Overwhelming Intimacy: A Homily for Maundy Thursday

I preached this homily last night at All Souls Unitarian Church, in Tulsa, for our first ever Maundy Thursday Foot Washing Service.

The Washing of the Feet by Ghislaine Howard (2004), Collection-Oxford Brookes University.

I know many of you aren’t used to seeing me up here during a worship service. I’m usually back there, and moving quickly between services on a Sunday morning. But I have done this before, just not here. I was a ministry intern, at East Side Christian Church here in town, and before that, I preached a few times at College Hill United Methodist in Wichita, and at Northwest Christian Church in OKC. And besides working here at All Souls, I am a full-time student at Phillips Theological Seminary, where I am getting my Masters in Theological Studies, with my area of focus being the development of theology in the early Christian church.

So all that to say, you are in good hands tonight.

And in more ways than one, because I know many folks are nervous about the concept of a foot washing ceremony; so let me also say this: I’ve done this before. Several times, in fact. And usually with youth groups. So never fear.

But that discomfort is what I want to focus on tonight. In the time since Joseph and I committed to doing this service, and began planning and executing it, the main reaction we have gotten from folks is one of discomfort. The idea of either exposing your feet and having them touched by someone else, or of touching someone else’s feet, is something that strikes most of us as something intensely intimate and vulnerable. And it makes us ask ourselves: do I want to be that vulnerable? Do I want to be that intimate with these people? With anyone really, anyone besides maybe our partner, or our children.

I know the answer for me, personally, is often “no.” Vulnerability and intimacy are things I struggle with immensely. Emotional depth, sharing intimately with others, wasn’t something I was brought up with, and so is something I’m inherently, almost to a fault, uncomfortable with. It’s not the fault of my parents; I didn’t have a poor, cold upbringing. On the contrary, my child was happy and I never doubted the love of my parents. But white Midwestern Protestantism isn’t exactly known for its expressiveness, and good rural Midwestern folks like my family aren’t known for talking about their feelings. Especially the men. They don’t call us for the “Frozen Chosen” for no reason after all.

But in a day and age when a striking proportion of white, middle America Christians voted for a politics seemingly of borders and boundaries and separation in our most recent election cycle, in a culture where individuality is often taken to a logical extreme of disengagement with those around us, even those closest to us, maybe we need more vulnerable, intimate, and uncomfortable practices in our lives.

I drew a lot of inspiration from an essay in this wonderful book, called “Christianity, Democracy and the Radical Ordinary.” It is a series of essays, letters and lectures between two men: one being Stanley Hauerwas, considered by some to be the preeminent Protestant theologian alive today, and the other being Romand Coles, a political philosopher and humanist thinker and writer. In this book, they explore the tension between democracy and Christianity, and how they can come together in unexpected and disparate ways.

In the essay I draw from, Coles is discussing the writings and practices of Jean Vanier, the French founder of the L’Arche communities, which are non-hierarchical, dignity-preserving homes for special needs adults, in which there isn’t a sense of “us and them” between the caregivers and the cared for. Instead, all are equal and full participants in the creation of the community, each with unique and wonderful gifts to give. Vanier uses the practice of foot washing in the community as a way of leveling the playing field, so to speak, breaking down any hierarchies and power structures through the radical and vulnerable practice of washing another’s feet. The word Vanier uses to describe the sense one gets from the practice, and I really love this, is “overwhelming.” Not bad overwhelming or good overwhelming, but maybe a bit of both.

And the practice is drawn from the Christian tradition, with Maundy Thursday being the night not just of the Last Supper of Jesus and his disciples, but also the night on which Jesus got down on his knees and washed the feet of his disciples during the meal. Needless to say, this was a bit outside of the cultural norms of the time. Coles quotes Rev. Paul D. Duke in the essay, who wrote of the disciples: (pg. 217)

“You can feel them squirming. Their embarrassment is palpable, as enacted by Peter. But the dread is not so much centered in how menial an act Jesus has undertaken for them, as in how painfully intimate it is…The indignity for the disciples resides in their teacher’s disarming initiative to touch them in this way, to bring himself so near and naked to their need, to apply himself to their private rankness, to cleanse for them what they would prefer almost anyone else to cleanse. No wonder Peter resists. He has signed up to follow Jesus, not to have unpleasantness at the foot of his life exposed and handled for him. He prefers the dignity of self-reliance, the fantasy of being heroic…Who can blame him? Who wants to be so powerless, so humbled?””

