Love is larger than you are. You can invite love, but you cannot dictate how, when, and where love expresses itself. You can choose to surrender to love, or not, but in the end love strikes like lightening, unpredictable and irrefutable. You can even find yourself loving people you don’t like at all. Love does not come with conditions, stipulations, addenda, or codes. Like the sun, love radiates independently of our fears and desires.
Love is inherently free. It cannot be bought, sold, or traded. You cannot make someone love you, nor can you prevent it….Love cannot be imprisoned nor can it be legislated. Love is not a substance, not a commodity, nor even a marketable power source. Love has no territory, no borders, no quantifiable mass or energy output.
One can buy loyalty, companionship, attention, perhaps even compassion, but love itself cannot be bought….It comes, or not, by grace, of its own will and in its own timing, subject to no human’s planning.
Love cannot be turned on as a reward. It cannot be turned off as a punishment. Only something else pretending to be love can be used as a lure, as a hook, for bait and switch, imitated, insinuated, but the real deal can never be delivered unless it springs freely from the heart.
This doesn’t mean that love allows destructive and abusive behaviors to go unchecked. Love speaks out for justice and protests when harm is being done. Love points out the consequences of hurting oneself or others. Love allows room for anger, grief, or pain to be expressed and released. But love does not threaten to withhold itself if it fails to get what it wants. Love does not say, directly or indirectly, “If you are a bad boy, Mommy won’t love you any more.” Love does not say, “Daddy’s little girl doesn’t do that.”
Love cares what becomes of you because love knows that we are all interconnected. Love is inherently compassionate and empathic. Love knows that the “other” is also oneself. This is the true nature of love and love itself cannot be manipulated or restrained. Love honors the sovereignty of each soul. Love is its own law.
On Tuesday evening, when many of you were settling in front of your television sets to watch the election returns, five of us were here in this sanctuary, in this room with limited lighting since the crowd was small, where I finished performing the marriage of Lydia Anderson and Jorge Pina. The BIG marriage event where vows were taken in front of friends and family members happened several weeks ago, but we couldn’t finish with the paperwork until some delayed legal documents for Jorge arrived.
As I stood there on your side of the communion table with Lydia and Jorge immediately in front of me, I asked them to confirm the vows that they had spoken to each other so movingly at the public ceremony. My focus was on the delighted and delightful young couple, but I also had an opportunity to observe two other very important types of love beyond new spousal love. Standing just beyond Lydia and Jorge were Jeff and Charlene, the parents of the bride for those of you who don’t yet know them, and so I was also able to observe experienced couple love in a strong marriage confronting the empty nest; in addition I saw one dimension of the complexity of parental love–standing alongside a child with unlimited support and good will at a powerful rite of passage. It was all very moving for me knowing how much Charlene and Jeff love their children and how encouraging they have been and are. They were with Lydia and her beloved celebrating this exciting new chapter in their lives. Love filled the room, I tell you, and I thought to myself, with thanks to Louie Armstrong for the words: “What a wonderful world.”
Love is all around, and there are all kinds of expressions of love. Probably there isn’t as much love alive and at work in the world as the world needs. If there were, there would be much less discord at every level. Still, I insist that there’s a lot of love affecting positive change in the world. Otherwise, I think we would not have lasted as long as we have.
People may give and receive love that all ages and stages of life. I just told you about a beautiful young couple choosing each other in marriage and formalizing their love relationship with each other for what they intend to be a lifetime.
I can also tell you stories about love between couples who’ve been together for a lifetime. One of those stories would certainly be the one about Bea and Oliver Brecht, members of my congregation in Baltimore. I think by the time I met them they had already been married 50 years or little more. Oliver was a stroke patient, and he lived in a care facility because his needs were beyond what Bea could provide. But every single day unless she happened to be on one of her infrequent trips to visit family in Texas she was at Oliver’s bedside every morning and sometimes twice a day. He could not speak coherently to my ear so I often did not understand what he was trying to tell me, but Bea understood everything he was trying to convey whether any actual words were spoken or not. Talk about two peas in a pod. She usually referred to him as her sweetheart. When Oliver died, I officiated at his funeral service, and it was evident that if love extends beyond this world theirs did or does. The warmth and tenderness between them was a sight to behold. Thoreau said, “There is no remedy for love but to love more.”
