“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
I speak with you in the name of God who loves, Christ the Lover, and the ever loving Holy Spirit. Amen!
On December the 27th, 2002, I climbed on a chartered bus in Indianapolis, Indiana with a bunch of college students to attend Celebrate IV, the ecumenical gathering of Christian college students in Albuquerque, NM. Now I should confess that I was probably a little too old to be on this trip. I already had both my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, and was a semester into seminary. But I wanted one last road trip; one last chance to soak in the fellowship and love of some the closest friends I’ve ever had. So I got on the bus.
To my pleasant surprise, there was an old friend on the bus. I was excited to see this friend, in part because this friend was too old to be on this trip as well and was also a semester into seminary. We knew each other because we had been camp counselors together. We worked for the same camp company, but had different assignments. I traveled to different towns each week running Vacation Bibles Schools that we called day camps, while my friend did what those of us in the business call resident camp—cabins and sleeping bags, campfires and s’mores. On the weekends, my staff was housed at my friend’s resident camp. My friend and I, in our half a moment off between camps, would often catch lunch at Wendy’s—fine dining on a camp counselor salary. I had moved away and not worked camp the previous summer. Consequently, I had lost touch with my friend. So, I was excited to see that Jodie was on the bus that day.
Jodie and I talked a lot on that long bus ride to Albuquerque, and by the end of it we were both wondering what was going on between us even if at that moment we wouldn’t admit it to each other. Celebrate IV was an amazing conference, and Jodie and I spent most of it together. We heard outstanding speakers like Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat for Humanity. We reveled in the fellowship of our long time friends, and made new ones as well. We explored downtown Albuquerque where we discovered that I look really good in pink hats and neither of us is fond of animal heads as a decorative device. We worshiped together; we prayed together; and we even had bible study together. Then we got back on the bus.
On the ride back, we talked a lot more both with each other and with our friends on the bus. What we didn’t talk about was what would happen when I got off the bus and eventually went back to seminary in New York while Jodie continued to teach middle school and go to seminary part time in Ohio. What we would have never talked about in that moment, but what everyone around us could have told you, was that Jodie and I had started to fall in love. This was a blessed Easter time in my life; a time of growth into something new that led to Jodie and me getting married.
Now, I had loved before and been loved before. Not just romantically either, but I was fortunate to have been loved by my parents, by my siblings, by church folk of all stripes, and even by my pets. All of those loves were sacred. All of those loves formed me, bettered me, and brought me closer to God. But this love that I was falling into with Jodie I bring up today, not because romantic love is somehow greater than other types of love, but because this love taught me a particular lesson about God; a lesson about the degree to which God Loves us.
See, this woman loves me. This smart, vibrant, gracious woman loves me like no other. This beautiful, caring woman was willing to give up job and family, friends and community to move, not just to New York City, but also to Omaha, NE; two places she never thought about a whole lot, much less considered living. She was willing to move, to change just to be with me. This wonderful creature of God, this embodiment of all that is good in the world, looks at me and sees something valuable. She looks at me and sees something worthy; something that motivates her to bind her life to mine so that we form a new life together. Though this boggles my mind why anyone would want to do that with me, it is not the truly amazing thing.
The truly amazing thing is not that she loves me or the degree to which she loves me. The truly amazing thing is that no matter how much she loves me, God loves me more. As awed as I am that someone as beautiful and intelligent as my wife would want to be with me, I am awed even more that God—whose word, the psalmist says today, caused all things to be made—wants to be with me. This God who is behind the creation and the existence of the universe loves me. This God that has the power as Isaiah says to command all the heavenly hosts cares about little old me. This God, who is and was and ever will be, cares about every single moment of the short time I have on earth. This God, who Isaiah says formed the earth not as chaos, but so that it can be inhabited, this God that can handle the delicate relationships between stars and planets, time and distance so that life can exist, is willing to enter into a relationship with me who can’t be nice to anyone before my morning coffee.
Now, I don’t care who you are, that’s Good news. It is good to know that God loves us more than we can imagine. It is good for us to reflect on our lives, to remember the times when we have felt most loved by someone or something, or felt the most the love for someone or something. It is good to immerse ourselves in that Love, to soak in every drop of that grace and affection we give and get. And when we have meditated on these loves, when we have contemplated the ultimate limit of these loves, it is good for us to realize that God loves us more.
The limitless love of God can save our souls. It can get us out of bed in the morning and get us through the day. It can bring us out of the pit of despair for us to see hope in the world. It can also humble us, as Isaiah points out today, when we are on top of the world and think we are in charge. The love of God is, has been, and always will be, what its all about.
But, I should warn you about something. See, the love of God is transforming as well. It will change us. The ways for us to be changed by the love of God are infinite, and, I would never claim complete knowledge of how God will change us. However, I can speak with certainty about one particular way. See, it is a matter of fact that love is tied to justice. The writer of 1 John writes that it is impossible for us to love an unseen God if we fail to love our brothers and sisters around us. Jesus takes it even a step further. He commands us in the Gospel, in the good news for today, to love one another the way he loves us, willing to sacrifice personal comfort, privilege, even his life for another.
See, when we start to realize just how much God loves us, when we just barely begin to comprehend the care of the creator, we start asking questions. We start questioning the behavior of community, our city, our state, nation, and world. We wonder why some get privileges others to do not. We wonder why some get more access to the powers that be while others do not. We wonder why some can seemingly buy there way around the law, while others can not even afford competent, fair representation. We wonder why the love of some couples is recognized by both church and state, while the love of others is vilified. We wonder why our stomachs are full while 30,000 people die daily from starvation. We wonder why some die at our hands while others live. We wonder if there will ever be justice.
I recently heard a wise man reflect on a quote of Martin Luther King Jr. King once said that the “arm of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” This wise man added that the arm bends when we reach up and grab it. See, for a long time God has worked through people. Whether it was Abraham and Sarah who were called to give birth to a people, Moses who was called to found a nation, the prophet who called that nation to account, Cyrus who was called to redeem Israel from captivity, Mary who was to give birth to and raise the messiah, or Jesus Christ who came and died for us all, God works through people. Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said it best, “Without God, we can’t…Without us God won’t.”
The calling today is simple: Get on the Bus. Reflect on love, feel the love of God. Contemplate the limitless nature of God’s love for you. Meditate on the grace that is this creation. Then, start asking questions, and finally, be the answer. Amen!