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Monday, May 22, 2006

Transforming Love (Easter 6B Sermon)

The text of a sermon preached by the Rev. Jason A. Fout
in Selwyn College Chapel,
Easter 6B
Sunday, 21 May 2006.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

There is an old story about a husband and wife. One Sunday, the wife goes off to church, while the husband remains home. Later, upon the wife’s return, the husband asks “So what was the sermon about?” The wife responds “It was about sin.”

“Oh, what did the vicar have to say about sin?”

To which the wife replies “Well, as it turns out, he’s against it.”

Given the readings for this morning, and the gospel reading in particular, it would be fairly natural to assume that this morning I’m going to talk about love. And, yes, as it turns out, I’m for it.

But just what is love? A good deal of both ink and hot air are routinely expended on this topic. From popular music to movies to popular psychology to literature to poetry – especially the bad poetry we wrote as teenagers – there seems to be no end to our talk of love.

It also inspires a good deal of cynicism. As one wag wrote, “Love’s like the measles, we all have to go through it.”* Or consider Ambrose Bierce’s entry in the Devil’s Dictionary where he defines love as “a temporary insanity curable by marriage."**

But of course, we can only truly be cynical about those things which genuinely matter to us – those things which we cherish but have found to fall short of their promise or our expectation. So even the degree of satire surrounding the topic of love is testimony to its importance to us. Yet after we clear away the detritus of all the bad poetry and pop music, and all of our heartbreaks and disappointments and failures, we are still drawn inexorably to love.

So just what does this love look like?

Continue reading Transforming Love

As Christians contemplate love, we can’t talk about this in isolation from God. John the writer of the gospel sees at the heart of God a relationship of tenderness, intimacy, and profound love. In God, he sees the Father and the Son, each of whom gives selflessly and sacrificially to the other, so that at the heart of God there is a dynamic of giving, receiving, and giving again. So God is not merely high and mighty, remote and inaccessible. In the gospel of John we are given an opportunity to glimpse the depths of God as they open out to us and reveal the endlessly loving relationship of Father and Son.

And this isn’t just a static portrait of self-contained love. The love revealed in God is not inward looking and self-consumed, but displays an excess, an exuberant generosity which spills over to the creation. Father and Son both love the World deeply. Jesus says it this way: as the Father has loved me – that is, selflessly, generously – so I have loved you. The love within the depths of God does not remain sealed off and self-contained, but reaches out from the Father through the Son to us and to the World.

Of course, genuine love is expressed not merely in words but in action. Jesus says ‘no one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’, and this is just what he did on the cross. Or to use the more pointed language of the Apostle Paul, it was when we were ‘enemies’ of God and far off, that he drew near to us, so that we might be restored and reconciled to God. Again, here, we see the generous, selfless, sacrificial love that is at the heart of God, worked out sacrificially for the good of the World.

So we see love at the heart of God. And we see how that love reaches out generously, selflessly, graciously to the World, not merely in words but in action. The last thing to note this morning is that this love is so fruitful that it does not merely reach out to us, but transforms us. We’re not just to ‘see’ God’s love, or even to feel and enjoy God’s love for ourselves. It transforms us to love those around us, to love them with the love we have experienced from God. And it can make us see friends, where before we only saw strangers and enemies.

The early church experienced this, as we heard in the reading from Acts this morning. Peter and the other Jewish Christians were astounded to see that the Gentiles who were listening to them received the Holy Spirit as well. The love of God transformed Peter and the others so that instead of just seeing lost, sinful, benighted Gentiles, they could people beloved of God, being brought into God’s kingdom. People who they might have considered as strangers and enemies were suddenly seen as friends.

Or consider George Augustus Selwyn, dear to our hearts, since we are his namesake. He could very easily have remained in Britain, in relative ease and comfort, and awaited a rewarding position as bishop. In the event, he accepted the call to be bishop of the recently formed diocese of New Zealand, serving with great dedication. In his service, he did not limit himself to church affairs or the concerns of his fellow-countrymen, but vigourously took up defending the rights of the Maori people, native to that land. In disputes between natives and settlers, he sought to mediate between the two groups. In short, the love of God transformed Selwyn to see as friends those whom he might have considered strangers and enemies.

Or take Toyhitiko Kagawa. He was a Japanese Christian who, during the Second World War, risked his life time and again saving American servicemen who were shot down over Japan. He hid them and kept them alive by sharing his meager supply of food. “It wasn’t that he sided with the American cause; it was just that his Christianity compelled him to love even” his enemies, even “…those who were bombing and killing his friends and relatives.” He was eventually caught and tortured for his actions. We can see in what he did that the kind of generous, selfless love which comes from God is willing to take risks even for those who are enemies, and in this, even to bear pain, a pain not unlike the cross.

Here at Selwyn College, we’re not just training to gain a skill and get a job. More than that, we are being formed as people, to be who we are most deeply meant to be. As Christians, that means being transformed by the love of God: the love of the Father for the Son, which reaches out through the Son to us, and which transforms us to reach out and love the world with that same love.

Friends, this is our call: to be transformed and love the world with God’s love. But we are still growing in this. We’re not perfect at it – at any rate, I know I’m not. Sometimes, I’m pretty far away from this. But God doesn’t withdraw his love from us because we fail. He continues to love, generously, selflessly, continually calling us to the love he has for us and for the World.

That love might call us to do something extraordinary, like the bishop whose name our college bears. But for most of us, most of the time, this passionate, self-sacrificing love is meant to be born in us and thrive in us where we have already been called, with our friends and families, within our communities, within our professions. For there, as anywhere, the generous, selfless love of God can transform us to see others, who might at first seem strangers and enemies, as friends, beloved of God.

So there you have it, a sermon about love – and, yes, as it turns out, I’m in favour of it. But much more than that, so is God. Amen.

* in Jerome K. Jerome’s Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow, “On Being in Love” (1889)
** Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil’s Dictionary

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