge–should we choose to accept it–is to seriously pray in the next few days! Let us put aside all anger, bitterness, resentment, hatred, and violence. May we open our hearts to love! May we be patient! May we be kind! May we listen to each other! May we encourage and support each other! May our words and our actions inspire hope, faith, and belief! May we be a source of healing and consolation to each other! May we become ever more fully Beloved Community, and may we share God’s love with every person we meet (in person or online)!
Father Andrew posted the link to “A Season of Prayer,” on our parish webpage and included it the most recent edition of Glad Tidings. It is provided to you today as an insert to the bulletin. Please join with us in praying this novena, over the coming nine days.
Regardless of the outcome of this election, we are broken, we are divided, and we are a hurting nation. Only love can begin to heal and repair our deep wounds. Though we are often told that God is love, and that we ought to be people of love, we must never forget that means loving everyone—whether we find them lovable, and easy to love—or not!
The beautiful fourth chapter of the First Letter of John makes this clear to us: “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. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.”
The answer we have been desperately seeking is found in Jesus’ words which we heard today. Jesus asks us, and invites us, to love! ““’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”