El Amor - Celebration of New Ministry at Ascension, Gaithersburg
May 16, 2021
Jesus prayed for his disciples, ‘‘I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.
The majority of this sermon will be in English, yet I begin with a song in Spanish that expresses the essence of what is on my heart to say to you.
La mayoría de esta sermón será en ingles, pero quisiera ofrecer una palabra a la comunidad de habla espanol a traves de una canción que expresa el tema de mi mensaje:
El amor ha de traducirse en hechos,
es mucho más que palabras,
mucho más que sentimientos
obras son amores y no buenas razones,
el amor no falla nunca.
El amor busca ser correspondido
es la comunicación del amante y el amado,
es donarse enteramente,
el amor no falla nunca.
El amor es el sentido de la vida,
el amor es un derroche de alegría,
el amor es la cruz de cada día,
el amor es darlo todo sin medida. El amor.1
Even those who know only a few Spanish words might well surmise, the song El Amor is a musical interpretation of a Scripture passage most frequently read at weddings, St. Paul’s expansive definition of love found in his letter to the first century Christian community of Corinth. It’s certainly an appropriate reading for weddings, yet Paul wrote these words with a different context in mind--that of life in Christian community.
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. El amor no falla nunca. (I Corinthians 13)
What an aspirational vision of love to live by.
When we hear love described in this way, we realize two things at once; how wonderful it would be to be loved so completely and unconditionally; and how hard it is to love that way. We have our moments when such love comes naturally, as easily as breathing; and yet other times when love as Paul describes and that Jesus lived is really, really hard, impossible even for us to realize. We fail in love as much as we succeed. Or speaking for myself, I know that I do.
And that is one of the most important reasons for us to gather in Christian community; to grow in our capacity to love as Jesus loves.
Today, we also gather to officially celebrate the new season of ministry at Ascension, Gaithersburg with the call of the Rev. Javier Ocampo to be your rector, although I daresay many of us have been celebrating for some time. For the relationship between you is not new; it has grown and evolved over the years you have shared life and ministry together.
At its foundation, your relationship is love--the love that Christ has for each one of you, the expressions of love you have experienced in this community, the love you have for one another, and the love you seek to share with others as Jesus’ followers.
It has been one of the great joys in my work as bishop to watch your relationship grow, to witness Javier’s love for you, and yours for him deepen; your confidence in one another grow, and the joy with which you made the decision to call him first as priest-in-charge and then as rector.
Javier, you are a blessing to all of us, at Ascension and throughout the entire Diocese of Washington. I give thanks to God for your call, your love, your decision to stay when other churches in other states wanted you. I’m so grateful to the leadership of Ascension who told me with complete confidence that you were the one to lead them in this next season of life and ministry here.
There is one phrase I’d like you to hold onto from today’s Scripture readings, the first line from the gospel text: Jesus prayed for his disciples. Jesus prayed for them, as his time with them was coming to an end, making four specific requests to God on their behalf.
Jesus prayed that God would help keep them together, that they would be one as He and the Father were one; that God would protect them from harm; they might know joy; and that they might grow in their understanding of what is true.
On this day, when we celebrate this new season of ministry at Ascension, I wonder what Jesus’ prayer is for you. What would the One who knows you better than you know yourself, loves you as unconditionally and completely as St. Paul describes in his letter to the Corinthians, and invites you to be part of his great movement of love in this world pray on your behalf?
It could be that the prayer he prayed for his first century disciples is the same for you as those among his 21st century disciples: First, that you remain united--not all the same, because God obviously delights in diversity and wants us to appreciate the richness and complexity of human experience, but recognizing our fundamental one-ness as beloved children of God, all created in God’s image. Moreover, as fallen human beings, we all fall short of the glory of God and all are in need of God’s grace and forgiveness.
Jesus wants that kind of unity for you, and so do I.
Second, that you be protected from unnecessary harm, all the while knowing that as followers of Jesus you cannot be not spared suffering. Thus Jesus’ prayer is one of poignant longing that you do not endure undue suffering and that you be given grace to persevere in the midst of suffering.
Jesus wants that grace for you, and so do I.
Third, that you know the deep joy that comes from God’s love and the gift of your precious life. Joy is not the same as happiness, which is dependent on external circumstances. Joy is related to happiness, but it’s less dependent on what happens and more an expression of an internal sense of purpose and meaning. Joy can show up in the least likely places, often accompanied by God's presence and love.
Jesus wants that joy for you and so do I.
Fourth, that you be guided by what is true. Sometimes the truth is hard to hear and to bear at first, but it is always in the end what sets us free.
Jesus wants you to grow in your understanding of truth, and so do I.
Keep in mind that Jesus’ prayer for the first disciples, for you, and for all who follow him, is an expression of his love. Jesus loves you, Church of the Ascension. Jesus loves you, Javier. He invites you, and me, to join in his movement to love others in the way that he loves us--without conditions or agenda, in ways that place other people at the center of our concern, that seeks the good for other, a love that stretches us beyond what comes easily or naturally to us toward an expression of love beyond our capabilities--to the point that we hear ourselves say, as many have, that this love does not come from us but is of God.
Christian communities, at their best, and indeed sometimes at their worst, are like schools for us to learn Jesus’ way of love. We gather to experience Jesus’ love, for we cannot share what we do not know for ourselves, to grow in faith and love, to create a community of love, and to share love with others. In truth, churches often aren’t very good at love, because it’s made up of imperfect, wounded people like us. Yet we start where we are and we seek to live lives worthy of the one who came to show us the way of love.
My final prayer for you, Church of the Ascension, in the next season of your ministry, is that you go deep and wide in love. Be patient with one another, and kind. Seek the good in everyone, and strive to be the most courageous community expression of Jesus’ love that you can be. Ask yourself at every turn, at every decision, “What would love do?” And do that.
El amor es vivir comprometido,
el amor no es egoísta, el amor no es orgulloso,
el amor todo lo cree, el amor todo lo espera,
el amor no falla nunca. El amor.
1 Maite Lopez, ‘El Amor’ found on the album Deseos (2010).