Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Editorial: The Beams of Love

The second sermon I've ever preached.

The Beams of Love

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your people, and kindle in us the fire of your love.

“And we are put on earth a little space
that we may learn to bear the beams of love’

So wrote the poet William Blake, and I suppose I’m going to have to ask you to do some bearing. See, I was excited to preach again, because the last time I preached about love. And that went great. But that’s a tried and true subject. You can’t beat love. So I was eager to do some other text, some other topic. I wanted to see what I could do with different material.

And then from the lectionary I got…the Great Commandment.

But that’s all right. Love is not obvious. And on it hang all the law and the prophets. So let’s talk about the prophet of the law, who was not surpassed. That’s what Deuteronomy says: “Since then there has not arisen in Israel a prophet like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face.”

Now the text says that this was because of the signs and wonders, because of his mighty deeds and terrifying displays of power. But I think that’s a little incurious. It’s a little too easy. Because Scripture is quite clear that all of those deeds against Pharaoh and his servants, were God’s doing. God supplies the signs. God does the mighty works.

What we have to ask is why God chose Moses, and why Moses kept on going. Because Moses knew how all of this would end. God told him he wasn’t going to make it. He would be punished for his presumption in the Wilderness of Zin, when he did equate his signs with God’s. So it’s not for him. And God told him what would happen to the people who would go in: “this people will rise and play the harlot with the gods of the foreigners of the land…they will forsake Me and break My covenant, and I will forsake them and hide My face from them and they shall be devoured.”

So what does Moses do? He blesses them by tribe. His last will and testament is a blessing. “Happy are you, O Israel. Who is like you, a people saved by the LORD.” Now this is the same man who, when faced with the instantaneous disobedience of these people beside Mount Sinai said to God, “Yet now, if you will forgive their sin- but if not, I pray, blot me out of your book which you have written.”

In other words, kill me if you won’t forgive them. But now he knows that all of this, all his years of patience and pleading and sacrifice, will only end in his punitive death and the failure of his people. But he leads them and blesses them- just before he dies and they bury him in a soon forgotten grave.

Love is not obvious. You’ve got to pay attention.

But now I’ve got to talk about my own patriarch. Growing up, I saw that my father was racist. Actually, more accurately, I soon people who weren’t, and learned the difference. But I could not now number the hate-filled diatribes and derogatory terms that filled my childhood. I heard the n-word more than I would care to recall. My father is not a modern man. He can seem a relic representing the worst parts of previous generations.

Then my sister had a child. So now my old man sits on the couch and dandles his illegitimate black granddaughter on his knee. On his knee! Dandles her on his knee!

Now this is not a story of conversion. My father still harbors many views that I never will. But this is a story that says that we are all, each and every one of us, larger than our ideologies. And this is to say that the fact of her, just her innocence and her familial bond, has overcome a few of the lies my father tells himself.

What I don’t understand is who the student is. Is he learning perspectives entirely new to him? What does she understand? Or am I merely to observe a man larger than my conception of him?

And we are put on earth a little space/ that we might learn to bear the beams of love. These developments are not obvious.

Now when I was still in college I noticed, in the way that a young man might notice, a friend of many friends. She transformed before my eyes! But I failed to act on my affections, not because I kept them secret- I did not- but because I did not believe that they were important. I felt that they would go away, as these things tend to do. I did not want to deviate from course, from my academic clarity.

Then she left for Oxford and then for China, and I found that I cared for her very much more than I supposed.

Now I will never know if anything could have happened differently. But I know what did happen was that I did not recognize and refused to understand what was actually going on.

Love is not obvious! You’ve got to pay attention!

Now I’m not here to scandalize my family or bore you with my love life. My father is in other ways an honorable man, capable of long self-sacrifice. And my romantic blunders have been surpassed by many. But I am here to say that I hope you don’t consider love to be the greatest commandment, unless of course you need to.

See, commandment’s a difficult word. It sounds like rigid obedience and unending obligation. It doesn’t sound much like passionate prophets and the lively law of God. So I hope you consider the love of God and neighbor to be not the greatest commandment, but, as I do, the greatest opportunity.

Now we’re going to get a couple of chances, here at Gethsemane. In a few weeks, maybe but very soon, we’re going to get the opportunity to serve over at the Drake Hotel. I don’t know exactly what we’re going to do. But I know the basic ingredients, because those never change.

Love is simple, says my mentor of fifteen years. All you do is, you take what you do for yourself: your clothes, your food, your medical care, your attention, whatever you’ve learned- you take that stuff, and you do it for someone else, who needs it. That’s it. That’s love. The proportions and intensity might vary, but that’s love. That’s all you have to do. According to Scripture, it’s all you ever have to do.

It might sound more complicated than that. People start talking about available resources. Reading Gethsemane’s history, as I have a little bit, it might be easy to say that this Drake Hotel seems like something we would have done when we were larger. But I say that confuses the issue. Rather, we would have been larger precisely because we did things like the Drake Hotel.

Besides, we all know that Jesus went somewhere, after he died. He went ahead to prepare a place for us. Of course, He might have just gone on up to heaven. But because He said that loving your neighbor was the same as loving God, and because he said that whatever we do for the least of these, we do for Him, I think he might have gone someplace else.

Now He was a carpenter. So I submit that just maybe He went on over there to the Drake Hotel. With all those cockroaches and all that human need. Maybe He had a different kind of paradise in mind. And maybe He went ahead to set it up for us.

Love is not obvious. You’ve got to pay attention.

So that’s the first opportunity. The second is this: in a few weeks I’m going to host a forum. And that forum is going to be about a very strange word: Wikicreedia. Now what in the world is that?

It’s a transformation, or it could be. Every week we say a beautiful, archaic thing, here: the Nicene Creed. We say it with many churches all around the world. But how many of us understand it? How many of us know exactly what we say?

That creed was written two thousand years ago, by bishops countering a proliferation of heresies. They had a lot on their minds. They did not address everything. They left out the greatest commandment: they left out love. You won’t find the word in there.

But in the two thousand years since then a lot has happened. Most notably, we’ve had the priesthood of believers. The tenets of our faith no longer come from bishops. So we have a great opportunity. Using this thing called a wiki, an interactive program on the internet, we have the chance to come together and articulate our own beliefs, for ourselves, for the very first time.

Each and every one of us can have a voice in common Christianity. With Wikicreedia we can now write, cooperatively and over the next four years, our very own creed. And in a time of great disunity among believers, we might articulate something that lasts for another two thousand years. And we might come together all across the world to give something to the generations of believers coming after us.

Now I’m not, myself, going to insist that love be written into that creed. That’s what a wiki, what this technology, is all about: everything we say, we say together. But I do hope to write love into the conversation. We’re going to need it, after all, if Evangelicals and Orthodox and Catholics can all get together and agree on the fundamentals of the Christian faith. Right? It’s going to be difficult.

And we are put on earth a little space/ That we might learn to bear the beams of love.

That’s the conversation we need to have. It’s the encounter, it’s the understanding that writes love inside our hearts, and, if we pay attention, lets us see each other with the eyes of Christ, which are the eager eyes of love.


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