January 31, Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
All John Chrysostom quotes come from
Chrysostom, St. John (2012-02-01). The Love Chapter (Paraclete Essentials). Paraclete Press. Kindle Edition.
Draft text of the homily, please do not cite without permission.
Love is easy. Love is simple. Love is always joyful and happy, and never ever requires very much from us…is not what St. Paul says.
It might be what we want to hear…It might be how we wished love could be when we “thought as a child.” It might be what the Valentine’s Day industry wants us to hear…
But it’s not what Paul says…and it’s certainly not what Jesus shows us…
What they tell us is more like: Love is the biggest risk of all. Love is constantly pulling us outside ourselves. Love requires we let go…demands that we grow up…and Love will keep working on us until we do…
This part of the first letter to the Corinthians is often called the most important chapter in the New Testament outside the Gospels. The great fourth century bishop and preacher John Chrysostom preached two lengthy sermons on it, that have come down to us, where he unpacks this “Love Chapter” verse by verse.
And what he says is that Love keeps working on us, urging us to grow and go deeper until we ourselves are able to love as God does…until we become love.
He writes, “From the beginning, God contrived ten thousand ways for implanting love in us.”
That’s our journey—our quest—discovering the love that has been implanted in us…the love that draw us deeper into multiple relationships…the love that truly binds us together…the love that will not let us go.
“Love,” he writes, “makes us into angels step by step.”
Step by difficult step. It’s not an easy journey. But it’s the journey we’re on.
We are not created fully formed out of the dust of the earth…rather Love forms us in the womb and we are born as infants…as beings that need to be nurtured and tended and taught…and for this we are given into families and surrounded by communities.
Now we all know that families can be both wonderful—and terrible—teachers of love…some are quite good, and some can be pretty dreadful…
And so our families alone are not enough to reveal all that Love has implanted in us. And so God also made it so we have to grow into wider relationships, made it so that we need one another.
We have trade, and markets and entire economies, argues Chrysostom, because of Love. He writes, “God made sure that everything couldn’t be produced in every place…so that [God] might compel us to mix with one another.”
“Necessities create friendships,” he says. Our needs create relationships which create bonds.
But Love demands that we go further than family and further friendship…love demands that we open ourselves to—and build relationships with those who are not like us…and who we maybe don’t like…who might actually be opposed to us…God, through love, draws us together in our families and our communities, and in ever widening circles, Chrysostom says, in order to demonstrate to us that “your own profit lies in the profit of your neighbor, and his in yours.”
“Your own profit lies in the profit of your neighbor, and hers in yours.”
It is like what poet Gwendolyn Brooks says in her ode to the great Paul Robeson:
“we are each other’s harvest:
we are each other’s business:
we are each other’s magnitude and bond.”
We belong to one another.
And not just those of us gathered here, we belong to all. And all—even those least like us—all belong to us.
God constantly turns us outward…out toward one another…out in ever widening circles…weaving us together—not just in the womb, but always building us into a body—a grown up body that cares for and serves others…because every “other” is also part of ourselves…
It’s a challenging gospel. It’s a challenge to those Jesus preaches to in Nazareth…It’s a challenge to those Paul writes to in Corinth…It’s a challenge to those St. John Chrysostom preaches to…It’s a challenge for us. It the kind of gospel that might make some want to run somebody out of town.
But it is the work we are engaged in. It’s the primary reason we here. Discovering the love that has been implanted in ourselves, and others, and learning how to share it freely and generously for the sake of all.
Today we’ll have our annual meeting, where we’ll elect officers and vestry members, and delegates to diocesan convention. We’ll offer our thanks for tasks completed, and we’ll welcome the new gifts of leadership that are being offered. We’ll hear about mission and ministry and buildings and budgets. We’ll hear about what we’ve been able to accomplish, and some of the challenges that we face. The annual report was emailed on Friday, and hard copies will be available, I hope you’ve had a chance to read it, and I hope you will continue to reflect on it. This all-pervasive and challenging love lies at the heart all of it. If not, it’s just noisy gongs and clanging cymbals.
I know it’s tempting to separate the business aspects of the church from the spiritual aspects…to separate the budget and the buildings from the mission and the ministry. But it’s important to remember that seeing these as separate is “seeing through a glass darkly.” Love does not recognize them as separate. Love calls us to see them whole…fully…face to face. Because we belong to one another.
Love, and the growth and spread of God’s love in us, and through us to our families and communities, is the work we are called to. It’s why we’re here. The framework for our Annual Meeting, and for all of the decisions we make is grounded in this truth: that we belong to one another. We are each other’s harvest. All Saints is a place where multiple communities— come to experience the love of God, where many come to continue doing the sometimes difficult, but always grace-filled work of transformation, where all can learn to see more and more clearly, where we grow from children to adults and turn into angels step by step.
“God has drawn us together in every way”—says St. John Chrysostom: “by nature, family, language, and by place.”
God draws us into relationships first with those nearest us…and then with those less and less like us…and ultimately into relationship with God…this is how we grow…this is where we grow…this is how and where we are challenged…this is how and where we are changed—step by step—into angels…this is how God through Christ reconciles all of creation.
It’s not easy…It’s not simple…and it certainly isn’t always all hugs and puppies…
It is the biggest risk of all…and it’s why we’re here…to ensure that All Saints is a place where the many groups that call this place “home” can continue to have a deep and ongoing experience of the Love that constantly turns us towards others…reveals our needs…teaches us that we belong to one another.
It is risky…but it’s a risk I’m more than willing to take. Because the Love I experience here is the Love that proclaims good news to the poor,release to the captives, sets the oppressed free…the Love that is patient, and kind, and bears all things…hopes all things…endures all things…
The Love that never ends.