“The Path of Love”
May 14th, 2023
Rev. Rebecca Migliore
I am a very visual person. So when I titled this sermon, the path of love, I think I had in my mind a garden path, you know the kind, winding under tall trees, or meandering across flowered fields. Certainly I imagined a path that though it twisted and turned, it went forward, to the great unknown. But as I thought about love, as I thought about our readings, I began to have a sneaking suspicion that another visual might be more appropriate. More like a line that circles and loops back on itself and ends up going everywhere and nowhere.
In fact, what sprang into my mind as I was writing, was what happens in our very body—our circulatory system, with the heart as pump and center. With blood pulsing in, and blood pushed out. With set pathways from heart to lungs to heart to body back to heart. Far flung and yet contained. Picking up what is tired, finding a place of nourishing, then setting it back out again—a truly remarkable recycling system.
And that image expanded as I thought about what Jesus was talking about with his statement we read this morning— They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me, and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” It’s as if love is the blood of the system that connects Jesus and the One Jesus calls Abba to us. Love as the glue. Love as the path. Love as the essence of life.
We have to remember that we are in the gospel of John’s world right now. A world where the gift of the Spirit, and Jesus telling us about how God continues to be with us even after the physical Jesus leaves the scene, happens during the Last Supper.
A world where what we call Pentecost isn’t associated with tongues of fire and a cacophony of language (as we will celebrate in two weeks—when we read the story of Pentecost from the Luke-Acts portion of our Bible). Here, Spirit is given as comfort, “I will not leave you comfortless,” because Jesus is on the way to leaving them. Here, Spirit is given as Advocate, one you can lean on when times get tough, one who will fight for you, be your voice when you get tired, be always on the lookout for you. Here, Spirit is somehow tied up in the jumble of who God is: Father, Son, Spirit. Here, Spirit seems to be Love (with a capital L).
Love is what flows from God to us. Love is what flows from us to God. Love is the commandment that Jesus insists is to be first in our minds, first in our hearts, first in our lives. Love is to be the hallmark of what a follower does. Love as a verb. Love sprinkled and strewn and gushed and patted and shared with everyone, even those we least want to share it with, even those we least think will accept it, even those we least want around.
Love becomes a path as well as this enclosed system. For Love becomes our path, our life’s journey, our work. Now I don’t want you to think about this Love as romantic love. We don’t have to have a feeling of ardor for the people and things around us. And I don’t even think we can picture this Love as human love—like the ideal held up today as Mother’s love. For we never quite get it right, much as we try (and some don’t even try, sadly).
This Love we are talking about is more accurately called God’s Love—the way God loves us. Profoundly. Not because we do anything, but because that is who God is. It doesn’t depend on our following certain rules, it doesn’t depend on our meeting certain expectations, it doesn’t depend on us at all. It is from the source. It is gifted freely. It is persistent and perennial—that is, it keeps on even when pushed back at, and it keeps coming back no matter what.
I tried hard to find an illustration of what I am talking about in our very imperfect world. I was unsuccessful in finding a pithy little anecdote that would express what I wanted to say in a neat, heart-warming way. I’m sure if I’d had all the time in the world, I would have been able to lay my hands on such a thing. What came to me, as an imperfect thing to be lifted up, was the story by Fredrik Backman called “A Man Called Ove,” remade into the movie “A Man Called Otto.” Otto is the ultimate grumpy old man next door. He doesn’t like anyone. He doesn’t like anything. In fact, he has pretty much given up on life. He is not only grumpy, he’s rude. Because he doesn’t want to have to be in relationship with anyone.
But the story of “A Man Called Otto” (or Ove) is the story of a next door neighbor, and then a whole community, who decide they aren’t going to leave Otto to his sad little world. Marisol, his next door neighbor, and others, insert themselves into his life, asking for his help, as well as providing companionship and new connection. And Otto, reluctantly at first, maybe reluctantly always, is pulled into the vortex of community, a community of people different than he ever expected to be a part of.
That is the Love I’m talking about—even if we just catch a glimmer of what it happening. Love as reaching out to those who swat it away. Love as hardy as a weed (think of that dandelion on your lawn that you can never eradicate!). Love as providing the ties that bind us all together. Love as God’s gift to us, and Love as our gift to others. Love as what can be created out of nothing, but transcends space and time. Love that as the Apostle Paul says in his letter to the Corinthian church, “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
It is a different view of Spirit than we often picture. This is not something wispy. This is not something intangible. This is not something unconnected to us (except in that “spiritual” way). Spirit as Love is in us and around us and dragging us down pathways we never even knew existed.
In our other reading for today, Paul is talking to the people of Athens in his famous speech (yes, this is Saul after the road to Damascus, after the life-changing and name-changing events following the stoning of Stephen), And Paul says to those around him, “You also have worshipped a God whose name you did not know. I can tell you this God’s name. Because God is not far from you. For in God ‘you live and move and have your being.’”
It is interesting to think about what Paul is doing. He isn’t preaching on a street corner, telling everyone what horrible people they are, and if they don’t believe exactly as he believes they are going to go to hell. He has walked around their city. He has looked at the altars they have made to all of these gods. And he wants to interact with them, on their terms. He stands in front of the altar to an unknown God, and says, “Let’s talk together. Let me tell you what has happened to me.” He even uses words from their own poet, “in God I live and move and have my being.”
Paul is loving these people. In others words, he “sees” them. He has taken the time to get to know them. He has entered into their lives, not as a critic, but as a fellow wanderer. He is willing to be jeered at, to be spit upon, to get into the worst trouble you can get into. Because that is what he feels God, Jesus, have asked him to do—called him to do. Love. Love in a visceral, world-changing way. Love that is willing to be visible, to speak out in defense of another. Love that is able to step up to the plate, to stand its ground, and to put one foot in front of the other in the marathon of living a life of Love.
And in case we get too cozy with the humanness of this Love we are talking about, let’s not forget that humans were only part of the amazing creation of God. I know we think we were the most important part. Regardless, we were given charge of creation.
We were given stewardship of all those animals out there, all those trees, all the oceans, all the microscopic living things, hey, when God made us stewards, that included the nonliving things as well—those minerals in the earth, and the mountains that soar above, the air that allows us to breathe—it is all part of what we are to Love.
It is a little overwhelming, in fact, it’s a lot overwhelming! So much so that we shut our eyes, we hold our hands over our ears, we turn away, we close down our hearts. There is so much need, everywhere we turn. How could we possibly make a difference? How could even Love possibly make a difference? And yet, it does.
It does make a difference because Love is not solely from us. It does make a difference because it is from God, it is of God, it is God embodied here in our world. I loved this quote from Seasons of the Spirit “Spirit is with us not because of faith in Jesus, but because of love of Jesus.” It pokes at this whole religion thing as a mind exercise—and pushes us towards it as a spirit thing, where we talk about Love, Jesus’ love for us, our love for Jesus, what we are willing to do because of that love, what we find within ourselves in that love.
And I’m back to that circulatory system, heart beating, blood traveling, stripping out the old, the tired, and reinvigorating with new, with life, with energy, to be used, to be given out, to be transported to the far reaches, never worried that it will ever run out. That is what Jesus gifted us. The Spirit. That picks us up, that will not let us go, that makes us a part of the Love of God.
And in that Love, we are called to do our part. In that Love we are to have eyes that see, and hands and feet willing to offer help, and hearts that burn within us. In that Love, we are to be the most we can be, reaching out and sharing that Love with all we meet, with all that is around us. Knowing that this is what Jesus calls us to do.
In that Love, we pray that it may be so, Alleluia, Amen.