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Voices of Faith

June 20, 1999
The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

The Gift and the Burden of Love
The Rev. Margaret B. Gunness

First Reading: Jeremiah 20: 7-13
Gospel: Matthew 10: 24-33

Because there is so much in the two scripture passages read today, I want to read again for you the words of the particular theme which seemed to reach out and take hold of me and demand to be the focus of my words this morning.

First from the prophet Jeremiah who speaks of being called, being forced to become a prophet of God, despite his strongest protestation:

If I say, "I will not mention him
or speak any more in his name,"
there is in my heart as it were
a burning fire
shut up in my bones,
and I am weary with holding it in
and I cannot.

And then in the Gospel of Matthew the same theme of urgency appears. Jesus is addressing his disciples and says to them:

What I tell you in the dark, utter in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.

To my hearing, what these words seem to proclaim is this: that whenever you and I are given an awareness of the extent of God's passionate love for us - even for the most fleeting moment - whenever this happens to us, we have no choice but to proclaim it.

Like Jeremiah, we simply can't hold it in. We have to speak it out. We have to act it or live it out in whatever way we possibly can.

God's love is compelling, and without such a response from us, that love then goes its homeless way. God's love needs to be completed by our response. So to complete God's love is our responsibility.

This reminds me of a song popular some years ago. Perhaps some of you remember it as well. The words went like this:

Once I had a secret love, who lived within the heart of me.
All too soon that secret love became impatient to be free.
So I told a secret star, the way that lovers often do,
Just how wonderful you are, and why I'm so in love with you.
Now I shout it from the highest hill; I've even told the golden daffodil.
At last my heart's an open door
And my secret love's no secret any more.

You see, where all of this leads us, is that God is desperately in love with you and with me and with all creation. There is no turning back. For in Christ, God has made an irrevocable commitment to us, an irrevocable commitment to loving us. And, you might say, that in Christ, God has indeed shouted this love from the highest hill and from the highest heaven.

I believe that for us today, such an extraordinary gift poses two questions:

First is this: Have you been able to let yourself fall back in love with God? Have you dared to give your heart to him?

There's a sort of frightening self-abandonment involved in such a willingness to fall in love with God, to take him out of the safety of the Sunday morning slot and to put him instead right in the very center of our being where he becomes, as it were, the reference point for our every choice and action.

I have a very visceral way of understanding this risk. Perhaps you can identify with it. It comes from when I was a kid and I used to love to climb up to the very top branches of the pecan tree in our back yard.

I learned there about the stability I could get by touching or holding on to even the smallest of branches, not because it could support my weight, but because it was a reference point for my sense of balance. That small branch wasn't holding me up, but I knew that without it I would lose my equilibrium and risk falling from the height of my climb.

And so it is for us if we lose that reference point in our lives, which is Christ, who invites us to keep our bearings, to keep our balance, by reaching out to touch him and by trusting his stability in order to steady our trembling souls.

So that's my first question: Have you dared to let yourself fall in love with Christ? Have you dared to give your heart to him?

And if you have, my second question to you is this: Have you then found your way of expressing this love? Have your found your particular voice to sing for God your love song?

Perhaps it's in your prayers, or in your worship, or in your study of scripture or of other sacred writings. And all of that is good. But it is imperative that we also sing our love song to Christ in the way we live our lives.

We need to sing it in our vocation, and in the choices we make, and in the ways we spend our time and energy and resources. We need to sing it in the ways that we relate to others, both near and far, like us and unlike us, and especially in the ways we relate to the poor, the hopeless and those whom society has cast out.

The words of Martin Luther King, Jr. come to mind, a mantra, if you will, for his life's work:

Whom you would change, you must first love.

And the underlying implication of this statement is "that we must [try to] see more in other people than they see in themselves if we are [ever] to help them in becoming what they are ..." (R.J. Neuhaus)

This is what love does. It recognizes the value in the other. It trusts in the capacity for good and for growth in the other. And on behalf of the other, it refuses to give up hope.

I believe that to love in this way is the vocation of each and every one of us who would call ourselves Christians. And yet if we were ever to be taken into court and convicted of actually being Christians, I wonder if there would be enough evidence to convict us?

I see the violent acts committed by young people in our society today - in schools, or on the streets, or even in a drive-in restaurant in Collierville - I see these violent acts and I can't help but think that they are the signs and symptoms of human interactions gone awry, of adults who are failing in their responsibilities and of young people who are confused and frustrated and angry.

And I can't help but think that they are signs of the decline, or perhaps even the demise, of such qualities as generosity or compassion or self-esteem, all qualities which arise from the stability of one's past and the capacity for hope in one's future.

Did anyone help these young people to see the potential in themselves? Did anyone love them? Is it too late now to begin?

At the Street Ministry Chapel just last week, a young man came up to me after the service. He was tall and handsome, but with a sad and almost frantic look in his eyes. And he just blurted out to me, "I don't know how to read. I can't find words. I'm so scared", he said. "Can you help me?" And hearing him, I began to tremble. Finally, I was able to direct him to Malcolm and the Street Ministry folks, but his image and the echo of his words still haunt me.

Somehow his desperate lament evoked the image of a disconnected childhood where perhaps no one was able to read or perhaps no one cared enough or even knew how to support him with the actions or the words of love. And so he was left with no way of understanding himself or the passions that swept through him unnamed and undirected.

Like so many young people in today's world, he had not been given the opportunity to learn of the generative power of love through a real and personal experience of it.

And this is where you and I come in. Because both the gift and the burden of the Christian vocation is to love, to love others into wholeness.

So when you and I look at the world around us, at the heartbreaking suffering of it and at the heartbreaking beauty of it, are we able to refuse our calling? Are we able not to love?

God needs us:

  • God needs our eyes to see through
  • and our hands to work through
  • and our voices to speak the words of comfort and companionship.
  • God needs our tears to express the passion of his heart.

And giving ourselves to God to use this way is precisely how we can sing to God our love song, our most beautiful and bursting love song. And all of this is also how we can do our part to begin to transform the suffering of the world into the great, swelling anthem of rejoicing for which it was intended.

Copyright 1999 Calvary Episcopal Church
A homily delivered at Calvary Episcopal Church, Memphis, TN on
June 20, 1999.

First Reading: Jeremiah 20: 7-13
O LORD, you have enticed me, and I was enticed; you have overpowered me, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all day long; everyone mocks me. For whenever I speak, I must cry out, I must shout, "Violence and destruction!" For the word of the LORD has become for me a reproach and derision all day long.

If I say, "I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name," then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot. For I hear many whispering: "Terror is all around! Denounce him! Let us denounce him!" All my close friends are watching for me to stumble. "Perhaps he can be enticed, and we can prevail against him, and take our revenge on him."

But the LORD is with me like a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble, and they will not prevail. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonor will never be forgotten.

O LORD of hosts, you test the righteous, you see the heart and the mind; let me see your retribution upon them, for to you I have committed my cause. Sing to the LORD; praise the LORD! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hands of evildoers. (NRSV-New Revised Standard Version)

Gospel: Matthew 10: 24-33
"A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a servant above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they malign those of his household!

"So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

"Everyone, therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven." (NRSV-
New Revised Standard Version)


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