By the Very Rev. Sherry Crompton
May 6, 2007
Read: John 13:31-35
Love. Today’s readings are mystica…Peter’s vision about food and the Holy Spirit. The psalm that glorifies God’s great creation. John’s vision from the book of Revelation of a new reality. All things are being made new. “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life”. And John’s gospel where Jesus speaks of being glorified and gives us the new commandment, that we love one another. Jesus says, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Wow! How difficult is that? Anytime you get a group of people together, there will be disagreements, there will be friction, there will be personality clashes, there will be problems. It would have been easier if Jesus suggested that we love one another, but he commanded it. It seems unrealistic for him to command us to love one another.
There is a peanuts cartoon where Lucy says to Charlie Brown: “You know what I don’t understand? I don’t understand love!” She says, “Explain love to me, Charlie Brown” He says, “You can’t explain love. I can recommend a book or a poem or a painting, but I can’t explain love.” She says, “Well, try, Charlie Brown, try.” So Charlie says, “Well, let’s say I see this beautiful, cute little girl walk by.” Lucy interrupts–“Why does she have to be cute? Huh? Why can’t someone fall in love with someone with freckles and a big nose? Explain that!” Charlie says, “Well, maybe you’re right. Let’s just say I see this girl walk by with this great big nose…” Lucy shouts, “I didn’t say GREAT BIG NOSE.” And Charlie, admitting defeat, says, “Not only can you not explain love–you can’t even talk about it.”
Love isn’t easy. It isn’t easy to get it right. In another Peanuts cartoon, Lucy is talking to Schroeder, who is highly focused on playing his piano. Ignoring his concentration, Lucy says, “Schroeder, do you know what love is?” Schroeder stops his practicing, stands to attention, and in very somber, straightforward tones says: Love: a Noun, to be fond of; a strong affection for or attachment or devotion to a person or persons.
Then he quickly reassumes his position over the keyboard. Lucy gazes into space. Then she says, “On paper, he’s great.”
Isn’t that true of most of us? On paper, we’re great! But in real life we have bad breath. In real life, we say the wrong thing. In real life, we blow up over nothing at all.
And Jesus comes into this very messy picture saying, “I give you a new commandment that you love one another.”
Depends what Jesus means by love, doesn’t it? After all, the word love is used in many different ways, to describe different kinds of love. Henri Nouwen writes, “Often we speak about love as if it were a feeling…but our loving cannot be based on that feeling…. Mostly we know what the loving thing to do is.”
In one of his very last books, the profound English scholar, C.S. Lewis examines all the famous Greek words for the concept of love and then concludes that at the bottom they come down to one seminal distinction: the difference between what he calls “need love” and “gift love.”
Need love, Lewis says, is born of emptiness. It is basically inquisitive to the core. A need lover sees in every beloved object or person a value that he or she covets to possess. Need love moves out greedily to grasp and to appropriate for itself. If one were to diagram it, need love is always circular, reaching out to the beloved to transfer value back to itself. In a popular image, need love sucks essence out of another and into itself. It does not take exceptional imagination, Lewis contends, to acknowledge that many times when we humans say to another, “I love you,” what we are really meaning is, “I need you, I want you. You have a value that I very much desire to make my own, no matter what the consequence may be to you.”
Now over against this graphic image, Lewis contends there is another reality that is utterly different. It is what he calls gift love. Instead of being born of emptiness or lack, this form of loving is born of fullness. The goal of gift love is to enrich and enhance the beloved rather than to extract value. Gift love is like an arc, not a circle. It moves out to bless and to increase rather to acquire or to diminish. Gift love is more like a bountiful, artesian well that continues to overflow than a vacuum or a black hole. Lewis concludes this contrast by saying that the uniqueness of the biblical vision of reality is that God’s love is gift love, not need love. And then he says, “We humans are made in the image of such everlasting and unconditional love.” Lewis’ depiction of gift love really is the foundation stone of the way St. Augustine describes the way Jesus loved. And the great good news for everyone of us to hear today is not only that we are loved by God in this marvelous way, but also that this is our deepest identity as well and is a way we can choose to live our lives.
One evening an Old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, “My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego. The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.” The grandson thought about it for minute and then asked, “Which wolf wins?” The old Cherokee simply replied, “the one you feed.”
Frederick Buechner, a Christian author, tells of walking down a New York City street. Near Columbus Circle, he walked past a middle-aged black woman. As they passed, she smiled at Buechner and said, “Jesus loves you!”
She said it in the same tone most of use to say “Good morning!”. She caught Buechner off-guard. When he realized what she had said, he wanted to respond. He wanted to thank her. He wanted to say, “Hey! Jesus loves you too!”. But, by the time he recovered, she was gone. But that wasn’t the end of the story. Buechner says: “For the rest of the way I was going, the streets I walked on were paved with gold. Nothing was different. Everything was different. The city was transfigured. I was transfigured. It was a new New York….for a moment t was not the world as it is that I saw, but the world as it might be.”
Our opening collect this morning asks God to grant us “so perfectly to know Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life.” Grant us the grace to feed the spark of Goodness within us, to love as Christ commanded us to love, with a gift love. May we drink from the spring of the water of life and see our life in new and different ways. Amen.
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