relationships of love – a sermon for the 6th Sunday of Easter

preachinga sermon, based on 1 John 5.1-6 and John 15.9-17, preached with the people of St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church, Spartanburg, SC, Sunday, May 10, 2015

O God, you, our Father and our Mother, breathing the breath of life into all things, give birth to all that is: Grant us always and in all ways the Spirit of Jesus, that we may walk in the light of your life and love. Amen.

Mother’s Day. Our annual national homage to the women who gave us life and those women and men who, through nurturing care, sometimes alongside our birth mothers, granted us the grace of godly guidance. This brings to my mind and heart relationships of love.

Yet as a pastor who has had the anguished privilege of being privy to people’s pain, I honor this day women who have longed to bear children, but have not or cannot or, past child-bearing years, will not. With them, I mourn. And honesty compels the admission that some mother-child relationships are difficult; characterized less by the fulfillment of childhood desire, no matter our age, for kindly nurturance and more by shattered expectations of its loss. With those mothers and their children, I mourn. And sometimes the loss is that most dreadful experience of the mother who outlives her child. So it was for my mother at the death of my brother twenty years ago. With those mothers whose children have died of affliction or infirmity, accident or calamity, be it the violence of the battlefield or, as is all too true of too many cities and towns, of the streets, or, as fills the news these latter days, at the hands of law enforcement, I mourn.

Yet as a child of God and a disciple of Jesus, I, amidst my mourning, hold fast to God’s love. For one of the most poignant, powerful biblical images of our loving God is a birthing mother. When God liberated the people Israel from Babylonian exile, bestowing new life in freedom, the prophet Isaiah declared: Thus saith the Lord, “for a time I have held my peace…Now, I cry out as a woman in labor! I gasp and pant!”[1]

So, I come back to relationships of love. For this is the heart of today’s epistle and gospel readings; both appropriate for our Eastertide-work of deepening our understanding of the resurrection of Jesus.

From the epistle: “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ,” the preeminent Easter proclamation, “has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent,” God, “loves the child,” all born of God. Relationships of love.

From the gospel: “As the Father,” God, “has loved me,” Jesus, “so I,” Jesus, “have loved you” (therefore) “abide,” remain, reside, live, be “in my love.” Again, relationships of love.

Yet these readings call us beyond our deeper understanding to our greater living of the resurrection of Jesus.

From the epistle: “By this we know that we love God’s children, when we love God and obey his commandments.” From the gospel: “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.”

Relationships of love, then, are not merely nice, even great ideas. Nor, notwithstanding the word “commandment”, demands.

No. Relationships of love are the truth of the nature of God, the essence of the universe, the ontology, the beingness of our human creatureliness, the way things not only are meant to be, but are! The Creator and creation and all creatures thereof and therein – not must, ought, should be, but – are bound together in relationships of love. In the words of the hymn: “Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Jesus’ love; The fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.”[2]

Now, God grants us free will. If, when we refuse to obey the commandment, we fail to fulfill, not some higher calling, but rather who we already are. When we choose to follow Jesus, loving one another as he loves us, we live his life, our life in him actualized, made manifestly real by his resurrection.

All this is theoria, the theory, the “what” and the “why” of our Easter-living. Now, for the praxis, the practice, the “how”; what it looks like as we be and become it, and do it. Many are the ways to describe “it”. I offer one. Living our love in relationship with the world. Last week, looking at Jesus as the vine and we, his branches, we focused on our bearing the fruit of his love. So what does our Easter-living bear in a world of contradiction, confrontation where love encounters hate in countless forms? One word. Hope.

Love revives the weary world’s heart of hope. Love – active benevolence that does good, unconditioned by another’s differences, unconstrained by one’s own preferences, even prejudices – as Paul declares, “bears, believes, hopes, endures all things (and) never ends.”[3]

As numerous as history’s horrors of the overshadowing of love, to name but three, South African apartheid, the Berlin Wall’s segregation of East and West, the never-ending strife in the Holy Land, also abundant are the evidences of love’s indefatigable power. Institutional bigotry in South Africa gave way to community through the hope of those freed from prison who chose to wield not the force of vengeance, rather the victory of faith and forgiveness. The wall fell, the Brandenburg Gates swung open with the hope of reunification of a people. And though the Holy Land remains rife with the threat of violence, organizations like Kids4Peace,[4] whose Executive Director, the Reverend Josh Thomas, a fellow Episcopal priest whose life and labor I greatly admire, bring together Israeli and Palestinian children in the hope that in meeting and knowing “the other” all will become sisters and brothers.

Love, God’s love in me, you, us bears hope. Yes, life in this world is laden with strife. Thus it has been, is, and will be. The enormity of which might compel the lifting of despairing hands. Yet you, St. Christopher’s, know this. We need not go across the sea or to far horizons to behold where our love bears the hope of healing the hungers and hurts of this world. Here in Spartanburg, you, in many ways, with school supplies in the fall for children, blankets in the winter to warm those who are cold, your connection with the Haven and your compassion for our sisters and brothers who are homeless, continue, in relationships of love, to reach out with hands and hearts of hope one person at a time.

In this, you are loving God and obeying his commandments. You are keeping Jesus’ commandments and abiding in his love. You are Easter-living. You are Easter-loving.

And to all this I say, amen, amen, and amen.

[1] Isaiah 42.14

[2] Lyrics by John Fawcett (c 1772), adapted

[3] 1 Corinthians 13.7-8a

[4] Kids4Peace, founded in Jerusalem in 2002, is an interfaith community of more than 1,800 Israeli, Palestinian and North American members laboring for a better future for Jewish, Christian, and Muslim youth through interfaith dialogue, community-building, leadership development, and nonviolent action.

2 thoughts on “relationships of love – a sermon for the 6th Sunday of Easter

  1. WOW!!! Paul this sermon really energized me! Easter Living and Easter Loving!! As a Step-Mom I’ve always felt I was called to Love and Guide, even if I hadn’t actually given birth to her. When you marry a man who has children, those children becomes yours as well. It can be so difficult to be a mom and you at times can question every decision you made.

    Whenever I doubt myself, I know that God loves me, even when I am not a great mom. I am thankful for all of my relationships with children who aren’t mine and I know they all love me.

    Sorry I couldn’t respond yesterday, Bryce Canyon doesn’t have cell phone coverage but you knew I’d read it eventually. Would have loved to have heard this in person on Mother’s Day!


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