“The Power Of Love”

September 10, 2017: May God’s words alone be spoken, may God’s words alone be heard.  Amen.

It is so good to be able to preach to the choir again…welcome back choir!  

Today, on this brisk Fall morning, we are gathering here at a time when others of our brothers and sisters down South and in the Caribbean are facing terrible winds and water from Hurricane Irma, with Hurricane Jose right behind, and we pray for them, and for all the first responders too, even as we continue to pray for those affected by Hurricane Harvey.  I heard a weather expert on TV yesterday speaking about the impending impact of Hurricane Irma on Florida in this way “People do not realize the power of water.  Water finds a way, and nothing’s going to stop it.”  And in that moment, I thought – there is something else like that too, and it is what we hear about in our texts today.

Now, this is one of those sneaky gospel passages (aren’t many of them?).  Just when you think “yeah – me and Jesus…I totally am right with you my man” that’s when Jesus is saying…yeah, maybe not.  In the verses we heard today, Jesus says that if a member of the church has wronged you, go point it out – privately.  If that doesn’t work, try again with a couple of folks from the church.  And if that doesn’t work, bring the matter before the entire church, and if even that doesn’t work – if the member in question still won’t come around – then that person is to the church as “a Gentile and a tax collector.” 

Got that? 

And then Jesus adds “…whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven…where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

Robin Williams, in his Top Ten Reasons To Be An Episcopalian said, “And the Number One reason to be an Episcopalian: 

  1. No matter what you believe, there’s bound to be at least one other Episcopalian who agrees with you.” And I would add…there will also be a few more who don’t…and that’s okay.

One of the things that is really hard for folks is the desire to be in relationship, but wanting that relationship to be perfect – without flaw, without disagreement.  That isn’t relationship, that’s some sort of science fiction utopia that doesn’t exist.  As I say at weddings, or in the pre-cana work with couples: “Remember that perfection is not all that its cracked up to be.  If you demand perfection of your partner, you yourself must also be perfect.”

Which reminds me of a story…

“There was a perfect man who met a perfect woman.  After a perfect courtship, they had a perfect wedding.  Their life together was, of course, perfect. One snowy, stormy Christmas Eve this perfect couple was driving along a winding road when they noticed someone at the roadside in distress. Being the perfect couple, they stopped to help. There stood Santa Claus with a huge bundle of toys.  Not wanting to disappoint any children on the eve of Christmas, the perfect couple loaded Santa and his toys into their vehicle. Soon they were driving along delivering the toys. Unfortunately, the driving conditions deteriorated and the perfect couple and Santa Claus had an accident. Only one of them survived the accident. Who was the survivor?

A woman hearing this answered, “The perfect woman.  She’s the only one that really existed in the first place.  Everyone knows there is no Santa Claus and there is no such thing as a perfect man.”  To which a man responded, “So, if there is no perfect man and no Santa Claus, the perfect woman must have been driving.  This explains why there was a car accident.”  And, we can see that if these two were married, they are likely seeing a divorce lawyer about now.

 Of course, married or not, we all know people who think they walk on water…but we also all know the one who actually did, right?  And he is making the case about what to do when our imperfections create conflict, as they will inevitably do whenever two or three are gathered – that there will be somebody who isn’t happy about something, or usually someone.  And the reality is – that is okay.  I mean, if that weren’t true, if all relationships and group dynamics were a smooth ride, a whole lot of psychologists would be out of work, right?  The thing is… it just means we are human. 

See, you have a choice in this world, live as a hermit, or engage with people.  If you do the latter, if you go to work, get married, come to a place of worship, join a club, go on vacation with friends… there will likely be some sort of disagreement that will come up from time to time.  It isn’t something to fear, or a sign of a poor relationship, it is just that there is a right way to go about dealing with the issue, according to Jesus, and the most important thing is to remember who is at the center of it, and what God is calling us to throughout the ages.

