reflecting on the journey
God, always, loves first!
Eleven thousand athletes, give or take! Two hundred six countries! Three hundred thirty-nine events! Thirty-three different sports! And, of course, the U.S.A. is first in the medal count! Thirty-nine gold! Forty-one silver! Thirty-three bronze! Cue the national anthem! Wave the flag!
Every four years – five when there’s a pandemic – the world gathers to celebrate all things sport! We’ve been doing it for a hundred twenty-five years, now! And we love every minute of it! Every inch! Every point! The thrill of victory! The agony of defeat! There are the games. But there are, also, the stories behind the games. The stories of the athletes and how they got there. The odds they had to overcome! The challenges they faced! Giving it their all! Giving it more than their all! The hours! The miles! Over and over! Trying! Trying again! Until they got it right! Until they got it perfect! More than once, we heard they were our heroes! Our champions! Inspiring us! Moving us! To make our own dreams come true! Winning wasn’t everything. It was – is – the only thing! And through it all, one thing kept whispering through my mind … too bad … too bad love isn’t a sport … Too bad we can’t compete against each other! Too bad we can’t see who loves most! Who loves best!
Just a quick reminder … today’s the third Sunday in August. And for a few years, now, each third Sunday of every month, we focus our attention not on the story told by Matthew or Mark or Luke or John. But on the story we’ve been writing. The story of the journey we’re on. And this time, like most times, it comes down to one thing … love!
You see, to us, love isn’t a sport. Love isn’t a game. It isn’t like running and jumping. It’s not like swimming or diving or any of the thirty others. Love isn’t a skill we can master. Love isn’t a talent we nurture. Love is, simply, love! That’s what makes it so difficult to pin down. So hard to get hold of. There’re no little leagues for learning it. No training camps. No practice fields. There’s nothing we can do to get better at it. We don’t letter in it. We can’t get scholarships for it. Truth is that love isn’t one of those things we, even, dream of doing when we grow up. No fame. No fortune. No glory. No uniform. No trading cards.
Love isn’t something that just happens over time. Naturally. Instinctively. Love isn’t the result of evolution. Love isn’t a product of revolution. Love comes to be in one way and in one way alone …. by revelation, by unveiling. We can only love after standing beside the manger. After standing before the cross. We can love only after the curtain’s been torn in two. You see, the only thing that begets love … is love! We love only by, first, being loved! We love only by, first, being loved!
Love has nothing to do with our commitment, our conviction. Not first and foremost. It has to do with god! Father! Spirit! Son! When it comes to love, we aren’t what we repeatedly do, as Aristotle tells us. Practice doesn’t make perfect. What we become has to do with who god, already, is! What matters, when it comes to loving, isn’t OUR blood, sweat, and tears. It’s JESUS’ blood and JESUS’ sweat and JESUS’ tears! Our effort, our determination, MIGHT – I repeat MIGHT – make a difference, at the end. But here, in the church, it’s gospel! It’s god! Proclaimed! Administered! And without that there would be no love! And without that – without US with it – there would be no love!
Oh sure, there’d be a dim reflection. A mirror darkly. More illusion than reality. More there-and-then than here-and-now. Love would be more ivory tower than real world. More pie-in-the-sky than down-to-earth, flesh-and-blood. That’s why we’re here! Why church! We’re not here to get past saintPeter. Through the pearlyGates. On into heaven. We’re here so god has a place in the world! A manger! A cross! Where god can love! Where we can be loved! And then, in us, with us, through us, god can go out into the world, arms wide open!
Love’s not a game, for us! Something to win, to place, to lose! We’re that free lunch the world doesn’t believe exists! We’re that thing too good to be true! We’re what you get for absolutely nothing! And the crazy thing? We have no idea that’s what we are! No idea that’s who we are! God loves us! And that love creates that same love in us! We don’t give our permission. We don’t lend a hand. God just does it! And then, so do we!
Think about it! Without the church there would be no love. Only more self-interest. There’d, still, be love, of sorts. Love of family. Love of friends. There’d, still, be goosebumps and butterflies. Things that bring tears to our eyes. But there’d be no crosses. There’d be no christs. That’s why there’s a church! Why we’re gathered, Sunday after Sunday. We’re not here to learn. We’re not here to obey. We’re here to be loved! We’re here to be loved! To discover what love sounds like! To discover what love looks like! To discover what love feels like! And once finding that, we go and do the same! Not because we want to. Not because we have to. But because that’s what happens! What happens when we are, finally, loved! We love! Just! Like! That!
We’re not here to do religious things. We’re not here to become spiritual people. Fighting the fight! Running the race! We’re here to be loved and, in being loved, to do the same! Church isn’t about praising god. At least, not in the popular sense. We’re not here to applaud … or to cheer … or to pat god on the back … We’re here to be loved by god! We’re here to be loved by god! And then, we, too, love! Love not in return, but in turn! My friends, our mantra isn’t love god, love others, change the world! It’s love, just like Jesus loves! Love, just like you’ve been loved! Love, because god first loved us!