Sermon – 5 Easter C – 2013

I have decided, since nearly every soul that comes to Nashville comes here to either write music or to perform music that I needed to get with the program. To that end I have written some lyrics that I want to share with you and if I do say so myself these words are as complex as they are profound. Here we go. “All you need is love. All you need is love. All you need is love, love. Love is all you need. Love is all you need. Love is all you need.” Deep, no?

You recognize immediately that I didn’t pen these words. This was a song written by John Lennon and in a 1971 interview, when asked if it was a propaganda song, Lennon said, “Sure…I’m a revolutionary artist. My art is dedicated to change.” Lennon had hoped to change the world through love but as you well know, the world is not a safer, nor more loving place all these years later. Ironically the man with the message of love was gunned down by a madman. So what do we do? Do we become cynical and give up on the message of love? Our Gospel lesson today tells us that we cannot because it is a commandment from our Lord. What we must do is to clarify our understanding of love so that we can be certain that we are living and proclaiming what Christ means by this commandment.

The first challenge is how we define the very word. Our language is of little help here. We say that we love God but we also love our dogs and we love chocolate. So what does it mean to love? In popular culture love is defined principally as a feeling; as in “You’ve lost that loving feeling, now its gone, gone, gone, woh oh, oh.” But love has to be more than that or else how is it that our Lord would command us to love one another? You can’t command someone to have a feeling can you? For ease of discussion and more importantly for aide in remembering, let me suggest to you that love, properly understood, is three things. It is spiritual, it is service and it is sacrifice and this is the love that Jesus commands us to have for one another.

First, love is spiritual. By that I mean that genuine love is rooted in God and if we try to remove God from mix, the end result is not genuine love. Lennon’s or anyone else’s attempt to change the world through love will fail apart from God. I’m not sure what Lennon’s religious upbringing was but we saw him make a very public move towards eastern spirituality and then away from that to a more humanist understanding of love. In his hauntingly beautiful song “Imagine” he offered a vision of a communist utopia where he calls us to imagine that there is no heaven above, no hell below, no possessions, no countries and he adds, no religion too. This is how John thought that the world would become one.

But we read these words in John’s first Epistle. “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” Since love comes from God and God is love, we cannot know genuine love apart from Him. He is the source; He is the fountainhead of love. So when Jesus commands us to love one another, we don’t try to work up an emotion, rather we turn to God and ask for His love to pour through us to others. Love is spiritual.

Second, love is service. Just before Jesus gave the command to the disciples to love one another, he got on His hands and knees and washed their feet to give them an example of the love to which He was calling them. It is not always an easy thing to do, but He never promised us that it would be easy.Let me tell you about an event in my life.

One day when Beth and I were living in Chattanooga, I was coming out of the bank on my day off when I saw a woman, who was obviously a lady of the night, having a grand mal seizure on the sidewalk. She had fallen with such force that she split her head wide open and all I knew to do was to cradle her and apply pressure to the wound in her head. Because it was my day off I was dressed in civilian clothes and therefore not recognizable as a priest. Out of what seemed like nowhere her pimp showed up and because he didn’t know what had happened, he started yelling at me and threatening me. I took it at first but as the tension mounted I couldn’t take it any longer and at the top of my voice I yelled, “I’m a priest. Back off sucker.” To my delight he did and after the ambulance arrived I went back into the bank to wash off the blood that was covering my hands and arms.

Now I know that first responders, like some of our own parishioners, face this kind of thing every day, but I don’t and so I was a little rattled by the whole thing. I sat in my truck for a while, reviewing the events and wondered if I had done the right thing. HIV/Aides was all over the news and I had her blood all over me. Her pimp could have shot me as easily as he did back off or a bystander could have misinterpreted my actions and called for the police. All of these negative results were possibilities but as I thought about both Jesus’ teachings and His example to us, I concluded that I didn’t have another good alternative. I didn’t want to be the priest in Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan who saw the man beaten and robbed and crossed over to the other side of the street. Jesus calls us to love and to love is to serve and service isn’t always pretty. Service is action, not an emotion. We as His disciples are called to act. That is how we love.

