Sunday, May 17, 2009

Love, Love, Love, Love: A Sermon on John 15:9-17


9
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. 12“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another. ~ John 15:9-17

“Love, Love, Love, Love”
May 17, 2009
6th Sunday of Easter

I sometimes wonder, if someone had a lot of time on their hands and decided to search through all the sermons I’ve ever preached in order to count how many times the word “love” appears… how many would that be? I’d bet that would be a lot. I say “love” a lot in my preaching. In fact, I have a sense that “love” may just be the word I use the most in my preaching because “love” captures my understanding of the Good News. The Good News is this: God loves us. God loves us, each and every one of us, wildly and extravagantly. God is love.

Our reading from John’s gospel this morning picks up precisely where last week’s reading left off. In fact, I had a brief moment when I seriously considered titling this sermon, “Abiding, Part II.” Or “Abiding, The Sequel.” But when the love angle caught my eye, it captured my imagination. “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” So, Love it was.

Love. Is there any word that is more casually tossed around in the English language? Think of all the ways you can say you love someone or something. I love my spouse, I love my children. I love that movie! I love Jesus. I love chocolate chip cookies, and that first cup of coffee in the morning, and Oriental chicken salads. I love my friends. I love my church family. I love the people I work with. I love you. How many kinds of love do you suppose I’ve just named?

C. S. Lewis, one of the great popular Christian thinkers and writers of the 20th century, described love exhaustively in his book, The Four Loves.

The first love Lewis describes is affection. He says that this is the kind of love we seem to have in common with the animal world, and anyone who has a pet knows: we can feel their affection. We love them, and they love us! And they show love for each other. Affection is the kind of love parents have for their children, and children for parents. It is a kind of love that arises naturally, probably out of a biological imperative to keep the species thriving. It is a kind of need-love and giving-love, all wrapped up into one. The parent gives to the child, and needs to give to the child. The child needs the parent’s giving, and the child’s need is a kind of gift to the parent.

Our love for God is need-love—why else would we always be calling God “Father?” God is all fullness, and by comparison, we are all need. We need God’s love the way we need air in our lungs and blood in our veins and food in our stomachs. It is very like the affection of parents and children.

Next Lewis describes friendship, and he comments on how little respect it gets in literature and entertainment. He wrote his book in 1960, and I think there have been a lot of “buddy” films since then, for men and for women. Still, think of the famous pairings: Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Isolde, even, for some of us, Nick and Norah Charles. But who ever thinks of David and Jonathan, or Elizabeth and Charlotte? Friendship is not a result of a need-relationship, like affection. And that is precisely why, in the ancient world, friendship was valued more highly than other loves. Because friendship is freely chosen, because we are not compelled into it by our own emotional or physical needs, it was considered the kind of love that elevated human beings into the realm of the angels.

Of course, the word love is associated most frequently, in our culture, with romantic love, or what Lewis calls Eros. As he puts it, it is the kind of love lovers are “in.” Which gives us some sense of what Eros is like: it possesses us, it claims us, it feels bigger than we are. Think of Romeo’s words as he gazes up at the balcony: “What light through yonder window breaks?/ It is the East and Juliet is the sun.” These aren’t the words of someone who is merely attracted to someone. Romeo’s love has taken possession of his soul. Lewis doesn’t want us to simply reduce Eros to sexuality, either. Sexuality is a part of Eros, but not the totality. Rather, Eros is a kind of complete delight in someone, what he calls “a general, unspecified pre-occupation with her in her totality.” That is the kind of love lovers are in.

Finally, we come to Lewis’ fourth love: he calls it “charity.” I think we tend to associate “charity” with “charitable giving” (or receiving). It has even taken on a slightly negative connotation… no one wants to be on the receiving end of charity. But that’s not what he’s talking about.

The love Lewis describes is what the biblical writers call Agape. This is the love Jesus is taking about in today’s passage when he says, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Abide in my love.” And, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” What kind of love is this? This is the same kind of love we talk about when we say, “God is love.” The love Jesus is talking about is the kind that gives of itself completely and utterly. It’s the kind of love that gives up all the power in the universe to become a puny, relatively power-less human being. For those fans of “Grey’s Anatomy” who happened to catch this week’s season finale, it’s the kind of love that lays down its life so that someone else can live.

