“By Love, In Love, For Love” 06/03/18 by Rev. Stacy Swain (click on title for audio)

2 Corinthians 4:5-12 and Mark 2:23–3:6

You may have noticed that on the edge of the driveway as it goes down the hill on this side of the building, there is a newly refurbished green area. Between the pavement and the building, Riverside, the day care center who shares the building with us, has made an outdoor, garden classroom. It is a lovely little spot full of watering cans, gardening tools, and dirt for digging.

This outdoor garden classroom is just below the windows of my office and at about 2:00 in the afternoon, just after naptime (theirs not mine), I hear the toddlers taking their turn in the garden. This has become a highlight of my day. I overhear tussles over who gets which rake. I hear the rather over-enthusiastic-ringing of wind chimes. And I hear lots of giggles punctuated now and again by some emphatic (though loving) words from the teachers.

This past week, however, I heard something new from that garden.

What I heard was a heartbreakingly, plaintive cry from one of the little gardeners. I do not know what befell this little one, or what was the circumstance that gave rise to his deep distress. All I heard was a voice, a voice of one who surely could have just stepped out of the Biblical Book of Job, so soulful was his voice crying out—I heard through my window the cry: “But why? Why? Why… from the garden below.

My heart really went out to that little guy. My heart went out to him because I know that cry. I know that frustration, that exasperation – I know the broken heartedness that gives rise to that lament of “Why?’ Don’t we all? Haven’t we all found ourselves at one time or another wanting throw ourselves down in the dirt and join our voice with his in wailing “Why?”
Why is this happening to me? Why are the headlines full of this horror yet again? Why are things so bitterly broken and so terribly hard?
Why are we (as Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthians this morning) so “afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, struck down.” Why?
After the service today, at our annual meeting, we will take time to review this past year and prepare for the next. We will look at our life together through all its different ministry lens including that of our finances, leadership, how we organize and govern ourselves and how that is reflected in our by-laws. We will dig down into the details of what makes up our life together and what makes it all work.
But right now, up here in this sanctuary, I’d like to spend a bit of time with this question “why?” because this question “Why?”, is central to why we are here. This plaintive cry of “Why?!” that echoes all around us and that rises from our own hearts has everything to do, I believe, with why we gather Sunday after Sunday to sing and pray, to laugh and to cry together.
In this broken world of ours, we need a place, a sanctuary, into which we can bring the “Whys?” of our lives and the “Whys?” of our world. We need a place to bring them not because here is where we will find their answers, but because here is where we can learn how to find our way through and to perhaps even begin to join with God in redeeming them so that light may shine even in these places of darkness.
And we do this, we find our way by learning The Way of the one who came in the name of love, a Way that even now is being revealed to us.
Here in this place we follow the Way of the one named Jesus, but I do not think that the Way of Love is a uniquely Christian revelation. I believe there are many tributaries that flow from the fountainhead of Divine Love and in our pluralistic world I believe that is a source of great hope for us all.

But since here we do practice what it is to live in the Way of Jesus, I’d like to lift up in the remainder of our time this morning three key attributes, practices, that help to find and live into this Way of Love that is revealed to us in the Way of Jesus.

The first is what was revealed to us so beautifully these past two weeks in worship as we celebrated baptisms. And that that following in the Way of Love means that we are to remember that we were created by Divine Love and that that Divine Love has never stopped loving us. We are beloved by God. We are not perfect. We mess up. We fall down — all the time. But that does not mean that we are not loved.

I saw the way you looked at Dalize, Jeralyn and Oren Rose last week. I saw the way you looked at Sam, Masie and Oliver the week before. I saw the love in your eyes as you saw and affirmed their belovedness. But this belovedness is not theirs alone. It is yours as well! Look around beloved ones. Look around at each other and see the Gaze of love looking back at you. Look around and see affirmed your own belovedness!

And that brings me to the second touch stone, the second practice of living in the Way of love. And that is that we are created by Love and are be-loved, so that we, in turn, may live our lives in Love. And by that, I do not mean that we are to set out finding that one special person in our lives.

No, not at all. What I mean is much bigger and bolder than that. What I mean is that living in love is to be, our Way of being. We are to hold everything and everyone in the gaze of love. As Martin Buber that great Jewish Philosopher instructs, we are to hold all in the great embrace of an “I-Thou” beholding. Living in love, being in love with what is, is what St. Francis of Assisi embodied so beautifully when he walked through the woods greeting the trees, the birds and the sun. But this Way of being, this being in love, is not always easy. It is this “being in love” – Way of Being that Jesus calls us to when he says that we are to love so completely that we find the Way to look with love even upon our enemies (Luke 6:27).

And this then bring us to the third way-marker in the Way of Love, and that is that we are created by Love, and we live our lives in Love, so that we can ultimately be for love. Living for love is a generative way of living. It is a way of creating. Creating, not fixing or solving necessarily but of opening space and time and possibility so that love may enter into whatever it is that we are encountering and transform it.
It is having the wisdom and the courage to know when to challenge what we may think is not possible or proper in order that new form of healing, and wholeness may come into being.
It is what we see Jesus doing in the Gospel passage for today. I read this really interesting commentary on this Gospel passage this week that helped me to see that by healing the withered hand of the man in the passage, Jesus was not just doing an amazing thing for the sake of amazement or for the sake of breaking the rule of the Sabbath.

Instead Jesus healed the man so that by love, in love and for love, Jesus could reveal what the Sabbath is to give expression to and that is the healing, generative power of love. By healing this man’s hand he gave the man’s livelihood back to him. Without his hand, this man and his family were most likely hungry and hurting unable to cultivate the land, unable to produce enough to eat. By healing this man’s hand, Jesus freed this man from poverty and his family from hardship. By healing the man’s hand, Jesus freed him and revealed the heart of what the Sabbath is to be.

It is this kind of living for the sake of love, this wise and courage way of living that has the power to not only lead us through whatever hardships we face also to bring new life and possibility in the midst of them.

It is way of living this Way of living by love, in love and for love that enables Paul to make this amazing assertion that though we may be afflicted in every way, we are not crushed. Though perplexed, we are not driven to despair. Though persecuted we are not forsaken. Though struck down, we are not destroyed.

I do not know what befell that little gardener that day. But instead of just listening to his wail rising through my window, what I wished I had done was to go to him. To tell him that I hear his cry. To comfort him, and then to remind him that he is in the garden still.
For I have come to know thanks to the witness of your lives and the grace I encounter Sunday after Sunday in this place that even in the midst of the “Why’s?” that we cry, we too dwell in the garden still. This Sanctuary and the life that it holds, bears witness to that. The generative, live giving, force of love that created all that is on the dawn of time is still very much moving in our lives this day. This love is still very much calling us beloved, calling us into a live of love so that we learn what it is to live for love. This Love is calling us to join with Love in tending the garden, cultivating possibility, and the healing and wholeness that love can bring.

So grab a rake, give those wind chimes a shake, and let’s set about being church. Let us set about tending the garden and all who we dwell within it. Let us live ever more deeply in the Way of Jesus, the life change, world healing Way of Love. Thank be to God. Amen.