February 3, 2019

2019 Feb3

Fourth Sunday After Epiphany

A Sermon Preached by The Rev Karen Siegfriedt on February 3, 2019

 

Where’s Waldo? Where is Waldo??? Do you remember that silly character portrayed in a number of children’s books written back in the 1980’s? Waldo was a traveler who could be identified by his red and white striped shirt, bobble hat, and glasses. The purpose of these books was for the reader to try to find Waldo buried within a busy background of people and objects. Since the illustrations were heavily populated scenes that contained deceptive use of red and white striped objects, Waldo was often difficult to locate. I hadn’t thought about Waldo in years, but “Where’s Waldo” came to my mind when I recently read a story about a little girl looking for Jesus.


This little girl’s mother would often ask her,


Where’s Jesus?


During the Christmas season, it was a lot easier for the little girl to point out the baby Jesus in the many nativity scenes around town. Christmas carols, bright shining stars, and tree ornaments depicting the Holy Family were all clues as to where Jesus could be found. But once the Christmas season had ended and the nativity sets and Christmas carols set aside, finding Jesus became more of a challenge for the child. Something deeper than physical images were needed for her to locate Jesus among the busyness of ordinary life.


So now I ask you: “Given that Christmas is over, where would you suggest finding Jesus in our day-to-day routines?” Today I would like to talk about finding Jesus in works of love. I will use the reading from Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians as my text.


We are all familiar with the words of Paul’s Ode to Love: “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” It is difficult to hear these words from 1Corinthians 13 without having an image of a white wedding dress, handsome tuxedos, and an anxious bridal party standing before the altar. In fact, this biblical reading is often a favorite at weddings. However, Paul did not write these words to a romantic couple about to tie the knot. Instead, he wrote these words to a dysfunctional church in Corinth Greece. It was written during the formation of the early Christian Church when immature Christians were first learning how to put their ego desires aside and focus instead on the common good of the community.


Soon after the church in Corinth was founded (almost 2000 years ago), parishioners began bragging about how important they were because of their remarkable spiritual gifts. Some had gifts of healing, others had gifts of wisdom and teaching, and still others had gifts of speaking in tongues and the working of miracles. Instead of using these gifts in service to others, these spiritual gifts became a source of boasting. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul reminds them that if they do not clothe their lives in love, then these gifts mean nothing.


For Paul, love is at the center of Christian community.


Love is the reason for
the Church.


Love is the message of Christ who showed his followers the path of compassion. God is love. Love comes from God. When we anticipate the coming of Christ in all its glory, what we are waiting for is the coming of love in all its fullness. Our job as the baptized community is to permeate love, plain and simple. Jesus taught us the great commandment: To love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Everything else in Christianity is simply a commentary on this great commandment.


If love is at the core of our Christian tradition, why is it so hard for us to clothe ourselves in love? There are many reasons of course and I am sure you have your own list of why loving others can be difficult. But one of the reasons we miss out on love is because we misunderstand what Christian love is all about. Christian love does not require a romantic sentiment or a warm and fuzzy feeling. Christian love does not require a sexual attraction or a particular friendship. Christian love is simply based on works of kindness that include justice, peace, and generosity. What a relief that we don’t have to conjure up feelings of affection in order to love our neighbor!


Paul describes love as an
action verb.


He lists 15 active statements which describes what love does and does not do. Here is what love does: Love is patient, kind, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. Love rejoices in the truth. Paul then describes eight statements about what love must not do: Love is not envious, boastful, arrogant, rude, irritable, resentful. It does not rejoice in wrongdoing. Love does not end!  


 Matt Dorio describes a scene in which he responded with love when attacked with homophobic threats by a man at the grocery store. This is what he posted: “I was just standing in the cashier line at the grocery store. I wore my Portland Trail Blazers Pride Sweatshirt today to work. It’s one of my favorite articles of clothing. An older gentleman, standing right behind me, decided to say: “Why are you wearing that rainbow shirt? Are you some sort of fa****?”  I said: “Well sir, I am a gay man yes. And I wear this to show people that I am not only proud of myself and my community, but also the organization I work for who supports Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.”  The man in line then then proceeded to say: “Have fun in hell homo, hope you’re proud of the choice you decided to make.”


Matt continues: “This man then goes on to mumble homophobic slurs, the whole time I’m waiting in line. I ignore him, pay for my food, and start to walk away. I then notice his card gets declined. He keeps trying and trying and he isn’t able to pay for his food. I walk up to the cash register and pay for his 3 items. He looks at me and goes:  “Why would you do that?” I said; “Well sir, unlike my sexuality, which is not a choice...I’m choosing to be a nice person. I hope you find it in your heart to understand your words can be hurtful, but I’m choosing to see you for the person you are, and I wanted to help you.” The man said nothing and Matt walked away.


Paul tells the Corinthians: (1 Cor. 13:1-13- The Message Translation below)

  • If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.
  • Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut, Doesn’t have a swelled head, Doesn’t force itself on others. Love isn’t always “me first,” Doesn’t fly off the handle, Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, Doesn’t revel when others grovel.
  • Love takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, Puts up with anything, Trusts God always, Always looks for the best, Never looks back, But keeps going to the end.


 In summary, the message of Paul’s Ode to Love is this: “Every truth, every deed, every teaching is reduced to nothing more than religious noise when it isn’t placed under and clothed in the commandment to love.” (Greg Boyd)


So if you are still looking for Jesus now that the nativity scenes have been taken down, I say look beyond the doctrine, the dogma, and the philosophical conundrums that present the faith as a system of belief rather than a life clothed in love. If you are looking for Jesus, then make him known in conscious acts of love. If you strive for justice and the dignity of every human being, there you will find Jesus, the template for our political and social structures. Whenever others go low, take the high road and there you will find Jesus calling you to follow him as the way, the truth, and the life.  Whenever truth is revealed among the lies and falsehoods of the day, rejoice and be glad for love rejoices at the truth. Whenever you see an adversary fall in shame, don’t revel in his downfall or keep score of his sins, for love is never arrogant or rude. And if you are ever confronted with hurtful remarks from a wounded soul, do not retaliate but reach out in peace.


Yesterday, Thích Nhất Hạnh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist died at the age of 92. For those of you who are familiar with his works, you would agree that he was an icon of love. In honor of his influence on my life, I would like to end with a few of his teachings on Love:


The first aspect of true love is the intention and capacity to offer joy and happiness. To develop that capacity, we have to practice looking and listening deeply so that we know what to do and what not to do to make others happy.”


The second aspect of true love is the intention and capacity to relieve and transform suffering and lighten sorrows.”


The third element of true love is joy. True love always brings joy to ourselves and to the one we love. If our love does not bring joy to both of us, it is not true love.”  


“Real love begins where nothing
is expected in return.”

© 2019 St. Stephen's Episcopal Church
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