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    • May10Sun

      Soul-withering OR Life-giving

      May 10, 2015
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      Pr. David

      Jesus commands us to love.

      Now, some may hear Jesus’ words in this passage from the Gospel of John as a bit heavy, and top-down.

      That’s because today, the word “commandment” has a more negative than positive connotation.
      “I command you to do this….”
      We’d often hear these words in a loud, intimidating, booming, controlling voice.

      As if Jesus is laying on yet another “heavy”, an impossibly hard, burdensome “religious rule” to follow.
      As if Jesus is declaring an edict which we must follow, or else …

      Isn’t it true that to many, even to some of us, religion seems nothing more than a miserable, no-fun, boring, and strict life of rules and high expectations?

      I think that’s partly the case because we already live in such an expectation-laden society.
      We live in a world…
      …that values making achievements and accomplishments,
      …a world which continually lays on us a never-ending stream of expectations: first, keeping up our grades as students in school, then earning our wages as workers, then staying in good standing at work, then earning recognition in our spheres of influence.

      So ingrained in us is this exhausting, stressing, mental treadmill of trying to meet a continual, never-ending stream of expectations….
      … that we begin to believe in our heart of hearts that we can never be good enough, that we’re always behind the eight-ball, and under-performing,
      … that we begin to lose touch with knowing our inherent worth and value;
      … that forget we already are good and worthy and loving people,
      … that even before we were born, God looks upon each one of us as precious, cherished, loveable human beings.

      We don’t hear, feel and experience that message strongly, clearly, or often enough in our day to day, ordinary lives.

      One of the places we might, and often do get a sense of that unconditional love is from our parents, from our mothers, or grandparents, and family.
      People who will affirm, cheer us on, uphold and love us no matter what.

      And if we ever wonder what God’s love is all about, we can take a look at our parents or significant others.
      We can taste and see something of God in them.

      This being “Mother’s Day”, I like this story about the priest, who one sunny afternoon in spring when everyone was getting outside to enjoy the good weather, was out walking in the neighbourhood.

      And he stopped by to talk to a parishioner, and her five-year-old daughter Carmine.

      The little girl had a new skipping rope.
      And the priest showed Carmine some fun jumps and skipping rope routines.
      Soon Carmine was able to skip rope no problem, and do all kinds of fancy routines that the priest taught her.

      And while she was skipping rope, the mom and the priest were clapping loudly and cheering her on.
      “Way to go!” “Fantastic!” “Wow… impressive!”

      Eventually, Carmine was able to skip rope quite well on her own, and wandered off with her new-found skill.

      The priest and mom chatted for a few moments, until Carmine, with the saddest eyes imaginable, returned, dragging her rope behind her.

      “Mommy,” she lamented, “I can do it, but I need lots of clapping.”

      We all need lots of clapping – that well-placed word of encouragement – that genuine expression of thanks and affirmation.
      We may hesitate sometime to do that, because we don’t want to risk awkwardness, or embarrassment, or fear that our words may be misinterpreted as manipulation, or whatever … but bottom line, we all need it.

      The good news of course is that, no matter what we’ve managed to accomplish or not, no matter what we’ve been able to “achieve”, or not, in society, God loves and cherishes each of us as precious human beings.

      Jesus says this commandment “to love” to his disciples, after already a lifetime of clearly, unequivocally, through his words and actions, showing to his disciples, and to those who were marginalized, forgotten and least in society, the expansive, compassionate and completely unmerited love of God.

      And Jesus is simply saying: Go and do likewise. Love as I have loved you.

      These actions of love that we are to do, naturally grow out of, and is held within, a much larger and more overall context of God’s initial, superabundant love for us and the world.

      We here at St. Matthews are really an active, doing congregation; living out, to the best of our abilities, Jesus’ command “to love.”

      I was looking at a draft of the Annual Report which you’ll soon be seeing in advance of our Annual Congregational Meeting on June 7.
      And I was struck again by all that we do in “Sharing God’s love as a Caring Faith Community” and the amazing financial support to encourage these ministries.

      Good on us all! My word of affirmation and encouragement to you!!

      Life is complex, weary. Let’s face it: the longer we live, life gets more and more complicated. Living through life is not an easy thing.
      Many of us go through horrendously difficult moments of loss, or illness, or disappointment in others, lack of gainful employment, or deep anger over hurtful, painful experiences.
      We worry …. worrying about our children, worrying about our parents.
      Life is dense.

      And yet, in the midst of this, Jesus’ command “to love” sounds out.

      The call to do something, anything, some little thing to shine a bit more light into the darkness.

      We’ve heard this statement before: We can’t always control…
      … other people,
      … or other people’s responses,
      … or what happens to us,
      … or solve all the problems out there in the world, or closer to home.

      But one area over which we do have some measure of control, is ourselves, our own behaviour, our own response to a situation, our own actions and words.

      Jesus’ commandment “to love” makes sense in this light, because I hear in his words an encouragement, an encouragement to love anyway, in whatever big or small way we can, regardless of what’s going on out there.

      One of my favourite quotes of 16th century church reformer Martin Luther is when he says: “Even if I knew the world would come to an end tomorrow, I would still plant a new apple tree in my field today.”

      Let’s hear in today’s scriptures a resounding word of love spoken to us by God, a love that the Holy Spirit animates in our own hearts, and encourages us to keep going on, one step and day at a time, to keep doing what we know to be the right and loving thing, no matter what.

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