Sunday, February 24, 2019

Epiphany 7, 2019: Praying into agape love

Lectionary: Genesis 45:3-11, 15; Psalm 37:1-12, 41-42; 1 Corinthians 15:35-38,42-50; Luke 6:27-38

Note: If the above player doesn't work on your device, click HERE for an alternative audio format.

En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

In our Collect today, we prayed that the Holy Spirit would come to us and pour into our hearts her greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and source of life. As Episcopalians, we believe that God is love and that all life is created, sustained, and maintained by the love of God. Outside of God’s love, there is no life, only death – of body or spirit.

Love requires relationship. God, who is love, is also community. The Trinity of God is a dynamic relationship – a continually active, expressive, complementary way of being. Jesus’ command to us to love God and neighbor as self reflects the very nature of God’s own self.

Love reconciles, that is, restores harmony and wholeness, to whatever or whoever is separated or divided. Where God sees division, God acts to redeem (which means to take possession of). It is God’s own self filling the gap and covering the parts, unifying them into harmony again.

What is so important for us to remember as followers of Christ who embody his spirit, is that we are the current vehicles of this redeeming, reconciling love on earth. God looks through our eyes, responds in our hearts, and acts through our hands.

The word for love used in our gospel reading is Agape – a familiar word, I think for most of us. Agape love is full of goodwill. It is deliberate – a choice to pay attention to someone else and have regard for and respect them. This love is reflected in our Baptismal vow to respect the dignity of every human being.

Agape love is self-denying and compassionate. It places the other ahead of self and joins us to that person in their suffering (com – passio: to suffer with). It is willing to share someone else’s nightmare, bearing light into their darkness – even when drawing near to them puts our comfort and safety at risk.

Agape love is not being attracted to another. That’s eros. It isn’t even about liking them. That’s philia. And it isn’t about being bonded by empathy. That’s storge.

Agape is a whole other kind of love. Theologian and author Allen Myers defines agape love as: “the divine, selfless love which will go to any length to attain the well-being of its object.” Myers, Allen C., The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987), 26. And we don’t have it unless God gives it, hence our prayer in our Collect today: pour into our hearts your greatest gift, God, which is love.

In this continuation of his beatitudes sermon from last week, Jesus is teaching a new way of being love in the world – one that goes against our natural inclination for self-protection and judgment. Did you know that biologically, humans have a part of the brain specifically designed for judgment? Its role is to create binary images in order to aid us in our survival, enabling us to differentiate between what is safe and what isn’t, who is for us and who is against us. This lives out in our cultural experience as well. We are constantly challenged by our propensity to create “them” and “us.”

We need to remember that in our gospel story Jesus is speaking to a people who are currently oppressed and know what it feels like to be hated, dismissed, ignored, and disrespected. They are the “them” in their culture and they’d already had a long history of being the targets of oppression and genocide. To survive, they separated themselves, marking their separation with circumcision and ritual practice.

It is in this context that Jesus is preaching a new way of being in the world. Jesus is calling them (and us) to reconciliation rather than separation – even when separation has worked to ensure our survival.

Jesus new way of love calls us to trust God for all we need, including our survival. This is kind of love is that was demonstrated by Joseph in our reading from Genesis and it’s what the Psalmist is calling us to – a love that isn’t distracted by what seems like the success of those who don’t love, causing us to abandon our way of love; a love that cooperates with God who desires reconciliation and relationship.

This is also the underlying message in the portion of St. Paul’s letter we read today: we, the created, exist on earth as in heaven since we have been raised with Christ by our Baptism. Therefore, we must love as Jesus loves.

Truly, none of us can do this easily or successfully all of the time. But we know when we aren’t there, don’t we? We know when disdain or indifference or hate infect our hearts.

So what do we do? We pray, drawing closer to God, then watch as God’s redeeming, reconciling love happens. Our prayer opens the pathway and is an important way we cooperate with God in the work of reconciliation.

When we pray God’s lavish blessings all over those we’d rather not love, that prayer changes us, enabling us to open and receive God’s greatest gift into our hearts. This allows us to draw nearer to them rather than move away and has the added benefit of drawing us nearer to God.

When we separate ourselves from anyone or any group it’s easy to forget that God’s spirit dwells in them as much as it does in us. It’s easy to not pay attention, to disregard or disrespect them – the make them, “them.”

Note: SAFETY TIP about turning the other cheek. This assumes privilege. It is not an invitation to let people abuse you.

In one sense, all of us who follow Christ are privileged in that we know we are loved, and from that eternal well of love there is endless refreshment. We are the carriers, the cupbearers, of that refreshing, redeeming, reconciling love into the world.

I mentioned once that whenever we are called upon by heaven to bear the love of God into the world, God always sends these words ahead of it to us: “fear not.” This is one of those times because being this kind of love means trusting our very survival to God.

So fear not, Julian of Norwich says, because “In [God’s] love [God} clothes us, enfolds us and embraces us; that tender love completely surrounds us, never to leave us.” (Feast of Anglican Spirituality, 137) Amen.

No comments: