Sermon preached May 3, 2009
Texts: Acts 4:5-12; I John 3:16-24
Last week I asked you about a singer, Susan Boyle, and many of you knew who she was – the woman who has gained fame from the YouTube broadcast of her appearance on Britain’s Got Talent. So this week I am going to begin with another question about a singer – Elton John. How many of you have heard of him? Shout out some of the songs you know sung by Elton John.
I don’t remember the first Elton John song I ever heard. I would guess that it might have been “Rocket Man” or “Crocodile Rock,” but I do remember one of the most memorable songs of his I have heard – and I want to play it for you. I hope you will be patient and listening for the next three plus minutes. [see end of the post for a link to YouTube and this song)
It is a simple song simply titled “Love Song.” But the first time I heard it was not in the Elton John version. I first heard “Love Song” at a place called the Solid Rock in Superior – a Christian coffee house. Among those in the band playing the song were Mark, who is now an Episcopal bishop in Canada; John, who is a physician here in Duluth; and Larry, a hippie turned Christian whose family lived across the street from mine when I was growing up. They played the song along with others in order to share and celebrate Christian faith, and I think they were right to do so. The gospel is here in this Elton John song.
The words I have to say, may well be simple but they’re true
Until you give your love, there’s nothing more that we can do.
Love is the opening door
Love is what we came here for
No one could offer you more
Do you know what I mean?
Have your eyes really seen?
Love is the key we must turn
Truth is the flame we must burn
Freedom the lesson we must learn
Do you know what I mean?
Have your eyes really seen?
This is what we hear in our Scriptures for today. “Let it be known to all of you, and to all… that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth” (Acts 4:10). There is certainly more to this story from Acts than this, but it is certainly one important part of the story – Jesus Christ heals and frees, and Peter and John have done a good deed for someone sick out of love for that person and out of love for Jesus.
“Let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action…. And this is God’s commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another.” (I John 3:18, 23) Love is the opening door, love is what we came here for, no one could offer you more. Do you know what I mean? Have your eyes really seen? The man healed by Peter and John had been healed and freed by God’s love known in Jesus Christ. That’s the good news – God’s love is powerful to heal our broken places. That’s the good news, we are invited to know that love and to share that love in truth and action.
This past week I received an invitation to speak next fall at the College of St. Scholastica. I was asked if I would be a part of a series, “What Do Protestants Think About…” The topic for Methodists is “what do Methodists think about perfection.” In some ways it is a daunting task, though I have already said “yes.” It is daunting in part because it is hazardous business to try and say what United Methodists might say about anything. When you get two United Methodists in a room, you probably have three opinions! (I might use that!) One place I will turn is to John Wesley, and especially to his brief definition of Christian perfection. By perfection I mean the humble, gentle, patient love of God and our neighbor, ruling our habits, attitudes, words, and actions. (“Brief Thoughts on Christian Perfection” January 27, 1767). These words remind me of the words of another British subject: Love is the opening door, love is what we came here for, no one could offer you more. Do you know what I mean? Have your eyes really seen?
Last week I also said we, as Christians are flawed but called people. We are called by God to know we are loved. We are called by God to nurture love in our innermost beings. We are called by God to let love flow through us to touch the world for its healing, its well-being - - - good health in the name of Jesus Christ.
The German poet Rainer Maria Rilke, who I also quoted last week on loving and living the questions, wrote in the same Letters to a Young Poet: Love is difficult. For one human being to love another human being: that is perhaps the most difficult task that has been entrusted to us, the ultimate task, the final test and proof, the work for which all other work is merely preparation. (Letter 7, p. 68)
Love is difficult. We may be flawed people, but God calls us to the difficult task of love – the difficult tasks of love, for love is encompassing. Love is the opening door - Love is what we came here for - No one could offer you more - Love is the key we must turn - Truth is the flame we must burn - Freedom the lesson we must learn. Somehow all that is encompassed in love – truth, freedom - - - to which we would add justice and peace and reconciliation and beauty. Love is difficult in many ways, but it is difficult in one way because of how much it asks: concern for the hungry, justice for the poor, inclusion of the excluded, care of the earth, peace-making, healthy interpersonal relationships – including marriage and parenting, love of self, and maybe hardest of all – love of enemies. Even as we strive diligently in love to reduce the number of enemies anyone may have, we realistically know that there will be enemies, and we are to love them. It is difficult – as difficult as discerning whether or not harsh interrogation techniques are consistent with love of enemies.
Good songs and good poems share similarities. They seek to move us with their words, they seek to open the world up to us just a little more. “Love Song” does that, and does it in part because of the way it communicates the gospel. Here is a poem that also does that.
Late Fragment Raymond Carver (All of Us, 294)
And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.
Do you know yourself beloved on the earth? Do you feel that? Love is what we come here for and if we as a church are not communicating our belovedness before God, then we need to make some changes. Do you know what I mean? Have your eyes really seen?
We are beloved by the God of Jesus Christ who wishes us well, desires our well-being in community with others and the world. As beloved of God we are to share that love lavishly, difficult as that task can be.
Sabbath Poem I, 1998, Wendell Berry, Given, 55
those who have learned
to love one another
have made their way
to the lasting world
and will not leave,
Love is the bottom line of Christian faith, of the good news in Jesus Christ, of the gospel. Love is the opening door, love is what we came here for, no one could offer you more.
This week I attended a workshop on worship and one of the speakers was hymn writer Marty Haugen. Marty shared a story told him by a friend, a pastor. In Albuquerque a single mother had two children, the oldest of whom was five. One day the five year old ran out into the street and was struck and killed by a police officer. During the time following the death, while the pastor was visiting the mother, the chief of police paid a call. When he arrived the first thing the mother said to him was I forgive the police officer, the police department, the city. It was not your fault. The chief of police was stunned to tears. On the day of the funeral the pastor noticed a quiet Latino man at the back of the church, and soon determined that he was the officer whose car had struck the dead child. After the service, during the dinner that followed, the pastor noticed the single mother sitting with the officer, and the pastor told Marty Haugen, looking in that young man’s eyes, I saw salvation.
That pastor could see salvation because that mother had given love to someone who desperately needed to know he was beloved on the earth. He was now standing before others in good health, better health, in the name of Jesus Christ. A young mother, grieving the loss of her child, loved in truth and in action. Love is the opening door, love is what we came here for, no one could offer you more. Do you know what I mean? So whatever happens, love and be loved, whatever happens. When economic downturns happen, love. When the flu threatens our world, love. When terrorism strikes fear, love. When you hurt and grieve, love. Whatever happens love. Know yourself loved, call yourself beloved. Do you know what I mean?
Elton John, "Love Song"