Who indeed?

But Jesus did this that night with intention. It wasn’t just a gesture, a throwaway act of “servant leadership” that we all hear so often about. Instead, what Jesus understood, and showed so often, was that the love that binds a community together, an authentic and full-natured love for your fellow human beings, isn’t found at arm’s length. It isn’t enacted over small talk during coffee hour or in line at dinner. The foundation of authentic community, that intimate love of neighbor that invokes a sense of shared purpose and direction, is only enacted through moments of deeply personal connection amongst members of the community.

Vanier writes, “A community will always need times of intimacy, just as it will always need times of openness. If it has only one or the other it will die.”

And those moments of connection, of intimacy build something; they are cohesive, like a good glue, that enables that community to hold together in times of stress and strain and tension, in order to continue being a group of people, together, doing good in the world as a whole.

Which, as Vanier says, are just as important. It’s a balancing act: a healthy community requires moments of inwardness, in order to feed moments of outwardness. He writes, “A community that isolates itself will wither and die; a community in communion with others will receive and give life.”

We do outward really really well at All Souls. Our justice teams attest to that. And honestly (And this is the Worship Coordinator in me speaking) we do inward really really well too, with beautiful worship and great moments of fellowship and togetherness.

But do we do intimate? Do we do vulnerable? I’m asking that as an honest question, not as a rhetorical one hinting that we don’t. Many people, I know, do in spaces like soulful circles, or ReWire and Shadz.

But sometimes, we need to get down on our knees, and touch the rankness at another’s feet. We need to wash, and be washed, by those in community with us. And in doing so, we break down walls we may have put up. We enter, each time, into a relationship with that other person, that is built on more than handshakes and conversations about local sports teams. And each of those little moments, one by one, build a foundation that our church, our community, sits upon, and which is awfully hard to shake or crack.

So that’s what I want us to get out of this act tonight. We are going to have our feet washed by one another. And its going to be uncomfortably intimate and vulnerable for many of us. And it;s going to also be overwhelming. But let it. Allow those walls to come down for a moment, and be in that close moment with the person sitting across from you, washing or being washed. And know: this is what community feels like.

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Perfect Love in a Season of Fear

The following is the sermon I gave December 20th, 2015 at East Side Christian Church in Tulsa. The Scripture reading was 1 John 4:16-21.

lovegreaterdesktopBefore I get into my sermon, I want to talk about something completely unrelated. St. Nicholas, the real life Santa Claus, was a really awesome person. He was the Bishop of Myra, which is in modern day Turkey, in the 4th century. He is patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, repentant thieves, children brewers and pawnbrokers. He has lots of wonderful legends attributed to him, including the freeing of slaves, rescuing girls from brothels, and giving away his entire large inheritance anonymously to orphans and the poor.

But the best thing about St. Nick is that, in the year 325, he attended the Council of Nicaea, which was a big meeting of bishops organized by the Emperor Constantine, out of which came the Nicene Creed. And the Council of Nicaea lasted for over month, and it lasted that long because they had one main disagreement: whether or not Jesus was of the just as divine as God, or whether he was just a little below God. Doesn’t that sound exciting? And in the midst of this debate, St. Nick got up and walked over to the originator of the idea of Jesus being just below God, a man named Arius, and St. Nick punched him right in the face. And then, rumor has it, that another bishop who supported Arius, Eusebius, subsequently urinated on St. Nick’s robe later during the council.

And you thought all those councils and stuff were boring.

So, if you just thought St. Nick was a jolly old man who gave away toys, well, you were wrong. He was actually a warrior of God.

Ok, anyways, on with the sermon.

So, I want us to start with the end today. Look at our sermon title: “Perfect love in a Season of Fear.”

The title is an allusion to one of the verses Fred just read: “Perfect love casts out all fear.”

