St. Mark's Episcopal Church

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Easter 5 Sermon
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Corby Varness

Today John tells us for the first time in the bible that God is Love. Remember those equations: If X = Y, then Y must = X? So, if God is love then love must be God. This is a radical idea. Love is God? What if God is the love we feel, the love we express?
I’d like each of you to pause for a moment and think of someone or something you really, really love. It can be a person or a pet, in the present or the past. Got it? Is that object of your affection perfect, flawless? Think of the flaws that your loved one has. Are you still full of love? This is how God loves. What if, when we feel overwhelmed with love for a child, a friend, a partner, even a dog or a cat, what if we recognize that very feeling as God? We are all capable of love. So we are all capable of God. God can live within us and be expressed through us as love. The more love we express, the more God IS, in the world.
Several years a go I came to church and for some reason didn’t sit in my regular place but sat back there, behind everyone. I was really enjoying myself, singing along, praying, watching everyone. I felt such fondness for each person, I’d think, ‘oh, sometimes she drives me nuts when she says things and I love her’, then I looked at someone else and thought ‘we sure don’t agree about politics and I really love that person too’... as I looked about, I kept thinking the same thing - I know each of these people and I love each of them, warts and all. And I think they love me, even knowing my many faults. As I sat there feeling so happy to be in church, loving everyone, I had this epiphany: This is exactly how God loves us. God looks at all of us and shakes his head, rolls his eyes at our antics and thinks, “I love each of those silly people, just the way they are!”
In our second reading, John writes: ‘Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.” I read this and immediately think of the people out there who do not love their brothers and sisters and quote the bible to justify their hatred. I guess if you’re determined to hate a whole group of people, that’s your choice but please don’t use GOD or the bible as your justification. According to this very clear scripture, if you do so, you are a liar! I don’t know how this could be more clear. You see, God knows each of us in all of our goodness and all or our badness. And God loves us as we are. God is love. Love is God.
Years a go, we brought our little dog Lucy home from the pound in Shelton, she was just five months old and she smelled horrible. I hated to immediately give her  a bath when she was just meeting us but it was imperative. So I bathed her, apologizing the whole time. As soon as we were through I rushed her outside to show her where to do her business. She shook herself, sniffed around, then she found some ripe cat droppings in the grass. She immediately lay down on them and rubbed and rubbed to get that good scent into her clean coat. I tried to just wipe her clean with towels but it wouldn’t work. “Sorry, Lucy but you have to get another bath” - and I dragged her back into the tub. As soon as she was clean, I got her back outside to continue working on potty training. She poked around a while, looking a bit injured, exploring our deck... where she found... bird poop. You can guess the rest - she did her best to rub THAT lovely scent deep into her fur. ‘OK’ I said, ‘you win.‘ I hugged her rank little body and whispered, “Lucy, you stink AND I love you.”
It took her about a month to get over this need to cover her scent with something terrible so I had lots of opportunity to repeat: ‘You stink AND I love you.‘ I thought a lot about how the key was to use the word AND. I wasn’t saying ‘I love you BUT you stink.‘ I wasn’t loving her despite her offensive qualities, I was loving every bit of her, stink and all.
God lives in that word, ‘AND’. God loves us with our stinky qualities, not despite them. We can’t hide anything from God. God knows us and loves us. It’s not a Hallmark card kind of love, it’s not a big red heart kind of love. It’s a down and dirty real love. Like Lucy, maybe we also need to keep rolling in stinky stuff, making the same mistakes over and over. I imagine God feeling the same thing, ‘You all stink AND I love you every one of you.‘ This is real love, the way we hopefully love each other, warts and all.    Don’t we need to try to look around and love our brothers and sisters the same way?
Today John invites us to abide in God, as God abides in us.   This word, ‘abide’ shows up 14 times in today’s readings.   Abide is from the Greek word, “Meno” which translates as “to stay at home, to stay where one is, to not stir.” It has a sense of remaining or lasting. There is a weighty quality to the word ‘abide’. When we are abiding in God and God is abiding in us, we are going to stay a while. God is going to settle down in us, make himself at home. We are to abide in God and take our shoes off and put our feet up. I really like this other definition that implies that abiding is ‘putting up with.‘ ‘God, if you’ll put up with me then I’ll put up with you.”   
Abide in me. Live in me. Many people like to take the bible very literally, so let’s try it. Live IN me? I know of only one time that someone has lived in me and that would be Jeff! He lived in me for nine very heavy months. (he weighed over 9 lbs. when he was born!) Although I was uncomfortable throughout most of my pregnancy, as he grew, I was just fascinated by the idea that there was a PERSON living in me. The only time we live in someone is as babies in our mother’s wombs.    That, happily, makes today’s readings very appropriate for mother’s day.
I was blessed with a great Mom, Catherine – it seemed that she was born to be a mother. She didn’t just mother my sister and I, she seemed to be a mother to her siblings and to many of my friends. My mom died when I was 28 and I miss her to this day. She helped me to understand that like her, God loved me unconditionally, God loved me like a warm, embracing mom. This book, THE SHACK is popular right now - in it, God is portrayed as a large, black woman, bursting with mother love. Perhaps when we can’t find the mother love we need in this cold world, we can look to God for it.
         
I wonder if that’s part of what these scriptures are saying. There is something so parental about this today’s gospel where Jesus says: We are the branches, he is the vine and God is the vine grower. When we invite God to abide in us, like a loving parent, God plans to do some pruning to help us grow well to bear good fruit. 
         
Jesus is the vine, we are the branches. The branches are fed by the vine. The branches can’t live without the vine. We can’t go it alone. For years, I read about faith, I studied religions, (one of my majors in college was religious studies), I prayed and meditated and I tried to build my spiritual life alone. It didn’t work. Jesus says, ‘the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine ... Those who abide in me, and I in them bear much fruit because apart from me, you can do nothing.‘    We’re connected. We need God.
God loves us as we are. God loves us with warm, embracing mother love. Let us remember that God lives through us in the love we express. So don’t be stingy with it! Throw that love out into the world. Pour it out! The more we love, the more God IS! 




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