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Love one another

John 15:9-17

May 10, 2015

Easter 6 Year B

How do you feel about love?

If that is too difficult then what do you think about love?

I suspect most of us remember what it felt like the very first time we fell in love. I was about seventeen the first time I fell in love, and that experience took over my life. Actually it encompassed most of my waking hours and I likely dreamt about him too. Remember? My mother said something like,
“You should enjoy this it won’t last long. But don’t worry it will happen again.”

She was right, it didn’t last long as those feelings tend not too last a long time. But we do fall in love, probably more than once and many of us do choose to spend our lives with someone. That is the love that many of us understand, but John is talking about a love that encompasses our daily living within our communities and our relationship with the world.

What is this love that John writes of?
Scott Peck says that love is the only thing happening in the world that doesn’t involve paradox. In other words love is good, there is no argument that can change that and in the John passage, that is perhaps the central message. The commandment is that we love one another as Jesus loved us, we are no longer servants but friends and we work together - demonstrating, or showing one another a love that is for the whole world. The passage ends, “I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”

This love that John speaks of is complex, this love is demanding, this love asks plenty of us. Without it we are destitute, we are lost, we are friendless, we are without spirit.

We are bombarded by the daily news of needs - desperate stories about poor, sick and hungry people around the world, accounts of victims of violence and despair and reports on the widespread destruction of the environment. The calls for our caring, for our love is sometimes overwhelming and it’s difficult to know how to respond. Sometimes it is difficult to know how we feel about what is happening in the news. Even so, each of us has some understanding of how we react to the needs of those around us in the world.

Every time I took a group to Nepal I would say to them,
“You will have your own porter on our day, and you will have daily contact with her because she will look after you. And by the time fifteen days have passed you will care deeply for her.” I suggested, maybe you will want to take a gift for your porter and I suggested lip balm because I remembered that was a need of porters on treks I had been on before. Of course when you have never experienced something, it is difficult to understand exactly what the needs of the porters are. And whether or not they understood what I was talking about before we left Canada, they understood at the end of the trek, how deeply they did come to care for them before the trek was over. That caring manifested itself in many different ways, but in the end, people settled into a routine on the trail where they expressed their affection for each other in different ways. We always expressed how grateful we were that the porters were available to us and that without them, we wouldn’t be going up this mountain. At the end of our time with them we had a party - we shared a meal together and we gave them a gift of money, a tip, for their work but many of the women left extra gifts for their porter, they left money, clothes, headlights, they left what they could. One woman chose not to purchase her jewellry and gave that money to the Three Sisters. Those gestures are about the love mentioned in the gospel. The tip is an expectation, something that was clearly laid out before we left - it’s the extra that counts in a different way.

The world’s religions all recognise the importance of an individual’s service to others. I am always reminded of the words of the sixteenth-century Catholic mystic
Teresa of Avila, “God has no hands or feet or voice or action except ours, and through these the Spirit works.”

Joseph Campbell tells a story on this point. A troubled woman came to the Indian sage Ramakrishna, saying, “O master, I do not find that I love God.” He asked, “Is there nothing then that you love?”

She responded,
“My little nephew.” And he said to her, “There is your love and service to God, it is in your love and service to that child.”

Service starts in our personal lives where we learn to love and to respect each other, to honour differences and to resolve conflicts. Our spiritual lives unfold as we discern what is happening in the world: all around us we see ethical challenges and opportunities.

Spiritual awareness develops as we make daily decisions regarding our food, our clothing, our health, our money; we become spiritual care givers through our everyday actions. As we go out of our homes into our neighbourhoods we notice the needs of others. We try to find ways that we can use what we have, our gifts, and our talents to make a difference.

Finally we recognise that whatever we do affects the world. Catholic social activist
Dorothy Day points out that good deeds are like a pebble cast into a pond: they create ripples that spread in all directions. Our acts of service, in our homes and communities become part of an ever widening circle of compassion that eventually encompasses the entire creation. In this interconnected world, we live locally knowing that our actions have an impact globally.

We act out of our need to love and to be loved. We do good deeds because the pebble, the action, creates the ripples that spread in all directions and it encompasses us. Each one of us needs that feeling that ripples to wash over us and make us whole. That is our relationship with God the spirit at work.

I am reminded of this story: It was 1990, and I was a student at the
University of Saskatchewan working on my English degree, and I had run out of money. I had a piece of art I could sell and so I put an ad in the Star Phoenix and the next night a woman came to my door wanting to buy the picture. We had a bit of a conversation as to why I was selling it and she offered me a hundred dollars less than what I was asking. I said, “Okay,” I needed the money.

She paid me cash and I gave her a receipt for her money and she left with the painting. The next night at about the same time the doorbell rang and when I answered it there she was the woman who had bought the painting. She handed me an envelope, and said,
“I want to give you the money I owe you.” She said, “I never slept all night, because this is your money, it’s not mine, I want you to have it, you need it, I don’t.” And she turned and she left and when I opened the envelope she had given me twice what she owed and with a note that simply said, this is for you. I want you to have it and forgive me for keeping what wasn’t mine. Same story: about having a change of heart, about learning to make room for something new, it’s about learning to love one another and to understand not just our own needs but the needs of others.

Our everyday activity in which we stretch ourselves on behalf of others is an act of selfless love. - the times we scrimp and save in order to get the children or others something special; the times when we share our vehicle, the times when we offer to volunteer one more time, the times we keep up on our correspondence with others, or when we answer one more telephone call - these are the times and many more like them, that we act out our faith, that is really a love lived out in the world. It is the ripple washing over us making us whole. It is love lived through the spirit - that spirit that empowers us and offers us endless possibilities to love one another.

I read this piece in a magazine and it is a Buddhist centred article on how to live in harmony. It said, we may need to think about service in a completely new way, if we are to find an opportunity to do something we love. Our first thought is to always to be doing what we know. Like teaching, or fixing cars, or practicing law. But sometimes we need to look at our other talents and skills. We often think of those as hobbies - maybe we can heal the world through arranging flowers, writing poetry, painting, weaving, or baking bread. Why not?

The serious methods have been tried - from the war on poverty and child hunger, to the Iraq war - and the pain and suffering hasn’t ended; sometimes our efforts have created more suffering. We need to free our minds if we are to find new paths through the dark forest of suffering. We need experimentation and playfulness in the face of difficulty, no matter how paradoxical that may seem. As Tibetan Buddhist teacher
Tarthang Tulku says, “We already know how to enjoy ourselves, we are productive and creative. It’s just a matter of bringing that enjoyment into everything we do.” (Spiritual Literacy p. 330) Our joy creates love as we go. It makes the ripples that we need. It makes room inside of us for love to be born and then passed on.

Love. It’s pretty complex and it covers a lot of ground.

I like the idea (
Teresa of Avil) that we spread the Spirit of love through our voice, our hands, our feet, and Joseph Campbell too, who says that as we love one another, we love the entire created order through the spirit, through God.

I remember a spring awhile back when my youngest son
Ryan called just to tell me that the Edmonton Oilers were in the last set of playoffs before the final set and he said, it’s been a long time since they were this close, I’d love it if they won the cup.

I said, yeah that would be good for us, for our country. Why not, I thought when I had hung up, why not, what could it hurt? It felt like one of my finer moments, a moment when I could just agree and I didn’t have to explain.

It’s different for each one of us.

Love: go forth looking for ripples to create, to send out into the universe and let them wash over you in an over whelming sense of love, and hope.

Read John’s gospel at home; take the time to discern how it speaks to you. I invite you to write about how you might find ways to make ripples spread out all around you.
Sharon Ferguson-Hood