The Sunday Sermon: Love

Saint Paul’s Cathedral, San Diego 
VI Easter B; 
May 13, 2012 
Scott Richardson +

 In the Name of God: the Lover, the Beloved, and Love Itself. Amen.

A friend of mine climbs into the pulpit to deliver the world’s briefest sermon. “Love,” he says, before stepping down to begin the Creed. That’s not bad. That’s a pretty good homily. It points toward the Source of our Being and gives us an action plan. Noun and verb. And that’s all I have to say today: Love. Open your hearts to receive the immense love of God and then share that with the world.

Now that may be enough preaching for the moment, but let’s press on anyway. Today’s readings are all about love, of course, and especially about love as expressed in obedience, in following. The love of God is this, reads our epistle, that we obey God’s commandments. Jesus adds to that: If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love… This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

But what is love and what, specifically, is Christian love. A friend of mine was chatting with his daughter. She observed that another person, the subject of their conversation, had a good attitude. My friend agreed and then went deeper – this person, he said, not only had a good attitude but, more importantly, a good disposition. Attitudes come and go but disposition endures. It comes from within. It’s core material. And that, I think, gets closer to what the Bible means by love. Love is a disposition of the heart often tied to redemptive action.

Mary was walking our dog earlier this week. She came to the gate that marks the boundary of our development. Yes, we live in a gated community – you can’t be too careful up on the mean streets of Del Cerro. At the foot of the gate she found two dollar bills, wadded up. Her theory? A young man hopping the gate on his way to Patrick Henry High School lost his lunch money.
Now it is natural to take joy in finding money but it is supernatural (i.e., spiritual) to care more about the person who lost it. And that was Mary’s response – she was worried about a teen who might go hungry that day because his cash feel out of his sweatshirt pocket. Note her disposition: it wasn’t that she was in a charitable mood or even that she had a good attitude; she cared about the well-being of her anonymous (and perhaps fictitious) neighbor. Remember, all of this was untested theory. Mary didn’t know where the money came from – this was the narrative she created to account for it. But that narrative reveals a heart for others, and especially for those who might suffer want.

So that’s a snapshot of Christian love. And that type of love, it goes without saying, is universally practiced, it transcends any particular faith or philosophical expression. That is the love of a mother in a healthy family. That love is expressed in the healthiest relationships, the healthiest friendships, the healthiest marriages (gay and straight, affirmed again this week). That is the love that God promises to bless and grow, if we, as Christians, obediently follow the heartful path his Son lays out for us. That course always leads back to the needs and hopes and rights of our neighbor.

And what is the opposite? It would be easy to say “hate” right now but that’s not how I get it. Pettiness is, more often, the antithesis of love. Small-mindedness. Small-heartedness. It’s easy to see pettiness played out in society, especially during the political season. It’s a bit harder to see it within our own souls and organizations. I’m always amused by the juxtaposition of the immense call of Christ and the miniscule issues some churches get bogged down in.

I have to say that Saint Paul’s is pretty good in this regard – big churches tend to have big problems and small churches tend to have small problems. I’d rather have big problems. But some other churches – God bless them – struggle to rise up and see what really matters. I remember talking to a rector who had it out with the leader of a congregational group who committed (begrudgingly) to serving a meal to the homeless and then refused to bring out the parish china. Paper plates were good enough – but not for the rector. He saw this as a Kingdom moment – God’s poor invited to the feast – and he was willing to go to war on their behalf, if need be. He prevailed and then used the conflict as a teaching moment.

The Kingdom of God is near at hand, he said, but it will be missed if we’re focused elsewhere, on that which does not matter and on that which is quickly passing away. So he asked his congregants to renounce pettiness in the name of holy affection and, like Jesus, commit to being gracious lovers of souls.

That’s good advice for all of us. To that end we hear his words again: As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love… love one another as I have loved you… And here’s the kicker: I have said these things to you, he continues, so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

Can we hear that? Receive that? Are we obedient? Will we follow? If we do, if by the grace of God we get this right, then everything, absolutely everything, will work out according to God’s purpose. May it be so, and may our love for him and for one another help make it so. Amen.

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