"If you love me"-Sermon for Pentecost, John 14:8-17, 25-27
As we arrive at Spring time each year…and really it stretches often into the summer that follows…we enter into wedding season. At the very least it feels like the number of weddings that I attend and officiate pick up in this season each year…I’ve had two wedding this spring already and have entered into pre-marital counseling with a third couple who will be married this summer. I suppose the budding flowers, the grass which takes on a deeper hue of green and the warming temperatures that follow the hibernation-like stasis of winter awaken our senses…open our hearts into a celebratory sort of mood. Life and love feel a bit more vibrant and ever-present, which lend themselves to celebrating in this time of year the gift of love discovered in the midst of our most meaningful and intimate relationships…whether between friends, family or significant others…all celebrating the gift of love…freely given, freely received. From crawfish boils to music festivals to back yard bar-b-q’s to wedding receptions…we seem to sort of pour out into our yards and public green spaces to revel in one another’s company…to share a joy filled life with those we love in the great cathedral of God’s creation. As Nat King Cole croons, “I’m in the mood for love, simply because your near me.” It seems to me that God’s great gift of love and life that bursts out from the empty tomb at Easter…Jesus’ glorious resurrection…happens in the spring time by no mere accident. And Easter love and life are indeed contagious…in the most wonderful sorts of ways.
And this love I speak of, in all its glory, seems to be a central theme in Jesus’ final discourse, his farewell discourse, from which our Gospel Lesson from John comes today. This discourse follows Jesus’ last supper with his friends and followers. It reads in some ways almost like a love letter. He has just washed his disciples’ feet an act of profound and intimate love that says something like…see how much I love you…see how much I care for you…and then the discourse that follows sort of puts words to this profound and symbolic act of love. In a sense, he shows them what love looks like…and then explains what love looks like…gives words to the intimate experience he has shared with each of them. And these words wash over his friends and followers promising that he will always be with them by his living and active Spirit that we remember today in our Pentecost celebration…Jesus’ Sprit that resides within and among us…all who follow him…who love him…even you…even me. He encourages his friends and followers to seek unity or one-ness in their relationships like he and his Heavenly Father are one. And he reminds all of us on more than one occasion in this discourse to love one another, just as he loves us…entirely and completely. So with the help of his own Spirit, Jesus’ friends and followers, including each of us, are to indeed love one another in just the same sort of way…entirely and completely.
Now, just as I did as I opened this sermon, it would be easy, and indeed it is easy, to be sentimental about love. To place love squarely in the realm of sentimentality and romance. To think of it in terms of how it feels…to compare it to say the feeling of falling in love for the first time…our heart beat quickening…our faces flushed…and all the irrational decision making that follows. I still remember the days of long distance phone bills…and recall my parent’s frustration, to put it lightly, with the triple digit long-distance phone bill that resulted from incessantly calling my first summer camp crush who lived on the other side of the state…all flowers budding…and hormones raging…and the like. And there is indeed something sweet, innocent and altogether wonderful in this way of thinking about love…and indeed it does point to something like the sort of passionate love that God has for each of us…and desires that we have for one another. I think God does want the love we have for him and those we care for and love to be full of joy and passion and fun and innocence…that it would indeed quicken our hearts…bring a bounce to our steps…and elevate our spirits to a place of abandon…where we would be willing be silly at times…write poems and give gifts to those we love. If you doubt me read the Song of Solomon…it’s a book in the bible…God’s Word…Holy Writ…and it doesn’t get any racier or more romantic than that.
