“Adoption: Carrying the love”
A sermon given by the Rev. Clare L. Hickman on May 21, 2017
Texts: Acts 17:22-31 ; John 14:15-21
Clare L. Hickman
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Ferndale
May 21, 2017—Easter 6A
I will not leave you orphaned. I will not leave you desolate. I will not leave you. My love stays with you. All you need to do to obey my commandments is to love me. And how do you love me? By loving one another. And I will be with you, and in you, and between you. I will make that love possible, even when it seems impossible.
Some years ago, a very close friend of mine was having “that kind of day” with her kids. It came to a head in a fight that only ended when one of them picked up a cereal bowl and threw it at his brother. Conked him right in the head—nice little goose-egg bump, right above his eye.
So, once the frozen peas had done their work, she banished them outside. “Go dig your hole, and just leave me in peace.” (She’s the kind of mom, my kind of mom, who lets her kids dig a giant hole in the back yard). And my guess is she was fixing herself a well-deserved cocktail while the boys were out there, having a ball, sneaking the hose around the house to create the world’s biggest mudhole. I’m thinking you can imagine what those boys looked like when they came in … or rather, when they reached the threshold and were ordered to strip down before they even THOUGHT about coming in the house!
She was running the bath when she heard their giggles and turned around. Buck naked, those boys who were inflicting bodily harm on each other just hours before were walking into the bathroom back to back, sidestepping in perfect unison. “Look mom,” they proclaimed triumphantly, “we’re Siamese twins joined at the butt!”
And she was just amazed. Not surprised-amazed, at least not by their abrupt change from enemies to playmates (because, after all, that’s the nature of siblings), but awestruck-amazed. Awestruck by the bond, by these brothers she and her husband have created. Brought together from different families in different cities, not “real brothers” in the way that people mean when they ask the question, they are, undeniably, real brothers. “It can’t just have been my husband and me,” she says. “It really feels like there’s something larger than us here at work, creating this amazing thing.”
Funny thing: when you adopt, you get a lot of admiration for what a wonderful thing you’re doing. My friend talks about how people will go on and on about how her kids “are so lucky to have you!” “No,” she says, “we’re so lucky to have them!” “Yeah yeah, of course … but really, what an incredible thing you’re doing!”
Fact is, it is incredible. But then again, it’s not. It’s no more incredible that they are able to give these kids a home and love them than that any parents do the same for their kids. My friends’ adopted children are their children: the same package of joy and frustration and pride and terror and turn-you-inside-out love that any attentive parent can see in their children.
But the fact remains that the formation of their family (and just about any family formed by adoption) is a story of very deliberate love: of one or two people who loved enough to let go, and one or two who loved enough to enter into the story to take up and to hold on.
Jesus is getting ready to leave, but he promises his disciples: I will not leave you alone. I’m making an adoption plan; I’m going to send the Holy Spirit. Only he doesn’t call it the Spirit, he uses the word “Paraclete,” generally translated into English as comforter, or advocate, or counselor. (She’s either a blanket or a lawyer; we can’t quite seem to decide!) But in the Karre language of Equatorial Africa, the word translators chose was one locals used for an extra porter who traveled along in a caravan. You see, when someone was too weary to carry their load any further, this porter would take their burden and carry it for them. For these people, this idea of the extra porter became the paraclete: “the one [beside us when we fall down]” (Ian Coffey, More Perfect Illustrations for Every Topic and Occasion, Tyndale House Publishers, 2003, p. 132).
The one beside us when we fall down. The one who will carry our burdens when we realize that we cannot bear them alone. The one who will teach us how to love.
Because this love that Jesus calls us to, this one commandment he leaves us with, is not some amorphous kind of feeling. It is an active kind of thing, a “bend over and pick up that load and carry it” kind of thing. It is a love that does what it promises, a love that does, day in and day out: The love that holds the frozen peas to the swelling forehead. The love that sends the kids outside to play so that you won’t throttle them. The love that runs the bath.
It is a love that does. A love that gets down on its knees and washes feet, even when it doesn’t feel like it. Perhaps especially when it doesn’t feel like it! I must say I wonder how Jesus was feeling about Judas at the Last Supper … maybe he was beginning to regret all that fancy talk about “love your enemies”! Maybe he whipped out that towel because he knew that if he started talking, well, he might just let loose. So he knelt down, and he washed their feet. He washed Judas’ feet. And later, he kind of gritted his teeth, and gave him a piece of bread. Love is hard.
One of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott, writes about this kind of thing all the time. About how insanely difficult it can be to love one another. And since you aren’t Jesus, you might occasionally need to put that burden down and ask the Spirit, the extra porter, to carry it for you.
In her book Traveling Mercies, she describes her failed efforts to love another of the mothers in her son’s elementary school. One of those “show-offy” mothers who had thighs that looked good in bicycle shorts, and always read the notes that came home from school, so she knew “special things” like the fact that school got out an hour early on Wednesdays. When the woman sweetly offered to teach her how the classroom worked, Lamott admits that she thought such awful things about her that they’d make Jesus want to drink gin straight out of the cat dish.
She prayed about it. She knew she couldn’t do it alone. She wrote the woman’s name on a slip of paper and put it in the box she uses as God’s in-box. “Help,” she said.
There was no noticeable change for a while. She would try, but then the woman would do something terrible like ask whether Lamott had baked cupcakes for the party, or express concern that Lamott’s son was having a hard time reading (the woman’s son, of course, was an early reader). So Lamott went back to the God box, took out the piece of paper and put an exclamation point after the woman’s name. Then for good measure, she put another.
It came to a head for her when she was dropping her son off for a playdate with the woman’s son. Invited to stay for a cup of tea, Lamott forced down her urge to bolt and said, “Well…okay.” The visit was not magical; they sat and made awkward conversation. But then, as she bent to pick up her son’s shoes to go, Lamott found herself sneaking a look into his friend’s sneakers, just to see how they measured up … and that was when the veil dropped for her. She realized that the competitiveness and the nastiness and the loathing … they were all inside her. She had been trying to get the woman to carry it for her because it hurt too much to carry it herself.
She felt like kissing the woman on both cheeks. She didn’t, but she smiled, and then happily accepted the fresh Danish coming out of the oven. And like a gift from above, she remembered that pretty much whatever you send out into the world will be reflected back to you (130-137).
The Spirit will help us to love one another. It will help us to carry that burden of love, and in doing so, will allow us to begin to bear each other’s burdens. So that we will not be left orphaned, or desolate, or comfortless: None of us. So that we will know ourselves to have been adopted into this huge, incredible family. Bonded together in ways that surpass our human understanding. So that it will flow over us like the tide, and like my friend, we will know that there is something larger than us at work here, joining us together… like Siamese twins, joined at the butt! May it be so. Amen.