Easter 6B, 2009
A Liturgy is also available
LOVE ISN’T A NOUN, IT’S A VERB!
Theology can never begin by assuming it already has the answer.
Any theology that does not begin with radical doubt is basically dishonest. (Scott 2001)
So says biblical scholar and Jesus Seminar Fellow, B. Brandon Scott.
A statement which is not only challenging to all of us
who engage in theological and biblical discussion or study groups,
but also personally challenging, as I remember
an older saying, that the first word in religion must always be ‘No’.
‘No’ to all the nonsense that often goes under the name ‘religion’,
so there is space to say ‘Yes’ to the more profound insights,
of the best in religions.
And as Brandon Scott also reminds us:
“Our faith is not a single moment of coming to faith or conversion, but an ongoing activity or process. Our faith grows and develops in response to our concrete experience… [But] we need faith for what we don’t know or can’t know. Faith is a gamble about what might be, not what certainly is” (Scott 2001:148).
But it can be hard to say ‘No’ when the politics and interpretations from the past,
or the church bureaucracy of the present, have framed
or shaped a story in a certain way.
That’s because for two thousand years there has been this big contradiction
between the religion of Jesus and
the religion about Jesus.
So let me offer a few initial comments.
The religion of Jesus is found in the things he talked with people about.
How to live.
How to treat one another.
How you can be made whole, here and now.
How you can help make the world more whole, here and now.
A constant pressing at the margins, for justice and empowerment, as he
ate with toll collectors and prostitutes,
called the poor blessed, and
praised the confessions of common folk.
The religion about Jesus is about believing a certain story,
often aimed at frightening people into accepting agendas such as:
hating gays, or
independent women, or the
sanctioning of torture against so-called ‘middle-eastern terrorists’.
Coupled with the promise that if you do ‘believe’, you’ll be ‘saved’ after you die.
It is my opinion Jesus would have hated that story.
He would have said ‘No’ to that story.
Today we have one of those ‘in process’ stories as our gospel story.
And you will have recognised it is a story about ‘love’.
But not the ‘Women’s Day’ or ‘New Idea’ celebrity love story.
Or the Hallmark card, sentimental, love story.
Yet it is a love story which has inspired our storyteller to both tell it
and to wrap it around the name of Jesus.
And where ‘love’ isn’t a noun, but a verb.
So let me tell a love story in reply. And offer a prayer.
Both come from a minister colleague in America - Davidson Loehr.
And both are about love as a verb.
Not as a noun.
A monk, Friar Bernard, lamented in his cell on Mount Cenis, the crimes of mankind.
Rising one morning before daybreak from his bed of moss and dry leaves,
he gnawed his roots and berries, drank of the spring,
and set forth to go to Rome to reform the corrupt people there.
On his way he encountered many travellers who greeted him courteously.
And the cabins of peasants and the castles of lords
supplied his few wants.
When he came at last to Rome, his piety and good will
easily introduced him to many families of the rich.
On the first day he saw and talked with mothers with babes at their breasts.
They told him how much love they bore their children,
and how they were perplexed in their daily walk
lest they should fail in their duty to them.
“What!” he said, “and this on rich embroidered carpets,
on marble floors, surrounded by expensive sculpture,
and carved wood, rich pictures, and piles of books about you?
"You're rich Roman pagans, not even Christians!
How can you be good people?”
“Look at our pictures, and books,” they said,
“and we will tell you, good Brother, how we spent last evening.
“These books are full of stories of godly children
and holy families and sacrifices made
in old or in recent times,
by great and not mean persons.
“And last evening, our families were all gathered together,
and our husbands and brothers spoke sadly on what
we could save and give to others in the hard times.”
Then the men came in, and they said,
“Greetings, good Brother! Does your monastery want gifts?
Let us share with you.”
Then Friar Bernard went home swiftly with other thoughts than he had brought, saying,
“Their way of life is wrong - they are not even poor,
and they are not Christians!
"Yet these Romans, whom I prayed God to destroy, are lovers.
They are lovers. What can I do?”
That’s the story.
Davidson Loehr offers this comment:
“Friar Bernard has a couple choices. He can try to forget what he'd just seen and felt, and return to his comfortable beliefs, or he can realize that his beliefs are too small to hold life, or even to serve it in a way that isn't a curse to others” (DLoehr. First UU Church, Austin, web site, 2006).
Now the prayer (edited)…
We pray to the angels of our better nature and the still small voice
that can speak to us when we feel safe enough to listen.
Help us to love people and causes outside of ourselves,
that we may be enlarged to include them…
Help us remember we can, if we will,
invest ourselves in relationships, institutions and causes
that transcend and expand us.
Help us guard our hearts against those relationships and activities
that diminish us and weaken our life force.
And help us give our hearts to those relationships that might,
with our help, expand our souls and our worlds.
We know every day, both life and death are set before us.
Let us have the faith and courage to choose those involvements
that can lead us toward life, toward life more abundant…
May we see more clearly in these matters.
May we have the will to hold to those relationships
that demand, and cherish, the very best in us.
Just that. Just those. Amen. (DLoehr. First UU Church, Austin, web site, 2006).
What does it take to let love get lived?
Love, of the kind our gospel storyteller is talking about,
is a verb rather than a noun.
It creates - a whole, a harmony, a unity,
which does not diminish or weaken, but expands our life force,
encouraging a response in expressions of joy.
And it is greeted in open and honest ways
that can lead us toward life more abundant.
Theodore Parker, the great Unitarian reformer of early 19th century America,
once wrote near the end of his life:
“I have had great powers and have only half used them.”
We all have great powers that we have only half used, suggest Davidson Loehr.
“Isn’t that one reason we come here - to keep being exhorted to develop the other half of our great powers, and to use them to help ourselves and our world come alive? We come seeking wholeness, and so often we don’t want to admit that, if only we will, we can have it” (DLoehr. First UU Church, Austin, web site, 2008).
Scott, B. B. 2001. Re-imgine the World. An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press.