Life Together: Loving

Posted on

My sermon notes of February 12, 2023, from the Life Together series and the centrality of Love in all we say and do to build our relationships and communities, at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Washington, DC.

Good morning, St. Timothy’s family, friends and everyone gathered for worship this morning and those gathered with us online. As we jump into a few minutes going deeper with our scriptures, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

We began this particular sermon series, Life Together: foundational practices for building relationships and community, a little over a month ago. We began it by looking at the way God takes a posture of listening toward us and lends us an ear as the psalmist says. We talked about taking that posture of listening toward one another, emulating God and following God’s example.

Our readings today return us to following God’s example, God’s example of foundational love, the kind of love that transforms, gives meaning and is the very taproot of our faith and faith community. We are called to love.

Love Is the Foundation

A couple of weeks ago when we were talking about making sure our words give life tour hearers, we read the opening words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13, probably a familiar passage to most of us…

1 Corinthians 13:1-8a

If I speak in the tongues of humans and of angels but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge and if I have all faith so as to remove mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions and if I hand over my body so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable; it keeps no record of wrongs; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

Paul says that love is the meaning, love is the reason, love is what makes words worth saying and hearing, action worth taking and faith worth having. Love gives our faith, words and action meaning and value. Without love those things are just sound, motion and, at the end of day Paul says, nothing.

When I was in the old section of San Juan, Puerto Rico, a couple of years ago I found a shop The Poet’s Passage operated by a local poet Lady Lee Andrews, and I picked up this little ceramic tile with a quote from her work, “Where is love absent, so is truth.” Wow, she got that one right.

I know many of you are going to be familiar with our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry who is fond of saying “If it’s not about love, it’s not about God.” What the good Bishop and our poet are getting it is what John was speaking of in 1 John 4:7-21… God is love, God models an active love of service and blessing, and God desires us to make that love our great task in life: to love one another.

Jesus said it in John’s Gospel, we heard it this morning in John 13:31-35: Love one another as I have loved you. Jesus says this is the identifier, the mark of being his disciple that will let the world know who we are. It’s why it is so heart-breaking and so sad when the church is more known by its vocal and sensational haters than by our call to love. Do you remember the scene in John’s Gospel when Jesus said those words? It’s the Passover celebration and Jesus has just unexpectedly taken the role of the lowest servant and washed the feet of his disciples. Not symbolically, not metaphorically, but in all their gross, dirty, road-weary reality. He’s just loved them in service and action, and he says “This is it, this is how you love each other from now on.”

I wonder if we’ve really understood the significance of Jesus’ statement that we’ll be known by our love for one another. I don’t believe he’s saying that love is simply our slogan, our catch word, the next t-shirt or bumper sticker we need to buy… he’s continuing the language he used in the Sermon of the Mount, that where our treasure is, there our heart will be also. What we love shows. What we love shapes us. What we love identifies us.

We know how Jesus loved and how he taught us to love. He said we can’t settle for just loving those who love us, or the most lovable, but must love our enemies. Our love must be extended to all. And we see him do that very thing again and again in the Gospels. Love must be something we grow, expand and by which we relate to the world around us. Love cannot be simply another transaction in life by which we get what we want by giving as little as we can… instead love is a gift, a transforming gift for those around us. The kind of love which Jesus showed and taught pushes past all boundaries which would separate us: national, racial, ethnic, religious and social.

Love is of God

We hear the steadfast love of God resounding throughout the Jewish scriptures, preached and sung by the psalmist. God’s love is the root by which we learn about love, a seeking love, a finding love, a serving love and a steadfast love which never ceases. And that love is not only a foundational practice, it really is the foundation itself.

Our very identity is to be built on love. Our words and actions fall flat or transform the world by the presence of that love. Our faith is alive and life-giving by the presence of that love. Fear and punishment and all the other things which could rob our joy and steal our hope are removed by that love, as John said, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.”

And if there’s any part of us that would resist this call to love, that would say well I’m not sure I really need to love folks, maybe I could just tolerate them, how’s that? then we need to start the hard work of limbering up our hearts, loosening our love and working to expand our love to better include the people around us.

This is a huge part of how we love God. We heard John say it this morning in the reading “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate a brother or sister are liars, for those who do not love a brother or sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.” John is reminding us of an important movement in scripture that we show our love for God in our love for each other. How else are we going to do it? Just by singing songs and saying prayers? Those are good things, but we can’t escape that our community, both the faith and human communities in which we live are the canvas on which we express our love of God. Loving God and loving neighbor are bound up in scripture again and again as the first and second greatest of all commands. The relationship binds them together as truly one, as we’re told again and again to love as God loves, forgive as God forgives and as we are taught to pray: forgive us as we forgive.

Beloved, this love is why we’re not just another clever primate crawling across the surface of the planet. It’s why we’re not just another mammal, another animal, just genetic code reproducing itself… the very breath of God, to use the language of Genesis, has in love given us life. God has called us beyond what we might settle for, and has called us and enabled us to transform all things in love.

Love Never Ends

I want to conclude with something I tried out loud in preparing for this sermon and found convicting and hopeful, scary and aspirational. If we believe that love is to be our identity and our highest calling, let’s hear those words from Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 again, but substitute ourselves for the word love… as we answer the call of God to love, as we grow that kind of transforming love for one another in our hearts and lives, and with God’s help…

We are patient; we are kind; we are not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. We do not insist on our own way; we are not irritable; we keep no record of wrongs; we do not rejoice in wrongdoing but we rejoice in the truth. We bear all things, we believe all things, we hope all things, we endure all things. We never end.

Amen, amen and amen.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s