Sunday May 17, 2020

6th Sunday of Easter

New Testament - John 14:15-21

Hard Work

INTRODUCTION: It is a ubiquitous passage at weddings, isn’t it? 


It comes time for a couple to get hitched, and as part of the service Paul’s resplendent words about love are likely to be read at some point. “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant, or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”


Why, so common are Paul’s famous words at weddings, it’s natural and easy to assume they were originally written for just such an occasion. That Paul, while presiding over two young struck lovers getting married, wrote his words about love as an integral part of the service.


But Paul didn’t actually write his famous remarks about love for a wedding. Nope. He actually wrote them, as many of you probably know, for a congregation split wide open with division and rancor.


Yep. To a congregation split over all kinds of issues, to a community of faith ripped apart by hard feelings, big egos, and people refusing to budge or compromise, Paul, after chastising folks a bit, finally gets around to his famous remarks. “You might not like each other all that much,” Paul seems to be saying, “but you gotta love each other regardless.” 


Turns out, love, for Paul, is always more than just a set of emotions, as important as such feelings are. Love is also, well, demanding, isn’t it? Love is action. Love is doing. Love is getting the hands dirty and rolling up the sleeves. Love, for lack of a better word, is work.


And Jesus, for his part, seems to agree with such a pragmatic and rather clinical view of love. 

It’s the evening before the Passover Festival is to begin and Jesus has gathered with his disciples for one final meal. Aware that his death is imminent, Jesus is offering his parting words of counsel and advice in a portion of Scripture scholars like to refer to as “The Farewell Discourse.” 


And after washing his disciples' feet and giving them that new commandment that they should love one another as he has loved them, Jesus continues his discussion on the nature of love. 


“If you love me,” says Jesus, “you will keep my commandments...I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me...They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me.”                

And, of course, keeping Jesus’ commandments is, well, a whole lot of work, right? After all, keeping Jesus’ commandments means doing all kinds of things that can seem strange and just counterintuitive.


For to keep Jesus’ commands is to think of others before thinking of oneself. To keep his commands is to turn the other cheek when wronged. It’s to worry about your own mistakes and misdeeds before getting upset about someone else's. 


It’s to tell the truth even when the truth might be inconvenient. It’s to be generous with the gifts of life rather than hoard them. It’s to live humbly and kindly. And, yes, it’s to love people even when they might not be all that lovable. 


So love is always more than just a feeling. It’s also hard, hard work. “If you love me, “ says Jesus, “you will keep my commandments.”


The preacher and writer Will Willimon tells of the night a college classmate came barging into his room.


While on a flight back from Washington D.C., the classmate ended up sitting across from Martin Luther King, Jr. King, looking exhausted and not wanting to bother him, the college student initially left King alone. But eventually he couldn’t help himself.                  


Leaning across the aisle he told King what an honor it was to have a chance to meet him and that he was currently a student at Wofford College. “My father is a farmer in the low-country of South Carolina,” continued the college student. “He’s such a racist. I have tried to talk to him, tried to explain why the fight for racial justice is so important. But he says terrible things. I’m not going home for Thanksgiving because I don’t want anything to do with such a redneck, racist old fool.”


At that point, King reportedly lunged across the aisle and grabbed the college student by the arm. And then in a voice loud enough to fill the airplane he said, “You got to love your daddy!”  And with that, King settled in for a good nap.


And so it goes with love. For what good is love if we save it for only those people that seem worthy of it or that are easy to, well, love? Not much, right? It’s like throwing a dinner party and inviting only those people we know can return the favor.  


Or as another man has put it, “When Jesus tells us to love our neighbors, he is not telling us to love them in the sense of responding to them with a cozy emotional feeling...Thus in Jesus’ terms, we can love our neighbors without necessarily liking them.” 


Of course, sometimes love also comes with a degree of risk, doesn’t it? 

For right now, of course, there are doctors and nurses and other health care professionals, along with truck drivers, and grocery store clerks, and still other workers meeting essential needs, who are engaging in tasks for others that clearly increase their own chances of getting sick, or worse, possibly even dying. 


Of course, it should be noted the need for many essential workers to work is also for them, well, essential. They simply can’t afford to miss work because of low wages and lack of sick leave. And so many news outlets have started daily highlighting the stories of those who have become sick and died.


One such story that garnered national attention was about Frank Gabin, an ER doctor for hospitals in New Jersey and New York City. Six days after becoming symptomatic in March, he awoke in his New York City apartment almost unable to breath. His partner called 911, but by the time the paramedics arrived, Gabin was gone.                 


Before his death, Gabin had overcome cancer twice, and even issues of addiction related to the stress of being an ER doctor leading him to write a book called Back from Burnout. According to one of Gabin’s good friends, "He believed that people in emergency medicine were born with the need to care for people."


And then there is an article recently written by a doctor named Dhruv Khullar that appeared in The New Yorker Magazine. Patients under his care have included, among others, a police-officer, a grocery store clerk, a bus driver, and three food delivery men. Khullar says the last time he treated a food delivery man was over three years ago when one of them got hit by a car while at a busy New York intersection. 


So all around us are people putting themselves in harm's way for others. No wonder we’re asked to don masks when in public places and to practice social distancing. We’re not doing it for ourselves, after all. Instead, we’re doing it for those who have a greater risk of getting sick.       


CONCLUSION: Well, love is a tricky thing, isn’t it? For while it is surely things like sweaty palms, fluttering hearts, and yes, sometimes really bad poetry. 


We can forget that love is also always more than that. For love is also action. Love is doing. Love is getting the hands dirty and rolling up the sleeves. Love, for lack of a better word, is work - especially for those who long to follow Jesus Christ.   


And now the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.