Sermon by The Rev. Marek Zabriskie on Sunday, May 19, 2019.
The Beatles sang “All you need is love,” while Elvis crooned, “Love me tender, love me true.” Taylor Swift sang, “Love Story,” while Adele scored a hit with “Make You Feel My Love.” Beyonce teamed up with Jay Z for “Crazy Love.” “Love is all around us.” In fact, that’s a song recorded by the Troggs in 1968 and rerecorded by R.E.M. and most recently recorded by Hank Marvin.
Eskimos have eight words to describe snow, but we have one word to describe this wonderful thing called love. When I was living in Virginia, they had bumper sticks which read, “Virginia is for lovers.” I’m not sure exactly what they had in mind, but it was a far better than the city of Atlanta’s motto: “The city too busy to hate.”
Truth be told, we are as we love. Love is the name of our journey. Love measures our stature: the more we love, the bigger we are.
After 30 years of premarital counseling, I know that people get married because they “fell” in love with each other. Scientists say that a chemical change occurs in our brain when we fall in love. Unfortunately, the chemical change lasts for only six to 24 months. When it wears off, and we must figure out how to make “for better for worse,” last for a lifetime, even when we don’t feel Cupid’s arrow all the time.
Psychologist Scott Peck notes that falling in love is dangerous because we let down our ego boundaries, and we become amorphous creatures. The danger, he notes, is that our ego boundaries eventually reassert themselves once the spell of love has worn off.
I officiated at Ted and Susan’s wedding many years ago. They had fallen in love and were crazy about each other. Ted was a typical southerner. He loved the outdoors. While dating, he invited Susan to spend a week in the woods, camping, hunting and fishing. Susan agreed and went a week without a shower. Upon returning, her friends and family asked, “How was it?” “It was great,” she said. They knew that she was in love. You see, Susan loved to play golf, and she loved to shower once or twice a day. The idea of hunting, fishing, camping and foregoing showers for a week was completely unlike her.
Early in their marriage, however, Susan told Ted that she did not want to hunt or fish. “Why not,” he asked. “You did it when we were dating, and you liked it.” “That was then. This is now. I really don’t like it,” she confided. “You can do that on your own or with your friends.” Sadly, they eventually divorced.
A relationship built on feelings is built on sand. I’ll love you as long as it feels good is a love that won’t last forever. In his book The Art of Loving, psychiatrist Erich Fromm notes that loving is an art. Just as it takes much practice to be a great athlete or artist, it takes much practice to learn how to love.
I recall a woman, who was a great lover of classical music. After a concert at Carnegie Hall, she had the privilege of meeting the great pianist Leonard Bernstein. She sort of swooned and said, “I would give anything to play the piano the way you do.” The great musician replied, “No you wouldn’t. Because if you really wanted to play the piano the way that I do, you would practice for ten hours a day seven days a week. That’s what it takes to play like I do.” So, it is with love. To love well, takes lots of time, lots of work, lots of practice and lots of effort to correct our mistakes. I wish that couples getting married realized that falling in love is just the beginning of a long journey in learning how to love.
There is not a single sentence in the marriage service about how married people feel about each other. Rather, we are commanded to love, comfort, honor, respect, be faithful, keep each other in sickness and in health and forsake all others. When we are asked to consent to our marriage, the answer is not “I do” as in the movies, but rather “I will,” because often we don’t feel like doing it, and we must will ourselves to love in sacrificial ways.
In today’s Gospel, the Last Supper has just ended. Judas has left to betray his teacher, leader and friend. Jesus informed his disciples that he’s going away. They will look for him and will not be able to find him. Then he said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” The word which Jesus uses is the Greek word “agape,” which is not a romantic kind of love, but rather a steadfast, sacrificial love that moves out of self-absorption and personal preferences and puts the concerns of others ahead of its own. Is your love agape love, or is it something else?
You may recall the rich, young man who put Jesus to the test, asking what was the greatest of all the commandments. This young man didn’t want to wade through the 613 Jewish laws that every Jew is supposed to keep. He was not interested in rules and regulations. To answer him, Jesus turned to the Jewish Shema, which devote Jews recite every day and wear in phylacteries around their foreheads, stating, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”
Then Jesus added these unexpected words that shocked them. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” It was a quote from the book of Leviticus. Jesus ingeniously grafted God-love to neighbor-love. He said, you can’t have one without the other. You cannot love God unless you love your neighbor. How, after all, can we love God whom we do not see, if we fail to love our neighbor who God created and we can see? For Jesus, our neighbor is the one see sitting across the dinner table or seated on the other side of the aisle at church or in Congress or who lives next door or halfway around the world.
Places like this are meant to be a school for love, where we come to have our hearts and minds opened and enlarged and where we learn the art of loving God and loving our neighbors. This is the place – perhaps the only place left in society – where we teach compassion, generosity, honesty, kindness, caring, forgiveness, patience and self-control. That’s why church and Sunday school are so vital. If we don’t craft character and if we don’t teach virtue, God-love and neighbor love will be lost forever.
Today, after worship, all of us are invited to the Parish Hall, where nearly 100 volunteers have signed up for our first Packathon. We are going to pack 21,000 meals of oatmeal in 90 minutes and possibly another 7,000 more if we receive enough donations. It costs just 25 cents per meal. It’s the best buy in town. These meals will help food insecure children in Fairfield County have meals this summer when schools are closed and there are no subsidized meals available. A large portion of the meals that we pack today will go to Neighbor to Neighbor. This event truly embodies God-love and neighbor-love. I hope that you will volunteer or contribute today.
An old rabbi told a story about a farmer who had two sons. As soon as they were old enough, he taught his sons everything that he knew about growing crops and raising animals. When he became quite old, his sons took over the farm, and instead of dividing the property in half, they formed a partnership and decided that at the end of each growing season they would contribute everything that they had harvested and divide it exactly in half with 50% going to each of them.
Years passed. The older brother never married. Meanwhile, the younger brother married and had eight children. One year, after a particularly bountiful harvest, the eldest brother said to himself, “I have only one mouth to feed. My younger brother has ten mouths to feed. He really needs more of the harvest than I do, but he’s far too gracious to renegotiate. I know what I’ll do. In the middle of night while his family and he are still asleep, I will awake and take some of my harvest, slip into his barn and leave it there for his family and him.
At the same time as he was thinking along these lines, his younger brother was thinking, “God has given me eight wonderful children who will care for me when I grow older. My brother hasn’t had the same good fortune. He’ll really needs more of this harvest for his old age than I do, but he’s far too gracious to renegotiate. I know what I’ll do. In the middle of the night while he is still asleep, I will awake and take some of my harvest, slip into his barn and leave it for him.
So, one night, when the moon was full, those two brothers set out and came face to face on a mission of generosity. The old rabbi said that although there wasn’t a cloud in the sky a gentle rain began to fall. Do you know what it was? God was weeping for joy because two of his children had finally gotten the point. They realized that there always was, always had been and always would be enough, because they were children of an abundant Creator. The secret of life is not getting and hoarding but rather realizing that everything that we have has been given to us by grace and as we share what we have been given we find the pathway to ultimate joy.
This little parable symbolizes for me what Jesus had in mind when he told his disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another.” If we could truly love each other and turn every day into a mission of generosity, then the Great One above would weep for joy, knowing that we had finally gotten the point. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another.” Amen.