Monday, May 26, 2014

Sermon: Love Matters

Sermon for May 25, 2014
Sixth Sunday of Easter
The Rev. Vicki K. Hesse
St. Philip’s In The Hills Parish, Tucson, AZ
John 14:15-31

Lord, Open our lips
That our mouth shall proclaim your praise.  Amen

Memorial Day. 
A time to acknowledge those we have lost to war.

More recently, it has become a time to remember
any family members
ur mouth shall proclaim your praise.  Amenloving one another as God loves you.  an  next few weeks.  , the Holy Spirit, in yourwho have died,
placing wreathes on gravesides
or flowers in the columbarium. 
some recognize all who have fought and sacrificed,
including those who have lost limbs
or returned from their service with PTSD. 
On Memorial Day we also notice that there are
other kinds of losses we face every day. 

We may have lost (or in process of losing)     
someone to Alzheimer’s. 
or lost someone in a divorce or break-up. 
or lost colleagues from changing jobs
or moving to a new one. 
…a friend that is moving across the country. 
…a diagnosis that threatens independent living. 
…visiting family members - upset our daily routines. 

All these losses,
even ones that were necessary or positive,
are transitions –
they are difficult and worthy of acknowledgement. [1]

As a culture, we tend not to talk about loss. 
We tend to “put on a happy face.” 
That is why one of my friends calls Facebook
“Façade Book.” 

Losses challenge our American optimism,
strain our emotional resources
and leave us feeling isolated. 
So today, in this community of hope,
we can admit loss as a difficult part
of human existence. 
Without shame or stigma,
we can reach out to each other today
with comfort, care and solidarity. 

The Gospel reading today
offers a portion of Jesus’ “farewell discourse.” 
It’s a big loss for his followers.

In John’s Gospel, it is Thursday evening,
before the crucifixion. 
After Jesus shared a meal and
washed the disciples’ feet,
he prepared them for his departure,
by saying his farewells. 

He had just given them a new commandment,
“…that you love one another. 
Just as I have loved you,
you also should love one another.”[2]

He appealed to his followers
to embrace the way he lived
and to make this the goal for their lives:
to love one another as he loved them. 
He tried to prepare them for his departure,
but they were distressed. 
This impending loss distracted them.

That’s what the threat of loss does –
it shakes up our sense of safety and security. 
Haven’t we all had an experience
where we get the phone call
about something that happened
and instantly our tolerance for small talk
goes out the window? 
We clear the calendar
and we know, in our bones, what we have to do. 

So it was with Jesus. 
Moving toward the close of his earthly ministry,
his priority was clear. 
Tell his followers about God’s love
Assure them that God would accompany them
through “Another Advocate”
- Jesus was the first Advocate,
who came along side his followers
so that they might
know and see the otherwise invisible God. 

Yet, they were distracted. 
Distracted by the threat of loss,
by the surrounding Roman Empire,
by the imperial soldiers standing outside the doors,
by the images of Emperor on walls and bridges.  
Their souls were parched and they were distracted. 

As we listen to this sacred text today,
nearing the end of the Easter season,
Jesus prepares us for his departure. 

At an archetypal spiritual level,
his departure distresses us. 
It shakes up our sense of safety and security. 
Perhaps the losses in our own lives distract us. 

We are surrounded by consumer-oriented values
and bombarded by advertising agents
through TV and computers.  
The temptations of quick gratification
offer weak ties
that shift our attention
away from deep, meaningful relationships.      

We are distracted
by catastrophes for which we cannot help. 
It seems that God is completely absent. 
We sometimes believe that our lives depend upon
our own strength, our own individual power. 
Our souls are parched and we are distracted.
It’s just as hard for us to grasp as it was for his early followers.

even in the midst of distractions,
 Jesus offered his followers
unwavering, loyal, persistent love. 
Jesus promised Another “Advocate”
to be with his followers forever,
empowering them
to live that contradictory way of life shaped by love. 

Jesus’ promise and his claim:
Was focused and simple, but not easy:
Love Matters. 
In his life and his ministry,
Jesus spread a “contagion of genuine love”
that formed a community of hope. 

In that hopeful community,
the followers began to wonder. 
They dared to believe
that the strength of the love that Jesus embodied
was more real and more truthful than
the subjugation and humiliations of the Roman rule. 

Through the Advocate,
his followers found the boldness
to recognize in the “other”
someone whom God also loved
and called them to love. 
His followers found the strength and ability
to keep the commandment
to love one another as he loved them. 

Even in the midst our distractions,
Jesus offers us unwavering love. 

Jesus assures us that we will not be alone
as we try
to live that contradictory way of life shaped by love. 

The Advocate infects us, too,
with a contagion of love that has formed
this community here. 
This community, sustained by the Holy Spirit,
reveals to us God’s love
as both the source and the goal of our lives. 

One author beautifully captured
the expansive nature of love
when she wrote:

“People always say that
when you love someone, nothing in the world matters.

But that's not true, is it?
You know, and I know,
that when you love someone,
everything in the world matters a little bit more.” [3]

In our community, at St. Philip’s,
can we dare to believe that God’s love
is stronger than our distractions? 
Can we feel the Spirit and see the face of Jesus –
in every gathering to address prison issues,
in every offer of teaching and learning,
in every deep study of scripture,
in every greeting at the door on Sunday,
in every anointing for healing,
in every prayer for the dying,
in every celebration of joy? 
Can we reach out to people who are different from us,
          and in loving them
find that everything matters a little bit more?

While we are bombarded with
distractions, temptations and consumer images,
the Advocate, the Holy  Spirit,
frees us and redirects us toward love.  

The Spirit presents
times to offer care and compassion
with folks who are hurting
and times to offer grace and forgiveness
with folks who irritate us;

Jesus offers us unwavering love.

Author Alan Paton,
in his novel Ah, But Your Land Is Beautiful,
wrote how God’s love reveals what is most true. 

There was a time in S. Africa during apartheid
when laws prevented black S. Africans
from mixing with whites.
At the death of a white SA official
[who had tirelessly worked within the system
to humanize life for the oppressed]
blacks were turned away from his funeral. 

It was a terrible insult. 
Later, a black pastor visited the white chief justice
and asked him to participate in the
Lenten foot-washing service. 
The Pastor asked him to wash the feet
of a congregant
who had been a servant in the judges home
and had cared for his children. 

The chief justice agreed. 
When the time came for the judge
to wash the woman’s feet,
he came forward, washed and dried her feet
and gently kissed them both. 

This gesture set healing in motion –
that simple expression of care
disclosed the truthfulness and
life-giving power of God’s love.

The woman and the judge both experienced
that arises when we recognize each other
as neighbors.[4] 

Today, this Memorial Day,
Jesus offers unwavering love and invites us
to admit that loss is a difficult part of human existence. 

Today, without shame or stigma,
we can reach out to each other. 

Using the blue DOK prayer cards in the pew racks,
write down someone or something that you mourn,
or something you have lost. 

As you place it in the offertory basket,
receive the unwavering love of Jesus. 

Know that this community of hope
will hold you in prayer and love
for the next few weeks. 

May you know the strength that arises from Love. 


Love matters. 


[1] Portions of this sermon inspired by David Lose, Luther Seminary, Cited at
[2] Gospel According To John, 13:34
[3] Author Jodi Picoult writes in her book Handle With Care (Washington Square Press, 2009)
[4] Story inspired by Nancy J. Ramsay’s Pastoral Perspectve on John 14:15-31 in Feasting on the Word, (Louisville, Westminster John Knox Press, 2010) 492, 494

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