“What the world needs now is love sweet love. It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.” Dion Warwick used to sing that song, and I believed her so I say again if there were more love in the world, the world would be a better place. If there were more love in the world there would be less war and maybe eventually no war. If there were more love in the world the recent presidential election would’ve remained focused on issues and not personalities or manufactured personalities. If there were more love in the world fewer people would be hungry, fewer people would be homeless, fewer people would wander through a day and toss at night feeling present in the world but entirely unloved by everyone in it.
Speaking of the recent presidential election and many other elections at the same time, I began to play around in my head with the possible interrelationship of today’s topic with American politics. My initial thinking was that there is practically no evidence of love of any sort in the election process. Opponents speak as if they hate, detest one another. They speak as if they are representing different constituencies when the winner of the presidency or the winner of the state Senate seat must represent the whole of her or his constituency. There is no way a percentage of people can be characterized as unnecessary in the district or the nation as unworthy of the political winner’s attention or efforts.
In short, I could think of nothing but hatred in the political process itself. I don’t think that Christian values or monotheistic values or any religious values should be superimposed upon the political process anymore than the merging of church and state should be put into place as opposed to the separation of church and state. Love is a reality that transcends all religions. Love is not the possession of people of faith, any kind of faith anymore than reason is.
I found an article by a psychiatrist whose views are in line with my initial thoughts on this topic. Dr. Judith Orloff says that hatred and vindictiveness among politicians is tearing our country apart–not that that’s something new. But how long can it continue? Her words:
Hatred begets hatred. There is no compassion here. There is no respect for the honor of the political process or the human beings engaged in it. Why would we ever want someone to be our leader who is hateful, vindictive, and lusts only for the aphrodisiac of power?
Last Saturday, Dr. Orloff published online a list she called “7 Compassionate Vows for Politicians.” I don’t see many politicians taking these, but what if only a few did to start?
1. I vow to value compassion in everything I do.
2. I vow to treat my fellow candidates with respect.
3. I vow to honor our country and our people by being a positive role model who embodies the good.
4. I vow not to be a fear monger in my speeches or in the media to garner votes.
5. I vow to put the welfare of this country and the earth above greed.
6. I vow to fight for the well-being of the earth and all its resources.
7. I vow to advocate national and global wellness to spread happiness on earth.
I was quite surprised to stumble upon a political scientist who says that love and politics go together like a horse and carriage and even more surprised to find her conclusions being drawn from her interaction with the writings of the great philosopher, Hegel.
The political scientist of whom I speak is Professor Alice Ormiston, and her book in which these ideas are developed is titled LOVE AND POLITICS. Dr. Ormiston believes, quite optimistically it seems to me, that modern politics is rooted not just in the pursuit of power; instead, it is “essentially underpinned by the experience of love.” Her reading of Hegel led her to believe that he understood love as a principle uniting reason with emotion, also uniting self and other, therefore providing the foundation for a profound sense of connectedness to the world and to the will to perform genuine acts of autonomy. I’m sure you’re wondering where in the world she scraped up such optimism. Ormiston believes that those in our population who demonstrate and hold onto an undying commitment to individual rights and freedoms must have experienced and in most cases continue to experience love; love placed selfless values in any conscience where they are found. One of Ormiston’s reviewers offers the suggestion that the author’s ideals “can serve as a foundation for resistance to problems of our time including atomism and instrumental rationality, the ills of an unfettered capitalism, and the reality of a radical evil.”
Charlie Chaplain’s main character in his controversial and acclaimed film, THE GREAT DICTATOR, has this to say when he discovers that being an emperor isn’t for him:
The way of life can be free and beautiful.
But we have lost the way.
Greed has poisoned men’s souls –
has barricaded the world with hate;
has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed.
We have developed speed but we have shut ourselves in:
machinery that gives abundance has left us in want.
Our knowledge has made us cynical,
our cleverness hard and unkind.
We think too much and feel too little:
More than machinery we need humanity;
More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness.
Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost….You have the love of humanity in your hearts. You don’t hate–only the unloved hate.
So some of the most eloquent, inspiring words about love in the whole of Judeo-Christian scripture are found in one of the letters that the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth. I have mentioned on other occasions that the irony behind this beautiful poetic love language is that it was written to the congregation who among all the congregations Paul served liked him least, and the feeling was quite mutual thank you very much.
