August 30, 2015 – Rev. Jan Hryniewicz
Union Church, Biddeford Pool, Maine
Text: Hosea 14: 4 – 9 & John 15: 9 – 17
“Hi Sarah, hey listen I only have a minute. I’m about to get picked up for a blind date, can you call me in a half hour just in case it’s going bad? Yes? Ok great!
Raquel gave herself a quick spray of perfume, checked herself out one more time in the mirror, and headed outside to wait for her date.
Sure enough after twenty minutes with her date, Raquel was discreetly checking her watch. After ten more long minutes her phone finally buzzed. It was Sarah. Raquel listened for a few seconds, grimly pursed her lips, and turned to her date, “I feel terrible, but my Grandmother is terribly sick, and I must go home right now .”
“No problem!” Said her date with a big grin, “in a few more minutes my dog was going to get run over!”
Remember those dating days!!? It’s not always easy to find the love of our life with whom we want to spend the rest of our lives. Often we are looking for love in all the wrong places!
Volumes have been written about romantic love….the joy of passion and the heartbreak of betrayal….hearts a twitter and hearts broken. Not wanting to compete with Nora Roberts, Danielle Steel or Harlequin romance novels, my message today is about a different kind of love…. a love that will never break your heart or let you down…. one that will expand your horizons and heal your woundedness.
Last week we focused on Jeremiah, often referred to as the Weeping Prophet, who experienced the Divine Mystery as a “ fire in his bones.” Jeremiah was a reluctant reformer, longing for a quiet life of obscurity and yet called by God to be a public advocate for justice and ethical practices…. challenging the powers and encouraging the people to come back to God.
Today, we will take an inspiring look back at another prophet from the Hebrew scriptures…. the Prophet Hosea. Hosea was called by God to perform the ultimate act of love….to forgive, to be reconciled with another.
In the book of Hosea, God calls, confronts and woos the rebellious people of Israel who are worshiping idols rather than God. In what becomes a powerful metaphor for God’s relationship with humanity, God directs the prophet Hosea, a rather shy, quiet young man to marry the very beautiful Gomer, a prostitute. …. and to stay married to her no matter how many times she is unfaithful to him and their marriage. …a powerful metaphor of God’s unwavering love for God’s unfaithful people.
Hosea was a prophet to Israel between 750-722 B.C., some 750 years before Jesus.
He witnessed the pain and deprivation, sadness and sorrow of his people, ugliness all around. But, he saw something else, as well. Amid the faithlessness of his nation Hosea also saw the potential for Israel to repent and, return to God. Likewise, in spite of his wife’s unfaithfulness, Hosea saw her beauty and loved her still. Amid the ugliness of the chosen lifestyles of his wife and of the people of Israel Hosea saw the promise of beauty and goodness:
“I will heal their disloyalty,” the Lord says … “I will be like the dew to Israel; (you) shall blossom like the lily, (you) shall strike root like the forests … (Your) beauty shall be like the olive tree, and (your) fragrance like that of Lebanon . (You) shall live beneath My shadow and flourish as a garden.” In the midst of squalor, he found the promise of beauty — beauty that comes from the inside where God and people get together. What a beautiful image!
Additionally, God says through the prophet that God will once again be husband to Israel; the name of Baal will be removed. God will make a covenant to abolish the things of war and create peace. The people will lie down in safety. “And I will take you for my wife for ever; I will take you for my wife in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy. I will take you for my wife in faithfulness; and you shall know the Lord” (Hosea 2:19-20)
This message of love, amidst the countless messages of God’s wrath and judgment is compelling and transforming. God is looking to nurture in us an intimacy with God….. a deep and healing relationship with the Divine Spirit that forgives and transforms even the darkest of souls and the most wayward of humanity.
In the ugliest of places…. the most wayward of souls, there is a touch of the divine, a place of beauty that can be nurtured with love.
The beautiful and profound spiritual mystic, Henri Nouwen wrote: “ Once I know God, that is, once I recognize God’s love, in which all my human experiences are anchored, I can only desire one thing; to be in that love.”
For over twenty years, Father Gregory Boyle, who is a Jesuit priest, has run Homeboy Industries, a gang intervention program locate in Los Angeles. In his book Tattoos on the Heart he tells deeply emotional stories of healing and redemption and the power of unconditional love. In 1990, Mike Wallace from the television show 60 Minutes came to the Doloros Mission church to interview Father Boyle. Father Boyle recalls:
“ In a recorded moment, we are all sitting in a classroom filled with gang members, all students in our Doloros Mission Alternative School. Wallace points to me and says, “ You won’t turn these guys into the police.” Then he turns to one of the gang members and grills him saying “ He won’t turn you in will he? How do you know he won’t turn you in?
The kid just stares at Mike Wallace and shrugs and says:
“ God, I guess.” Because he knows God, he can love and not judge, and be trusted!
Father Boyle goes on to comment: “Certainly, a place like Homeboy Industries is all folly and bad business unless the core of the endeavor seeks to imitate the kind of God one ought to believe in. In the end, I am helpless to explain why anyone would accompany those people on the margins, were it not for some anchored belief that the Ground of all being thought this was a good idea.”
The stories in this inspiring book are remarkable examples of the power of love and forgiveness…..of healing and transformation. He said that he did this work with all the pain and suffering so that the voices on the margins get heard and the circle of compassion widens.
This book for sure has left a tattoo on my heart.
There was a Facebook post this week that said: “ The kids who need the most love, will ask for it in the most unloving ways. Oh so, painfully true!
