Our Gospel reading this morning lays bare the bedrock of our faith – and it is LOVE. “This is my commandment: that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12) “God is love.” (I John 4:8) “God so loved the world.” (John 3:16) If you remember nothing else remember this: God is love. Upon this, everything about our faith is based. Out of love God creates because of God loves beauty and color and complexity. Out of love God makes every human being in the divine image and likeness. Out of love God forgives. Out of love God exits. God commanded love to BE and it was and is and is to be.
If someone asks you what is the core of Christian belief – it begins and ends with love. Jesus becomes real to us as the expression of God’s LOVE for the world and everything in it.
God loves me. God loves you. And that God loves this mixed up, crazy world is beyond my ken, this crazy little thing called love. I don’t know if I am worthy of it. George Herbert writes of this divine love and of our human tendency not to want to accept it:
LOVE bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack’d anything.
‘A guest,’ I answer’d, ‘worthy to be here:’
Love said, ‘You shall be he.’
‘I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on Thee.’
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
‘Who made the eyes but I?’
‘Truth, Lord; but I have marr’d them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.’
‘And know you not,’ says Love, ‘Who bore the blame?’
‘My dear, then I will serve.’
‘You must sit down,’ says Love, ‘and taste my meat.’
So I did sit and eat.
Jesus is the quick-eyed love that beckons you and me to the table. But we are so aware of feeling judged and so quick to point out the unworthiness of others that we become more righteous than God, more judgmental than Jesus, more narrow and closed than we have any right to be. This bedrock of love judges all our judging and invites us to “let it go.” Love as the paradigm through which we look at our world is fundamental to freedom.
There is a story about a Christian minister living abroad during World War II. His congregation sent him money so that he could return home for Christmas. But the pastor didn’t come home for Christmas. When asked in a letter why he didn’t return, the pastor answered “I used the money to help a group of Jews escape Hitler’s death camps and flee to safety.” “But they are not even Christian,” wrote a member of his home congregation. “Yes, I know,” he responds, “But I am.”
This story lifts up the truth that all religions have two types of people – the tribal and the transcendent. The tribal type sees in the particular narratives of their tradition, a “narrowing of concern and therefore care only about the people who look like them, talk like them, and pray like them.” And I would add that the concern of this tribal lot is to make others like them – they have the narrow truth, and at the end of the day, the love of God is narrowed to “our way” or the high way. There can be no compromise.
Then there is the transcendent type of believer. They see in the same narratives a universalizing of care, and therefore focus their energies on all people, especially groups most in need, regardless of creed. (Eboo Patel)
Which type are you? Which do you want to be like?
I want to be transcendent. It is biblical. St. Paul cared about personal ethics and life styles – but his gospel is grounded on the fundamental truth that “In Christ Jesus there is no distinction – no Jew or Greek, no Slave or Free, no man or woman.” When Paul writes that God was in Christ reconciling the whole WORLD and everything in it he expresses his transcendent faith. When you read Paul ALWAYS read the particular through the transcendent. It opens up everything. There was no one more transcendent than Jesus Christ, for whom no one was unworthy of divine appreciation, hospitality and passion.
The tribal Christian will say – and will find verses in the Bible – that God’s love is for all, but really only those who can say the right words, or point to a moment in time, will ever receive salvation, for God’s love ends as the last breath escapes from a dying soul and if there has not been a conversion, well then all is lost. It is really not about love but judgment; passing the test; the right answer and doing the right thing is paramount. Inevitably there is an inner group and an outer group.
The transcendent Christian, shaped by the transformative love of Jesus Christ, is not concerned about the inner group and outer group. It is without judgment that we enter the fray of the world and “bear fruit,” just like that minister in Germany. We witness because we are followers of Jesus and the world needs our love and concern.
I love the verse of Edwin Markham – what do you think he is: tribal or transcendent?
“He drew a circle, that shut me out – //‘heretic, rebel, a thing to flout
But love and I had the will to win //We drew a circle that took him in.”
The love that is ours in Jesus Christ, the love that was witnessed to on the cross – was not to protect us from God’s wrath but to show how far God’s arms could spread to take up the whole world – sinner and saved – even you – in love!
This transcendent faith is the faith that we go into the world with. It shapes everything we do – it is why we are concerned about the homeless on the streets of our city – because they are beloved children of God. It is why we protest the injustice and speak out against racism, and all the -isms – because those are tribal concerns and we want to build a family. We want to shape a community that looks somewhat like our largest vision of what the kingdom of God looks like. It is why we go to Haiti! It is why we do church.
The love that drives us is not some mushy, esoteric, lovey-dovey emotion, for true love is always concerned with the particular and not with the general, with someTHING, or rather someBODY, not anything or just anybody. We can’t be like Lucy van Pelt in the old Peanuts comic strip who once said: “I love mankind, its people I can’t stand!” I feel that way – but the love of Jesus Christ commands me to have my universal care particularlized. Love is particularlized – and that is absolutely an expression of Christian faith – God so LOVED the world that he sent JESUS – flesh and blood for you and me and everyone else too.
You see, for the Christian, love is not “consolation.” “It is light.” (Simone Weil, the French philosopher and Christian mystic and social activist). Weil is right, the love of God expressed in Jesus Christ lights the way and illumines the path. Our job is not to convert; it is to show transcendental care. There are no boundaries. Just make sure to tell people that this is Jesus love, Christian love.
“One man caught on a barbed wire fence,
one man he resist,
one man washed up on an empty beach,
one man betrayed with a kiss…
In the name of love,
what more in the name of love.
Early morning, April four
shot rang out in the Memphis sky.
Free at last, they took your life
they could not take your pride.
In the name of love,
what more in the name of love.” -Bono of U2 sings that.
The transcendent love of Jesus Christ is costly – it will call you to take up your cross – it will lead you down paths you did not know existed, down alleyways that you had never been down before – but love will show the way, God’s love in Jesus Christ will show the way.
Let me close with a final story of the reaction of non-Christians to Christians in the first century of the common era. Christians were recognized during times of pestilence for staying and caring and not running and thereby carrying the plague to another village. So impressed with the way Christians cared for one another a pagan wrote: “See how they love each other.”
It is the Love of Jesus Christ that will move you from narrow to broad, from guilt to acceptance, from fear to joy, from suspicion to trust.
All in the name of Love.