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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Abide in God's love

Easter 6, Yr. B
1 John 4:7-10; John 15:9-17

Two images have been stuck in my head the last couple of weeks. The first is a photo that was in the Baltimore Sun the day after a horrific shooting at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Ellicott Mills, Maryland, an incident that claimed the lives of the administrative assistant and the rector, and finally, by suicide, the gunman himself. In most respects, the picture was like so many crime scene photos: the church in the background, the police officers standing guard at the police tape barricade in the foreground. What was quietly extraordinary in this setting was somewhere in-between, perhaps not even intentionally included by the photographer: the church sign--the kind on which you can change the message--still set for the Easter season, announcing "Alleluia! Christ is risen!" In the presence of a terrible tragedy, one that arose from a mix of communal and individual longings and failures, that sign proclaimed life in the midst of death. When all else suggests hope is futile, when the most violent, the most desperate and despairing side of humanity shows itself, God's love in Jesus Christ still prevails. Alleluia, indeed, for Christ is risen, even--especially--here. I can think of no other way forward for a broken and hurting world.
The other image was one of those moments when everything comes together so clearly. For the last 10 months, we've been praying, as a community, for Kathy, a parish member who was diagnosed with leukemia. Through all the challenges of chemo and then a stem cell transplant, Kathy has been to hell and back. This is a brutal process that pushes the body and soul to their very limits. Thanks be to God, Kathy is doing better, though she still has a long way to go and still needs our prayers. On this particular Sunday two weeks ago, she was able to come to church, only the second time in almost a year. And as she stood here at the altar, hands outstretched to receive the body of Christ, a smile on her that very moment the choir sang the last line of the communion hymn: "Such a love as killeth death." Suddenly it was absolutely clear to me where the source of the strength that has gotten her through this comes from: a love, The Love, that killeth death. Not that her body couldn't have succumbed, because there were certainly hours and days when it looked like it might, but that no disease could destroy God's love for her in Jesus Christ. She may have been to hell, but no way was God going to abandon her there; Christ is risen, and so she has been, at every moment, held firmly and securely in God's love.
"As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love." This love theme seems to be big; in the first 5 verses of the reading from John's gospel, we hear it 8 times, and 4 more in the 1st Letter of John. Think we're supposed to notice something?
I've preached more than once on love as it's presented to us in the Gospel, as being so much more than a warm fuzzy feeling. This kind of love is an action, a willful choice to do that which brings about justice, reconciliation, inclusion, and a shared abundance, that which reveals God's reign in God's world. But as I've turned these two images over and over in my heart and mind, I've realized that God's love is so. much. more. even than that. God's love is a way of being, a frame of reference by which all the rest of everything is set in its proper place. God's love is where we abide.
Yesterday I was reading an article about Fr. Greg Boyle and Homeboy Industries, and I was struck once again by a quote we heard from him here last fall, that we are so much more than our worst actions or moments. As human beings, we are more than our intentional violence or our not-so-benign apathy. We are more than our diseases and distress. We are more than our greed or our self-absorption, more than our jealousies or our anger. We are more than our despair, our grief, our failures. We are so much more, and always will be, because we are God's beloved.
When we accept the invitation to come to this table week after week, we're immersing ourselves in the totality, the reality, of God's love, the love that is our being in every moment. Wherever you have been, wherever you are now, God's love is there, such a love as killeth death. Wherever you have been, wherever you are now, Christ is risen. Alleluia!

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