Monday, September 8, 2014

Agape Love Reflections on Bloomington Pride Sunday 9-7-14

A Reading from the Epistle of Paul to the Roman Church, 13:8-14:

Don’t run up debts, except for the huge debt of love you owe each other. When you love others, you complete what the law has been after all along. The law code—don’t sleep with another person’s spouse, don’t take someone’s life, don’t take what isn’t yours, don’t always be wanting what you don’t have, and any other “don’t” you can think of—finally adds up to this: Love other people as well as you do yourself. You can’t go wrong when you love others. When you add up everything in the law code, the sum total is love.
But make sure that you don’t get so absorbed and exhausted in taking care of all your day-by-day obligations that you lose track of the time and doze off, oblivious to God. The night is about over, dawn is about to break. Be up and awake to what God is doing! God is putting the finishing touches on the salvation work he began when we first believed. We can’t afford to waste a minute, must not squander these precious daylight hours in frivolity and indulgence, in sleeping around and dissipation, in bickering and grabbing everything in sight. Get out of bed and get dressed! Don’t loiter and linger, waiting until the very last minute.

In the name of God who is Love, who became Incarnate Love and who pour out Love upon all of creation…

Do you know the word most often used for “love” in the Christian Scriptures was rarely used before Jesus walked the earth? The word is agape and we might best translate it as “unconditional love.”

Agape derives itself from the manifestation of God’s care for the world and our understanding as human beings that God constantly seeks to make God’s own self one with us. For those who follow the Christian tradition, God’s unconditional love was most especially united to humanity in the person of Jesus. In Jesus, God became one with all of people-kind. Jesus then taught us a new command: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” In other places we are reminded this love is not only to be given to those we like but even those we might call enemy.

It was this transcendent love given by God to us in Jesus that the early Christians, or followers of Christ, sought to exemplify and practice in their own lives. They desired to offer a love to one another that was based not upon feelings or what was fare –as humans are so fond of doing. Instead, they sought to become like Christ’s own self – a being that was willing to break bread and eat with anyone who was hungry, a being who reached out to individuals that society deemed unmoral or diseased, a being who knew that to love is the only way for humanity to both survive and thrive.

This is why we gather here as a progressive community of faith, welcoming those who identify as Christian and those who do not. Those who are gay and those who are straight. Those who identify as a specific gender and those who do not. Those who are agnostic and those who are atheist. Those who are young and those who are old. We welcome all people because God’s agape, God’s unconditional love, is not based upon who we are or our understanding of faith or even lack of faith, but rather the simple fact that we are each a unique and beautiful creation worthy of love and affection.

Our Epistle today from the letter of Paul to the Roman’s is filled with the promises of unconditional love. Paul tells us that the only debt we owe to one another is to love. This is a simple statement and yet I am not so sure we completely comprehend what it means for us. Why do we owe love in the first place? What does Paul mean by this love? How do we offer it? Paul is recognizing the fact that love and life are intrinsically linked. There cannot be one without the other. It is only in the gift of unconditional love that we continue each day to wake up and to offer our care to our partners, children, our place of employment and those in our lives. If everyone quit caring, quit loving, the end of human life wouldn’t be too far behind. And so Paul reminds us that love, regardless of where it comes from, is why we continue to move, breathe and have our being. And therefore, we are to love one another. You might remember elsewhere in Scripture we are told, “God is love.” And so truly life, love and God are given to us by one another and we are give these same gifts back to all.

It is often claimed that Christianity had such flourishing success following the Christ narrative because of its absolute simplicity. Jesus did not appear with yet another lengthy list of rules and regulations. Actually, Jesus was quite fond of shattering traditional interpretations of how human beings were to experience life, love and God. Instead Jesus walked the earth, completely as one of the people, offering a teaching that took lists of do’s and do not’s and threw it out the window with the simple command to love. Paul reminds us of this today with a simple reminder, “You can’t go wrong when you love others.” Before Jesus religion was obsessed with what should be done and what should not be done but the early followers of Jesus found a much simpler path to walk…one of unconditional love.

Now, granted it didn’t take to long for those early followers of Jesus to create for themselves a complex institution complete with protocols for who was good enough and who was not, who was in and who was out. That complex institution has been the cause of self-hatred and even death quite frequently for the past 2,000 years. It has caused LGBT people to scorn their own selves and hide their unique beauty in God’s creation. The Church, the very organization that was to promote love above all other rules and regulations forbid individuals to love simply because of their sexuality and orientation. But in those early days, long ago, the words of Jesus and Paul were remembered…love is all you need. Here at Bloomington Inclusive Mass we are striving to get back to the basics of faith. We are seeking to become like those early followers of Christ. In the words of Paul, we are doing our best to “be up and awake to what God is doing!” We don’t believe that we can afford to waste a single minute offering agape, offering unconditional love to the community around us.

In this spirit, yesterday we had the blessing of not only representing God but truly become God to gay, bisexual, transgender, asexual and intersex members of our community at Pride SummerFest. We let it be known that a church does exist where people are not met with demands to change and assimilate but rather encouraged to bring their true self, questions and all, and share a holy meal. True agape asks us to quit squandering what we have been given; it demands that we make ourselves inclusive vessels of unconditional care. It calls us to put on the ways of Christ, to become the embodiment of love for self and others.

Be warned, however not everyone likes such unconditional love. Not everyone wants love to be given freely. There are those who find their own beliefs and judgments protected by rules and regulations. They despise when someone dares to love those who are ignorantly thought to be “sinners.” But true love, calls us to no longer be self-consumed and short sighted. It calls us to look not on outward appearances and to worry about who is this and who is that…but rather it calls us to look deep into the heart, after all this is where God looks. And if we look deep enough, we will see, just like God does, that everyone is worthy of being loved.

When people come against you and call you all kinds of names, be reminded they did the same of Jesus. Creating change in the world through the means of unconditional love has never been easy but it is always worth the cost.

Someone once said: “It is natural to love them that love us, but it is supernatural to love them that hate us.”

Yes, supernatural love is what we are being called to! Do you hear the call?

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