Extraordinary Love for Extraordinary Times
Sermon for May 31, 2020
The Rev. Andria Skornik
Happy Pentecost! Today is the day that we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church. I don’t know about you, but in my family on birthdays we always end up talking about what was happening when that person was born. Like what time of day it was, what the weather was like, or and any other fun anecdotes about getting to the hospital.
On the church’s birthday, we can also think back to what was happening about 2,000 year ago when the church was born. But to do that, we have to go back a little further than Pentecost to where it all began, which is with the ministry of Jesus. Jesus came with a message of extraordinary love — one that was very different than how people usually thought about love: love that was more than just a feeling; love that had no conditions; love that brought as many people in as possible.
Jesus modeled this love in ways that blew people’s minds: like in hanging out with people who were outside of his group; loving those who were unkind to him; forgiving those who didn’t ask for or deserve it; leading — not by might or pushing his own agenda — but by serving others and pointing people to God
He also taught that this love comes from God, which means it doesn’t rely on our strength, ability, or if we feel like it. And also that this love is a supernatural, limitless source that is everyone’s to tap into.
In making this love the priority, he challenged people’s expectations of what faith and religion were about. He said that the most important things — the greatest commands — were to love God and neighbor and self. He said that people would know his followers by their love. And at the Last Supper, on his last evening with his disciples, he said that the new mandate going forward was for them to love in the way he had loved.
That was Jesus’ message and purpose. If you look back on his ministry, everything he did was either a way of expressing that love or placing oneself in it. And it was that same love that was being proclaimed on Pentecost.
On the day of the Pentecost miracle, it was 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection, and people from many different regions had gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish feast of weeks. At one point, when a bunch of the disciples were gathered in once place, quite unexpectedly the Holy Spirit came up on them, and they were able to preach and be understood in different languages so that those gathered could hear the message and take it back to where they lived.
It was such a strange and wonderful thing that we tend to focus on the miracle — the fire, linguistic feat — but remember the message itself that they were proclaiming was about God’s extraordinary love as it was revealed in Jesus. The message of God’s love was what was being taken out to many different places.
From that moment on, the early church was people gathering around this message of love. In those places where people heard it, they were asking, “How do we continue in this way of love?”
“What kind of things keep us connected to this love?” And they committed themselves in community to doing things that would increase this love in the world. As we see in the snapshot of the early church in Acts 2, for many of them it was in worshipping, studying and praying together; sharing what they had so that needs were met; and breaking bread together.
What was happening on Pentecost — the day the church was born? People were getting excited about God’s love.
God created the church to be a vessel of extraordinary love. And if we think about what it means to be the church right now, what an important thing that could be. Because we’re living in a time when, honestly, it’s hard to love. This could be said of any time, but especially now in the ways people have been affected by the pandemic. We see how people are stretched thin by so many new demands. The wear of isolation. The exhaustion that comes with what we’re carrying. The strain as 1 out of 4 Americans are now unemployed.
We’re also seeing a lot of anger. Like with the response to the virus being so partisan. Or even in the church — with the conversation over we do about Communion becoming contentious. There’s also a lot of judgment and criticism as people are figuring what they do next. We may even experience how it’s hard not to be judgmental when other’s decisions differ from our own. As a country, we’re experiencing the pain of racial injustice, especially in the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd. And this last week as we’ve hit the point where over 100,000 Americans have lost their lives to this illness with too few places to let it sink in, or grieve, or hold each other in it.
These are not easy conditions for loving. It’s harder to love when you’re exhausted. It’s harder to be compassionate when you’re surrounded by fighting. It’s harder to be gracious when there’s so much judgement. It’s harder to be empathetic when you are not being shown empathy. It’s hard to believe in love with so many visible instances of hatred. It’s a time that pushes on the limits of our love, without a doubt. But it’s also one the church has been equipped for. Because the love we’ve been given doesn’t come from what we’re capable of or what we feel inclined towards. It comes from a source that is beyond us. It was given for the very things we’re up against.
Can we remember that when those moments of division, anger, hurt, or fatigue hit us the hardest — that those are like a signal to us — that this is where God’s love is needed. And this is where we ask God to fill us with the love that is bigger than our own.
It’s kind of like the advice a very wise neighbor gave to me a while back. My family was getting ready to make a big, cross country move. As with any move, there was so much to do to get ready and so much to do on the other side of it. When we were saying our goodbyes, this neighbor said, “Moving is hard. be good to each other.” Of all the advice and tips I’d encountered, that stuck with me the most. Because when I was exhausted and frustrated and having a hard time not taking it out on other people... I’d remember what she said. And it was like, “oh yeah, what I’m going through is really hard.” It gave me the chance to have a little more compassion for myself and those who were going through it with me.
In the same way, I wonder if we can hear that for ourselves — that this time we’re in is unusually hard. Love each other.
Because as hard as is it, God’s love in us is stronger. It is love that we can come back to when we are frustrated or hurting. Love that doesn’t cast judgement, but looks through the lenses of mercy and grace. Love that allows us to both lament and challenge the racial division afflicting our country — and hold each other in this brokenness that affects us all. It is love that sees a lack of empathy as a time for even greater empathy. Love that is big enough to grieve each loss of life. Love that has the power to keep going even when we feel like we have nothing left. Love that invites us to be in love with God and to follow Jesus in this way of love.
On this birthday of the church, let us remember where the church began and what it was created for, and what we carry with us: extraordinary love for extraordinary times.