When Jesus is telling us to love one another, he isn’t talking about having affection for one another—though we may have that. He isn’t talking about being in love with one another—though we may, joyfully, find ourselves in that condition. He isn’t even talking about having true and deep friendships with one another—though we may be lucky enough to have those. He is talking about a love that transcends all the other loves, because it is ready to give of itself totally, wildly and extravagantly, without hope or expectation of receiving anything at all in return. It is ready to give even at the risk of its own life, its own welfare. That is agape-love. That is God-love. And that is what we are called to, as followers of Jesus. “Love one another, as I have loved you.”

Now, I realize: there is nothing like setting a standard of behavior that is completely and utterly unattainable to get folks bummed out in the middle of a sermon.

Where do we begin? I have what may seem like a somewhat radical suggestion. Why not begin by doing absolutely nothing? Why not begin, not by trying to figure out how to achieve the impossible, matching the crazy, all-out giving-love of God in Jesus Christ. Why not begin, instead, by receiving it, by letting it seep in, sink down, flood into our hearts, souls and bodies. Why not begin by trying to understand that the Good News really applies to us? Why not begin by seeing what it feels like to abide in God’s love?

I have some recent experience in this area. At the beginning of Lent I decided to take on a daily practice of prayer and scripture reading—understand, this is something I always aspire to do, but there’s something about Lent that gives us just the gentlest of shoves in the direction we always mean to go but never quite get around to. And so I began getting up an hour earlier than before, and reading scripture and praying. And the epistle for Ash Wednesday read, “See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!” [2 Corinthians 5:2] As I read those words, something inside me awakened and stretched and opened its eyes to the possibility that it just might be time for me to trust in those words, that now is the acceptable time. It just might be time to see what it felt like to abide in that love. And with that little kernel of hope—that I might be able to abide in God’s love—I began to make plans to share the fullness of who I am with you.

And so today you know a little bit more about your pastor than you did last week. And today I feel so very blessed to be able to say that I know even more about the love of God than I did last week. I know that the love of God shines through your faces and echoes in your words. I know that the love of God bridges barriers we may have thought were insurmountable. I know that the love of God lets itself be heard in phone calls, and read in emails, and seen in face-to-face visits, and held in bunches of flowers and hand-carved crosses.

And I also know this: the love of God does not guarantee there will be no difficult times, but it does promise to abide through those times. The love of God does not eliminate the need for painful or hard conversations, but it does promise to abide in the midst of those conversations. The love of God does not take away our racing hearts when we finally have to speak our truth, but it does promise to abide, giving us whatever it is we need to let those words be spoken. The love of God abides, and abides, and abides.

Near the end of our gospel passage, Jesus says, “You did not choose me but I chose you.” For the past twenty months, I believe God has chosen to bring us together as pastor and congregation, to do God’s work—to bear, as Jesus says, “fruit that will last”, or as our mission statement says, “to serve our Lord, our congregation, our community, and our world.” God chose us. God’s love abides with us. And I believe that God has work for us to do together, before God sends us on our separate ways. But the first thing I believe God wants is for us to know—to comprehend—that wild and extravagant love God has for us. That giving-love. That God-love. That love in which we can abide, in which we can trust, and in which we can take risks, together. Thanks be to God. Amen.

33 comments:

Rachel said...

Amen.

Liddy said...

Oh, I am weeping. This is so beautiful, Cecilia. I have been following your blog silently for a long time and cheering for you from a distance. I am just so DELIGHTED that you have come to this moment not only of speaking the truth but also of being affirmed and beloved for all of who you are.

Wormwood's Doxy said...

Amen!!!!

Choralgirl said...

Brilliant, Dear Heart. :-)

Have had you and your congregation on my mind an in my prayers all weekend. Well done, you. Well done, God.

Wonderful Colleague preached a corker today, as well...a parable about a kid with all the heart, aptitude and desire to be a pastor, who couldn't be one; it was 1960, and the kid was a girl.

Loved your O'Malley reference, too. ;-)

Peace be upon your house today.

parodie said...

Beautiful. Your sermon gave me goosebumps (the good kind). What a powerful display of faith in God's love you've shown us all through your bravely living out your truth. May God bless you richly and generously, Cecilia.

