All you need is love (sermon)

 I don’t know about you all, but it is Olympic season in my household. I almost never watch TV, let alone follow sports… but as soon as the Olympics roll around every two years, I turn into a sport fanatic, TV-always humming in the background. I love watching favorite events, like gymnastics and soccer, or discovering new-to-me sports—this year, it’s been water polo.

There’s something magical about the Olympics. Perhaps it’s the presence of so many different sports events and talented athletes in one place, for a short time. Perhaps it’s seeing 206 countries—both fierce enemies and strong allies—come together in one place. But for me, it’s not so much the big displays of patriotism, or torch relay, or celebrities singing “Imagine”. What always stands out to me are the small moments—one fencer immediately bending over their rival on the ground to make sure they aren’t injured, or a country’s tiny delegation, who knows that they don’t have much of a chance of medaling…, but are just so elated to be there and to play their sport.

One moment in particular struck me while watching the opening ceremonies this year, during the final torch relay. Before the fire finally found its home in the ornate brazier in the middle of the arena, the torch was passed by several groups of athletes, slowly jogging: each group deeply symbolic. One group, however, did not jog. Three baseball players walked slowly down the aisle, keeping pace with Shigeo Nagashima (SHU-ge-oh Na-ga-SHI-ma), an 85 year old stroke survivor. Hideki Matsui (Hi-DECK-ee  MAT-sue), another baseball player, supported Nagashima all the way. And so, the torch slowed down—the entire world slowed down—from a symbolic jog, to a slow, intentional walk. The focus was not on the torch, and getting it from point A to point B, but on Nagashima and Hideki—their camaraderie, care, and love. The world stopped and loved Nagashima by waiting for him, reminding us that the torch is only as important as the athletes carrying it.

But let us set aside these exemplars for a moment, and turn to today’s lectionary texts.

By in large, today’s lectionary is full of lessons in what not to do. Don’t shirk on your duties as a king in war, don’t sleep with someone else’s wife, don’t try—badly, to cover up your mistake. And definitely don’t use your political power to kill her husband when your cover up doesn’t work.

The gospel has a few more: don’t follow a traveling teacher into the middle of nowhere without packing lunch, don’t make people listen to a lecture without feeding them, don’t try to make Jesus an earthly king, and definitely don’t be afraid of people walking on water.

Whew. That’s a lot of things not to do—some more serious than others. You’re probably sitting there wondering—well, what’s the good news in all of that? But to find that out, we need to do a little thinking about what all of these “don’ts” have in common.

All you need is love, except when we go looking for it in the wrong places. That’s what happens to David, who should be off leading his armies in battle, taking leadership of Israel, and God’s people. Instead, he’s at home, and finds himself defeated by lust—one bad decision leading to another bad decision, and another. The Bible is clear that this is love as it should not be—love that abuses power and privilege is not what God intends.

In contrast, we have in the gospel, Jesus continually showing us a different way to love. In the face of a hungry crowd—hungry for good news, for relief from sickness, for knowledge… and for food—Jesus miraculously multiplies bread and fish, providing for physical as while as spiritual hunger. When the people would reward him by making him king, he withdrew alone—the goal of love is not power. When the disciples glimpsed in him the creator of the world, who created and calms the seas, Jesus said “do not be afraid”, for fear is not love.

All you need is love. Not the grand, selfish and self-defeating narrative arc of David and Bathsheba, nor the fearful, reactionary response to Jesus that would make his love fit into the loves and lusts and powers and principalities of this world. Jesus calls us instead to a different kind of love—love that does not seek earthly power or selfish ambition. In fact, Christ’s love only seeks… our love.

Julian of Norwich describes this sacrificial love in her visions, Revelations of Divine Love, where Christ says “It is joy, a bliss, an endless delight to me that ever I suffered the Passion for thee; and if I could suffer more, I would suffer more.” She comments that “to die for my love so often that the number passes created reason, that is the most exalted offer that our Lord God could make to man’s soul” The love of Jesus that Julian sees in her vision is one of sacrifice and suffering, giving again and again, even when it’s not practical or popular or even rational.

All we need is love. Not the grand love of spotlights and superstars. Not even of the big screen and grand parades and torch relays. As our final hymn today says so well, Jesus calls us from the worship of “the vain world’s golden store”, from each idol that would keep us, saying “Christian love me more”.

Jesus calls us…

to the kind of love that happens when the world stops and waits, for the slow walk of one person helping another,

to the kind of love that would give itself up again and again,

To love that recognizes God as creator, and our right place in the created order

to love that sees each person as a child of God, equally worthy of care.

And so, “by thy mercies, Savior may we hear your call. Give our hearts to your obedience, to serve and love you best of all”, that we may bring true love—love as it should be—into every part of our lives and world.

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