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Sermon for August 31, 2014

Laws for Living: #8 Peace with Love
Christ gave each one of us the special gift of grace, showing how generous he is. That is why it says in the Scriptures,
“When he went up to the heights,
    he led a parade of captives,
    and he gave gifts to people.” Psalm 68:18
When it says, “He went up,” what does it mean? It means that he first came down to the earth. So Jesus came down, and he is the same One who went up above all the heaven. Christ did that to fill everything with his presence. And Christ gave gifts to people—he made some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to go and tell the Good News, and some to have the work of caring for and teaching God’s people. Christ gave those gifts to prepare God’s holy people for the work of serving, to make the body of Christ stronger. This work must continue until we are all joined together in the same faith and in the same knowledge of the Son of God. We must become like a mature person, growing until we become like Christ and have his perfection. Then we will no longer be babies. We will not be tossed about like a ship that the waves carry one way and then another. We will not be influenced by every new teaching we hear from people who are trying to fool us. They make plans and try any kind of trick to fool people into following the wrong path. No! Speaking the truth with love, we will grow up in every way into Christ, who is the head. The whole body depends on Christ, and all the parts of the body are joined and held together. Each part does its own work to make the whole body grow and be strong with love. ~Ephesians 4:7-16
This is how author James Baldwin tells the story:
The joint, as Fats Waller would have said, was jumping. During the last set, the saxophone player took off on a terrific solo.  He was a kid from some insane place like Jersey City or Syracuse, but somewhere along the line he had discovered he could say it with a saxophone.  He stood there, wide legged, filling his barrel chest, shivering in the rags of his twenty-odd years, and screaming through the horn, “Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me?” and again—“Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me?”  The same phrase unbearably, endlessly, and variously repeated with all the force the kid had. The question was terrible and real.  The boy was blowing with his lungs and guts out of his own short past; and somewhere in the past, in gutters or gang fights…in the acrid room, under the smell in the precinct basement, he had received a blow from which he would never recover, and this no one wanted to believe. “Do you love me?  Do you love me?  Do you love me?”  The men on the stand stayed with him cool and at a little distance, adding and questioning. But each man knew that the boy was blowing for every one of them.
Just admit something. Everyone you see, you say to them, “Love me.”

Yes, I mean you. Me, too. We all walk around with a big sign on our chests that asks, “Love Me?” No one really wants to hear this. It’s embarrassing. It’s humbling. So let’s cut right down to the reality of the matter: however mature we feel, however at home with ourselves we may believe ourselves to be, there is a little kid in us who never quite grew up and who waits for the slightest opportunity to squeeze some praise and acceptance from another person.

Just admit something. Everyone you see, you say to them, “Love me.” We want to prove ourselves. We want to be recognized. Esteemed. Valued. It’s a perfectly natural and valid desire. We hunger for adoration and need to be sated. We feel rejected and want to be acceptance for the unique and diverse individuals we really are. We want to be seen and heard, treasured and understood. Ultimately we want to be loved.

Admit something. Everyone you see, you say to them "Love me."

Those words actually come from the poet Hafiz. Hafiz was a Persian mystic and poet-seer who was known as “Tongue of the Invisible.” He lived from 1325 –1389. In Islam, hafiz means one who has memorized the entire Qur’an by heart. Throughout his lifetime, the poet Hafiz not only memorized the Qur’an, he also wrote about 5000 poems, which express a seekers longing for union with the divine. He wrote this:
Admit something. Everyone you see, you say to them "Love me."
Of course you do not do this out loud; otherwise, someone would call the cops.
Still, though, think about this, this great pull in us to connect.
Why not become the one who lives with a full moon
     in each eye that is always saying ,
with that sweet moon language,
what every other eye in this world is dying to hear?
Why is it that we sometimes struggle to acknowledge openly to the people who mean the most to us that we love them? Why do we hold back from letting others know we are happy in their presence, that our lives have more meaning when they are around, that we are better people when we are together? If we are honest with ourselves, we are often unable to love the people in ways we want to. And I’m not just talking about spouses and partners, kids and parents. I also mean the cashier who is taking too much time to ring out customers while chatting with the person in front of you at the checkout line. I also mean the driver who has grabbed the parking spot you were eyeing. I also mean the tech-support assistant in Bombay who doesn’t seem to understand your accent. Why can’t we say what every other eye in this world is dying to hear?

Have you ever noticed the mood of people as you walk down a busy sidewalk? Sometimes people make lots of eye contact and offer friendly smiles. They nod hello. Strangers stop to chat. On other days no one offers eye contact at all. People look closed off and unavailable. I used to wonder what the difference was, why on some days people were open and friendly and other days they were cold and shut off. I finally noticed that my perception depended on me, my mood of the moment. When I felt happy, when I radiated positive energy, people responded in kind. When I closed down myself down, people closed themselves to me.

The poet Hafiz is always singing about love. But he does not mean love that the insecure child inside of us is begging for. That kind of love is need. The kind of love that interests Hafiz is that which can only begin when the wanting ceases. Of course we want to connect to each other – to touch and be touched, to offer and receive affection, to feel the warmth of another. We also want a love that connects beneath the words, beneath the skin, right down to our heart and soul. We want to know the taste of loving and being loved in our very essence.

So, when can we just get to it, and do what Jesus said, and love one another? How can we make peace with love?

Making peace with love has nothing to do with pampering your ego – taking bubble bath, getting a message, or reviewing positive affirmations before bed. I have no problem with any of those things, but they don’t help us make peace with love. The Apostle Paul’s school of thought puts suggests another way: We must become like a mature person, growing until we become like Christ … Speaking the truth with love, we will grow up in every way into Christ, who is the head. The whole body depends on Christ, and all the parts of the body are joined and held together. Each part does its own work to make the whole body grow and be strong with love. In other words, get in touch with your uniqueness. Celebrate the wonderful person you were created to be. But don’t let it stop there. You and I are not whole until each of us, with our unique gifts and personalities, come together to form an entire body, with Christ as the head. We are not complete without each other.

Now we know a body could never function well if the different parts didn’t like each other, right? In another of his letters, Paul reminds us that the body can’t work if different members go on strike. A physical body isn’t healthy if one part says it doesn’t need the others. The same is true for the body of Christ. We are not whole and healthy until we are unified. That is love.

A broken heart fills the entire body with throbbing loneliness. That’s love. A smile fills up the entire body with happiness. That’s love. One person’s joy makes the entire body ecstatic and another’s pain makes the entire body catch its breath. That’s love. Each one of us is vital to the well-being of the whole. Even when your particular uniqueness and gifts go unseen and unheralded, the whole body would suffer without you.

Love says, “I need your presence in my sorrow. I need your assurance when I am sick. I need your hope when I am discouraged. I need your warmth when the world grows cold. I need us, as members of a body, as a community, to find unity in our good and compassionate God.”               

What is every other eye in this world dying to hear? Can we meet the world’s insistent plea for love with bright orbs in our eyes and full moon language that speaks sweet words of belonging? Imagine, just imagine, what grace it would be, if we were able to mumble through trembling lips, what everyone we meet wants to hear: “You fit. I am not whole without you. I love you.”

Baldwin, James quoted in Creative Brooding by Robert A. Raines.New York: Macmillan, 1966.  48
Housden, Roger. Ten Poems to Change Your Life, Again and Again. New York: Harmony, 2007. 107-117.


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