Monday, May 11, 2009

All You need is Love

This was my first sermon preached at Presbyterian Community Church of the Rockies in Estes Park, CO It seemed very hard to write. Maybe it was because I don't know the congregation well yet or maybe I was just distracted? Either way here it is...

There's nothing you can do that can't be done.
Nothing you can sing that can't be sung.
Nothing you can say, but you can learn
How to play the game –

Nothing you can make that can't be made.
No one you can save that can't be saved.
Nothing you can do, but you can learn
How to be you in time –

All you need is love, all you need is love,
All you need is love, love. Love is all you need.

These words written by John Lennon, some 42 years ago seem so simple and yet speak volumes toward what God desires in relationship to humanity. It was written as a universal song that would transcend cultures all around the globe. Brian Epstein, the Beatles manager said, "The nice thing about it is that it cannot be misinterpreted. It is a clear message saying that love is everything." Love is everything.

John Lennon wrote these words hoping to elicit change in the attitudes of the world. It was a time and an age when love seemed to be in short supply as War was raging and Fear seemed to be ruling the day. Lennon hoped that this simple song could spur on a revolution bringing back what I think he knew God had desired for our relationships with God and with one another.

Somehow the enlightenment had turned love into a specimen under a microscope to be studied and dissected. Over time humanity began to over intellectualize what love is. We studied it in classrooms, wrote books about it and dedicated entire careers to explain it to the rest of us. Love became domesticated and tamed. The problem was that Love was never supposed to be primarily a warm fuzzy blanket for you alone to snuggle up in. Further love became synonymous with personal happiness (not that this isn’t a byproduct of love).

Love is intended to be a self sacrificing act as was best seen in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It should have the ability to make us act in ways not typical of human nature. So what happened over that last 2000 years to transform love from a communal act to that of an individual feeling?

Beloved since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.” Said St John in this epistle.

Yet somehow Christianity is not always seen as a religion of love. In fact author/activist Shane Claiborne tells of an experiment he conducted on the streets of Philadelphia. He asked random people for their first reaction to a list of words such as ‘snow’, ‘teenagers’, ‘Eagles’ and ‘Christian’. None of the words seem to faze the people except for ‘Christian’. Some of the reactions to this word were: fake, hypocrites, and bigots. Not one person said love.

Some theologists suggest love has been co-opted by our insecurity. We are using it as a way to lock the door and shut the blinds to keep us safe from whatever is outside. The result has reduced love to an individualized sense of security. It has become a status to achieve or a goal to accomplish. Love is no longer about the other person, now it is about us.

William Sloan Coffin is quoted as saying that the opposite of Love is not hate but fear. It is fear that does not allow us to love the homeless person asking for change at the off ramp. It is fear that does not allow us to love the aids patient working in our office. It is fear that pushes out love.

Fear is most often directed toward the unknown. That could be somebody of a different race or ethnic background or it could even be change. This fear of the unknown is not a brand new thing either. Look at the story of Dirk Willems an Anabaptist martyr during the first reformation. He was scheduled to be executed for seeking change in the church. He managed to escape shortly before his execution. With the guards in hot pursuit he ran across a frozen lake. Hearing the ice crack he looked back to see the guard sink into the water. Dirk turned back and went into the water saving the guard, only to be returned to prison and executed for not upholding the right beliefs of the church. This man was not taking part in atrocities against mankind; instead he was asking questions of the status quo. He asked that question with the great unknown answer, Why? And fear of the unknown was more powerful then the churches ability to answer.

John tells us that since God abides in us we therefore know the love that God has for us. This knowledge is deep down in our DNA put there by the creator of all. It is our built in ability to overcome fear. It does not come automatically though. It takes us reaching down into our soul to that place God planted it long before we could love God. We need to seek to grasp this love that has moved God since before creation. The love that moved God to create a universe of richness and multiplicity. The love that moved God to rejoice in the stars and planets, then in the lands and the oceans, then in life itself, and finally in the diversity and culture of humanity. It happens when that love deep down inside grows out of us pushing the fear aside and embracing the unknown, loving our brothers and sisters exactly where they are and for who they are.

This is not an easy thing for us to do. Humans don’t like change (yet somehow we manage accomplish a lot of it.) I remember my 5th grade teacher more than any other. Mr. Robinson was a very tall large black man. I grew up in a place with very little diversity to it. It was not that I had a prejudice about this man it was that I knew nothing about him. I had never meet a black person prior to this. I think Mr. Robinson took a great deal of pleasure in expanding our minds. He taught me so much beyond what 5th grade typically accomplishes by loving each of us first before we understood how to love him.

John tells us again and again that God is love. All God’s activity is loving activity. If God creates, God does it in love. If God rules, God does it in love. If God judges, God does it in love. God cannot help it God is love. In his act of perfect love we are able to overcome fear. We are able to embrace the outcast and down trodden we are able to reach out to the marginalized and oppressed because God first loved us.

South African Bishop Desmond Tutu tells the story of a woman’s love that overcame all fear. A love that could only be expressed because of the love God has for us all. He tells of a South African black woman who listened in a court room as a white police officer acknowledged his part in atrocities. He had shot the woman’s 18 year old son, point blank, and partied with others as they burned the boy’s body until it was reduced to ashes.

Eight years later, this same Officer Van de Broek had come and seized her husband, and forced the woman to watch as her husband was bound to a woodpile, had gasoline poured over him, and was consumed by the flames. The last thing she heard her husband say was “forgive them.”

Now the court was bringing Van de Broek and others to justice. The Truth and Reconciliation Committee of South Africa wanted to know what the woman wanted.

“I want three things,” she said calmly. “I want Mr. Van de Broek to take me to the place where they burned my husband's body. I would like to gather up the dust and give him a decent burial. “Second, Mr. Van de Broek took all my family away from me, and I still have a lot of love to give. Twice a month, I would like for him to come to the ghetto and spend a day with me so that I can be a mother to him. “Third, I would like Mr. Van de Broek to know that he is forgiven by God, and that I forgive him, too. I would like to embrace him so he can know my forgiveness is real.” This is a true example of the love God showed us, a love that overcame fear, hate and even rage.

Knowing that such love claims all of us, how do we imitate it in our world? Maybe, we don’t need to think of dramatic stages from which we can change the world by the power of our money or wisdom.

Knowing the God who found us, one by one, in our hidden places, maybe we can look for hidden corners where people who have been hurt or wronged or misjudged can find affirmation and acceptance through us. And as we look eye to eye with these people, we may be a surprised. For although no one has ever seen God, as we learn how to love one another, God love is made complete in us. And we may be surprised to see him, face to face.

All you need is love, love. Love is all you need.