Tuesday, May 08, 2007

We make all things new through love

Some of you may remember a story that got national media attention four or five years ago involving two farmers from Indianola. One of them was leasing the land that had been newly purchased by the other man. For some reason, the two started fighting and ended when the purchaser shot the leaser in the head with a shotgun and buried his body in a cistern. It is a gruesome scene ripped right from the storyline of a Law and Order television show. It’s unthinkable that someone would murder someone, especially those salt-of-the-earth, early-to-bed-early-to-rise, head-on-their-shoulders farmers. It makes you wonder what could make someone so angry at someone else who lived on the land that they just purchased. It makes me wonder if the whole situation happened simply because the landownder didn’t like the idea of someone else working his property.

Possession can make people do terrible things. All you have to do is look to a child to realize this. One of the first words a child learns is "mine." I'm sure many of the parents in this church know well what it's like to have to teach a child the value of sharing. How many kids get a new toy that they seem to enjoy most when another kid is playing with it? The problem is that we teach our children to share but, often, we forget about it as adults. Oh, I don't mean financially. Most of us can be very generous when it comes to giving money away. I’ve been thoroughly impressed at how many times people turn to this parish for assistance and walk away with more money than they expect. From New Orleans, to John Donaghy’s Honduras project, to our Love Your Neighbor fund and a thousand other places, we are willing to reach out financially to help.

The deeper selfish problem in our society deals with is what I call our "baby." Personally, my baby is the television show “heroes”. I watch it every week and nothing can get in the way of watching it. I tend to watch it twice and take great pride in the fact that I have almost all the shows on VHS. And I know that, when it comes out on DVD, I’ll be the first in line to purchase it. That’s my baby, that one thing that I don't want other people to have because it’s "mine"; that one thing that I always have to remind myself to share with others.

The Jewish people have, as their "baby" the state of Israel. Now, in truth, part of me wants to say that they can have it. It's a miniscule country with few resources and all kinds of violence. Yet, to be a follower of the Old Testament is to believe that Jerusalem is the capital of the country given to them by God. If they aren't in Israel, they pray that they can go back some day. This mentality goes back thousands of years. Jesus' message to his followers, then, is monumental. Instead of having the land as the most important part of their lives, Jesus' followers were to have love as the most important thing in their lives. It’s a radical re-orientation! How can you point to love? How can you store up love? How can you possess love?

That's the point. We aren't supposed to store it up or possess it, we are to give it away freely. It is to be the mark of being a Christian, loving. This is what drove Paul out from Antioch for three years through all those small towns surrounding the Mediterranean Sea before returning back to Antioch; love. His love of God sent him to those places where he was persecuted and even stoned almost to the point of death. This love is what the new heavens and the new earth are at the core.

When we start to see the world through the lens of love, we remove a lens of selfishness and find that we can see everything with a kind of newness. It's the kind of newness that a husband experiences when he sees his wife and realizes how much he loves her. Sure, they've been married for 20, 30, 40, 50 years and yet, there is still a part of him that loves her, a part that sees this anew every day. It's the kind of love that we feel when we see the dog or cat run into the living room after a long day of work.

It's a challenge, however, to see the world through the renewing eyes of love. It forces us to be self-sacrificing. This love that sees all things new is challenging to experience in the tough times of life, when life becomes weary, dull, and tiresome. It's at those points that we find out if we are capable of loving the way Jesus wants us to love in the gospel, sacrificial love. Sometimes, we need to sacrifice our own happiness in order to love the way Christ has taught us.

One way we do this is by making sure the things in our life aren't more important that our relationships, that work isn't more important than our family, friends, and faith. Hopefully, that’s what our church is constantly reminding us of. That’s part of what gathers us together each Sunday as the Body of Christ. As we approach the summer, it seems to me that there may be other opportunities to exercise this attitude that love and relationships are more important than stuff. Hopefully there will be an opportunity to get rid of some of the stuff of your life, especially the stuff that can be useful to others. You may be a graduating senior that can donate some of your clothes to the poor. Or you may just have a slower schedule at work and be able to go through those closets with boxes of stuff that have been sitting for years. And then make it a point to spend time with your friends and family, your loved ones. In the end, we are not judged by the treasures we have amassed. “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

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