That’s the idea I want us all leaving here today remembering. But I want us to deconstruct the idea of love in the Christian context a little bit, and specifically, I want to think about love as one of the four focuses of Advent, and even more specifically, I want to think about perfect love casting out fear in Advent 2015.

Got all that? Don’t worry, we can get through this together. Stick with me here.

Let’s make our starting point something else our Scripture reading said today, one of the central ideas in the entire Christian faith.

“God is love.”12341530_10207953373142794_1412494687991347558_n

God is love. The very essence, the very being of God is love itself.

This sentence is foundational to our faith. If you picture Christianity as a pyramid, standing strong and sturdy, the base of it, the bottom row of stones that holds everything else up, is our God as love.

Now think about this. Love is a verb. Love is not a noun. Usually, when we describe someone, we describe them with adjectives or nouns, right? Like, “Oh Evan is a stylish (adjective) fellow (noun.)” Right?

But that’s not how we describe God. We describe God as a verb, as something being done, an action occurring in the universe. I think this is because God is beyond our ability to describe. Human words cannot adequately express the idea of God, and certainly, there are no nouns or adjectives comprehensive enough to do so. The best we can do, the closest thing that can describe God, is to attribute to God the active descriptor of love, in the form of a verb. God is love in action, love happening to us and around us and through us, always, without ceasing. This is the closest we can get to describing God adequately, and even this falls short.

But, it also serves another important role. Classifying God as the verb love gives us not only an idea of God, but it also gives us a way to live. We can think of God as an action, and thus, we can think of how to act in this world.

In describing God’s plan for the world, the Gospel of John says, and I took this from the Message translation, so it may be a little different than you are used to hearing, but I think it better describes God’s actions than the traditional reading. It says, “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again”

This is God’s crucial action in our world. Through Jesus, we see how it is that God operates, how God’s love manifests itself in our world, and this how we are to act.

This then leads to the most important of Jesus’ teachings.

Jesus, when asked what the greatest commandment, said “Love. Love God, love yourself, love your neighbors, love your enemies.”

So this all makes sense so far. If God is love itself, an active love, then naturally, Jesus teaches us to be more like God by acting in love.

We do that by making love our defining action in all that we do.

We are to love God.

We are to love ourselves.

We are to love each other.

We are to love our enemies.

We are to love our earth.

And all this means more than just thinking about other people and our enemies and everything as abstract ideas, and then being, like, “oh I love them. Warm feelings all around.”

It means acting. And specifically, acting in a way that evokes God’s love in our world.

In the letter to the Galatians, Paul writes: “The only thing that counts is faith working through love…you were called to freedom brothers and sisters…use your freedom to serve one another in love.”

So Paul gives us even more detail about the action of love. We are compelled by our faith to working in love. I love the divine paradox Paul describes here: because of God’s immutable and never-ending love for us, we are freed from the fear of death, and specifically, we are freed to become slaves to one another through our service of love towards our brothers and sisters. Isn’t that wild? We are freed to become slaves, because the overriding love of God flows through us and we can’t help but serve each other.

And this is where our sermon title comes back in” Perfect love casts out all fear.” When we read of Jesus’ embodiment of God’s love, and when we emulate Jesus and begin also acting from love, then that love frees us from fear. We no longer have to be afraid of our enemies, we no longer have to be afraid of the people around us, we no longer have to fear death. Because love is bigger than death, bigger than the fear of death. We’ll come back to this, but for now, let’s go to the last verse I want to touch on.

The Apostle Paul writes to the Corinthians: “Love never fails. Faith, hope and love abide, and the greatest of these three is love.”

Again, we hear of the centrality of love to the Christian paradigm. And we hear that love never fails. In the end, in the words of Rob Bell, “Love Wins.”

This is where grace comes into picture. Grace is how we describe God’s love in the sense of it interacting with us. God’s grace is a gift of love to us. And there is nothing we can do to deny it, to turn it away, we can never refuse it. It is freely given. And it touches us all. And it never fails. In the end, God’s love always wins. And I mean that in the biggest sense, in an end-times, everybody-is-reconciled-to-God, no-one-is-denied-entry-into-heaven kind of way. We cannot escape the love of God; we are immersed in it. As Paul writes in Romans, “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depths, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God.” Nothing can separate us from this love. Nothing.

