Sunday, July 17, 2016

Even to the Edge of Doom

Even to the Edge of Doom

A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson

July 17, 2016

at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia

1 Kings 3: 16-28

Matthew 22: 34-40

Let us pray,

Help us to see despite our eyes

Help us to think outside of our minds

Help us to be more than our lives   

For your eyes show the way

    Your mind knows the truth

    Your being is the life.


One of the things that I discovered on my vacation was the music from Hamilton, the blockbuster hip hop infused broadway musical that is finishing up its original cast run in the past few weeks. People had told me how good it is, but I didn’t have time to listen to it, but I did during the time off. The music and lyrics are really impressive, and the story is cool to me being historical and cleverly done. I had always wrote off Hamilton as the founding father to blame for the Banks and the run amok power of the central government. I knew he was one of George Washington’s to quote the play, Right Hand Man, but beyond that I didn’t know much, being more of a Jeffersonian type, but there is much more to the story, and I’m in, I want to study more and read more about him. But the reason I bring it up is that there is one song in it where Jefferson, who has been serving as the ambassador to France has been away, and then returns to serve in Washington’s cabinet. . . and the name of the song is “What Did I Miss?” and he had missed it all. . . the whole Constitutional Convention and all of that stuff. . . he missed a lot, and comes back to a bunch of battles and squabbles over the finer points of how to govern the new nation. . . one of the lines is, “What did I miss I come home to a political abyss. .  . .” I felt that was appropriate for this morning to start it off. . . because while we were away at the beach, what in the world happened in the world. . .

I mean where to we start? I think it was my last morning when the Orlando shootings took place, but since then it has been non stop. . . the news can barely keep up. Clinton with the Attorney General, the FBI chief being questioned, all overshadowed by 2 more black men being killed by cops, followed by a sniper targeting and killing the police in Dallas. . .the internet blowing up about which lives actually matter. . . protests stopping traffic. . . and then in Nice, France a truck driven by a man claimed as an ISIS soldier drives through a crowd of innocent people celebrating Bastille Day, killing at least 80 some. . .the number seems to keep rising, and then there is a coup attempt in Turkey. . . and it seems we still have to choose between Trump or Hillary Clinton for President. . . does that about cover it all. . . I hesitate to call the list complete because as just a little bit of time goes by, the chances to have to add to the list grow. . . are we still good. . . don’t check your phones.

With all of this going on, I thought it might be good to get back to the basics. . . so here is Jesus answering the question about what is the most important commandment. . . to which he answers with the two fold commandment of love. . . here is Matthew 22: 34-40

34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

How do we feel about this right now? How do we feel about love? How is our faith in the supreme power of love these days when division and terrorism and control and fear and hate and everything else seems so much more strong than love? Do we still feel that Loving our Neighbor and Loving God is enough. . . enough to do to solve all the problems that the world is throwing at us? How is our faith in that? IN the God so Loved the World that he gave his only son. . . stuff? The loving our enemies stuff? The City on a hill? The salt? The eyes on the sparrow stuff, or the lilies of the field? What do we consider these days when we look at those lilies? Do we just see them wither and fade? As I was trying to figure out whether to stay with the Shakespeare theme or move on. . . there are still quotes I want to get to, but none of them seemed to fit this morning. . . I decided to branch off into the Sonnets, because Shakespeare like many poets writes often about love. . . but he really gets at something with Sonnet 116 that spoke to me in this moment. Let me read it now, but it is also printed in the bulletin.

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
   If this be error and upon me proved,
   I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

There are so many powerful lines in this. . . Love “is an ever fixed mark,” it looks on “tempests and is never shaken.” We are certainly in a tempest now. . . the winds of war blowing all around us, and the winds of division flowing all between us. . . can we love? Is love enough to stand in those winds? Love “is the star to every wandering bark.” We are certainly lost now, wandering. . . we look for leadership and find dividers, liars, and frauds. . .we wander towards one then the other. . . grasping at straws in hopes that well we gave that idea a chance let’s try the other. . .  we look for ways forward, and find ourselves up against critics at every turn, and every reason against what we feel we should do. Let’s do this. . .and the chorus resounds, nah that will never work, but yet no one replaces the thrown away idea with a better one. . .  can’t go this way, don’t know where it leads, can go that way, that is sure defeat, can’t go backwards, we’ve been there already. . . that’s lost right. That’s wandering right. It would be nice to have a fixed star, but that requires a faith that we are struggling with these days. There was once a time when love was the answer but no more. . . the world has gotten beyond such silly fancies, grown up, no longer innocent enough to be saved by something so simple as love. . . .look, Shakespeare, speaks to that too. . . “Love is not time’s fool. . . it alters not with his brief hours and weeks, but bears it out even to the edge of doom.” Even to the edge of doom. . . love stands, so it would seem that we are the wavering wandering ones, but that love is that ever fixed mark. . . still there as a possibility, that it is never too late, even to the edge of doom. And then he swears to it, he says, “If this be error and upon me proved, /  I never writ, nor no man ever loved.”

