Hard to Love

I recorded this one, and you can hear Roar “help” me preach.

Love, the Lord your God 

with all your heart and all your soul

and all your mind 

and love humankind, 

as God has loved yourself 

Love, the Lord your God 

with all your heart and all your soul

and mind and humankind, 

we’ve got Jesus Christ to give

we’ve got Jesus Christ to live

we’ve got nothing to hide

because

we live and abide in love.

John 15:9-17 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

[Jesus says]

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

This is the Word of God for all people. 

Thanks be to God.

Hard to Love   Rev. Kathy Randall Bryant

This command is the hardest one to follow. 

We can talk about loving someone until we are blue in the face, it is really easy to fall in love with someone, but staying in love is another problem entirely.

We don’t understand the difficulty and importance of this commandment until someone gets really hard to love. 

Perhaps they just stand on the other side of the argument, and you really don’t understand them. 

But when someone stands on the other side of an argument, if we are not using love as the frame for our reference, love as the lens through which we look, then we will see through another lens. 

Instead of rose colored glasses we see the dirty green tint of hate and jealousy. It sneaks up on us. It might start as a snide comment. Maybe a dismissing remark. 

Soon enough, there is a distinct line between Them and Us. It’s almost too easy. Labels are thrown about and stick far too easily. The dividing line between the camps becomes wider, and it becomes less and less likely that the two groups will be able to see eye-to-eye. 

It’s easy to point to the political divide in our country as an example, but this division can sink in much closer to home.

I am deeply concerned about this. I’m concerned about my own bias because when it happens to me I am sure that it has been affecting how I think about those who disagree with me. It’s become more than merely thinking that those who think differently than me are wrong. I have gone so far into this thinking that I believe that they are misguided, blinded, ill-informed, dupes in a cosmic parody.

It’s not healthy.

I am creating a prison for my mind.

I am sinning. My bias is leading me to sin more.

I am missing out on seeing the image of God in others. I am missing out on the full representation of the body of Christ.

I don’t want to be this way.

Changing my heart will not be easy. I cannot do it on my own.

I struggle with losing compassion, and wanting to take the easy route of not seeing those around me as full people. It would be much more easy to return to my blissful ignorance than to work hard to move past my own biases to see the full image of God of the person in front of me. My love isn’t big enough. My heart isn’t open enough. I need to look through the eyes of Christ in order to love and see deeply enough.

This kind of division can split families, and keep parents and children from speaking for decades. 

It happens far too often. 

And maybe it is because of a complete offense or abuse, but sometimes it happens because someone gets angry, and then chooses to cut their family member off. 

Instead of holding the power of silence over someone, imagine what could happen if we were daring enough to work through some of the most difficult conversations that we are bound to have with someone else. 

Imagine what could happen in the midst of strife if folks take to heart what Jesus says and does by example here in the scriptures: to lay down one’s life for another. And laying down your life is not only dying for someone, but also being willing to not have the last word, to not win each and every argument, to listen, and not to always have your way.

Indeed, we have been loved by Christ, and we are not called servants any longer, no, instead we are friends of Christ. We are chosen by Christ. We have been called up into the family of God and we are now being brought into perfection through the grace of God. 

It is a long road indeed. 

Have you ever heard the story of “Old Turtle and the Broken Truth”?

This little turtle finds a rock, with something written on it: “you are loved.”

He keeps it, then shows it to mother, father, siblings, and finally the chief hears about it.

The village puts it in a place of honor. 

A village from across the river sees it. 

They decide they want it.

War breaks out.

Death, disease, famine, horrible anger and madness follow.

The broken truth changes hands so often that it eventually gets lost again.

Later, Little turtle finds it, but he also finds the other piece that belonged with it. They do fit together, they are part of a whole.

Along with “you are loved” is the rest of the truth, “and so are they.”

Old Turtle And The Broken Truth – October 1, 2003

by Douglas Wood  (Author), Jon J Muth  (Illustrator)

See, after we get so caught up in how we are different, with who has wronged whom, with tallies and scores and who is winning the argument, we lose sight of the full truth. When our fighting grows so strong that we fail to see that there is more to the truth than just the love for ourselves, we break the truth into ever continuing tinier pieces, jagged and rough, dangerous shards of the original message. It becomes a truth that has broken and breaks others.

We are children of God, and like a mother that despairs to see her children fighting, God mourns the ways that we have become divided over so many things. 

The mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and all the mass shootings we keep seeing in our country are signs of this. This brokenness that we have. The way that people have set themselves above other people. 

When I was little, my sister and I used to fight some. We were siblings. My mother, wise woman that she was, and still is, made us hug to make amends after we fought. She would make us hug and just sit there, as we realized what our fighting was doing. 

Granted, it was just in our family, you wouldn’t think that there were any other repercussions. But the lesson has stuck with me, as I have grown and matured. 