In this light I would like to challenge all of us, as a parish and as individuals, to raise our vision. We had about 6 years in what we called the wilderness. We had left our church home, turned over money and possessions; we sought alternative spiritual oversight from other parts of the Anglican Communion, and we met in a school cafeteria. Frankly during that time, our chief goal was simply to survive as a parish. But God blessed us to survive and now that we are on our own land, and in our own sacred space, now would be the perfect time for us to raise our vision beyond surviving to servant hood.

I’m not talking about finding the latest church growth gimmick or the newest program to boost membership. Rather I am calling on us to ask God to give us wisdom and opportunity to serve our community in the name of Christ. We did not build this chapel to be a bunker where we hide from the world. We built it to be a visible presence of Christ IN the world. In our baptismal vows we promise to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus said that the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many. So we need to be looking for Holy Spirit inspired ways to serve our neighbors, to make an impact on our community so that we truly love as Jesus called us to.

The third definition of love is sacrifice. Going back to the verse in First John that I quoted earlier let me read the next verses. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

Love as sacrifice. Don DeWolfe is leading a course on Thursday nights called ALPHA where we discuss lectures given on video by an Anglican priest named Nicky Gumble. Last week Nicky told a famous story of sacrifice that is worth repeating. It took place in the Nazi concentration camps of World War II. After a prison escape, the Nazi’s randomly chose 10 other prisoners to punish in order to dissuade further attempts at escape. When they chose one man, he cried out in pain for what his death would mean to his wife and his children. Another prisoner came forward and explained that he was a Roman Catholic priest and since he did not have a wife or children, he offered to take the other man’s place. The priest’s name was Maxamilian Kolbe.

Fr. Kolbe had been a Franciscan friar and scholar earning 2 doctorates, one in philosophy and one in theology. After being ordained a priest in 1918, he returned to his homeland of Poland where he founded a monetary, a seminary, a radio station and started several organizations and publications. In 1930 he left Poland for Japan where he founded another monetary, another seminary and a Japanese newspaper.

When WWII broke out Fr. Kolbe was back in Poland. He managed to hide over 2,000 Jews in his monetary until on Feb 17, 1941 he was arrested by the Gestapo and in May sent to Auschwitz. It was there that he volunteered to take the place of a stranger. He and 9 others were placed in a starvation bunker where he led the men daily in hymns and prayers. After two weeks of starvation and dehydration, Fr. Kolbe was the only man left, and because they wanted to empty the bunker, the guards killed him by injecting him with carbolic acid. He was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1982 and he is also honored by the Anglican Church with his statue being placed above the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey in London.

Such examples of self-sacrifice and martyrdom fill the pages of Christian history and to be honest, when I read them they make me wonder if I would have the metal to do such a thing. My hope is that to those whom God gives the martyr’s crown, He also gives the grace to wear it. But in any event, we can be inspired by such examples to look for ways to love, for ways to sacrifice in our daily lives. The easiest thing in the world to do is to be selfish. The greatest challenge is to be selfless and Jesus set the bar for that. He said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friend.” And while this kind of love includes martyrdom it does not have to be limited to martyrdom. It includes a dying to self so that we can put the needs of others first. It is being, as we hear each week in the Mass, a living sacrifice, where we put God first and offer to him the best of our time and our talent and our treasure. Sacrificial love is, as Jesus taught, visiting the sick and feeding the poor and taking in the stranger. Once again we see that love is not an emotion it is an action.

The last thing I would like to point out from our Gospel lesson today is that I see a link between Jesus’ discussion about being glorified and glorifying the Father and His command for us to love one another. He told His first disciples that others would know that they are His disciples by their love for one another. Christian love points others to Christ. We don’t love so that people will think what great folks we are. We love to bring glory to God, who is the source of our love. We don’t serve so that people will think how humble we are, we serve to point them to the One who came to serve and give His life a ransom for many. We don’t sacrifice to prove how spiritual we are, we sacrifice to point to the Son who is the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world. Love points the spotlight away from us and onto the One who alone is worthy of glory.

So in the end, we join Jesus in glorifying the Father when we obey His command to love one another. May we receive it from Him as a divine commission and not just a kind suggestion. “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” Amen.

1 thought on “Sermon – 5 Easter C – 2013

  1. I was looking up the direction to the church when I came across the sermons. I am facing a hard week where I will need to be very strong. Your Easter message will help me to be who I want to be this week. To show love, a commandment that is only possible with God’s love for us. Thank you, Susn

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