And I believe further that it is God’s own Spirit, the Holy Spirit, that resides in our own lives that indeed elevates our hearts and minds to a place where love knows no bounds…allows us to vulnerably be our authentic selves before the other without masks or facades…that allows for passion to pour forth like an unquenchable fire…the very fire of Pentecost that alighted on the heads of the disciples as they told those gathered in Jerusalem about God’s passionate love for them…that poured out of the empty tomb…a blinding resurrection light…that defeated sin and death in and through love its very self. Love wins and is the “main thing” in God’s kingdom…always…and it indeed makes my own heart giddy…just like the first time I fell head over heals in love…just like every time I have fallen head over heals in love…with my wife…at the birth of my children…when the bishop pulled me aside and said what do you think about planting a new church in a growing part of far Northwest Austin. And this love, God’s passionate love that dwells in our lives even now by his Holy Spirit, is indeed contagious and altogether wonderful. It is why we have grown here at St. Julian’s…people want to know and experience more deeply the love they have encountered in this place…our love for one another…our love for God…the first and forever lover of our souls.
But again, just as I did as I opened this sermon…and now have continued to do, it would be easy, and indeed it is easy, to be sentimental about love. To again place love squarely in the realm of sentimentality and romance. But falling in love…is only blessedly just the beginning. During the declaration of consent in the marriage service in our Book of Common Prayer, two people indeed declare their consent, publically, to be married…to share a love-life for a life-time. In fact, specifically what they declare is to live together in the covenant of marriage…to love and comfort…to honor and keep, in sickness and in health, forsaking all other, to be faithful…not for a week or two…or a year or two…not so long as the fires of passion are lit…not only when the bank account is full, kids behave and pleasant thoughts of their honeymoon still linger in the backs of their minds…but for as long as they both shall live. And the individuals being married respond with, “I will.” Although in the heat of the moment, I tell couples I will take any response in the affirmative…the actual response is, “I will.” For a relationship of any sort, in which the love of God is manifestly present, is not something we do…simply going through the motions…it is something we will…every day…every moment. In other words, we choose it…as an act of the will…with every fiber of our being. Even when it doesn’t feel like love…again as I say to couples being married…perhaps most obviously in the morning when the unshaven meets the unwashed.
Love-filled relationships take a tremendous amount of work. They require discipline, commitment, vulnerability, forgiveness, self-less-ness…from all involved…all hands on deck…for indeed it takes two to tango. Therefore, we can say that love looks like something…like washing each other’s feet…everyday…even when they are covered in the world’s…and our own…dirt and muck. If we are really going to love each other…if we are really going to love each other for a life-time…or even just a long time…we have to will our love for one another even when we disagree, even when we deeply disagree. We have to will our love for each other even when we let each other down…even when we down right fail each other. Indeed, it won’t look like love always. But just as we learn as children, you don’t judge a book by its cover…just because it doesn’t always look like love…that doesn’t mean that love is not there…not present…for God’s love, God’s Spirit, is always present…picking up the pieces and putting us back together. God’s love shines in the ordinary and difficult moments of our relationships and lives as well as the good and joy-filled ones…just in different colors. We know that most if not all things in life that matter and have meaning…are difficult, almost never easy, and yet they matter and are full of meaning. Our love-filled relationships often require all the will power we can muster…but they are so very worth it…they are the most important things in our lives…they are what makes life worth living…worth working for…they are indeed the very point of life…the very heart of joy. The experience of love…freely given, freely received…the love of God…the love of one another…is the very heart of the matter.
But I would be remiss if I did not say, on Pentecost of all Sundays, that no matter how strong willed we are…the will to choose the love of another, whether we are speaking of God or another human being, at least in my mind, is beyond any power that exists in us alone…in our individual capacity to will, as people who are both broken and beautiful…but…it is not beyond the power, capacity or capability of God’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit, that resides in and among us…at all times and in all places. So with the help of God’s Spirit…we can…I can indeed will to love…to love you…to love so many…each new day…each new moment. And in doing so…with each new relationship…with each existing relationship in which our connection is deepened…we get to fall in love all over again…the fire of passion is re-lit…the heart quickening…flowers budding…endorphins firing…giddiness all around…the spring-time, Easter moments of our lives are reborn…just like the seasons in each year. God’s Spirit bolstering our own to will and to know love…the love of God, the love of one another. And this love is indeed contagious and altogether wonderful…like a raging fire fueled by God’s own Spirit. Amen.