I went to Kenya twice. The second time I went with some fellow students from seminary. One of them was Laura, we had been good friends our first year, studying together and hanging out, but I hadn’t really hung out with her recently when we went together. 

And we had a falling out while we were overseas. 

Let me just tell you, fighting with someone while eight thousand miles from home is not fun. 

Especially when you fight like I do, in small jabs and snide remarks. I’m not a very clean fighter. 

But, when we got back to the US, we had another week or two at our host congregation before the end of the summer. And we worked through it. I had more to apologize for than she did. She forgave me. We came together and created reconciliation. 

One of the images that she used in being thankful that we had come through our argument and ended up on the other side is that of a stone smoothing another stone by grinding each other’s rough spots. 

The Peace we had and continue to share afterwards is so much more valuable because we came through conflict in order to reach it. 

Peace came from our loving each other through the hard parts. 

We weren’t afraid to serve each other and learn from each other. 

We are called and chosen as children of God. 

God mourns the fighting of God’s Children.

And fighting is not the fruit of the love of God.

No, the fruit of the love of God is the peace that passes all understanding. 

John writes about this in 1 John 4:7-12  (NRSV)

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.” (NRSV)

We don’t love because we are afraid of punishment,

we choose love because God’s love is perfected IN US.

We don’t love perfectly on our own

God acts so that we can know that God views us with the same love as God views God’s son.

Love is from God.

To know love is to know God.

The only way we love as God loves us is to allow God to love THROUGH us. 

Love shows us what is broken.

Love is what we need to heal.

If God is love, then love is: past, present, and future. 

Love is. Love has been. Love will be.

Christ invites us, chooses us, desires for us to live in, remain in, dwell in, ABIDE in his love. 

Jesus says: at the beginning, I chose you, and now I choose you over and over again. 

Christ expressed the greatest love, by coming to be with us, to descend his life to ours. 

Jesus speaks more than words to us, Jesus has displayed how deep his love is for us. 

We are invited to bear the fruit of living in God’s deep and abiding love. 

It won’t be easy. Sometimes the folks we are most called to love are the hardest ones TO LOVE. 

Love is hard. If nothing else, being a parent for over four years, staying married for over eight years and in relationship for ten years will teach you that. 

Love. is. hard.

And for those of you who have been together for longer than My husband and I, you know that. 

But you really can’t teach it. 

It is only something you can learn from experience. 

And then, once you think you’ve got it down one week, the next month something will change, and then there are new people and new relationships and new things to learn.

God says you are worthy of love. God says you are worthy of friendship and welcome and grace. It is part of your intrinsic being, no matter what you do or say. God loves you and wants you to share that love with those around you, so that you can experience even more the way that God loves you. And I want to keep learning about how God loves. 

God knit you together in the womb of your mother and loved you and said you were very good. Supremely good. God loves you and we are all working on learning from God. 

God is the only one who is perfect. God is the one who gave a perfect son to show us how love can be perfected in life here on earth, and I am working each day to be made perfect in love. I don’t expect to get it right today, tomorrow, or next year, but that doesn’t give me a reason not to work at it right now. I’m trying to love the way God loves. 

We won’t always get it right. We will make mistakes. We have scars and wounds and memories of times when we didn’t feel loved. 

Jesus always leads by example, 

loving his dense, misguided disciples, 

loving those who accused him of horrible things

loving those who spit in his face

loving those who nailed him to a tree.

Because Jesus has chosen us as his friends and fellow brothers and sisters, his siblings together in love, we are able to strive to live into these commands that he has for us, to love those around us with the same kind of daring that he demonstrated over and over and over again. 

You are loved because you are made in the image of God. Each of you. You are worthy of love.

God calls you to live into this love, loving others as God loves you. 

Love, the Lord your God 

with all your heart and all your soul

and all your mind 

and love humankind, 

as God has loved yourself 

Love, the Lord your God 

with all your heart and all your soul

and mind and humankind, 

we’ve got Jesus Christ to give

we’ve got Jesus Christ to live

we’ve got nothing to hide

because

we live and abide in love.

And so we love, as best we can, though the power of God. 

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

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Slow to Heal

I really want to write something profound and spiritual right now. I also would like to be able to breathe normally and sleep in tomorrow. None of that is happening.

I want to take the lyrics of one of my favorite hymns to sing around patriotic holidays and reflect on it phrase by phrase. This Is My Song is about loving your own land as well as seeing that God’s people and promise are not limited by borders or alliances. I might do my reflecting later, but for now, know that I will be preaching on leaving your homeland as you listen to God’s leading.

And maybe after I wake up from my epic nap tomorrow afternoon, deeper reflection will occur. Or not. No Promises.

Sunday Morning

Sunday is the most strenuous day of my vocation. I’m pretty sure that most folks have figured out that it is not the only day I work, though I do know that folks wonder what I do during the week. (Wondering what I do during the week does not equal thinking that I don’t work. Let’s give our people more credit than that.)