There is no more central idea to Christianity than love.

Ok let’s recap where we are so far. God is love, which mean God acts in no other way but love, and God’s loving action was to reconcile all people to God’s self by this love, which we were taught in word and action by Jesus, and which we come to understand as a love that frees us from the fear of death and compels us to a live of love and service, because we know that God’s love will not fail us and will never leave us, and thus are free to love in a wasteful and extravagant manner.

So, how does this fit into advent?

Advent is a season of hopeful expectation, as we wait the appearance of Jesus into our world. We believe Jesus to be the one who most clearly expressed the nature of God in our world. Now, if we believe God was love, then this means that the birth of Jesus signifies the inbreaking of love into our world. One of the things we are looking forward to during advent is the new world characterized by love that Jesus showed to us during his life and ministry. We celebrate the imminent arrival of God’s love in our world, a love that is given to all people, regardless of any qualifier or feature, as a gift of grace.

And, so, we are to reflect that love back into the world, by loving extravagantly, wastefully, without reservation or fear. We practice love in the way Paul wrote in First Corinthians, with patience and kindness and a longing for truth, bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things, enduring all things; by refusing to be envious, or boastful, or arrogant or irritable or resentful, by not engaging in wrongdoings. This is how love acts; this is what love looks like. This is what we are to fill the world with during advent.

Yet, this Advent season seems a little out of whack.

We’ve endured a season defined by that thing we are supposed to be driving back: fear. This overwhelming cultural fear is partly driven by recent events, like Paris, and Planned Parenthood, and San Bernardino. But more responsible, I believe, is a political scene that is awash in a use of fear to seize power, to win a political contest and become enriched with dollars of those who are convinced these fear mongers will protect them.

We are being bombarded from all sides with calls to fear the world around us.

To fear immigrants and refugees.

To fear our Muslim brothers and sisters.

To fear women who make decisions and choices for themselves.

To fear people who don’t conform to the gender binary.

To fear our President.

To fear people who are crying out that their lives matter.

To fear anyone who doesn’t look like us, or think like us, or believe like us, or love like us, or worship like us. To fear anything different than us.

And this addiction to fear is being pushed by men and women who claim the mantle of Christianity as theirs, and their alone.

But that invocation of fear as a motivating factor, as the emotion that should drive our actions and decision making, is a heresy. It is a repudiation of everything that Jesus stood for, and a disgusting distortion of the Gospel message, a message of love and acceptance and compassion and mercy and grace and love.

To live in fear is to live at odds with Christ. Remember our reading today? “Perfect love casts out all fear.”

Ok, you know how said earlier that the whole Santa Claus/St. Nicholas thing was completely unrelated to the sermon? OK I was wrong. Arianna brought up a good point about Santa and the naughty v. nice thing earlier. As parents, we sometimes push this culture of fear on our kids by providing narratives that motivate our children to act from fear. For instance, when we tell our children that if they are naughty, Santa won’t visit them, this may be true in the context of that story, but it’s the opposite of how God operates. Fear-based acting to achieve a reward only available if we act right isn’t the story of God’s love. It’s that grace thing again. We don’t have to fear messing up, we don’t have to live in fear of our ultimate outcome, because the never ending love of God ensures us of God’s favor forever and ever. Now this isn’t our faults really. We are telling the stories we’ve been taught. But we need to make sure our theology pervades our whole lives. Love experienced as grace should permeate all our actions, our entire lives.

When we put our trust in God, when we accept God’s love and align our lives with that of Jesus, then we begin to let love direct our actions and our decisions. And then, all that fear begins to dissipate. And then, those who have chosen to become prophets of fear, who seek to manipulate our fear to gain power for themselves, they begin to lose their ability to influence our lives, and instead, the power of God begins to reign in the world bit by bit by bit.

And we get there by doing that most God-like of things: by acting from love. When we show love, when we live in a way that showcases the love of God, and makes it known that that love is here now, among us, then we begin to change the world. We begin to drive out all the fear, and replace it with love for our neighbors, for our brothers and sisters all around the world.

