Summer of Love: Doing Love

Note: today’s sermon was given by Dr. Royce Truex

Lessons: Philippians 2:5-8,  John 14:9-14 and 25-26

Almost immediately when I read Joanne’s email invitation to participate in this series, the notion that there is a doing to loving came to my mind. That’s not exactly a revolutionary idea, of course, but there was a lot power and energy with it and the energy persisted the entire two weeks or so that I wrestled with the question of whether I would do this or not. In addition, which scriptures to use more or less popped into my mind. It became pretty clear what I would preach about, so let’s explore doing love.

I say doing love simply to emphasize that we’re talking about the verb love, not the noun. Today we’re not concerned with the feeling of love that we sometimes have, only with love that shows itself in doing something. What that something might be can be a big, difficult question and we are not dealing with that today.

So, for clarity and as a sort of definition, let’s just say that we are doing love when we give our complete self, in doing something for the good of another, with no concern for our own self. (1)

I can remember, many years ago now, standing near our parked cars after a dinner party, my friend said to me, as a part of a conversation I no longer remember, “you know, you have the same spirit in you that Jesus had in him.”

That was a brand new idea to me at the time and it seemed totally preposterous! I was taken aback, astonished, because in that moment I felt that I would somehow be equated with Jesus; it made no sense and was simply not possible and I rather vigorously expressed my disbelief and confusion. I also remember that my friend gracefully accepted my being confused, as he has done many times in the subsequent years.

It took quite a long time, but now the fact that the Spirit that was in Jesus, is the same one that is in me, is central in my life.

But I wonder if Philip and the disciples might not have felt the same way I did that night when Jesus said to them, “you will be doing what I have been doing and you will do even greater things.” Their response is not recorded, of course, but can you imagine what it might have been, especially considering their presumed already confused and upset state? I don’t know the vernacular of that time, but in my imagination it would be like my saying: Whoa, wait a minute, how can you possibly say that?! We’re not like you! No way!   That’s exactly the way I feel when I read those words today!

So, what had Jesus been doing that produces such a reaction in me – perhaps in you too – and presumably in the disciples?  Well, he’s been doing love, though his acts of love seem beyond anything I could do. But what better way to characterize Jesus’ life. He has been doing something for the good of others, with his complete self, with no concern for himself. He has been modeling agape, that universal, unconditional love that never goes away.

That has been the very central and fundamental work of his life. Doing love has been the hallmark of his entire life.

And how has he been able to do that? How has he been able to do nothing but love?

Well, according to the Philippians text, the first step was his emptying himself and becoming a servant or a slave.

I like the way Cynthia Bourgeault makes this passage clear

Though his state was that of God,
yet he did not deem equality with God
something he should cling to.

Rather he emptied himself,
and assuming the state of a slave,
he was born in human likeness

She says “this beautiful hymn explains the principle of kenosis, Jesus’ self-emptying love that forms the core of his self understanding and life practice, a practice he continues every moment of his life.”

And to emphasize that we are invited to do the same, she continues: “How beautifully simple – the path of Jesus hidden right there in plain sight! The gospels make clear that he is specifically inviting us to this journey and modeling how to do it. Once you see this, it is the touchstone throughout his teaching: Let go! Don’t cling! Don’t hoard! Don’t assert your importance! Don’t fret!” (2)

So Jesus empties himself of his right to be worshiped and adored, the power and glory, and everything else that goes with “being equal with God” and humbled himself to be a servant.

Another way of saying it is that Jesus let go, emptied himself, of everything that could keep him from loving with his entire self in oneness with God, for He is in God and God is in him. They are operating in unity, in oneness.

That’s exactly what Jesus is trying to get the disciples to understand in the John passage, isn’t it.

After fussing at them a bit for not getting it, Jesus finally says to the disciples:

“Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.”

That’s not too hard for us, is it. We get that. Jesus and God are functioning as one. Jesus is in God and God in Jesus. But then comes what is difficult for us, because it means that it is meant to be that way with you and me also: If you want to know the truth, “anyone (By the way, I’ve checked with my friend and confirmed that translating that pronoun as anyone is grammatically correct. I didn’t make that up.) anyone who believes in me will do what I’ve been doing. As a matter fact, even greater things, because I’m going to the Father.”

That word anyone makes it a lot harder, doesn’t it. It’s a lot easier to imagine Jesus and God working as one than it is to imagine you or me doing it. When Jesus says, “even greater things because I’m going to the father,” he’s saying, “I’ve been doing these things, but I’m leaving, now you are able to do them and it’s your turn.”

But then Jesus has some encouraging words that make it a little easier for us: I will answer your prayers; (actually he says that he will do anything we ask); I will ask God to send you the Holy Spirit, who will live with you and be in you, teaching you all things and reminding you of everything I have said to you – The Holy Spirit is taking Jesus’ place.

Thus far we have read and heard these passages as individuals, as though Jesus was talking directly to us, as individual followers, and I’m imagining that some of us are examining our own lives right now, wondering about this letting go, giving up business.

But it also makes sense to read and hear them as members of the Body of Christ, as though he was talking to the Body, not just individuals. Though he was responding to Phillip’s request, it seems pretty clear that he was intending his message to be for all the disciples.

So, I’d like to take the liberty of asking us now to consider both the Philippians and the John passages as a congregation rather than simply as individuals.

If we consider the hallmark, the primary, the most important characteristic, of Jesus’ life to have been doing love, how can we consider the hallmark of our own congregation’s life as a part of the Body of Christ to be anything other than that?

What does it mean for us as a congregation to empty ourselves, not to cling or not to hoard, not to assert our importance, not to fret? Are we already doing love at one with God or are we clinging to something that keeps us from doing that? Are we clinging to our comfort and abundance?  Our sanctuary and refuge from problems of the rest of the world? Our bubble of white privilege? Are we attached to the peace and quiet of our status quo? Are we clinging to our status and reputation as a progressive mainline congregation? Our size or our style?   These are questions, not indictments. Hopefully, many of you have your own questions.

What does it mean for us as a congregation to hear that we will do even greater things than Jesus, that it’s our turn now?  To hear that Jesus will do anything we ask? The seeming impossibility of those assertions doesn’t make them go away.

Remember that Jesus tells us that we have help. Just as he promised, the Holy Spirit is alive in each one of us and moves among us all the time, using all kinds of ways trying to teach us how to love, how to do love, just as Jesus did. The more we attend to the presence of the Holy Spirit the easier it will be for us, as individuals and as a congregation, to discern the next step in our loving.

We do have other things to do. We need to worship and celebrate. We need to take care of each other. There are organizational and institutional responsibilities. But all of these take on a different quality, their very essence becomes different, if, as we do them, we are grounded in a commonly held experience and understanding and desire that we are a congregation doing love, that before all else we are, with our whole selves, doing something for the good of another, with no concern for ourselves.

We have heard this clear and unambiguous affirming message from Jesus that anyone who believes in him will do what he has been doing and even greater things.  I now believe that that message is to us in the community of the Body of Christ, not to me as an individual. I no longer need to resist it, and I treasure my life with you, working to live into that inspiring and glorious  affirmation.

Amen

  1. Beatrice Bruteau, Radical Optimism (Boulder, CO: Sentient Publications, 2002),105-108. I developed this definition mostly after reading these pages. A whole sermon could certainly be developed based on just  these pages.
  1. Cynthia Bourgeault, The Heart of Centering Prayer (Boulder, CO: Shambhala Publications), 2016, 33-34.

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