A Sermon delivered to Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Palmetto Bay, Florida. Date: May 26, 2019.
Author Note: Someone once told me that a good sermon makes three points through story, definition, and the motivation to be moved by the Spirit using Scripture as a base. I am going to make my first attempt today. An experienced Episcopal priest (who invited me to his lovely congregation one beautiful weekend last May), in his most loving way possible, assured me that I would most definitely fail. I am not sure I proved him wrong as preaching is a different charism than teaching, and that weekend proved to me that it was harder than it looked. I tried to prove him wrong in the most loving ecumenical embrace as a guest could in the sanctuary of the Lord. You see, in my denomination, I would never be afforded this opportunity, so I thank each and every one of you for reading it, and those who listened to it, especially you Father Spencer for inviting me to receive this wonderful gift of communicating with your flock.
Scripture Texts: John 14, Acts 16, Revelation 21 and 22
My own niche for my dissertation is humor, particularly in the classroom, but this isn’t a classroom, and you aren’t my students. Thank you, Lord Jesus! They all graduated on Friday.
So, I am going to talk about something else I am fascinated with: Love, action, and faith. My first point: we need to express love to each other more, and in community, as Jesus did. In order to do that, we need to understand what love is to different people. Merriam-Webster’s definition of the verb to love is: 1) to hold dear or cherish (ok, easy enough); 2) to feel a lover’s passion, devotion, or tenderness for (we’ll keep it PG); 3) to like or desire actively: take pleasure in (a little harder); and lastly to thrive in (hmm, that is not an easy one in today’s day and age). So, let’s try and figure this out together. Has anyone heard of the 5 Love Languages? It is a popular book turned series that was first written in 1995 by Gary Chapman. He broke down the ways that couples and loved ones communicate love into five categories. These are not all encompassing so, if none of these include the love language you speak then I can almost assure you that you are not an alien. Arabic has 11 words for love. However, the English language only has one. No wonder we have a hard time communicating it correctly to each other. Thank God, Jesus left us a road map! Also, most people speak more than one. Jesus, of course, spoke all five eloquently and with tenderness always in his heart.
So, let us look at the first love language in terms of today’s readings. The first one is words of affirmation. This is not my strong suit. Father Spencer can attest to that. I usually feel that words of affirmation sound weird coming out of my usually sarcastic monotone mouth. There was one time when I tried counseling a student that was crying uncontrollably in a counselor’s empty office. I thought, “This should be easy,” but little did I know. I tried comforting her by saying the exact wrong thing. She was wait-listed to her top school and thought the world was literally ending. I said, “Didn’t your grandfather get your brother into that school?” Her brother was not a stellar student, nor was he one of my favorites as she was to me. Yes, teachers have favorites, but I will deny I ever said that outside of this sanctuary. She started crying even harder, and through the tears I deciphered what she had told me a week ago, that her grandfather was dead. I thought “Oh, shanrkies! You really did it now Lauren! How thoughtless of you!” Just then, the counselor walked up, and I left her in much better hands a little worse off for it, or at least so I thought. At the end of the year, she nominated me for teacher of the year by telling that exact story. Apparently, she saw it differently and was comforted just by me trying (and miserably failing) to comfort her with words. Granted, they were not the most affirming, so let us look at how Jesus did it.
Jesus says to Judas (not Iscariot), “Those who love me will keep my word…” “I have said these things to you while I am still with you… Peace I leave you.” “Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid…” “I am going away, and I am coming to you.” He was leaving, but he was preparing them for it through his comforting words, “Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid…” And, he assured them that he would return. “I am going away, and I am coming to you.” This is a wonderful promise of presence. Jesus promises you will never be alone. However, knowing and understanding are two different things. Jesus said, “If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.” Jesus humbly calls each of us to preach, teach, and love.
Second love language: acts of service, because actions speak louder than words. Jesus says, “Whoever does not love me does not keep my words…” He was challenging them and us to do as he did. But he was not leaving them alone. He was sending the Holy Spirit to teach them, remind them, and bring them peace. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” Jesus leaves them “peace” and gives it to them freely, BUT… there’s always a but… it was not as the world’s peace. We will never truly understand God’s ultimate plan, but we can be a positive agent in it through our actions.
