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Piero della Francesca, Blindfolded Cupid
31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
On Being Christian in a Cupid World
You are known best as Love
And many days we don’t know what
We’re best known as.
But you say we should be known for our love
For our reflection of you.
We need help with that
Aid and guide us today.
I’ve noted this before in sermons, but it bears repeating: we need some standards, folks.
I’m talking about standards in how we use our words.
For instance, I once heard someone tell me that the burrito they had for lunch was “awesome.”
If a burrito inspires awe in you, you need to reevaluate your standards. I’ve had good burritos, delicious burritos, even surprisingly delicious burritos. But none of them have brought my mind or my pallet to a new and as-of-yet attained awareness of the Transcendent which might be described as awe-inspiring.
The same is true for the word “epic.” A friend of mine used to talk about his Friday nights as being “epic,” and his continual use of the word betrayed the fact that he didn’t know what the word literally means. Moments and times that are “epic” defy the regular and ordinary. And so when every Friday become “epic” it literally stops being epic by the second time.
You know what I mean, Beloved?
I fear we use love kind of like we use epic and awesome in this world. And part of this we can blame on the English language. We’re at a deficit, having only one word for multiple realities here. Indeed, C.S. Lewis identified 4 kinds of love using Greek as his source; and Gary Chapman identified five “love languages,” and The Saints of Liverpool, better known as The Beatles, liked the word so much they built a song entirely out of repeating the English version ad infinitum. Love, love, love. Love, love, love. Love, love, love. It’s easy…All you need is love. All you need is love. All you need is love, love. Love is all you need.
We are surrounded by love, and yet we have no idea what it means, or at least we’re confused about it. I think this is especially true for Christians who, as Jesus says today, should be *known* for their love. It will be their reputation, the proof in the pudding, their calling card, insert your favorite idiom here…
And yet Christianity has historically heard that idea, that they should be known for love, and qualified it to death.
For instance, many times Christians hear that we should be known by love and imagine it to be *tough love*, that kind of love that we’ve developed to teach one another lessons and curb behavior. While it is true that I love my child too much to let him play in the street, which causes me to tell him no all.the.time. My children willfully continue to thwart my best-laid plans to keep them safe…
But unfortunately, we get no such “tough love” understanding from Jesus’ commandment here. In fact, Jesus is using that strange agape word for love here that we don’t really have a great translation for in English. And he doesn’t use it in a suggestive way, but in what’s known as the “forceful” way in the Greek.
In other words, this love is not one of option, and it certainly isn’t qualified.
And let’s be brutally honest here: we love to fall in love.
But by that I mean, we love to have really opinionated preferences. And they become so preferential, by the way, that we start to say that we love them and we even start to give our hearts to them.
This is benign in many instances: you love your TV, your computer, the particular camera on your particular phone (looking at you Pr. Dave). If Clifford were here, I’d certainly mention F-150s. And Buck is in love with flannel, both as a fabric and as a pattern. And I…I am in love with coffee, which became quite clear this past Wednesday as I lugged 7 (7!) unwashed coffee mugs to the sink to wash before Lois could do it because every time she washes my mugs for me I feel quite guilty…
It is benign in many ways, but we give our hearts to all sorts of things. What do you give your heart to?
Where it becomes malignant, though, is when we give our hearts to things that compete for the affection reserved only for the Divine.
Like when you give your heart to the mirror, or at least give all your attention to the mirror, and that little voice that tells you that it likes or doesn’t like what is reflected there. Or like when you give your heart to being in everyone else’s business. Or like when you give your heart so much to a political ideology, you’ll actually say things or post things to social media that demonize those who disagree, or disparage those who have another view. Like when you give your heart so fully to your own ego that you can’t get over yourself.
The list can go on: addictions, racism, sexism, homophobism, prejudice, elitism, fear…we give our hearts away to malignant forces all the time.
All of these ways that we give our heart away are ways that blind us to the reality of the people suffering around us, the reality of sin invading our own lives, the reality that we love to talk about love as long as it’s Hallmark or fairytale or feel-good, but we’d actually not rather do it, at least not the way Jesus wants us to be known for, because the kind of love that Jesus wants us to be known for is not the warm and fuzzy kind, but the kind that breaks your heart open.
If I’m honest with you, and perhaps if you’re honest with yourself, I’d probably say that I’m ill-equipped to use my heart in an agape way, because I too regularly just give it to all sorts of other things that prove to be fleeting or vacuous or just plain destructive. If I’m honest with myself, and with you, I kind of like giving my heart away to the easy things, the fleeting things, the vacuous things, the quick fix things.
Because I like my strongly held opinions, the illusion that I’m always right, and I like not having to leave my comfort-zone when it comes to giving my heart away. I like Cupid more than Jesus, when I’m honest. Cupid’s love has low standards, a trite definition.