Sunday is the day that I lead worship, see the majority of my congregation and preach the sermon I have prepared (and sometimes the sermon that the Spirit gives me). I share the liturgy that I have provided for the gathered people to come together with one voice and praise God. I share Sacraments and song and space for silence.

And after worship is done at my second church, I go home and collapse. I am utterly spent by noon on Sunday. There is something about the way that the power of God moves through me and in spite of me that wrings every bit of energy from me. I know that part of it is that I am “ON” for over three hours; I use nearly all of my energy as I lead and serve.

In the mornings before I leave, my husband and I do a short liturgy of Morning Prayer from Common Prayer. He is the pastor of another church; he has his own congregation to lead and serve. Our time together before we leave to go lead our respective churches in worship guides us as we continue to grow together.

We commission each other after the benediction with the sign of the cross on each other’s foreheads, and in that instant, we have both an intimate moment and an explicit act of grace. I come to my churches covered with the sign of the cross, reminded of the work to which God calls me.

Things can go wrong during worship, technical difficulties may happen, questions and concerns may be raised, but I have been marked with the sign of the cross and I have been called by God and I am able to continue to lead worship for God’s people.

And after worship, when I have collapsed on the couch exhausted and worn out, I know that I worshiped, and I helped others to worship as well. A nap is usually in the plans, as well as watching last night’s Saturday Night Live, or reading a book. Sometimes I have to gear myself back up to go out again, and I am able to do that, knowing that I will be able to sleep well that night.

Other days of the week are full of work, visiting and planning for the upcoming Sunday, but Sunday uses all of me.

Vulnerable Singing

I’ve been watching the SingOff these past two weeks on television. If you don’t know it, it is an elimination competition between a capella groups. A collection of purely voices lifted in song, producing a myriad of sounds and rhythms. Sometimes the group is so good that it gives me chills and I have to grab my husband’s hand. It is just that good. Whatever note, or chord or transition that was pulled is absolutely beautiful.

The competition has three judges who are professional musicians with a significant critical musical background. So they can listen for the chills, but they also listen for the chinks. They can define why something might not have given me chills. And rather than say it was pitchy, they can say exactly where a tempo was lost or a transition in dynamics was too abrupt or needed and executed poorly. It is helpful to hear these things. But what I find especially enlightening about the feedback of the judges is when they give advice to the singers about being vulnerable on stage.

It has become a theme for them this year. Perhaps not intentionally, but, still.

Be vulnerable they say. Let your performance extend from your deepest feelings and touch the hearts of the audience. Come up and lay it all down on the stage. Reveal your weaknesses, reveal your struggle, reveal your nerves and we will honor all that you bring.

If you don’t, they say, then the audience will know. If the performance is too clean, if it is too blocky, if it is too automatic, the hearers will know it, even if they do not understand why.

Be vulnerable.

As a preacher, these words hit directly to my heart.

I am not standing on a stage with thousands of people watching me. I am not dancing in sync with four or fourteen other people. I am not belting a pop song into a microphone.

But I am telling a story. I am delivering a message. And the message is not my own. I have been given the gift to proclaim this message as an instrument of God. I use my voice. And I know that if I am not vulnerable from the pulpit, then the people who are listening will know that something is not quite right. They may not know what it is, but something will ring false to their ears.

Vulnerability is dangerous. I might reveal something that I am not ready to show. If I show where I am not perfect, will they ignore the message? If I show my nervousness, with it distract from the message?

I cannot help but think that this is the most vital part of preaching, behind being true to the Word. The Spirit will take care of the message, of the Gospel, the truth will be revealed, but as a preacher, I want to make that message as accessible as possible.

I lay it all down. I reveal struggles that I have faced. I challenge my people with the same things that challenge me. I speak the truth in vulnerable love: ready to share, and ready to receive.

Be vulnerable. 

Neighbors

I preached on the parable of the man on the road, and the Samaritan who cares for him this morning. The Gospel text is Luke 10:25-37.

When I was growing up, I was incredibly independent.

I could do it all by myself. Or at least, that’s what I wanted to be able to do. I could handle any conflict, any haircut, any style choice, any handwriting, anything, really, all by myself.

When I was ten. You name it, I had it DOWN.

Now, of course we know that was not true.

Spats with my sister always got me in bigger trouble than her, because she still, to this day, knows how to press my buttons the best. Haircuts might be a little skewed, slanted, or short, and so I might walk around with bangs that left me looking surprised for a month. My sense of style remains to be anomalous and quirky, and my handwriting is still illegible.

I had a sign over my bed growing up “get help” that was it. It was there to remind me that I didn’t have to do it all on my own. We celebrate independence as a virtue, but it can just as often get us into trouble.

Continue reading “Neighbors”