We have gotten pretty good, some of us, at singing, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin in me.” I don’t know how many of us mean that when we sing it. I don’t how many of us believe that anything any one of us or some few of us can do trying to combat one of the most sinister habits known to humanity will ever make a difference. Yet, there is no place where peace prevails except through the diligence of individuals who said, “Peace is a necessity, not a convenience, and all I can do is to make sure I am a peacemaker.”
We need more love in this world, all kinds of love. Love at every level. So let there be love on earth, and let it begin with me. I will not wait for others to take the risk first. I will not wait for others to show me the way. I will step out, skate out on thin ice, in order to put love into practice.
This is a good place to say that love as it is envisioned in Christian scripture has many facets and a handful of words to describe the different facets. Many of you know that the highest form of love is agape love, God’s kind of love. God is love; that love spills over into our lives. And from us it spills over into still other lives. Surprisingly, perhaps, humanity or at least human beings individually are capable of living out this divinely-based love in very tangible ways.
Imagine that the greatest love there is filters through us unless we shut it off, filters through us to such an extent that we may live with God’s kind of love shaping us, nurturing us, encouraging us; and we may let the light of that love shine onto others.
In Paul’s magnificent essay on love, he takes on those people who claim that love is always and only about an outward expression. If I go and feed hungry people, then I am automatically acting in love. That is not true, and he had powerful evidence in the Pharisees, the political party to which he belonged when he was a pre-Jesus Movement Jew. The Pharisees were precisely those people who believed that if they did the right thing then that proved they were acting out of the right motivation, which for them meant keeping law synonymous for them to obedience to God.
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Motivation. If I am a golden-tongued preacher off of whose tongue rolls rhetorically elegant words of inspiration and thereby stirs the hearts and souls of the masses (not referring to myself in case you were wondering!) I may be a memorable preacher, but my contribution to others, unless I do what I do motivated by love, is something on par with a gong solo. Have you ever been to a gong recital? The auditorium was filled wasn’t it? Yes, indeed. People were starving for the chance to hear that single tone for two solid hours.
Motivation. Let’s say you’re an incredibly on target prophet. A prophet is not someone who pretends to know when Jesus will reappear on Planet Earth in physical form (which is a part of eschatological mythology anyway and won’t ever be happening historically). A prophet is someone who has super fine-tuned common sense, especially in being able to tell someone or some group what her or his or their fate will be if they continue on with their present behaviors. A politician can be a prophet who, in our country if not in a world context, can speak of the tension between the have’s and the have-not’s that cannot go on forever; eventually the downtrodden will band together and take on the have’s. That’s a very important message, and it may be of value even if the messenger, the prophet, is a self-centered jerk. That is not likely to be the case, however, since self-centered people generally don’t care about what’s going to happen to others, now or in the long-term. Spoken in love, however, the message carries the compassionate subtext: “Let’s do everything we can to be sure this never comes to pass by implementing standards of justice wherever we have influence.”
Motivation. It’s possible to be a martyr, literally, and accomplish nothing practically or spiritually. This was seen, among other times and places, in the early church where in the time of Paul there were those who believed that martyrs gained God’s greatest favor; therefore, many of them put themselves in places where they’d be martyred as a means of personal gain. If you are martyred because, in love, you are standing for what is right and just, then you will leave this world a better place than you found it; as a means of trying to earn God’s special favor it really means nothing and is, more or less, an effort at sanctified suicide.
Behind much patience, there is love; there has to be love. Most acts of true kindness are spurred on by love. Love helps me balance things out socially and culturally; by that I mean I can love, rather than envy or resent, someone who has more power, prestige, and possessions that I ever will. If somehow I happen to be one of the have’s, love tempers my spirit and disallows boasting or arrogance. Forget rudeness and self-centeredness; love washes away the possibilities for those. Love disdains falsehoods and half-truths. Love rejoices in “fact checkers.”
I think it’s important to see that thinking of God as an entity who expects obedience from human being is one of those confusing distorted anthropomorphisms–an effort to create God in our own image. God is neither a parent nor a politician who expects/demands obedience from her or his children or subjects. We do the loving thing always knowing that it is consistent with what Love requires for the whole human family. That has already been made abundantly clear, and we do not need reminders to know it. We do not need bumper stickers or billboards or daily inspire-you e-mails. God’s love is a fact of life. So, Paul in his letter on love will not let any of us off the hook on the basis of our good deeds unless the motivation for doing those good deeds is absolutely sure, and in this context it means done in love.