Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Love Extravagantly

Acts 10:1-48
1 Corinthians 13:1-13

Love extravagantly.  When we heard that phrase in Bible study, this passage of the Bible that we know so well came alive.  These are words we know well.  This chapter of the Bible is prized for Paul’s detailed description of love.  We often hear it at weddings when two people stand before their friends with stars in their eyes, promising to love one another forever.  And it is more.  Paul instructs us in the way of love by showing us how we are loved by God.  We are loved extravagantly so that we may love extravagantly.  We love these words, but we have trouble living them with our family, much less the neighbors that we don’t know and who may be different from us.  Some of you have heard me tell about reading Henri Nouwen’s classic The Life of the Beloved in a small women’s Bible study.  Nouwen wrote that we all want to become more loving.  But one of the women in our group said, “I don’t!  I don’t want to be more loving.  I love enough people.”  She was just being honest.  Haven’t we all felt like we have given enough, given up enough, done enough, stretched to our very limit in a relationship?  Haven’t we compromised enough?  Enough isn’t extravagant.  Enough is what anyone would do.  Those of us who follow Christ are commanded to love extravagantly.
How does the Holy Spirit teach us to love as extravagantly as we have been loved?  God’s Spirit of love breaks down barriers between us by changing our minds and then our hearts.  Or sometimes, the other way around.  For Peter, the Spirit started with his mind.  Before Peter could witness to Cornelius, Peter had to be persuaded that Cornelius was eligible to be loved by God.  According to Jewish law, Gentiles were unclean.  Observant Jews did not visit in the homes of Gentiles or eat with Gentiles by Jewish law.  And so, in a vision, God prepared a table for Peter filled with all kinds of animals, reptiles, and birds.  A voice told Peter to kill and eat.  But Peter remained faithful to the law, saying that he had never eaten anything profane or unclean.  The voice replied, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”  That must have been confusing, because Peter knew the law and observed it faithfully.  The vision appeared three times, and each time Peter refused to break the law and each time the voice repeated, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”  My guess is that it wasn’t until Peter met Cornelius that his vision began to make sense.  Maybe Cornelius was not unclean or profane, maybe the law was wrong, but while Peter was cautiously testing that possibility, the Holy Spirit fell with power upon Cornelius and his friends and family.  Peter was stunned, but when he saw the fruit of the Holy Spirit, he knew that he had to baptize Cornelius and his companions.  
Sometimes the Holy Spirit changes our hearts and our heads follow our hearts.  I had a perfectly good example and it simply disappeared from my memory.  No matter how hard I have tried, I can’t pull it back.  When that happens, I have learned to trust that someone else holds the right story.
2 stories were shared from the congregation.   One person told about hearing African American professionals at a conference share what they have to tell their children, especially their boys, about how to interact with police officers for their safety.  Hearing about those children’s instruction changed how she understood the reality of life for people of color, especially African Americans.
The other person shared how her daughter revealed to her that she was gay.  She had known and loved her daughter all her life and still loved her.  Her head just needed to catch up with her heart.

We have got to learn how to live love in such a way that the world will not only see, but be transformed.  Some people have asked why our church has entered a discernment process to determine whether we should become a reconciling congregation, welcoming all persons into the full life of the church.  One reason is the way those outside the church see us.  Only 25% of people in the Pacific Northwest claim an affiliation with any religion.  This is how the Barna study reports the percentages of people outside the church who think that the following words describe present-day Christianity:
* antihomosexual 91%
* judgmental 87%
* hypocritical 85%
* old-fashioned 78%
* too political 75%
* out of touch with reality 72%
That doesn’t sound like Christians practice extravagant love, does it?  We know we’re pretty cool.  But the people outside don’t think of us that way.  They don’t know how cool we are.  I don’t think it’s too late to provide a compelling witness to God’s love by demonstrating it through our words and actions.  I believe that God will lead us to the desire of God’s heart for this day if we will listen closely to God and to one another as we search the scriptures, acknowledge the tradition, explore our experience for revelation, and apply our God-given ability to reason—with the expectation that, over time, we will see clearly.  
Jesus summed up the law and the prophets in two statements.  We are to love God with all our hearts, and minds, and strength.  And we are to love our neighbors as ourselves—again, with all our hearts and minds, and strength.  Brian McLaren has created a list from the New Testament scriptures of the concrete ways that we can demonstrate God’s extravagant love toward our neighbors.  I’ve included that list in your bulletin.  God’s Spirit of love is waiting to help us learn how to love extravagantly.

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