Barbara said...

Through my tears of JOY I am saying/singing/shouting AMEN!!!

PamBG said...

Amen!

Laurel said...

What a loving sermon! Mind you, if you had said that about David and Jonathan in my church, you would have heard quite a few giggles, as we've often heard sermons about their sexual love. (MCC) I am sending best wishes of support in this exciting time.

Songbird said...

That's just beautiful.

August said...

Loved this part: Why not begin by doing absolutely nothing?...Why not begin, instead, by receiving it....

Can't wait to hear how the day went, how all of this feels.

Sophia said...

Out of the park, dear one. Thanks so much for sharing it with us.

I especially appreciate that you focused on the scripture and preached it well and tied your story into it organically....Truly serving the community and focusing on Godde, which doesn't always happen in ordinary sermons--much less important occasions that need to be addressed.

Jane R said...

WOW. WOW. And Amen.

FranIAm said...

What everyone else has said and more.

I am so happy for you, so moved by your words and your witness.

Much love to you Cecilia, so much love!

Sara said...

Nice. I can't think of anything to say that hasn't been said. So... what everyone else said and amen.

God_Guurrlll said...

You'r sermon was nothing short of amazing. Thank you for sharing your story. Thank you for coming out of the closet. Thank you for just being you and showing God's extravagant love for all God's people. You are my hero.

Peace and much love,

susankay said...

Good job, indeed. Love to you and Beloved and your congregation.

sharecropper said...

Amen.Alleluia!

knittinpreacher said...

Gorgeous. Abslultely gorgeous, and true and wonderful and amen.

Paul said...

Another Amen.

I remember decades ago when my pastor said that he imagined coming out was a form or resurrection. The image startled me and yet he was right. Welcome out of the tomb we call the closet and into the dawn of Christ's rising afresh in our lives.

Many blessings!

KJ said...

Amen.

Cynthia said...

This is seriously one of the best sermons I have ever read. I just wish I could have heard it as well. You moved me to tears and provoked me to some serious thought, and I thank you. This was a true blessing.

David said...

dear Cecilia & Beloved
once again you've moved me to tears- at the sheer beauty of Cecilia's sermon, and at the grace and courage of your news.
please know that both of you and your parish/community continue in my prayers
with much love

David@Montreal

don't eat alone said...

Cecilia

I'm so grateful for the week you have had, the love you have given and been shown, and that you are a pastor, incarnating God's love to your people.

Peace,
Milton

wordwise said...

This, *this* is the Gospel.

Amen.

MaineCelt said...

I found your blog in the early part of Lent through a link at Revgals, then somehow lost the link and have been thinking ever since about your journey of courage...wondering how things were going for you and yours...wondering how it would feel to harness that same sort of courage myself.

On Sunday, I preached from the lectionary passages-- Acts 10, John 15--and couldn't resist the Holy Spirit's tug. Though my own sermon was not exactly a Coming Out, I was inspired to a greater Truth-Telling than I'd ever attempted before.

This morning I found your link again, thanks to ChoralGirl, and caught myself up on your own beautiful, wonderful story. Now I can say both, "HURRAH!!!!" and share my very deep gratitude with you. Thanks for holding yourself to God's high standard and God's deep earthly loveliness, both. Thanks. Thanks. Thanks!

Jennifer said...

I am deeply moved by your message, Cecilia, and your gifts are in evidence at every turn. I'm eager to hear how it was received, and how you continue to receive yourself in this stunning time of growth and chance and expansion into your whole self!

Mary Sue said...

Sooo... When's Beloved joining the choir?

:D

Jones said...

Thanks be to God, Amen and well done!

John Shuck said...

"And today I feel so very blessed to be able to say that I know even more about the love of God than I did last week."

Grace abounds.

Thank you.

Caminante said...

The sermon wraps up all the threads there seem to have been and places your recent journey in the context of God's abiding in you and you in God and, therefore, the congregation in you. Hope it felt good to preach.

jsd said...

Wonderful!!

pangadevadas said...

thanks

Drama For Kids said...

Hi I was wondering if I could use this as a regious speech for a student studying for a grade 8 in performing text through trinity guildhall? May I have your full name so that I can reference it properly?
www.facebook.com/drama4kids
www.dramaforkids.org.uk