So Shakespeare here gives his testimony that love is still the answer, and on it swears his writing. That’s quite a swear, much better than him having Romeo swear to the moon to Juliet, the ever changing inconstant moon. . .  because none of that would then even exist. None of his writings would mean anything if love were not the ever constant and fixed mark, that still has power and meaning all the way to the edge of doom. . . . well here we are, does his testimony help? Or is Christ’s words and sacrifice enough? Is our own experience with love enough? Have we seen its power up close in our lives? Has it sustained us? Do we know it deeply in our hearts? It’s there. . . it’s always there. . . why because God made the world that way. . . his love fills every inch of this world, even when it is blowing out of seeming control, even so, even now.

So if that is the case, how are we here? How has it gotten this bad? Has love failed us? Or have we a long time ago accepted less than love. . . has love gotten so watered down that it is not enough anymore because it isn’t really love anymore. . . its just a word that has no meaning. . . an idea. . . red and pink card on a Hallmark Card long since thrown in the trash? Why isn’t love enough because we attribute the word enough to love. . . we think we’ve done enough. . . we think that we’ve loved enough. . . we think that we have done our love duty and can rest, but that is the thing with a love that goes to the edge of doom, there is no such thing as enough, unless you are there with love at the edge of doom loving. Our world has missed the mark because we have missed the mark, and we have outsourced our responsibilities to love our neighbor to others, to institutions, to those “bigger” than ourselves, and when they fail we think that love was not enough, and we know we can blame it on them, because they wanted us to outsource to them, because it gave them power and importance, and control, but love is not something that works better when “Better people” are doing it. . . because there is no such thing as “better people” with love. God made us all with the ability to love in our own way, and no one could ever do it for us better than we can. God made us all in his image and told us to be fruitful and multiply, and then he said in the culmination of time through Jesus Christ that the greatest of these commandments is to love our neighbor and to love God. . . not to let our neighbors love for us, but for us to love our neighbors. . . and love like that, lasts all the way to the edge of doom and is never enough. . . and  nothing else, nothing less, nothing easier, nothing more elaborate, and grandiose, and global is ever going to be enough either. . . . simply love.

Now. . . I got to the end of writing that and I thought, how trite, and redundant and open ended that was ever going to be, and I realized I hadn’t yet said anything about the Solomon passage from 1 Kings that Paula read this morning. . . Take each of those three characters, let’s do the two easier ones first. 1. The real mother: She loves her baby. . .her son. . . enough to go to the edge of doom for her son, and the edge of doom for her is to let this other woman steal her baby and raise him, as long as the baby lives. . . to sacrifice the truth for that child’s life. . . That’s the edge of doom for her, that is her sacrifice, and she willingly goes there, for love. 2. Now look at Solomon, and this story is given as a definition of wisdom, and wisdom is something we surely need these days. How can you tell the difference between love and love, or love and a lie, how do we know the right loving path forward, when we are being told all different kind of things. It seems like the basis of love that Solomon sees here is, who is letting it all fall apart, and who cares enough to try to hold it all together the pieces. We look at some of these questions and apply it to our world. . . who are the voices that are tearing things apart, and who are the voices that are pulling things together, and how can we begin to be the voices that are pulling things together ourselves. And then we get to the third character. . . the other mother. . .the villain of this story. And it’s a little bit harder to identify with her. But we have to look at the context of her. She’s not somebody who woke up in the morning and decided she wanted to steal someone else’s kid, instead she is somebody who woke up in the morning and found her own kid dead. And had that much emptiness in her heart, that she was willing to do anything to fill that emptiness, even if at the cost of somebody else. In a round about way you could say that that is love too. But it’s the kind of love that tears things apart. . . the kind of love, well I’m loving them but at expense of these others, that’s more of the problem where we are. If we are loving out of a place of emptiness, where we are willing to step on everyone else who may get in our way in the process, then we are more of the problem. We have that enough in this world. . . but no we have to love our neighbor. . .

And why our neighbor, why does Jesus use that word, neighbor, instead of every body, or the entire world. Why doesn’t Jesus say we are to love everyone? What is the deal with neighbor? I’ve wrestled with that a lot, and I’m not sure, except that neighbor seems to have a local idea. . .that we love outward from the local center instead of so far apart trying to love the entire world so you can’t really love anyone. . . it’s one of those interesting things, that loving one person all the way to the edge of doom, is so much harder than loving the entire world just a little bit. Loving one person all the way to the edge of doom, is so much harder than loving the entire world just a little bit. Dostoyevski has a character like this in The Brother’s Karamazov,  he creates this character, Ivan, who loves humanity. He has justice in mind, thinks everyone should be equal, and hates oppression and wishes to shelter the weak, hates God for allowing evil into the world. He loves humanity, but he hates people, because people never live up to his ideals and standards. He can’t stand people, they are disgusting and horrible. There is wisdom in that too, can we love the people around us so much that it just expounds in love and people can see it? I think that is the only chance we have, the only hope we have, the only answer we have. It seems so counter productive. We want to save the whole world in one fell swoop. It would have made a lot of sense for Jesus to have taken over the Roman apparatus, to have simply become the new king, the new emperor of Rome. You’d think the son of God could have done that, and then he’d have all that Bureaucracy in place. To put into place the benevolent structure of God’s kingdom himself. But instead he shared meals with people he shouldn’t share meals with. And when faced with the power structures that be, he chose to die on the cross instead. He loves this world all the way to edge and into the doom, only to be raised three days later, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father, from thence he will come to judge the loving and the dead. Amen.