Notes for a More Coherent Sermon—Radical Love

NOTES FOR A MORE COHERENT SERMON:
10:00 a.m.., July 12, 2009
St. Andrew’s Old Catholic Church
Small Meeting Room, 138 Pears Ave.
Toronto

1st Lesson: Romans 6:3 – 11
Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin.
Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Gospel: Luke 6: 27 – 36
But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you. And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloak forbid not to take thy coat also. Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again.  And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.
For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them. And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same. And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.

SERMON PROPER BEGINS

Rain has two natures—the gentle nurturing life giving force and the transforming storm. Both natures are essential within creation, but we often only welcome the former and seek to avoid the latter. Rain is never weak and however
it is experienced, something new can always come to life through its presence.

Love is similar. We think of love as something mystical and transcendent. But we also know that love can be overwhelming and rooted in the most radical expressions of humanity. It comes into our lives and something happens that we don’t always expect or that we can easily control.

No matter how love comes into our lives, we know that love is not weak. It is not without risks. Love isn’t an excuse for turning away from life but rather impels one towards the chance for transformation. We know from what happens in our personal lives that love motivates us to do things for others that encourages transformations. We finding ourselves expressing love in the hope that change will occur—we take friends to A.A. meetings; we coerce our children to go to school; we take risks because of love, we hope for miracles in the lives of those we care for because of love. Some of these risks are very personal; some of these risks are taken for those that seem to be denied their share of the gifts of the creation.

We can find it hard enough to love those we feel an obligation to love. We leave ourselves vulnerable every time we open ourselves up to someone. Today’s gospel tells us that to be faithful to our calling we need to go beyond our immediate circle to express our compassion. The reading from Luke’s gospel we hear today tells us to love our enemies, to do good just because it is the right thing to do. And this calling isn’t made in isolation—it was first heard by people living under foreign occupation, struggling for survival in difficult times. People were seeking guidance from any source on how to live a good life in difficult times and how to change the social and political world they inhabited.

There were people calling for a return to Puritanism; some called for a violent response directed at those too closely aligned with the occupiers. Others called for withdrawal from daily lives into cloistered, inward looking gated communities. And there was a voice calling for something difference—love and respect in the home and towards everyone within creation. There was a voice stating that love for your neighbour started with love for one’s self and that your neighbour included those close to you and those distant—either in space or in power. There was a voice calling for something truly radical—love expressed in all aspects of life from the most private to the most communal. It was not a call for meekness, weakness or passivity but a call for strength, creativity and hope.

I found the passage from Luke had a different meaning for me after reading Walter Wink’s response to the passage:

Something seems terribly wrong here. Turn the other cheek sounds like supine cowardice, the refusal to confront someone who is doing evil. It’s being a doormat for Jesus. It strikes many as suicidal, as an invitation to let someone wipe up the floor with us. Battered women have all too often been told by their pastors that the Bible requires them to turn the other cheek when they are being pulverized by their husbands or lovers.

I think I realized that there was something else going on in the passage about “Turn the other cheek” when I did an imaginative “blocking” of the text (blocking is something actors do to a scene — it’s a diagram where they would stand and move). The full text reads “But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” For most people to strike you on the right cheek, they must use the back of their hand — the way a master would hit a slave or an oppressed person. To turn the other cheek is to invite that person to strike you as an equal. This passage is not about becoming more passive — but a challenge to the system.”

Loving your enemy doesn’t mean accepting their behaviour or changing yours. It can mean standing firm in one’s
dignity and seeking to change your opponents understanding of themselves and their actions. Wink reminds us of the possibility for transformation even in the midst of conflict. We are responsible for our behaviour which changes the dynamics of the relationship. We show our love by responding creatively and thoughtfully to the needs of the moment—in proposing marriage, in feeding the hungry, in sitting in a hospital emergency ward in persistently acting as if both you and your opponent are equal in the sight and love of God.
Living out a radical understanding of God is not always easy, not always safe and certainly not always certain. We never know how the seeds we plant will grow. We can only be confident that living a life deeply rooted in love will change ourselves and those in the world around us.
We see most clearly see love in our world in two interwoven spheres—the communal effort to care for one another, the justice seeking movements; and in the living out of love in the day to day realities of marriage.
Archbishop Romero talked most eloquently about the first sphere:

“Those who surrender to the service of the poor through love of Christ, will live like the grains of wheat that dies. It only apparently dies. If it were not to die, it would remain a solitary grain. The harvest comes because of the grain that dies We know that every effort to improve society, above all when society is so full of injustice and sin, is an effort that God blesses; that God wants; that God demands of us”.

Dorothy Day helps us to weave together the larger world of practical love and daily expressions of love:

“Whenever I groan within myself and think how hard it is to keep writing about love in these times of tension and strife which may, at any moment, become for us all a time of terror, I think to myself: what else is the world interested in? What else do we all want, each one of us, except to love and be loved, in our families, in our work, in all our relationships? God is Love. Love casts out fear. Even the most ardent revolutionist, seeking to change the world, to overturn the tables of the money changers, is trying to make a world where it is easier for people to love, to stand in that relationship to each other. We want with all our hearts to love, to be loved. And not just in the family, but to look upon all as our mothers, sisters, brothers, children. It is when we love the most intensely and most humanly that we can recognize how tepid is our love for others. The keenness and intensity of love brings with it suffering, of course, but joy, too, because it is a foretaste of heaven. When you love people, you see all the good in them. There can never be enough thinking about it. St. John of the Cross said that where there was no love, put love out and you would draw love out. “

Bill Moyers helps to bring the ideal of radical, faith based love into our homes:

“…In marriage, everyday you love,
and everyday you forgive.
It is an ongoing sacrament, love and forgiveness.”

We are called to this active love and seek to live it out not because of the hope for any immediate reward but because it is the right thing to do. In all times and in all places we are given an opportunity to live in harmony with the divine will by reflecting divine love in what we do. We may be called to do this in grand ways or quiet ways, in the public sphere or in our homes. But we are all called to show love. Just as radically, as Luke tells us, we are to expect love.

We evangelise most effectively by living with the expectation that everyone we come into contact with is capable of transforming, of become open to all the possibilities within creation. We nurture or children with this understanding and hope; Jesus asks us to go forth into the world and nurture even our opponents with hope and love, setting forth the seeds of a just and peaceable society. It may at times seem overwhelming—our friends may have heavy demons; our nation may be glorifying violence—but love ultimately will find a way of growing providing we plant the seed.

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