Sunday, April 29, 2018

“Relentless Love”

Deuteronomy 6:4-9, John 15:1-4, 1 John 4:16b-21
Sunday, April 29, 2018
First Congregational United Church of Christ of Manhattan, KS
Sermon by the Rev. Caela Simmons Wood

Say these words when you lie down and
when you rise up,
when you go out and
when you return.
In times of mourning and
in times of joy.
Inscribe them on your doorposts,
embroider them on your garments,
tattoo them on your shoulders,
teach them to your children,
your neighbors, your enemies,
recite them in your sleep,
here in the cruel shadow of empire:
Another world is possible.

So begins the poem V’ahavta (vay-ah-hahv-TAH) by Aurora Levins Morales. “V’ahavta” is a Hebrew word that begins the second part of the Shema….that Jewish prayer based on the text we heard from Deuteronomy a few moments ago. The one that begins “Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your might.” V’ahavta is “you shall love.”

These words are the ones Jesus quoted, of course, when he was asked about the greatest commandment of all. Without missing a beat, Jesus - a good Jew - knew the answer. He parents must have done just what the author of Deuteronomy commanded - drilled it into him, posted in on their doorposts, tattooed it on his shoulders, recited it to him in his sleep: Love God with all your heart, all your soul, all your might.

Jesus added, “And there is a second commandment that flows from it: love your neighbor as yourself.” Upon these commandments to love, Jesus said, hangs all of everything we will ever need to know about how to live.

Levins Morales paraphrases the command, the imperative that we’re to give our children, ourselves, our neighbors, our enemies like this: “another world is possible.”

At first you might think, “Wait. She got it wrong. The command is to Love God. Not ‘another world is possible.’”

But on further inspection, it seems she got it right. Because to live as if another world is possible is perhaps one of the best possible ways to love God.

Love creates possibility. Whether it’s seeing ourselves through someone else’s loving eyes and realizing we can do more than we thought or showing up again and again when the going gets tough and powering through difficult things together….love creates life.

Perhaps it’s already clear that I’m not speaking of love as an emotional response - the kind that gives you butterflies in your stomach. That warm feeling you get throughout your body when being with someone makes you feel good is one part or one kind of love, but it’s different, I think, than the agape-love that Jesus was talking about.

Agape-love is not a feeling. Agape-love is an action. It’s a doing. It’s getting up day after day and putting on work boots and relentlessly choosing to act in loving ways.

Agape-love is what pulls a parent from their sleep at 3am to feed the baby even though the warm fuzzy feelings are long gone at that hour. Agape-love is deciding to NOT engage in a debate with a stranger on the internet because it doesn’t seem like it will be productive or you’re unable to do it without calling names.

Agape-love isn’t one-size-fits-all and it certainly isn’t simple. I guess that’s why Jesus talked about it a lot. He knew it would take a lifetime to live into.

I have a clergy colleague in Texas, the Rev. John Gage, who posted a sermon title a few weeks ago on facebook that seemed to be intentionally inflammatory. Sermon “click bait,” if you will. The sermon title was “God doesn’t love you. God is love.”

I’ve been carrying that around with me these last couple of weeks. I mean, I talk a lot about remembering that we are beloved, being held in God’s loving arms. And I know that, in my own life, there have been so many times where I have felt hopeless or lost and really needed to carve out space to receive God’s love. So saying “God doesn’t love you” seems a bit over the top to me.

But then I also started thinking about the difference between having this notion of God as a humanlike-personal-figure-out-there-somewhere loving me and God as love itself. That’s a pretty significant difference, don’t you think? God is a person? Or God is an action? Or God is a concept?

I don’t know the answer. The God I know is somehow person-action-concept all at once. The God I know can love us while simultaneously BEING love. When God says “I am” and we say, “You are what?” God smiles or shimmers or shimmies and says, “I AM.”

That being comfortable with God being more - bigger than any box we can dream up - is part of what I appreciate about the concept of the Trinity. Through the Trinity, we see that God is constantly morphing, moving, blowing apart conventions, defying explanation. God is this and this and this and this and more things that we haven’t even dreamed of yet.

Another world is possible.

This notion that God is beyond our labels and limitations...This sense that resurrection exists on the other side of death...This deep knowledge that we are loved and can love and are love….This accompanying and being Love Incarnate for and with God and ourselves and one another - this is what Eastertide is all about. This is at the heart of Christianity.

For we worship the one who cannot seem to stop showing up. Before time began, GOD WAS, our sacred scriptures tell us.

In the swirling chaos, God is. When the floors threaten to overwhelm, God is. When we are in bondage, God is. When we, like sheep, nibble ourselves lost, God is. When we cannot tell the truth from the lies, God is. God IS in a stable in a remote village. God IS in the strength of a brave Queen. God IS in the bravado of a young boy armed with nothing but a slingshot. God IS in the song of two young lovers. God IS in the fire, the water, the storm, the silence.

And in that act of BEING - relentlessly - the Holy One shows us what Love looks like. We are invited to participate alongside God in this relentless loving.

We do this when we come to worship and tolerate a hymn that doesn’t do much for us because we know it speaks to someone else.

We do this when we look our new members in the eyes and make a pledge - when we covenant with one another
to seek the mind of Christ,
to be open to the new light and truth God has for us,
to bear each other’s burdens and share each other’s joys, to pray for each other, to serve in the name of Christ,
to give to this church and its mission,
and to take our stand for justice and peace,
confident God’s concern embraces the whole world. [2]

This is love. Through these simple, radical, relentless acts of love, we live our lives into that truth: another world is possible.

“Abide with me as I abide with you,” Jesus says. And so we abide with one another here, in this sacred space. But not only in this sacred space. We must be prepared to love relentlessly, boldly everywhere we go.

We must be prepared to love when white supremacy rears its ugly head in a coffee shop or at the grocery store. We must be prepared to love when the legislature tries, once again, to make those who are LGBTQ feel like second-class citizens. We must be prepared to love when a colleague or friend comes to us and says they’ve been harassed or assaulted or discriminated against.

When we truly abide within Christ’s love, we are freed for love and we must be prepared to love at a moment’s notice.

David Barrett says that it’s not that we SHOULD love because God first loved us. It’s that we CAN love because God first loved us. “God's love is the ground for a new possibility.” [3]

Through God’s love another world is possible.

Aurora Levins Morales closes her V’ahavta,(vay-ah-hahv-TAH) her poetic command to love God like this:

When you inhale and when you exhale
breathe the possibility of another world
into the 37.2 trillion cells of your body
until it shines with hope.
Then imagine more.
Imagine rape is unimaginable. Imagine war is a scarcely credible rumor
That the crimes of our age, the grotesque inhumanities of greed,
the sheer and astounding shamelessness of it, the vast fortunes
made by stealing lives, the horrible normalcy it came to have,
is unimaginable to our heirs, the generations of the free.
Don’t waver. Don’t let despair sink its sharp teeth
Into the throat with which you sing.  Escalate your dreams.
Make them burn so fiercely that you can follow them down
any dark alleyway of history and not lose your way.
Make them burn clear as a starry drinking gourd
Over the grim fog of exhaustion, and keep walking.
Hold hands. Share water. Keep imagining.
So that we, and the children of our children’s children
may live

[2] Our congregation’s Covenant

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