Please enjoy and reflect on the sermon given October 29, 2017. Do these words speak to you? Consider visiting our community of worship on Sundays at 10:00 am, 1301 South Charles Street, Baltimore, MD 21230.
Proper 25 – October 29, 2017
The Church of the Advent, Baltimore.
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us always. Amen.
If you listen carefully to what people say, you quickly realize that ours is a very loving society. We hear everywhere how much people love their dogs, their coffee, their ice cream, their houses, their cars, their gardens, their country, their wine, their church, their cologne, their iPhones, etc. etc. etc.
Yes, my friends—love is in the air, love is everywhere.
But what is this love we so often hear about? It’s common knowledge that the English word “love” has many meanings. We know there is more than one type of love. Some of you may know that Greek has several words for love, and the Greek verb used in today’s gospel reading is agapao. It’s related to the noun agape. It’s an action word—I stress action—meaning to value, to esteem, to be faithful towards, and to delight in. It means deeply respecting and caring for the beloved. It means trying to do what’s best for the beloved, even if that means self-sacrifice. This is the type of love Jesus has for us.
But our culture—our narcissistic, “all about me” culture—has generally cheapened the word love to mean little more than a self-referential preference or an emotion that warms the heart. Love—as used in popular culture—is more often than not a measure of what we like or how we feel—and love’s warmth can quickly turn cold when the object or person no longer meets our needs or expectations. Love is all about me and what I feel about you.
This type of love is rooted in our ego needs for self-satisfaction, self-preservation, status, control, respect, and security. It has nothing—absolutely nothing—in common with the selfless love that led Jesus to let go of his identity as God, to humble himself by being incarnated as a man, and allowing himself to be brutally murdered for our salvation.
But when we confuse self-less love with egoistic love, then we try to love God in the same way as we love our iPhones. We already have a natural tendency to make God into an object—something we pull off a shelf in time of need or in church and then place back on a shelf when the crisis or mass is over. An object can’t love back. God becomes a vending machine who doles out help or grace when we put in a coin of prayer or supplication. The relationship is transactional only.
And when we make God an object, then it’s impossible to convey to anyone why they should come into this sacred space and bend their knees to an object—an idol. Any attempt at evangelism will fall flat if all I have to offer others are stories about how much my divine vending machine means to me.
Our culture teaches us to see people and animals as objects as well—objects that are easily ignored, abused or discarded. We then make our decisions on whether to engage with others based on our own comfort level and convenience. Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan is an excellent example of how two very religious men turned a helpless, wounded man into an object to be scorned and ignored—just like so many people do today to the homeless, the elderly, the sick, and the poor. They’re not like me. They’re not my tribe. They make me feel uncomfortable.
And let’s not forget: the streets and the animal shelters are filled with pets—living beings with feelings—who are often discarded because they’re no longer useful or convenient. You may hear “it’s just an animal,” as though that excuses neglect or abuse.
How then, do we love God and our neighbor as God has called us to do?
First, we must remember that love is relational. It seems obvious, but it bears repeating because we can’t love God without being in a relationship with God. And a relationship takes a commitment and work. How many of us remember to spend time in conversation with God every day? We don’t get to know someone by only seeing him once a week and ignoring him the rest of the time. And we also don’t get to know someone by talking at him, making demands of him, but never listening to him.
Second, we remember what 1 John 4:16 says: “God is love.”
God is love. God’s very being is love. God is an outpouring of redemptive, transformative, caring, uplifting, upholding, healing, action. God is love and God manifests that love in everything God does. God’s love is unconditional. It doesn’t depend on how God feels at the moment or what God prefers this week.
Third, we must remember that God loves us first. Never forget that. God loves us first, and God wants each of us to enter into such an intimate relationship with God that we will—if we allow it—we will lose ourselves in God. As we grow deeper in this relationship, our egos become more and more subordinated to the growing manifestation of God within us. Our love for God and for all others will increase the more we allow space for God to work within us, to transform us into his own image—an image of unconditional love.
This kind of love is not an act of ego. It’s not defined by our expectations. We won’t decide whom to love. We won’t confuse love with personal preference or a fleeting emotion. Our love will be a sign of God’s active and creative presence within us. We will become God’s hands, God’s feet, God’s voice in the world—all thoroughly grounded in God’s love—and sharing God’s love in every area of our lives. We will love unconditionally. We will love wastefully. We will love joyously.
Fr. Kroh said last week that he will focus on three things in his ministry here at Church of the Advent: evangelism, stewardship, and spiritual formation. But evangelism, stewardship, and spiritual formation will fail if not grounded in relationship with God and in God’s unconditional love.
As St. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13, “If I speak in human and angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.”
The old song tells us that they will know us as Christians by our love. But it isn’t our human, ego centered love that will brand us as Christians. It’s God’s love flowing through us that will be visible to others. Our job is to be open to God’s transformative love so that God can use us to change the world.
Evangelism means we are God’s hands, we are God’s feet, and we are God’s voice. As we grow to love God with all our hearts, all our souls, and all our minds, then love for our neighbors will come as naturally as a sunrise. Evangelism will flow from this love.
Therefore, choose love, and by that choice we will—as Fr. Kroh exhorted us last week—we will choose life.