And the science actually backs this up. I was a political science major in college, and I still keep up with some of the poli sci literature that comes out regularly. And recently there was a study that came out that said when we are trying to persuade potential voters to vote a certain way, that introducing factual evidence about an issue or candidate into the calculus can make that voter less likely to be swayed to your side. So, if you have a person who believes a false idea, and then you show them evidence that their belief is wrong, they are more likely to double down on that wrong belief, than change their mind. Now, this is the probably the result of a pride-fueled response to someone who is challenging their intelligence on a given subject. And I can tell you what, as a political operative, that was a very depressing finding for me, because my thought was, man its hopeless to try to sway voters by educating them on things. How in the world do we change people’s minds?

The answer to that question is love. We change them through love. We don’t change people by ridiculing them, or by showing them how wrong or misguided they are. We change people, we liberate them from the shackles of fear, by showing them the love of God, by acting with love towards them just as God would.

Fear is the antithesis of love. Fear is the antithesis of God. Let us embrace the love of God, and turn this season of fear back into the season of Advent, the season of hope and peace and joy and love. Amen.

 

A Divine Black Joke

The following is sermon I delivered Sunday, October 11 at East Side Christian Church in Tulsa, OK. Our church hosted Evan Koons that weekend as well, for our Wine and Words event. Check him out here.

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Myself, Evan Koons, and my wife Arianna

Does anyone here know who Kurt Vonnegut is?

Author and satirist, wrote Slaughterhouse-Five.

Well, I’ve heard a lot of sermons in my life so far, but I’ve never yet heard a sermon that quotes Kurt Vonnegut. So I’m proud to say I am breaking down that wall today.

And in fact, this Kurt Vonnegut quote is kind of the center of my message today. How about that for you?

In 1980, Kurt was invited to give a sermon on Palm Sunday, which is kind of a surprising thing in and of itself, given that Kurt wasn’t exactly a Christian or very religious, and in fact, liked to lampoon the church quite mercilessly in his criticisms of culture and modern society. But nevertheless, he was asked to preach, and he chose to talk about the same story we heard today, although he used the text from the Gospel of John.

John’s story is almost exactly the same as Matthews, except, as John tells it, it is Judas specifically who protests the women’s actions. “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii, and given to the poor?” Don’t you love that detail? Exactly 300 denarii, which was about what a laborer could expect in annual wages.

But, the author of John goes on: “Judas said this, not because he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.”

Do you see the scene setting happening here? Judas is being typecast as the bad guy he will shortly be. The author of John was many things, but subtle apparently was not one of those things.

And Jesus responds to this obvious villan, “Leave her alone….for the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”

Kurt Vonnegut, in his Palm Sunday message, says:

“Perhaps a little something has been lost in translation….I would like to recapture what has been lost. Why? Because I, as a Christ-worshipping agnostic, have seen so much un-Christian impatience with the poor encouraged by the quotation “For the poor always ye have with you.”…If Jesus did in fact say that, it is a divine black joke, well suited to the occasion. It says everything about hypocrisy and nothing about the poor. It is a Christian joke, which allows Jesus to remain civil to Judas, but to chide him for his hypocrisy all the same. ‘Judas, don’t worry about it. There will still be plenty of poor people left long after I’m gone.’”

As Kurt sees it, Jesus was engaging in a little black humor at his erstwhile disciples’ expense. For three years, he has been slamming his head against a seeming wall, trying to get his people to understand what this thing he is doing is all about.

And then here we are, and Jesus has just told them just before this, literally said, “in two days, I’m gonna be executed.” And so they are sitting down to one of their last dinners together and this woman, who surely heard Jesus tell his disciples the thing about dying in two days and thus wants to do something for him, something to show appreciation and love for this man she has followed and who is tragically about to be ripped away. And so she takes this jar of expensive nard, probably one of the most costly and precious things she owns, and she breaks it and pours it on Jesus’ feet, and uses he very own hair to spread it, and commits an act of selfless love, an act of wasteful extravagance. What a beautiful moment! Jesus is touched to the point that he declares that this woman, of all the people who have followed him and worked with him, this woman will be the one remembered forever.

