“That’s What Love Does” August 2, 2020
“That’s What Love Does”
A sermon based on Romans 9:1-5 & Matthew 14:13-21
In our reading today from the epistle of Romans, Paul makes a statement that almost slipped by me. Now chapter 9 of the book of Romans starts out as a lament; that is obvious. Verse 1 from the Living Bible reads, O, Israel my people! O my Jewish brothers! How I long for you to come to Christ. My heart is heavy within me, and I grieve bitterly day and night because of you. Even though we know that Paul preached in a big way to the Gentiles of his time, he still just couldn’t help himself. He was still a little partial to the Jewish people, but I’m not throwing any blame here. The nation of Israel were his people after all. They were family, and you’re always going to have a soft spot for your family. So when the religious leaders and gossipers took to spreading the word that Paul was betraying his faith, it had to hurt. It had to hurt, but he didn’t get mad. He didn’t plot his revenge or look to fight back. No, he only wished upon them, and that leads us to the statement that almost slipped by me. (vs. 2 CEB) I have great sadness and constant pain in my heart. I wish I could be cursed, cut off from Christ if it helped my brothers and sisters, who are my flesh-and-blood relatives. They are Israelites. See what I mean? “I wish I could be cursed, cut off from Christ if it helped my brothers and sisters…” Unbelievable.
Now, we know enough about the Apostle Paul to know that he would give his right arm to advance the Kingdom of God. He constantly put his life in danger and spent more than his fair share of time in prison. Yet he endured all these things without batting an eye. But this – this is different. This, to Paul, would be the ultimate sacrifice. It’s no wonder it almost slipped by me because it’s so hard to believe. It’s hard to believe that for the love of his people, Paul would be willing to sacrifice the one thing that he treasured most; the one thing that enabled him to endure the beatings and prison and scorn; the one thing that brought him joy like he had never known. It’s hard to believe that for the love of his people, Paul would sacrifice his salvation. But you know, that’s what love does.
I have to confess that I have always been a little jealous of folks who have the kind of single-minded determination that Paul possessed. It just baffles me. I think back on kids I knew in high school that knew exactly what they wanted to do with the rest of their life. Are you kidding me? I was usually unsure what I was going to do the next day. Now whether these kids actually followed through on their plans, I can’t say, but I was impressed nonetheless. It was later in life that I came to understand driving force that comes over us when we really and truly…love something. That’s what love does. We can endure all things for the sake of that love. We can go without; we can deny ourselves; we can do all sorts of wild unimaginable things…for the sake of that love. And in the end, we can rejoice in the fact that we have joined a long list of souls who would gladly give it all for the love that makes them whole. That’s what love does.
When John Lewis was only a boy in Troy, Alabama he learned early on that he had to be careful. There were places he couldn’t go, things he couldn’t do, liberties he dare not take. He learned early on that the punishments for stepping out of line were severe; often deadly. But something was stirring in the heart of this young man. It wasn’t hate or despair; it wasn’t frustration or meanness.
What made John Lewis unique was the fact that he found a love that wouldn’t let him go and that love burned in his heart for the next 60 years until his death. It was the love of justice that drove him and no amount of beating or jail cells could put a damper on that love. But, that’s what love does; that’s what love does.
You know, whether we care to admit to it or not, we are all driven, in our own ways, by the loves we hold dear. For centuries, men (and women) have risked their lives to defend their homeland – the land that they love. The love of family, love of community, love of principle, the love of justice – these are some of the many things that keep us keeping on. I was able to watch parts of the memorial service held for John Lewis, and as I did I was thinking about our gospel lesson for today – the feeding of the multitudes. Now, if there is a bible story that everybody in the world knows, this is it. It’s written in all four of the gospels, has been preached thousands of times, and is part of our daily conversation. If you want to describe a miracle of abundance, you’re going to, sooner or later, bring up the loaves and fishes.
But this time around, I found myself looking past the miracle of this event. I found myself looking past the fact that Jesus was tired and looking for a place to rest, only to be hounded by thousands of people out in the middle of nowhere. I even found myself overlooking the acts of compassion, the healing of the sick, and the gospel message that surely was spoken. Instead, I was struck by the lesson that I believe Jesus meant to give to his disciples that day – message of the power of love. (vs 15) 15 That evening his disciples came and said to him, “This is an isolated place and it’s getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” (vs 16) But Jesus said to them, “There’s no need to send them away. You give them something to eat.” The rest of the story you all know well. But here’s the thing: the disciples of Christ were practical men. They could see how this thing was going to play out. After all, there wasn’t a whole lot of planning that went into this huge gathering of people. Out of consideration for the mass of humanity before them, the disciples asked Jesus to send them away so they could have something to eat. But out of love for humanity, Jesus asked his disciples to feed them. That’s what love does.
Karla Miller began our opening prayer with something that has stuck with me all week: Five loaves and two fish are never enough – until you start giving it away. I have to wonder if the real miracle here is the miracle that happens when we, the church, carry the love of Christ into this swirling mass of humanity. The goofballs and the oddballs, the haughty and the naughty – they all need fed. If this pandemic has shown us anything at all it is that none of us are immune, all of us are hungry for the love that God brings to the world; all of us need to be fed. But Jesus said to them, “There’s no need to send them away. You give them something to eat.” “Five loaves and two fishes are never enough – until you start giving it away.” We are called to be the Christ in this world. If you want to see a miracle, then let’s spread the love of Christ like a virus. Let’s give it away even if we think it’s not good enough, or righteous enough or big enough. Let’s give it away because, after all, that’s what love does.
Amen & Shalom