When I went on my first mission trip, I am not going to lie, I had great trepidation about ministering to the poorest of the poor in Jamaica, nursing those with AIDS, and taking care of orphans. It was not my thing. But I had agreed to go as a chaperone, and hey, I got a free trip to Jamaica out of it. It was a truly humbling experience. I remember sitting in the common area at a picnic table with women who were mentally and physically unstable. They took such joy in just coloring with crayons that we had brought. I just sat with them in awe. And, they appreciated us just being there and being able to tell their story to someone. One lady, who had lost all her hair, just wanted to braid mine. I was hesitant at first, but finally relented. One mohawk later, just kidding. I do not even remember what she did to my hair, but she did want to communicate her love to me by braiding MY hair. In the first lesson in Acts 16, Lydia listened eagerly to Paul and had her whole household baptized. Lydia’s faith is immediately active in her and her whole household’s baptism, and she opens her home to them. What a woman! After that, Paul could not refuse her hospitality. He writes, “And she prevailed upon us.” That is man-speak, for: “I didn’t want to, but she did, so we did.” This word/phrase is used only one other place in the Gospel, in Emmaus on Easter evening when two traveling disciples urged the risen Christ to stay with them in Lk 24:29. Jesus wants us to bring about the beautiful New Jerusalem on earth as pictured in Revelations 21 and 22. We can only do that through our actions.
Third love language: my favorite, Receiving gifts. For some people, what makes them feel most loved is to receive a gift. It may sound selfish, it did to me at first, but it is a gift given with a thought behind it, meaning, and love. Not just a gift from mom’s “gift closet” or sometimes “re-gift to the daughter who gave her the gift in the first-place closet.” A former coworker of mine had a heart attack and died. He was revived but hospitalized for weeks. My students and myself made a prayer box for him made out of a shoebox, pieces of cut out religious magazines, and a lot of modge-podge (or watered-down glue). We put some trinkets in it and letters and prayers for him. No big deal. He was giving a talk after his recovery and said that was the one thing he would grab, besides his family, when running out of his house in a fire. It does not have to be big, like Jesus leaving us peace, but it can be something small and seemingly insignificant to anyone else in the world. But remember, Jesus was and is the ultimate gift you can receive and give to someone else.
The fourth love language: quality time. Giving the other person your undivided, phone is turned off or put down, attention. Jesus was good at giving his undivided attention. Jesus literally entered time to be the “lamp” as the “Lamb” and God as the “light” that shines on all nations, as in Revelation 21 and 22. He spent a lot of time with his disciples assuring them that he would never leave them alone, that he would send forth the Holy Spirit in his place, and then he would return. There has never been a time when God was not present. God is not constrained by time because God is both in it and outside of it. We will never comprehend God’s infinite being, because we are temporal, or of this world. Yet, Jesus entered time and space so we could learn his ways and know Jesus and therefore, God the Father, and on top of it, God’s Holy Spirit is indwelling in us.
I had a student this semester that barely said two words in class. Teachers are not able to get to know all their students on a personal level, but there has to be some sort of connection otherwise they are hanging from the rafters. Some students demand all of your attention. This young lady asked for none of it. However, she wrote me a thank you letter at the end of the year that I will treasure forever that said I gave HER hope by just showing up to class and being open and comforting. I tell my students I love them, not often enough, but I do. I give them candy during every test and quiz. I wrote a letter to each and every one of them for their senior retreat, granted it was a generic letter with a personal scribble at the bottom by me and my two cats, of course. But, I do not get to know each and every one of them or go to most of their games, plays, dances, recitals, places of work, because I am reading two books a week and writing term papers for my PhD. I need to remind myself often that they are the reason I am pursing it. We need to stop and smell the roses, and by roses, I mean each other. We need to stop and smell each other.
Fifth love language: Physical touch. Not my strength either. For Gary Chapman, nothing speaks more deeply than appropriate touch. Paul baptized Lydia’s entire household. The angel carried John away to the New Jerusalem in all its glory. The leaves of the tree of life are for the healing of nations. God’s name is literally (or more likely figuratively) written on their foreheads in the New Jerusalem. And, the light is the “touch” of God forever and ever.
Jesus is God’s physical hug to the world, leaving the Holy Spirit to rest in each of us. We should feel that love and peace each and every day. We will be better people for it.
The sign of peace always gives me anxiety, especially at school. It is not that I do not want to shake anyone’s hand. It is that I am not really the huggable type. I never know if my fellow teachers or students are going in for the hug or to put out a hand for a shake, and you do not want to be the awkward one to “hake” someone. It is a hand extended and rejected by the other for an awkward hug or going in for the hug and receiving the hand. Nobody likes a “hake.” Let us stop “haking” each other.
Let Jesus’ healing touch be brought to you through others. Because, Jesus heals us spiritually, physically, psychologically, mentally, socially, and communally. The Trinity gives us comfort in times of need through the Trinity’s communal embrace, and through others.
Going back to my first point: We need to express love to each other more and in community as Jesus did. In order to do that, we need to understand what love is to different people, and this can be done through the five love languages of: words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, and physical touch.
So, let your love, action, and faith get you through today and the rest of your days. I love you, I thank you, I receive you, I give you my undivided time, and here, let me shake one of your hands. Thank you.