Sermon: Let Us Be LOVE

By: Jen Barnet

I did not know her. She had been calling the church for years and I had been responding to her calls for help for, I’d say about three years. But I did not know her. She was just another woman down on her luck who needed help to buy food for her family. She would call, almost every other week and because she did not have transportation, I would drive over to whatever hovel she and her two boys were living in. But I did not know her. She was just another woman who couldn’t seem to get her act together and so she relied on hand-outs from the church to supplement her social assistance. Whenever I went over to wherever it was that she was living, she would always invite me in and I would always agree, but just for a moment, I’d tell her I was very busy and I had other places to go and other people to see. But the truth is, the places where she managed to find shelter always smelled so bad and I usually just wanted to be on my way so that I could escape the odors that permeated the filthy apartments in musty basements. Her various homes were so depressing that I could not bear to sit down. She would always offer me coffee and I would always politely refuse, claiming that I’d just had a cup, thank-you very much. I did not know her.

I suppose I did not want to know her. Maybe I’ve met too many women just like her. Maybe I’m jaded. Maybe the thought of becoming immersed in the sinkhole of sadness that is her life was just too much to bear. So, I’d just smile and give her a handout. I’d learned a long time ago not to ask too many questions; her problems were more than our meager resources could handle. I’ve been down that road before, so I’d hand over the vouchers and bus passes and indulge in some small-talk. I did not know her. I did not want to know her. 

One day, in the midst of our small-talk, her little boy poked his head around the corner and said,

“Boo!” His nose was running and his eyes were all watery, but he smiled up at me and reached up his opened hand. In his grimy palm sat about half-a-dozen smarties. “Here,” he said, “One’s for you.” I looked down at the smarties and then into his smiling, watery eyes and I knew what I had to do. After all, what’s one germ infested smartie between friends. So, I reached down and picked a red smartie from his sticky palm, popped it into my mount and as it began to sweetly melt in my mouth, something began to melt in me. 

We talk a great deal around here about embodying Christ in the world. Often in our prayers together we express our desire to “be LOVE in the world.” Our best selves want to be LOVE in the world. In our hearts and minds we know that if Christ is to be embodied in the world then somebody’s hands are going to have to reach out and touch some places that we would rather not touch. There are places in this world where people live lives that we are so glad that we don’t have to live; the kind of lives that we would rather not know about. There are sinkholes of depression out there in which people live in such desperation that we would just as soon flee from as quickly as possible. There are people out there who live in ways that we don’t even want to imagine. There are people out there that we just don’t want to know because if we know them we just might begin to love them and love, well love can be messy. Love can be so complicated and so very demanding and if we are not careful we could be consumed by the needs of those people that we’d rather not know because after all is said and done, if they’d made better choices, or if they hadn’t done this or that, or if they’d only think before they act, or if they’d just do what we’ve been telling them to do, or if the government would only do more, or if the rich people would just open up their wallets, or if the world was perfect then we wouldn’t have to know them. 

Let us be LOVE in the world. But not to everyone. Let us be LOVE in the world. But not right now. Let us be LOVE in the world. But only on our terms. Let us be LOVE in the world. But only if they show gratitude and shape up and do better. Let us be LOVE in the world. But not if it means doing this or that. 

The sticky red smartie hadn’t finished dissolving in my mouth before the snotty-nosed little boy offered up another smartie. I didn’t have the heart to refuse. So, I popped a yellow smartie into my mouth and as I thanked the little guy for his delicious gifts, he wrapped his arms around my legs, smearing my pants with the evidence of his embrace. Then like she always does she asked me if I’d like a cup of coffee. The sweet, sticky smarties and the snotty embrace had caused a lump to form in my throat; perhaps it was my heart trying to leap out of my chest. I picked up the little boy as I declared that a cup of coffee would be lovely, thank-you very much.

Before we forget about our gospel for the day…Women didn’t have the power to initiate divorce. So this woman has been used and thrown away five times. And now the guy who she’s with doesn’t have the decency to marry her. She’s not a sinner; she’s a victim. Coming to the well at noon, long past when you want cool, clean water, clearly, she’s a social outcast. Still, Jesus treats her like a peer. He doesn’t relate to her as a needy person, a victim, a loser, but as a whole, intelligent person. Like, “I recognize your pain, but it sounds like you want to talk theology.” That in itself is healing. She’s not defined by her need. And Jesus not only oversteps social taboos about class and gender and Jews and Samaritans—especially rabbis and Samaritans—but he goes so far as to treat her as a worthy peer, to engage in theological banter as he would with another rabbi! In fact, they converse longer than Jesus talks with anyone else in the Gospels.

Convincing a person they have a problem of sin they absolutely do not have and then demanding of them a solution of repentance they absolutely do not need creates in them a real problem of shame they absolutely do not deserve. The statement above is a very specific and tragic example of a much greater and more general problem within Christianity, one we must mature out of if our religion is to deserve connection with its namesake, Jesus of Nazareth, the one who came to save us from our sins…Sins…our real sins… which is the grave, cruel sin of Christians telling a beautiful child of God that they are not loved and are not lovable by God and therefore by us.

We are a serious lot we Christians. Our thirst for duty, responsibility, guilt, and consternation have left us precious little time to be with God. We don’t thirst enough for Love through communion. 

I sure am grateful that Jesus showed up with a handful of smarties that day to remind me to thirst for love first.