Now, it’s a neat pairing of the texts today – the psalmist writes passionately about following God’s commandments.  And then St. Paul in the passage from Romans writes this about just that very thing:  “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law…”

Love is the fulfilling of the law.

Okay, that’s great, but what has that got to do with what Jesus was saying, or for that matter, to do with us here today?  Everything.  Everything.

Today, we live in a daily onslaught of hurricanes, and not just the ones carrying wind and water – the human kind.  The hurricanes of hate, fear, oppression, injustice, bigotry, and violence.  There are the tropical storms too – of deceit, jealousy, bitterness, and loathing.  And all of these are powerful forces.  Remember what that weatherman said “People do not realize the power of water.  Water finds a way, and nothing’s going to stop it.”  Well, sometimes these human hurricanes seem all powerful too, but there is one thing more powerful.  One thing that can stop it.  Love. 

Or to put it another way, “People do not realize the power of love.  Love finds a way, and nothing’s going to stop it.”

The entire point of the whole gospel is that if you feel wronged, go try to make the relationship right!  And while we are thinking about that…how many when hearing this gospel automatically assumed they were in the role of the wronged? Come on… you know you did. But the truth is – we are usually in both roles, if we are really honest with ourselves, aren’t we.  I mean, Jesus also said that if you have wronged another, before you approach the altar with your gifts, go make that relationship right – which is why we have The Peace just before the Eucharist.  It isn’t a mini-coffee hour, but a chance to see the Christ in one another, and be reconciled to one another in Him. 

The truth is that as we live our lives, we are both the wronged, and the one who wronged.  And, when these wrongs occur, Jesus is telling us that if our attempts at reconciliation do not work the first time…keep trying – keep trying to love. 

Notice…Jesus didn’t say – go post something on Facebook about the person, or go talk about that person behind their back.  Jesus is calling us to walk in love as he loved us – to keep trying to be in relationship with one another, even when it is hard, even when it seems hopeless.  But, even Jesus knew that some relationships are just too toxic, and for those whose words or deeds do such great harm to another (or even to themselves), Jesus says that this person, who seems out of sorts with the those whom they should love, will then be like a Gentile or tax collector – they will be an outsider.

Now before anyone can get all smug and thinks – “See, if that happens, serves them right.  I mean…everyone did all they could, and they just refused to see the light.” Before we get all cozy in our self-righteousness, let’s think…who did Jesus hang out with – who did he go to, when others would not – who did he help.  Hmmm… let me think…oh yeah – tax collectors, Samaritans and Canaanites (aka. Gentiles)… the very people on the outside.  These were Jesus’ peeps. 

Confused yet?

Here’s the thing. 

“People do not realize the power of love.  Love finds a way, and nothing’s going to stop it.”

We are called…commanded really…to do one thing – love one another.  Jesus asks us to try.  Paul reminds us of what can happen when we don’t.  But the bottom line is – we will fail from time to time. Every one of us will fail at some point or another – we will lose our temper, we will hurt another person, we will harm part of creation, or we will even hurt ourselves.  And when we do, even if we can’t bear to accept the love and forgiveness that is offered to us by others, God will never give up on us.  Jesus will always go outside to find us.

The poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once wrote, “If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we would find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.”  God is able to read the secret history of our own hearts and those who are estranged from us, and continue to love us through our hostility.  Love us into healing, if we allow it.

But Jesus is also clear that some need to be distanced from those they harm.  The abusive spouse, the murderer, the terrorist  – these are those that must be set aside for the benefit of the community.  And yet even they are not forgotten, but are like the gentiles and tax collectors – the ones whom Jesus sought out and loved.  It is the kind of love very few of us can manage, but God can.  God can, and God does.

 “People do not realize the power of love.  Love finds a way, and nothing’s going to stop it.”

