More Than Everything
January 31, 2010
When Jesus proclaimed the good news to his hometown that the oppressed would be set free and the prisoners released and the poor raised up and the blind to see there was at first some confusion, some small talk but everybody was cool. Wasn’t this old Josephs son? It may be that they didn’t take him seriously when he said he had just fulfilled the promises of God himself which I think is understandable. I also think that Jesus understood this response and probably expected it as he goes on to quip that doubtless they were wondering why he didn’t cure himself if he was the great healer and then he reminded them that a prophet is rarely recognized in his hometown and still there was not much response until he told two obscure stories from the tradition about the time when Elijah and not just Elijah but also Elisha were sent by God to heal the outsider rather than the insiders and then he had their attention and they were filled with rage because it was revealed to them the unholy truth that their righteousness had a hole in it. In other words their faith was hollow. The problem here is not the rejection of Jesus as the One but the absence of love in the sanctuary. This is not just their problem but anybodies problem when love goes missing and the religion worships itself rather than God. The problem with love and religion is that love opens up and religion wants to close down. Religion has the natural instinct to want to secure itself while love wants only to give itself away. The challenge is how to love the tradition, to learn from the great witnesses of the past not only how to love but what love is and yet remain open to the future and where love will take us now. How do we maintain the institution that gives us shape and form and identity and remain open to the changes that God’s creative and living love demands? How do we incorporate into the marrow of our being that the purpose of any great religion that claims to love and serve God is to love and serve the outsiders and not ourselves. We are not here for ourselves but for the world. We are here to love the world. Without love we are nothing. The love of God creates us for love and love calls us out of ourselves to reach out to others for the purpose of healing this lost and broken human family.
Some people probably think that love is just something that happens to you if you are lucky. And, of course, love does just happen to you. Sometimes. We call it grace. But love is also something we can do. We can make love ourselves. If we want to. According to Paul who wrote this famous word about love, love is more than everything.
Love, he seems to be saying, is not just one part of a greater reality, it is the source of all reality. It is before and after everything else. It is literally more than everything. It is why it all began and it is what is left when everything else is finally gone. Before the beginning and after the end, there is love.
Moreover love is something we can do. Paul’s list of how to do it is rather good. Everything on it in one way or another is something we can all do but fail to do with some regularity. There is a classic joke about the human condition where two people in a restaurant are having dinner: “Boy, the food at this place is really terrible,” the one says. The other one says, “Yeah and such small portions.”
We are a little mixed up. We always have been. We can do love and know joy but we don’t. Not often enough.
Love knows how to wait. It does not panic. It is calm. It is not needy. It does not fret. It deepens and widens in the waiting because waiting for love means to be open to the world, to be paying attention. Love seeks not results or rewards. It is given rather than taken. The only love you get to keep is the love you give away.
Of all the things that love can do there is one thing that is so quiet it could be overlooked but it may be the most valuable of all for those who want to live in community. Love is kind. Simple kindness will heal wounds, soothe fears, create good will. I don’t need to tell you how much an unkind word can hurt because your experience has already told you. It can be a mean world. We know the power of an unkind word so how is it that we continue to be unkind? The power of a kind word is no less and it holds together what unkindness breaks apart.
Perhaps it is useful to remember that this beautiful word was originally written to a community of faith where there was much dispute over everything. The members of the community did not like each other, did not trust each other, they are breaking up into factions each with their stones ready to throw. It had become so bad that in some cases the issues that started the disagreement became less important than the need simply to prevail over the other. No wonder Paul wrote that love does not insist on its own way. Love creates new ways. Love embraces differences. Love listens to the other. Love is kind to friend and foe alike. What Paul describes here is taking place within one community but the message is not just for those within communities but between communities themselves. Love can bring us together not so that we will agree about everything but so that we will respect each others’ differences without insisting on having our own way and maybe even stop throwing each other off the cliff. After all even in our differences, whether we know it yet or not, we all come from and are going to the same place, the love that is more than everything.
And love seeks to be even more. Love is not arrogant or stuck on itself. Love does not have all the answers. In a nice little book by Anne Tyler entitled Saint Maybe this conversation takes place at a church picnic: Want to hear what I hate about churches? They think they know the answers. I really hate that. It s the people who don’t have the answers who are going to heaven, I tell you. To which the man’s daughter replies, “But, the minute you say that you yourself become a person who knows the answers.
Love does not have all the answers but it is an answer itself. It is fair to say, perhaps, that it leaves us with more questions than answers even when we really do it. Sometimes the answer is a question because if we answer with love we still don’t know where that love will take us. Only love can break your heart. And only love can save us. Love does not have all the answers for us because love wants us to keep asking the questions that will keep us moving toward more love.
Though it is simple enough for us to do love is also bigger than everything we know or will ever know in this place. We see only part but that part is enough to keep us looking, keep us going, keep us hoping for more and more is what love delivers because love is more than everything. Love never ends. Love is more than we can imagine, more than we hope, more than we can dream. Love is more than what we do even when we do love. Love is more, always more. The writer of another letter chosen for the Bible was on to it when he wrote: God is love. May all those who love God find each other and together reach out to those who know not of such love. Love is more than all of us together reaching out to love everyone else. And to those who think that is too good to be true we could say that maybe it is too good not to be true. Maybe it is what makes it possible for anything to be true. Love is more than everything.
Office hours at 421 Common Street in Belmont (phone: 617-489-0730) are:
Monday through Friday
9:00 AM to 3:00 PM
Office hours at 80 Mt. Auburn Street in Watertown (phone: 617-926-2931):are
Tuesday and Thursday
4:00 - 6:30 PM
The United Methodist Church