New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE
May 3, 2015
Some of you may recall that my word for this year is stretch. Though there are days I may forget this word, this theme for the year, it has not forgotten me. If I choose not to do my sun salutation in the morning, or at least try to stretch out the morning kinks, the universe has many other opportunities for me to stretch in a variety of ways, most of them having to do with forgiving, accepting, and loving others.
Author and psychologist M. Scott Peck defined love in this way: The will to extend oneself for one’s own or another’s spiritual growth. In other words, love is the willingness to stretch beyond our self-imposed limits that we might know and experience the immense and unconditional love God has waiting for us and for all.
God is the one who makes it possible for us to love as God loves us. God stretches toward us each and every moment, open-handed, open-hearted. God extends to us the extravagant invitation to move in and live in this love all of our days.
There is nothing we can do or are required to do to receive this gift. God’s love comes to us unbidden, unshackled, unreservedly. We don’t have to get our ducks in a row, eat all our vegetables, be the most valuable player, finish our to-do list, clean our house, give the appearance of being put-together. We can be our messy, feeling-broken, at-our-worst selves. God’s not waiting for us to pick up the phone and call. We don’t even have to believe in God for God to love us. That’s what unconditional means.
Presbyterian minister and biblical commentator Matthew Henry wrote in 1700, "It is a sign that our love is far from perfect, when our doubts, fears, and apprehensions of God, are many." If our love is far from perfect, or complete, then we have an imperfect, incomplete idea of who God is. God is love. No one has ever seen God. But God can be seen through Jesus, who Jesus loved, how he lived and how he died. Even from the cross Jesus forgave those who cried out for his execution, those who carried out, and those who did nothing to stop it.
It is also a sign that our love is far from perfect, when our doubts, fears, and apprehension of others are many. This past week we have seen images and heard stories of violence and looting in Baltimore, MD. We have heard the news that the state attorney general has brought charges against the six police officers connected with the death of Freddie Gray. Many have been quick to judge both the mob and the police. Occupying a place of righteousness takes away the need for us to change anything about ourselves, thus changing anything at all.
The question that seldom gets asked is, “What would it look like for us to love these police officers, to love this angry mob, to love the disenfranchised among us, to love those who profit from others’ misery?” Talk about a stretch. It would mean we all have work to do. More listening. More understanding. More giving. More holding accountable, beginning with ourselves.
Not only do we need more of us engaged in honest conversation about race but about justice, power, and money. Money has become our moral currency as well our monetary currency. Money shows us what’s important to us, what we love, and where we have begun to calcify and shrink rather than stretch and be willing. Love is what makes it possible for us to stretch, to be willing, to be open, to listen, to be honest with ourselves. Love is the stretch.
And this Table is where it begins. Here Jesus reaches out to us and calls anyone who would approach this table his friend. Here we gather the strength to love the way God loves. Through bread and the fruit of the vine Jesus showed us the way of love that is willing to lay down life for friends. Mother Teresa wrote, “Intense love does not measure. It only gives.” At this Table we come to know the intensity of God’s love for each and every one of us. It is immeasurable. God’s giving never ends. Amen.