The Way of Love in the Midst of the Fall
August 27, 2020
Let love be genuine.
The late Peter Gomes, professor of ethics and chaplain at Harvard University, would preach a sermon for students every year entitled, How Are You Going to Live after the Fall?
“Innocent pagans that most of them are,” he once said, “they assume that I’m asking them what their plans are after September. But I’m not. I’m asking them what they are going to do after their dreams fall from the sky.” He would then tell them, “The good life that you rightly seek must serve you in your most difficult, desperately hard times. It must help you to cope in your moments of doubt and despair. If what you live by does not serve you then, it is no good for you, even in the good times.”
As September approaches, we do well to ask ourselves how we are living in the midst of the Fall. The question is less about the season and more a way to take stock of how we’re doing in a time when we’ve had to let go of so much, adapt to new realities, and face hard truths. And because we all have people in our lives who look to us for guidance and hope, we need to ask ourselves what they are learning from our example.
In these waning summer days, I’ve been taking stock of how I’ve lived in the last six months. It’s a humbling exercise at any time, but especially so when the world’s turned upside down. Suffice it to say that there’s been plenty to grieve and confess; and much for which to give thanks. God has been merciful to me and kind, and many people have been the source of joy and inspiration. In the midst of suffering, sin and loss, I’m in awe of the power of grace, forgiveness, and resilience--how much of a day is simply tending to the next thing that needs to be done.
Casting my gaze toward the future, I feel called, yet again, to recommit to core values and practices to help keep my focus on Jesus and His Way of Love. Should you hear a similar call, we can begin again together, with a daily practice of prayer and Scripture reading, a weekly commitment to worship, and then paying attention to the specific ways, each day, that we might be a blessing to others and to go where love is needed--and then, because we are mortal, to rest. These are the Jesus-focused practices of the Way of Love. They are tried and true; they serve us in both good and desperately hard times. Love is never out of season.
When speaking of love, definitions matter. I grew up with a father who defined love by how he felt inside, with little capacity to demonstrate love in ways that a child could understand. Thus I learned early in my life that the feeling of love means little if it isn’t expressed in such ways that others know they are loved. As Jesus taught and lived, we see how love is a sustained practice of self giving--even, at times, of self sacrifice.
Let love be genuine, St. Paul writes at the beginning of one of the most beautiful descriptions of what love looks like in action. If you join an Episcopal worship service this Sunday, you’ll hear what one commentator describes as an arpeggio of love:
Let love be genuine.
Hate what is evil; hold fast to what is good.
Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.
Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.
Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.
Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.
Do not claim to be wiser than you are.
Do not pay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
These are words worth committing to memory, so that we always have in mind what love in action looks like. Remember that this is how Jesus loves us all, unconditionally and completely. He needs those of us who follow him to live in such a way that others know what love looks like. It’s much harder than simply feeling love, but it is the kind of love that can see us through the hardest times. In the midst of the Fall, love is how we rise, and begin again.
In my sermon this Sunday at Washington National Cathedral, I’ll reflect in greater depth on the practices of love--how to receive and share the love of God revealed to us in Jesus.