Have you ever been talking to one of those people who are all over the place, who talk about like sixteen different things in a minute and a half, and you try to respond to each thing as best you can, and as they just ramble on, all of the sudden, something in their brain clicks and they randomly respond to something you said like 20 minutes ago?

Yeah, that’s basically the disciples here.FB_20151011_13_52_09_Saved_Picture

Jesus has spent three years trying to get these guys to understand. And like a stubborn mule they have fought and fought, and when he points them in some direction, they go off in the complete other. And then a woman pours ointment on Jesus’ feet, and all the sudden, in their minds, the disciples are snapped back to the Rich Young Man, and like Pavlov’s dog, the bell chimes and they all go “Sell it all and give to the poor.”

And Jesus engages in the world’s first recorded facepalm.

Think about it this way: if a man’s brother died, and that man went and pulled out his meager savings, and used the little he had in the world to buy his beloved brother a small, beautifully carved grave marker. Because, he may not be able to build him a great tomb, or name a mountain after him or anything, but he can do this, to show his love. What would you think if some guy went up to this man and said, “hey man, do you know how many homeless care packages you could have put together with the money you just blew on that slab of rock?”

What a jerk move, right?

“Why do you trouble this women?” Jesus asks them in disbelief. “She has done a beautiful thing for me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.”

And from this verse, from these simple 15 words, Christians have been weaseling their way out of serving their less fortunate brothers and sisters for two thousand years. The core message of Jesus, that we are to love one another and thus serve one another; the thing he did time and time again in his earthly ministry, is all thrown aside because of one line.

I think maybe this is one of those things Jesus looks back on in regret. I picture him remembering his ministry, and thinking about how that wonderful women anointed him, and then remembering about what he told the disciples, and thinking to himself,

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Julian decided to help out a bit

“Man, I sure could have worded that a little better. Not my finest rhetorical moment.”

Because it’s true, right? How many times have you heard another Christian, someone who may not be quite so progressively inclined, justify their support for regressive policies and actions by this verse. “But we will always have the poor with us, so there is no point in trying to eradicate poverty right?” That’s what they say.

And us progressive Christians, good social justice warriors that we are, we live everyday in like direct opposition to this worldview. If there is a petition to be signed, or a protest to march in, or hope and change to be escorted in, by golly, we are so there. We know that Jesus didn’t mean we shouldn’t act to make the world better. We see it throughout his ministry, the example he lived every single day, of service and justice and love for others. We know that Jesus would absolutely be giddy if we finally beat poverty and the poor weren’t always with us anymore.

I know I’m that Christian. For me, the imperative to serve others, to, as the prophet Micah write, do justice and love kindness every day, are major reasons why I count myself as a Christian. I love a faith tradition, a way of life that is centered around making the world a better place through service to others. I love a God who identifies with the least, who calls for the liberation of those who are shackled, a God who so wanted to be in relationship with us that that God took on human form and came down and became weak like us.

But in this story, we are the disciples. We progressive, justice minded, outwardly focused Christians, we are like those foolish disciples. Remember what we were talking about? Look at your bulletin. Today’s verse isn’t “Do unto the least of these,” or “Feed my sheep.” Today, this verse is telling us, Jesus isn’t just interested in how many meals we bagged today at the food pantry, or how many children in Ethiopia we sponsored. It’s not that that stuff isn’t important; it truly is! It’s so, so important.

But, sometimes, Jesus wants us to just stand in awe at the beauty of it all. Sometimes, we need to just need to stop and be quiet and sit and listen for that still, small voice passing by. Sometimes, we need to remember the third requirement in that verse from Micah, which is to walk humbly with our God.

As progressives, we want to do, do, do. We want to fix things, and right wrongs, and make the world better. But for our own sakes, for the betterment of our own souls, sometimes, we need to practice some self love.

That’s what Jesus is saying to his disciples. It’s not that serving the poor isn’t important. And it certainly isn’t that we shouldn’t try. But sometimes, we are required to appreciate the beauty of this life. Sometimes we need to practice fellowship. Sometimes, we need to just worship.

