2015 ACA Sermon by Rick Stoner
Saturday, March 14, 2015
ACA Message: “Burning with Love”
Tangle Leaves Paralyzed
Fear is a funny thing, isn’t it. In our fear we can do some wild and irrational things. However, we know that if we name our fears then we can have power over our fears and they will not control us. So, I have a confession of a fear. I am afraid of spiders. I don’t know what it is about them. Perhaps it’s their hairy legs or all those eyes or the fangs, but I am really afraid of spiders. In fact, when I see a spider I have to call my wife into the room to take care of it, and on those rare occasions when I summon enough courage to kill the spider myself, I often hit it then scream.
Yet, of late I have been wrestling with my fear. You see an image came to me when I was reflecting on the nature of miscommunication and distrust. The image of a sticky, messy web. I think in our fear when we fail to communicate and relationships are strained a web can form around us and in our fear as we begin to flail and thrash around we get struck; we become paralyzed in our fear.
I shared this image with my spiritual director and he told me to sit with this image, which was a terrifying prospect. But as I sat with the image—sat in the web—I found the words from my Lenten theme passage of Ezekiel 37:1-10 coming to my mind.
I applied the same question to the web. Can we untangle it? No. Only God can. Yet, we are called to speak, as Ezekiel was, and speak the words of life, and when we do life, living love, can burst forth.
Now, in our passage today the faith community in Rome certainly was tangled, perhaps paralyzed, in a sticky web. They were a divided group—Jew and Gentile. And into the mess of the web Paul speak the words of life. It begins with letting go of self; stop thrashing about. Then comes a poem of active love.
Hate Evil…Love Authentically
This poem begins with a call to authentic, sincere love—love without hypocrisy—and darts quickly to a strong worded caution to hate evil and cling to the good. And when these words reach our ears we quickly cheer because in our propositional faith we sincerely love to hate evil for purity of the boundaries of the community must be maintained. We have to make sure that people believe the right things before they cross the boundaries of our faith community. Despite Paul’s warning about our struggle not being against flesh and blood but against the powers and principalities, but we cannot see those very easily. However, we can see and hear our opponents, so if we could just eliminate the evil in them we’d be ok and that evil certainly resides in them. I find myself doing this all the time. I look at my opponent and pick up the scalpel and try to cut out the evil I see in my opponent. So we cut and tear people apart until we are left with bits and pieces of people, and it is hard to sincerely love bits and pieces of people.
Sincere, authentic love sees and creates wholeness in people. We see this in Luke 7:36-50, the story of the forgiven woman who anoints Jesus’ feet at the home of Simon the Pharisee. Jesus asks Simon if he could see the woman, and he can’t truly see her. In his desire to hate evil he can only see her for what she had been. Yet Jesus see her through love and sees her not for what she had been but for who she is as a child of God. So authentic love comes against the systemic evil, the spiritual forces, which seek to seep into our souls. It does not treat people like cattle where we usher them to auction block and decide if we will spend our love on them or send them away. Authentic love meets hostility with peace and hatred with forgiveness. As Dorothy Day reminds us we only love God as much as the person we love the least.
If our love is swallowed up by hate, then we will find ourselves tangled in a sticky messy web. You see when we drink hate, even righteous hate, we only can drink it so far until we are drunk by it. And when we have been drunk by hate its counterpart of fear and anxiety set in until we are paralyzed.
Boiling Not Rusting
This gets us to the heart of the poem, “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.” Or say one translation states, “Let your spirit be on fire, bubbling up and boiling over, as you serve the Lord.” The heart of it all; the very core of active love is a spirit that is bubbling up and boiling over for the Lord, like a pot on the stove, we become a people where the power of the Spirit is overflowing and rushing and gushing out of us and others are swept up in the beauty of the kingdom as pours out. This is where we see the authority of heaven breaking in as our witness before the watching world.
But this isn’t tame living. In fact when boiling over living starts to sound reasonable, then we better take notice because things have gotten off course. This sort of living moves and dances and shatters all the boundaries that we use to try and cage it. It is not about coloring inside all the lines. We are part of a faith tradition where people were boiling with faith so much that neither fire nor sword nor drowning nor being chained to their kitchen floors would stop them. We are part of a faith tradition where people’s tongues had to be clamped down at their deaths. In our fear of losing control we think that we might burn out. However, I don’t think we run the risk of burning out, instead we run the risk of rusting out. We will rust apart if we are too afraid to move.
Make it Real
Conversations about authentic, boiling love are nice, but there are times that we get lost in the conversations. We talk about and talk about it and talk about it, but until in breaks through and touches the ground it is lost in our thoughts. Therefore, we cannot simply be content with “gospel” pronouncements or “kingdom” conversations” about authentic, boiling love, we must be witnesses to authentic, boiling love. This means that we will get our hands messy in this beautiful mess of incarnational living and put aside the masks of two-faced love because there is a world around us dressing in shadows just waiting for us to shine. And we will find when our spirits are boiling with authentic love that the brokenness in us collides with the brokenness in others as we fall at the foot of the cross—the only truly safe place for us to be. Amen.