Sermon – May 19, 2019 – Fifth Sunday of Easter & Confirmation Sunday

Love, Love, Love

Friend was sharing with me some remarks she had heard from people who want to leave the ELCA. Not this church.  Another place entirely. One angry person said at a meeting, “Jesus didn’t say anything about social justice. He had nothing to say about that, so neither should we.” Another angry fellow said, “we don’t want to hear all this preaching about love, love, love. It is the pastor’s job to make people fear hell. It is the pastor’s job to make them deathly afraid of going to hell. That’s the pastor’s job.” I am not making this up.   That does not sound like a church at all to me, but none of those people asked me.  What it seems these folks fail to realize is that Christian faith, Christian witness, if it cares little about change, about caring for one’s neighbor in the here and now, a faith like that . . . .  a church like that is empty.  If we adopted the ways of those folks,  the church would squander its leverage and its mission and its integrity.

If the church is standing on its pious platform and doing nothing about the needs of the world, it is a hollow imitation of the community charged with bearing the gospel into the world. The church is not meant to be a Hallmark card but instead to be workers for Christ’s purposes in the here and now.

The ministry of Jesus which we are called to emulate, to model, to follow, is no pie in the sky when you die promise. The familiar text that we heard today, “ love one another as I have loved you,” if taken seriously, has no room for pie-in-the-sky because to love as Jesus loves is to reflect his ministry, his way of giving, his way of relationships, his way of understanding our relationship with God and neighbor. Peter learned it himself as we heard in our story from Acts today as he finds out what it means to love as Jesus loved. “Do not call profane but I have called clean.”   We hear this admonition so often, so often and maybe we become numb to it.  All the more reason to hear it again

I think I told you once that I was driving down from a meeting in Chicago one day and tuned into a radio station only to hear this woman shouting into the microphone quote what’s wrong with all these pastors all they talk about his love love, love, love, love, love.  Love this, love that.  I’m tired of hearing about that, she said, what about the liars,  what about the thieves, what about the fornicators, what about the homosexuals.

Well, lady on the radio, those preachers talk about love love, love, love, love, because Jesus talks about love, love, love, love, love. I think we are to understand ministry as that love which takes the shape and form of Christ’s love.  And what is this?  Well, it is a present love. . . .  not love from a distance.  Jesus touched people, he encountered people, he laid hands on people, he met them face to face.  His kind of love is a present love.

Jesus’ kind of love is sacrificial. He put himself in situations where he could be critiqued are condemned or finally even arrested then killed. To love as Jesus loves is to love sacrificially, without regard to the status of the neighbor or the consequences of doing so.   Jesus love the poor. Jesus loved the leper. Jesus loved the tax collector. Jesus loved the women and the outsiders and the children and the unsavory.

To love as Jesus loves is to love without regard to the status of our neighbor, without regard to the depth of their need, the color of their skin or where they have come from.

To love as Jesus loves is to love passionately.   Jesus wept at the death of Lazarus. Jesus shook with anger at injustice. Jesus cared more about those who he came to serve than his own safety or well-being. To love as Jesus loves is to love passionately.

To love as Jesus loves is to love humbly. He said I come to serve and not to be served he knelt down and washed the disciples’ feet. He did not claim the power that was his to free him from Pilate’s grip. Instead he stood silent and accomplished what he intended. As he stood in the garden full of fear and foreboding he wondered if there was a way that this cup could pass from him. Instead he gave over to the Father’s will.

To love as Jesus loves is to love obediently. Please note today that Jesus frames this love in the form of a commandment. He’s not asking our opinion on this. He is not opening up a new form of debate. He is issuing a command. And as he demonstrated obedience in his own ministry and his life, he is directing us to do the same of us.

No, this is no pie in the sky when you die love.   The ministry of Christ, the ministry of the body of Christ is urgent and immediate focused and clear. Takes the shape and form of Christ’s love. It is the foundation of the community.  Is the standard of our relationship with one another and the world. This kind of love expects that something happens and something changes when we live for Jesus.  Loving your neighbor is a mark of discipleship. Love is a mark of the church. Jesus understood that clearly when he said this is how you will be known. No, you will not be known by your well-argued theology. You will not be known by your grand buildings. You will not be known by your festivals. You will not be known by your flag flying above the cross. You will not be know by your shaming. You will be known by your love  . . . . .a love that takes shape and form of my love.

This is not the first time we’ve heard this. But I have to say, it sometimes sounds like a great burden. The practical demands of living in this world are substantial. Putting food on the table, looking after our families, doing well at what were called to do, finding a balance between rest and recreation. All of these things are how we live our lives. And sometimes it seems that even more is asked of us when we walk into the doors of the church.

Well that is true. Much more is asked of us. But what we need to remember is first of all that we have been loved in such a manner ourselves. We have been loved as God’s baptized, beloved children. We have been loved as Christ’s beloved community. And we’ve been loved in all these ways passionately and sacrificially, humbly, and obediently. This forms us and our community.  It is that from which hope is borne, and trust is learned, and forgiveness granted.  It is that which frees us from its opposite .. . . . . cynicism, hatred, despair and self-interest.  That is why we’re here.  That is why hope prevails in our hearts. And so rather than seeing this command to love as in a burden, instead we are called to see it as the very leaven of all our decisions and all of our relationships. You see, to love in a forgiving way is to be freed from the burden of resentment and anger. To love obediently frees us from ourselves when we are unable or unwilling to set aside our own self-interest to love another.  To love passionately fills our lives and our hearts and our relationships with purpose and meaning. And to love in the present means that things get done,  that God’s work is accomplished.

So, angry guys who want to leave the church, lady on the radio. It seems your goal is to shame or threaten, to mock the command to love . . . Here’s some news for you.  It is all about love.  But not the mamby pamby love for which you show such contempt, but a demanding, life changing, soul saving, world shaking love that sees the present as it is and declares it doesn’t have to be this way.   That challenges evil to its face regardless of the cost.  It is a love so deep it would accept the cross for the sake of the beloved.

A faith that is turned in on itself, a faith that seeks no ends other than to instill fear or shame, a faith that fails to love as Jesus loves and is unaware or unmoved by the poor, the frightened, the hungry, the victimized, is indeed a faith practicing a pie in the sky religion.  That is a religion that is content to scold and to leave the world as it is, with its obstacles and barriers and pains and injustices. But, of course, that is not the church.  That isn’t the model, the faith, the witness of Jesus.  His love is witness whose purpose is not to close the circle but to broaden it, to remove the barriers and obstacles and walls that would keep us from loving one another, and in the process free us all.

Only love would do this.  Only love can do this.

Thanks be to God.