I used that phrase “blind love” above, because we often say that “love is blind” as a romantic way of idealizing how we think love should “overlook” things in other people that we don’t like. But that’s not true for the Jesus-follower.
The Cupid you have in your garden, that chubby cherub in a diaper who is blindfolded that adorns those tacky cards we give to one another once a year, that love lacks insight. Cupid is blindfolded in most depictions. But God’s love is not blind, dear people.
God’s love, as the sainted Reverend William Sloane Coffin would say, “is visionary.” Cupid’s love is blind; God’s love is visionary. And we are often Christians living in a Cupid world, and too often we give our hearts to a Cupid conception of love, blind to the realities of what’s going on.
But a visionary love…a visionary love is not one where we ignore, turn away, or qualify. A visionary love looks at the stark naked reality of a situation and decides to give its heart away anyway. As one of you commented on my blog this week, the sainted Dorothy Day once said that, “Love, in reality, is a harsh and dreadful thing.” Harsh because agape love doesn’t turn a blind eye to the wounds before it, but with a keen eye begins to attend those wounds whole-heartedly.
Good grief people, the examples of this kind of love in a Cupid world that prefers Hallmark over heavenly grace are few but feisty. But I’ve seen it. You’ve seen it.
I see it in a colleague of mine who will bury his granddaughter today. She was only 8 weeks old when she died of a very rare skin disease, a disease that prevented her family from having much physical contact with her, and the Cupid of the world would say “You must love her despite this disease,” but the agape love of God says, “By God, you will love her even in this disease.” It’s about giving your heart away even though you know it will break in the process.
This is the kind of love we’re practicing here, people, as we raise money for our orphans in Mnene. We’re hoping for tens of thousands of dollars to be raised to support these orphans when we ourselves as a church are behind in our budget by almost 50,000 for the year…which, by the way, we need your help on. But we are not ignoring that difference, but boldly proclaiming that, by God, we can do both: we can pay our bills and give of ourselves. Is this not what Rhonda and I do when we sit to write our gift to the church? What you do? Cupid’s love would be blind here, either blind to the need, blind to the debt, or blind to it all and spend every last cent on coffee.
But instead, with eyes wide open, we are proclaiming that we will be known not primarily by frugality nor wontonness, but primarily by love, a love that compels us to believe that we can do both faithfully as our hard hearts break open in generosity in Christ’s name.
Visionary love is the kind of love that can allow Jesus to stand in a room with a group of disciples, as he does in the text…remember, this all happens at The Last Supper, knowing full well that they will all abandon him when he needs them most, knowing full well that one of them will literally hand him over to death, and looks around and says, “You need to be known for self-giving love, guys.” And then goes and shows them what it looks like with his body.
If you want to call something awesome, that fits the bill.
Pelican in her Piety
In our Tuesday morning study group here at GSLC we’ve been looking at different ideas about how God saves us through Jesus. One of the ideas that is most beautiful, I think, is expressed in a symbol known as “The Pelican in her Piety”. It’s the symbol of a bird, a pelican, plucking at her own flesh to feed her babies. The meaning is plain: she will die but her babies will live. This, more than any other, is a great working definition of agape.
I want that pelican to be my spirit animal. My patronus. Kudos if you get those references, by the way…
And this, according to Jesus, is how God’s glory is most shown: not by power and might and riches and wisdom and strength by Cupid’s blind definitions, definitions that pay no attention to collateral damage or economic disparity or the oppression of the have nots under the haves.
God’s glory is most clearly seen in that God becomes the collateral damage, the oppressed one, the disadvantaged one, as Saint Paul says, “Christ became sin for us…” that we might have the ability to truly live through the vision of a God who would give so that we might have, compelling us to do the same for others.
Beloved, it’s what Jesus says we should be known for, that kind of self-sacrificing, heart-breaking, difficult-but-needed love. And I wonder, if we were to poll non-Christians, lapsed Christians, folks who used to be Christian but left the church, maybe even this church, I wonder what they would say we’re primarily known for, I wonder what they would say we’ve given our hearts to. Would they call it a visionary love, or love that is blind to the realities of humanity, insular, hard-hearted rather than broken-hearted?
That’s some tough love for all of us…
Good thing God gives a different sort of love for us who give our hearts away to all the wrong things. Today I pray that God will, once again, just come and steal my heart. I’m largely not capable of handling it responsibly.
So, come Lord and just take it. Or better yet, pluck at your Divine heart in that awesome way you do and impart it within me, that I might better know how to do this life well, that I might be known for your way of loving more than my own, that I might understand what you mean by love more than my own way.
I guess, what I’m saying is this: I want to be known for this, by God. As Christians in a Cupid world, I want us to be known for this. Because that kind of love is actually awesome.