Monday, May 7, 2007

Sermon: 5th Sunday of Easter

Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” The greatest challenge that we have as Christians, is to be that open, loving person that Christ calls us to be. It is a love as Jesus and his disciples understood it, love that connects one to kin or friends, family or village. It wasn’t just a feeling but that love also entailed an action that supported the well being to those whom one loved.

We see that in the life of Jesus, who gave his life for his friends, to those whom he loved. A saving action that shows the depth of his love and his connection to them & us. We are his family & he gave his life for us. It is this love that Jesus tells his disciples to follow, to give to one another. It is not his new suggestion, or his new idea, or his new thought. This is Jesus new commandment for us.

During the days of apartheid, Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu was walking past a construction site in Capetown. There was a temporary sidewalk only wide enough for one person to walk on it at a time. A white man at the other end of the sidewalk recognized the archbishop and said, "I don't give way to gorillas." Upon which Tutu stepped aside, made a low sweeping gesture and said, "Ah, yes, but I do." Jesus never held back his love and yet we constantly put barriers around ours; be it apartheid or racial segregation, be it gender inequality, you name it, we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. Sure, we have loved people who look like us, or talked like us, or believed the same things as us, but Jesus will not allow us to live such a narrow view of his love.

I am reminded of a beautiful collect we often say at Morning Prayer in the Book of Common Prayer, it begins by saying… "Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace. " What Jesus asks of us, is to help with that saving embrace, how we reach out our arms of love to this world. A world that is so filled with hate, spite, violence, inequality, and death.

After the terrible school shooting at the Nickel Mines Amish Schoolhouse last fall, you would expect outrage, anger, even a more withdrawn community. But what struck me most, was the care that the Amish community had for the family the killer left behind, his wife and three kids. That family is not Amish and yet they encircled that family and offered their love in the midst of such pain and suffering. The Amish leaders even asked that a fund be established for that family, to support them. It is one thing to say we love, it is quite another to offer it, to live it and share it. I believe that is what the Amish did, even to the point of refusing to think evil of the man who committed the horrible crime, as one Amish grandfather said to his grandchildren.

If we love one another as Jesus commanded, loving as deeply as we can, than we honor the love of God even when we don’t think we are loving God. For this love is not just about loving those whom we like or agree with. At the Last Supper with Jesus, and at the foot washing of the disciples, Judas, his betrayer was among them. He ate with them, his feet were washed. Jesus still loved Judas, even when Judas refused to love… This love Jesus commands is much more complicated and difficult, for it asks us to do more, to love even at the worst of moments…

As the monk Charles de Foucauld wrote: “love consists not in feeling that you love, but in the will to love.”

In January 2006, Bob Woodruff, the co-anchor of ABC World News Tonight, was imbedded with troops covering the war in Iraq when an improvised explosive device went off and he and his cameraman were hit. Bob suffered a traumatic brain injury that nearly killed him. Bob and his wife Lee tell their story in their book In An Instant. They chronicle how their lives were blown apart and miraculously put back together again: from that bloody day in the Iraqi desert, through the first critical surgeries and the anxious five weeks that Bob spent in a medically-induced coma while his brain healed, to the hard days for Bob and his family as his brain struggled to “re-boot.” At one point, an exhausted Lee asks her husband’s neurosurgeon: “I just want to know, will he still love me?”

Bob Woodruff writes: “I will never understand the full extent of anything that Lee did or endured on my behalf; the depths of her grief and fear, the reserves of energy she had to draw on, the constant love and hope she continually showered on my unresponsive self. I cannot imagine what it must have been like to stare at my wounds and partial skull for five weeks while I slept, and to hold my hand, praying that I would wake up and someday recover. When I awoke and saw her face, I loved her even more than before. I had not thought that possible.” In An Instant is the story of a family who discovers how love enables them to do things they never imagined they could.

“You can’t know how you would behave in a crisis until it drops out of the sky and knocks you down like a bandit: stealing your future, robbing you of your dreams, and mocking anything that resembles certainty,” Lee Woodruff writes. “Sudden tragic events and even slow-burning disasters teach us more about ourselves that most of us care to know.”

Bob and Lee believe that, in the end, their four children “will be more loving, more empathetic, more wonderful human beings than they already are for having taken this unexpected journey together, as a family. May you always remember that there are no perfect parents, just mothers and fathers doing the very best they can. And there are no perfect spouses either, just those who love each other enough to stand by ‘for better or worse.’ Don’t be fooled: that kind of endurance is, perhaps, the greatest expression of love.”

Jesus said, “Everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” The Amish showed their love, so did Lee Woodruff, and let me end with a poem called Easter Day by Edmund Spenser 1552-1599, which reflects on that love given to us by Jesus…

Most glorious Lord of life, that on this day,
Didst make Thy triumph over death and sin:
And having harrow'd hell, didst bring away
Captivity thence captive, us to win:

This joyous day, dear Lord, with joy begin,
And grant that we for whom Thou diddest die
Being with Thy dear blood clean wash'd from sin,
May live for ever in felicity.

And that Thy love we weighing worthily,
May likewise love Thee for the same again:
And for Thy sake that all like dear didst buy,
With love may one another entertain.

So let us love, dear love, like as we ought,
Love is the lesson which the Lord us taught. Amen.

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