The Bible tells us God is love. In God’s very essence, God isn’t just loving, God doesn’t just practice love towards us, God is love itself. As we are human, as we are made up of carbon and water and blood and bone and tissue, God is made up of this thing we call love. The universe was created and thus has an age, and everything in it does too, and we are one those things that are finite, and all of these ideas we have, all of these philosophical and theological principles we debate and write about and start wars over are finite and connected to our existence, but love…love is not one of those things, because love is God and God is love and God is outside of time and space and so love is too.

And the Bible also tells us that we are made in the very image of God, in the very image of Love itself. We are not made of love, but instead made in love, in the very image of that which is nothing but, and everything that is, love.

And we fall short of the God that we are modeled on, and we mess up, and thus we look to Jesus to see the example of him who most closely imitated the way of love here on Earth.

And so, all of that to say that, serving others isn’t enough in and of itself. We need to come at service not from a place of self-gratification, of patting ourselves on the back for how many good things we are doing, but from a place where the impetus for action is the very essence of God, that thing called love. And we can only do that by careful and frequent examination of and communion with Love itself, in the form of the God who created us and sent us.

Human beings, over the course of half a million years, have struggled and fought and drug ourselves up from the primordial mud and conquered the earth, and warred with ourselves, and called upon God to be on our side against ourselves. And then, with the advent of Jesus, God taught us that to prosper and flourish and bring the kingdom right here on earth, we must love each other, and thus serve each other as the only rational manifestation of that love. And for two thousand more years, we struggled and fought and ignored what we were taught. And then, in the last 150 years or so, we finally started to get it, and human rights flourished and we acknowledged the innate worth of all men and women, of young and old, of white and black and brown and yellow and red, of straight and gay and trans and. And we felt so good about ourselves, and patted ourselves on the back, and said “we figured this gig out, go us.”

And God just chuckles, and says, “no, you haven’t.” And we can’t see that because of the cascading ticker tape at the parade we threw ourselves. We are too busy congratulating each other, we can’t hear God asking for our attention. And so, like Kurt said, we are hypocrites, because we do these things, not for them, not for the glory of God, but for us.

This right here, this thing that we do on Sunday mornings and Sunday evenings, and Wednesdays, and sometimes from sunup to sundown on Saturdays, or once a year on a good Friday, this thing we call worship or temple or church, it is so so important. When we walk humbly with God, when we listen for that still small voice, when we taste God in the bread and wine, when we appreciate and engage in acts of pure love towards the One we are made in the image of, that’s when we are reminded why we are here and why we go out there and do justice.

And so that brings us back to the “divine black joke” Kurt Vonnegut references. Jesus chuckles with gallows humor because his disciples just showed that they still didn’t have what it takes to make sure there were no more poor, because when they called for the ointment to be sold “for the poor,” they were forgetting to ground themselves, to experience the beauty of a moment with God, of a moment of pure love, and thus to see the meaning of why Jesus did the things he did. And so Jesus laughed to himself, and etched a moment and a nameless woman and her selfless gift into history.

So what am I trying to send you home with? What is my “go and do?”

What we do here is to make us better at what we do out there.

There is more to this Christian life than just social justice, than righting wrongs and healing the sick and lifting up the poor.. It’s exactly like what the book of James tells us: “Faith apart from works is dead.” So often we hear that verse reminding us that we have to do things in the world as Christians, but today, I’m asking you to hear that verse as reminding us that we have to have faith, we have to been enmeshed in the love of God, in order to make those works really matter.

One of my favorite old hymns is “The Gift of Love,” and I think the words from it’s first verse are so relevant to the point I’m trying to make. It goes,

“Though I may speak with bravest fire/ and have the gift to all inspire/ but have not love/ my words are vain/ as sounding brass/ and hopeless gain./ Though I may give all I possess/And striving so my love profess/ But not be given by love within/ The profit soon turns strangely thin.”

We need to take time for ourselves, time spent worshipping and praying and filling up our tanks with love that can only be found through communion with God.

So cherish this time each week. Realize that this worship is just as important as the justice work. In fact, that work can’t happen without what we do here every week.

Amen.