This past week, two stories of senseless violence have been on the news that have shocked and horrified us: the brutal killing of Wendy Bordeau in Saco and the shooting of the two television reporters in Virginia. Tragic…inflicting unimaginable pain and suffering on family members and friends of the innocent victims. In both cases, the perpetrators were sick of mind and spirit… lost, angry, wounded souls. From out of the darkness of their minds came this terrible tragedy…. creating shock waves of fear, and anxiety across the nation.
Sadly…and tragically, we have experienced acts of violence and hatred since the beginning of time and they will most likely continue to plague us. However, it is heartwarming to focus on the response of the majority of people…. compassionate responses, vigils of support, an outpouring of generosity and love to shed light and healing on the wounded lives and broken hearts. The darkness cannot overcome the light.
As God has been merciful and compassionate toward us, we are called to be merciful and compassionate to each other. What would we do if we felt that God was selective with forgiveness and reconciliation? God’s message of love and reconciliation goes out to all people for all times. If we are to be followers of Jesus, then our attitude and actions must emulate what he has taught us.
Fr. Richard Rohr wrote: Only near the poor, close to “the tears of things” as the Roman poet Virgil puts it, in solidarity with suffering, can we understand ourselves, love one another well, imitate Jesus, and live his full Gospel.
You may have seen the bumper sticker “ Honk if you love Jesus.” I heard two separate stories of drivers behind someone with that bumper sticker at a red light. Each driver, believing that he/she loved Jesus, honked the horn! In both cases they received a less than loving gesture in response!! A mixed message wouldn’t you say! Were they each unaware of the bumper sticker on their car!? Of just unaware of what it means to love Jesus.
In a recent sermon, Rev. Rick Jenson wrote:
“Remember who you are, Dick,” my Dad would say. “You are a Jensen. You have a family name to live up to.” It usually came at very strategic times like when I went out on my first date, or got the family car, or left home for the first time. “Remember who you are.” My Dad believed, and I think he was right, that he and Mom had instilled certain values in me. Most families have such values. When I went out on my own I was expected to live up to those values. “You have a family name to live up to,” he said.
In theological circles we have a fancy name for that. We say that the imperative to action grows out of the indicative. The imperative for me was to remember. The indicative was the fact that I was a Jensen.
Jesus is quoted as saying in the gospel of John: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love”. Then we are told that if we keep Christ’s commandments, we will abide in his love. Here is Christ’s imperative for us. We are advised to keep his commandments. It is an imperative that grows out of an indicative. The indicative is that we are loved by God. That is who we are. So Jesus calls us to “be who we are.”
We are created for love….. genetically disposed to love….created in the image of our Divine Creator. We are part of the love energy that fills the universe.
Doesn’t it delight and amaze you watch and experience the love of animals? They may not speak our language, but they certainly know how to express their emotions. A dog’s capacity to love and adore his or her human family is beautiful and this love is a daily blessing in our lives. Elephants have deep feelings for their offspring and other members of their herd. They grieve deeply when one is wounded or dies. I could keep you here all day with remarkable animal stories….stories to make you weep and give praise to the creator for these marvelous creatures!~ You could tell me countless stories too! It’s the energy of love that is an intricate and invaluable part of the DNA of Creation.
It is very important that we grasp the reality of God’s love clearly. It would be so easy to misinterpret the meaning of these verses. “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love …” (John 15:10a). We would turn these words right on their heads if we interpreted them to mean that God will love us IF we keep God’s commandments. That would be like Rick’s dad saying to him that he could be part of the Jensen family if I did what Jensens are supposed to do. But that is not what his Dad said. He said, “You are a Jensen, so act like one.” That is what Jesus is saying to us also. “You are loved by God, so act like a loved person!”
Feel good about you! Feel like the beloved child that you are….and treat others like the beloved children that they all are…even those who have lost their way …. who live on the margins…..who may be considered our enemies. Tough one!
It is critical that we teach and model love in our homes, places of business, schools, churches…for there are many poor souls who do not know how to love. They were not loved in their homes….not nurtured to believe how very special they are. It’s why there is so much crime and violence. For as I mentioned, those who are denied love, crave it and act out , often in unloving ways to get it.
That’s why the work of Father Gregory Boyle and Michael Chase and Seeds of Hope and so many others like them are so important.
St. John of the Cross wrote this to God in his Spiritual Canticle:
When you regarded me
Your eyes imprinted your grace in me,
In this, you loved me again,
And thus my eyes merited
To also love what you see in me….
Let us go forth together to see ourselves in Your beauty.
Fr. Richard Rohr writes:
When we read poetry as beautiful and profound as this verse, we can see why John of the Cross was far ahead of his time in the spiritual and psychological understanding of how love works and how true love changes us at a deep level. He consistently speaks of divine love as the template and model for all human love, and human love as the necessary school and preparation for any transcendent encounter. If you have never experienced human love, it will be very hard for you to access God as Love. If you have never let God love you, you will not know how to love humanly in the deepest way. Of course, grace can overcome both of these limitations.
In the inspired passage that Scott read this morning, John describes the very process of love at its best:
You give a piece of yourself to the other.
You see a piece of yourself in the other (usually unconsciously).
This allows the other to do the same in return.
You do not need or demand anything back from them, because you know you are both participating in a single Bigger Gazing and Loving—one that fully satisfies and creates an immense Inner Aliveness.
(Simply to love is its own reward.)
The story goes that Abraham Lincoln was riding home from church one Sunday discussing the sermon he had just heard. “The Reverend was well prepared,” said Lincoln. “He had a thoughtfully constructed sermon, but it lacked its most important ingredient. The preacher never asked us to do anything great.”
Today, I am going to ask you to do something great. Love each other as God loves you!.