"Love is the end game"
Clare L. Hickman
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Ferndale
May 6, 2018—Easter 6B
Acts 10:44-48; 1 John 5:1-6; John 15:9-17
Our texts today overflow with generosity, pouring out even (as Acts puts it) on the Gentiles. At the time, that was us. Now, it means whoever it is we think God isn’t or shouldn’t be blessing. But regardless of our opinion, the Holy Spirit flows out, falling on the most unexpected people. Filling them with God’s power and love. Inspiring them to ask, “Is there any reason we shouldn’t be baptized?” Inspiring Peter (that is to say, us) to respond, “Of course we shouldn’t deny that to anyone!”
It is an image of generous, abundant joy. It is a reminder that the core of Christianity, the defining character of Jesus’ life and mission, lies in taking a system that had hoarded God’s favor and breaking it wide open. At the beginning, the point was expansiveness. The point was that the good news could be offered to anyone, not just a particular group of people. The point was to take the gospel out with joy, and offer it to everyone. Why? Not to avoid some deadly consequence, but because it is life-giving! It is life-giving.
What is there to stop us? There is nothing to stop us. Nothing other than our timidity, and our fear of how momentous the whole thing is. Because it is momentous. The gospel is good news, but it is not tame news. It is not “everything will be okay, and your life will be great” news. It is news with roots in “Do this and others may wish to kill you.” It is news that recognizes you might be disowned by your family. It is news that admits you will have to give up wealth and social standing and basic security.
This is the gift that we have to offer others, and that we ourselves struggle to accept. Sometimes (to quote Luke 11) it feels as though we are the ones who asked for a fish and were given a snake! Honestly, we might have preferred something easier…
But then again, the gift of life is rarely easy. Birth comes hard, and spiritual birth and rebirth are no different.
The reward is worth it. The reward, according to John, is nothing less than the ability to love. Do this, he says. Do all the things I have commanded. Do them, because that will enable you to truly love one another.
We often understand the commandment to be “love one another,” and then we see the actions of Jesus (exemplified by washing the disciples’ feet) as the blueprint for love. But D. Mark Davis takes that one step further to argue that the Greek might just as well say: These are my commandments. Do them, in order that you might love one another.[i] Which is useful. Because any parent can tell you that ordering your children to love one another is a pretty futile thing. Love cannot be commanded. But it can be built. It can be reinforced, over time, by specific actions. Those can be commanded.
Do these things, Jesus says. Wash each other’s feet, as a guiding example. Start with serving each other, and then take a spin through all the rest of it. Heal the sick. Feed the hungry. Love your enemies (start by praying for them). Surrender the advantages of wealth and status. Eat with everyone: rich and poor, powerful and outcast, sinner and … other sinner.
Do this. Obey my commandments. Why? So that you might be able to love one another. Loving one another is the goal. Loving one another is the purpose. Loving one another is the end game.
The ability to do this (hell, the willingness to do this) is probably what we should be asking God for, in Jesus’ name. In fact, I think it might be the only truly legitimate thing we can ask for in Jesus’ name: the will and strength to participate in his saving mission. That IS his name, after all; literally, “He saves”!
Now, that doesn’t mean we can’t ask God for all sorts of things. We can still pray for ourselves, for our loved ones, and for this beautiful, fragile creation. We can offer our hopes and fears up to God, allowing God to know our innermost hearts. And we will be heard. We will be known. We will be strengthened to face what is to come.
But the promise here, when Jesus says, “the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name” (John 15:16b), comes in a very specific context: that of the community (the “you” is plural) bearing fruit. And how do we bear fruit? By following his commandments. How do we follow his commandments? Well, we might just need to ask God for the strength, the power, and the will to do that.
THIS is the promise: that God will give us that will and that power if we ask for it. The will and the power to serve. The compassion and humility to pray for our enemies. The courage to set aside our wealth and status. The desire to put ourselves in God’s hands, alongside and equal to all of God’s creation.
If we do this. If we give ourselves this way. We will finally, finally be able to truly love one another.
These are the kind of things we can learn from the folks at Mariner’s Inn. Not just the staff, but the guests too. Those who have admitted their need for help. Those who have opened themselves up to their need for God. Those who yearn so deeply for Salvation that they are crazy enough to ask to be part of it, knowing that God will give all that can be given.
This is gospel work, work that cannot be done without the willingness to set aside all worldly glory and serve each other. Heal each another. Feed each another. Work that cannot be done without recognizing that we all need feeding, all need healing. Work that will transform us with the understanding that we are all, equally, children of God. This is the work. Which means that the work, in the end, is learning how to love one another.
Ask God, so that you might be able to do this. Do this, so that you might be able to love. Love, so that you might dwell in God, and God might dwell in you. Let God dwell in you, so that you might be able to do this. And around, and around, and around. This, my friends, will be our salvation. May it be so. Amen.