We have greater power than sometimes we realize…and here’s why.  I want you to look to your left, and now to your right (or if there is no one on the side of you, to the front and the back.  Between that person on either side of you…is Christ.  Jesus said, whenever any two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”  Well, I can count, and if you are looking at two other folks, then – Christ is present – in you!  Yes, you!  The body of Christ alive – that’s you!  And in the person on either side of you too.

In my office is a plaque I received a long time ago after leading  a very large project for a multi-national company.  It bears this quote by Margaret Mead “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”  Well, as one commentator put it “Christianity is founded on the principle that two or three committed believers can change the world. Together, the prayers and faith of two or three can work the most astounding miracles this world has ever seen. You can incarnate the presence of Christ in this world. If you join together, you create the critical mass necessary for Christ’s love to become a vital force on Earth.”[1]

“People do not realize the power of love.  Love finds a way, and nothing’s going to stop it.”

We live in a divided nation, a world in conflict, and yet even among all of that, even in our darkest hour, love wins.  Just look at what we saw in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey:

“Anne Whitlock and Michael Skelly had been ferrying hurricane victims to the shelter from a nearby hospital. They knew the convention center was filling rapidly, and they were certain their own home, a 110-year-old converted firehouse in Houston’s East End, would be safe from the rising waters. So they brought home the family — a woman who had emigrated from Mexico, her two daughters, her brother and a family friend — and Skelly posted a message on Facebook urging others to take people in. And so began a chain of help, one Houston family assisting another, as the nation’s fourth-largest city grapples with the impact of an epic and devastating storm…. At a Mexican bakery, workers were trapped.  [Rather than panic or lament their situation – which would be understandable], for two days, the trapped bakers churned out hundreds of pieces of bread, filling the shelves again with bolillos (a Mexican sandwich bread), kolaches and their signature pan dulce. They watched as, at the peak of flooding, water approached the doors of the building; fortunately, it never seeped in, and the store never lost electricity. …At night, the bakers slept on the ground, on makeshift beds and a large sack of flour. The bread from their two-day marathon baking session was delivered to various shelters, including the George R. Brown Convention Center, and a police station nearby.”[2]  And a local Pizza Hut owner opened up her shop and got as many workers in as she could.  They delivered pizzas – 40 at a time – to anyone they could get to by boat – all without requiring any payment.”

Some of these very people, prior to the storm, may never have given the other the time of day, or may even have seen them as “the enemy” of some political or cultural divide.  They were outsiders to one another.  But if the waters of hate seem to some to be all powerful, we know that it isn’t.  Not in the face of the storm of love that is possible whenever two or three are gathered in his name – because nothing is more powerful than that.  I mean, you don’t throw water onto water to get rid of water, right?  Well, you don’t throw hate onto hate and expect anything but more hate.  And why would you do that, when love is more powerful than any other force in the world.

“People do not realize the power of love.  Love finds a way, and nothing’s going to stop it.”

And that, my friends, gives me great hope – for this world and for our lives – and I pray it gives you great hope too.  Each of us has the power to bind others in hate, or loose them in love, to bind our hearts in bitterness, or loose them in compassion.  And in this polarized society, where people kill, where people spew hatred in the streets, it is so important that we choose love and compassion, trying again and again to be in relationship with our brothers and sisters, and all of God’s creation. If we can do that, we can change the world, because we know that whenever two or three of us are gathered, great things are possible if we are willing, because Christ is in us, the Spirit guides us, and nothing – nothing – is more powerful than God’s love.


For the audio from the 10:30am service, click here:

[1] homileticsonline

[2] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/inspired-life/wp/2017/09/02/here-are-the-most-inspiring-stories-that-emerged-in-harveys-aftermath/?utm_term=.a136453af298

Rev. Diana L. Wilcox
Christ Church in Bloomfield & Glen Ridge
September 10, 2017
Pentecost 14 – Track 2
1st Reading – Ezekiel 33:7-11
Psalm 119:33-40
2nd Reading – Romans 13:8-14
Gospel – Matthew 18:15-20