Fear

For a while my little granddaughter was afraid to come down a slide like this, even though she really wanted to. We told her we’d be there to catch her and she’d be fine, but she’d just sit there clinging to the rail at the top, caught between fear and desire, until someone went up and backed her down the steps. And then finally one day she let go, and down she came, and she was fine.

I wish I could tell her that was the last time she’d ever find herself stuck in that place. I know it well myself.

A sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter

Preached at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Doylestown, Pa.

Way back when I was in college there was a terrible tearjerker movie called Love Story,which was nominated—unbelievably, it seems now, for seven Academy Awards, and it won the award for best original music score.  But what people remember about that movie now, almost 50 years later, it’s not the music. What turned out to be the lasting legacy of the movie Love Storyis the line, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

That quote has entered into the popular culture. It’s got its own Wikipedia entry, but even if this is the first time you’ve ever heard it, I’m think you probably know that it isn’t true. It’s a perfect example to me—and this is the reason I mention it today—of the way our culture lifts up love. Our movies and music and novels lift up love as really important but gives us a really distorted view of what love is all about.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us to love one another, because love is the single most important thing that will tell the world that you’re my followers. “Love one another as I have loved you,” he tells his friends. 

Love is the core of our Christian identify, and we better know what it is, and what it’s not. It’s not affection. It’s not a sentiment. It’s not wishing someone well. It’s not something you fall into if you’re lucky. It’s not a feeling we have for our romantic partners, or for our families.

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Love one another

I’m guest preaching this Sunday, the Fifth Sunday of Easter, and the Gospel for the day includes Jesus’ new commandment of love: “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” (John 13:34)

This is the second time I’ve preached since my retirement. The first was Maundy Thursday, when the Gospel also includes this new commandment—mandatum nova—which is the root of our name for the day.

I seem to be developing a rather narrow preaching specialty.

But I was thinking about that and wondering if it would be fair to say that this one sentence—love one another as I have loved you—actually contains the entire Gospel.

What do you think?

I think our recent clergy conference speaker would disagree on a number of counts. I can see that “the greatest commandment” contained in the Shema is missing—You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:30, Luke 10:27).

But I wonder if there is any other way we mortals are actually able to love God except by loving our neighbor.

Rain

And the rain fell like grace upon the earth, and flowers opened like human hearts to love

Seeing it all

I’m not saying that I’ve seen everything there is to see in the town where I’ve lived for the past 40 years. Engaging in photography as a spiritual practice does tend to open my eyes to beauty and newness all around—which is, I believe, a glimpse of the holy.

But one of the pleasures of spending more time in the city is finding all kinds of things you’ve never seen before. Like this robot delivery we came across in Center City yesterday. Sure, why not.

Last thoughts

Some last photos from our whirlwind tour of Atlanta, Montgomery, and Selma. MLK and John Lewis were everywhere, in words and image, and rightly so. But I found myself moved especially on this visit by the witness of all those “ordinary” people who put themselves on the line for the cause of justice: the Freedom Riders and lunch counter protestors, the working people who walked during the Montgomery bus boycott, the men and women who crossed the bridge at Selma. 

These words of Robert C. Wright, the Episcopal bishop of Atlanta, resonated with me: In addition to those “champions who we knew by name … it boggles the mind to think about the multitude of people who through minuscule militant acts contended with evil and found God mighty to save.” 

In an essay I read on the plane home, Wright wrote that the American South is our Holy Land. It’s “the location where both the personal and the communal experience of God in past days occurred. The place where significance and guidance for present-day activities abound, in addition to the promise of continued relationship, identity, and even prosperity in the future with God. … The land is holy because labor and pain, joy and grief, birth and death, war and peace, prayer to and betrayal of God have happened on this land and therefore it is set apart.”

I also enjoyed much good conversation with my daughter, who is working hard in her professional life to foster a robustly inclusive workplace, and who Has been teaching me a lot.

It was a moving visit, as any visit to the Holy Land should be. And the ongoing question is, how am I changed by it?

*”The American South is Our Holy Land,” in “Living into God’s Dream,” edited by Catherine Meeks.

Civil Rights Memorial Center, sponsored by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Montgomery
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Guided by Justice

“Guided by Justice,” sculpture by Dana King honoring “the courage of black women who collectively walked thousands of miles to end racial segregation in public transportation” during the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955. At the National Memorial for Peace and Justice.

Another reminder that ordinary people working together can indeed change the world, but not without paying a price.

Hushpuppies

Last vacation dinner at the Capitol Oyster Bar in Montgomery, AL. The waitress asks our guy if he wants hushpuppies. What are hushpuppies, he says.

She says, where are you from. I can tell you’re not from around here if you don’t know what hushpuppies are.

And I’m thinking, y’all should have been able to tell he’s not from around here the moment he opened his mouth and started taking.

Heading back tomorrow to where the biscuits aren’t as good, they don’t have hushpuppies, and everybody else talks just like us.