Sermon July 22, 2018

I had the opportunity a couple of weeks ago to conduct a wedding in Marseille, France on the Mediterranean. I had met the bride seven years ago in Cameroon. I

was helping my college roommate there for three months with her non-government organization, monitoring orphans scattered throughout seven villages to the north

of the city she lives in.

 

This bride, Elodie, a French student nurse, came to Cameroon to serve an internship in rural clinics. So she lived with us for a month there. Four years ago

she and her partner actually came to the U.S and share our Thanksgiving dinner with us. Suddenly, last winter I got an email from her asking if I would officiate at

her religious ceremony in France. Of course I said yes. When I was pondering what sort of homily I would give at the wedding, I

happened to be reading Brian McLaren’s book: The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World’s largest Religion is Seeking a Better Way to be Christian. In it I was deeply moved by his discussion of God’s love. It seemed a fitting center for

that homily, and it came to my mind again as I read the scripture lessons for this Sunday.

These were the words that so moved me:

1. You can’t learn to love people without being around actual people – including people who infuriate, exasperate, annoy, offend, frustrate,

encroach upon, resist, reject, and hurt you, thus tempting you not to love them.

2. You can’t learn the patience that love requires without experiencing delay and disappointment.

3. You can’t learn the kindness that love requires without rendering yourself vulnerable to unkindness.

4. You can’t learn the generosity that love requires outside the presence of heart-breaking and unquenchable need.

5. You can’t learn the peaceableness that love requires without being enmeshed in seemingly unresolvable conflict.

6. You can’t learn the humility that love requires without moments of acute humiliation.

7. You can’t learn the determination that love requires without opposition and frustration.

8. You can’t learn the endurance that love requires without experiencing unrelenting seduction to give up.

 

Now, hold those words about the radical nature of love God intends for us and consider the lessons this morning.

Jeremiah says: “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture.” There is this persistent ethical thread throughout the Hebrew Bible. God

requires the community to be ruled with justice and righteousness, unity and love. In the previous chapter of Jeremiah we read that one manifestation of how well a

ruler is doing on this front is the treatment of the alien, orphan and widow. In this passage, we read that the leaders do not have the capacity for love here.

But God has compassion for this community of exiles.

For those alienated from their homes..

For those separated from their families...

For those taken away from all they knew.

God always reaches out in love to every exile, every dispossessed person.

 

Mark talks about the love Jesus has for his sheep. He heals many in his own land, in Galilee – and then, after a time away for prayer and re-centering, he and his

disciples cross the Sea of Galilee to Gennasarret. That’s Gentile country, you know. Immediately, he is called upon to heal – the foreigner, the alien, and the

stranger. He is confronted with the overwhelming need of “the other” and rises to the occasion. For most of his ministry we see him in the thick of the people,

among those in greatest need. I can relate. In Cameroon, while assisting some nursing students provide health assessments of children, we ran out of time while

there were still dozens of mothers and children waiting. “Oh please,” they said, “just see my child.” And, “please, I need one of those mosquito nets, too.” The

press of those in desperate need was heart breaking.

 

In both the OT reading and the Gospel there is this clear message: the exiles – the alien – the stranger – the orphan – are also God’s people. The Epistle reading

raises the question of those pesky Gentiles as well. We know that the early church was struggling with questions of who is in and who is out. The Jews who had

come to accept Jesus as the Messiah couldn’t figure out what to do with those Gentiles who wanted into their fellowship. How could someone who was not

circumcised possibly become an insider? How could one who didn’t share the story of the People of Israel even begin to understand what Jesus had done for the

Jews? But in the Kingdom of God, even those pesky Gentiles are be counted as in.

 

In Ephesians we read that Jesus made both groups into one. He broke down the dividing walls between them. Then there were no longer any strangers or aliens. It

is at the very core of our understanding as Christians that we should grow more and more into this radical kind of love that Jesus had for absolutely everyone. It is

a difficult journey. But one we MUST take. And that brings us right back to Brian McLaren’s discussion of love.

1 You can’t learn to love people without being around actual people – including people who infuriate, annoy, offend, and encroach upon us. We are called to surround ourselves – as Jesus did – with those who are the most difficult to love.

2 You can’t learn the kindness that love requires without rendering yourself vulnerable to unkindness. Now there’s a challenge for us – allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, even to possible unkindness.

3 You can’t learn the generosity that love requires outside the presence of heart-breaking and unquenchable need. Being in the midst of people with unquenchable need is not a comfortable place to be. We can feel pretty overwhelmed as – indeed – Jesus must have felt. It’s exactly why he had to take time away from the crowds.

4 You can’t learn the peaceableness that love requires without being enmeshed in seemingly unresolvable conflict. It’s one thing sitting in our comfortable world praying for peace. It’s altogether another thing to become immersed in resolvable conflict. But how else can we possibly learn of God’s peace – that passes all understanding.

5 You can’t learn the humility that love requires without moments of acute humiliation. We know of the acute humiliation Jesus suffered. How can we possibly understand it unless we, too, experience humiliation. Perhaps one of the dilemmas that we people of privilege share is that we don’t often experience humiliation.

6 You can’t learn the determination and endurance that love requires without opposition and frustration and an unrelenting desire to give up.

You see, the kind of love Jesus modeled – and wants us to learn – is a life long school. If God loved the exiles in Babylon then we need to be schooled in loving

the exiles in our midst. If God loved the Gentiles of the early church then we need to be schooled in how to love and include the strangers all around us. If Jesus

could go out – among those in greatest need, day after day after day – then we need to be schooled in that kind of endurance and determination.

 

It’s not an easy school to attend. We can drop out any time. We can settle back into the sofa cushions of God’s embracing love ..... or we can accept the challenge

and enroll in God’s school of love. When we flunk out, as we surely will, we can enroll again and again until we enter the everlasting kingdom of infinite love.

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  • Matthew 19:14
    “Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.””