The fiery power of love

Today we celebrate Pentecost, the day when the Holy Spirit descended upon those who loved and followed Jesus. Look at the picture on the front of today’s worship book. It is the vision of Pentecost created by Chinese artist Hi Qi. See how the flames used to depict the Holy Spirit are present on all three of the people shown?

The Holy Spirit comes equally to men and to women, to young and too old, to Jew and to Gentile. In fact, St. Paul repeatedly reminds us that in Christ Jesus there is no differentiation between the place of the Jew or the gentile, the slave or the Roman citizen. With the Holy Spirit, we see we share more common ground than the small areas that divide us.

In today’s America, we would say that in Christ Jesus there is no differentiation between the place of white or black, between white and undocumented worker, between white or Asian or Native American, between straight, gay, lesbian, transgender or bisexual American.

And the power that makes us all equal, the power brought to us by the Holy Spirit, is the power of love.

Yesterday in preaching at the Royal Wedding, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Most Rev. Michael Curry, asked us to think and imagine a world where love is the way.

Now the good thing about a sermon by Bishop Curry – and that was an amazing sermon by Bishop Curry – is that he kind of expects those of us who preach in this church to make use of his words and wisdom.

When he preached at the installation of our Bishop a few years back, I took notes and was able to use some of what he said in sermons at four other churches. But Bishop Curry’s sermon at the Royal Wedding is too good to rewrite and rework. So instead I am going to share part of his words here and now – the part relating to the power of love that comes to us on Pentecost day. For that is the kind of love we hear about in the Song of Solomon, in the Bible:

Set me as a seal upon your heart,

as a seal upon your arm;

for love is strong as death,

passion fierce as the grave.

Its flashes are flashes of fire,

a raging flame.

Many waters cannot quench love,

neither can floods drown it (out).

Song of Songs 8:6-7

Pentecost love is the kind of power the late Dr. Martin Luther King described when he said:

“We must discover the power of love,

the redemptive power of love.

And when we discover that, we will be able to make of this old world a new world.  Love is the only way.”

To quote Bishop Curry: “There’s power in love. Don’t underestimate it. Don’t even over-sentimentalize it. There’s power, power in love.

He said: “If you don’t believe me, think about a time when you first fell in love.  The whole world seemed to center around you, and your beloved.  Oh there’s power, power in love.  Not just in its romantic forms, but any form, any shape, of love.

“There’s a certain sense, in which when you are loved, and you know it, when someone cares for you and you know it, when you love and you show it, it actually feels right.  There’s something right about it.  And there’s a reason for it.  “The reason has to do with the source.  We were made by a power of love.  And our lives were meant, and are meant to be lived in that love.  That’s why we are here.  Ultimately the source of love is God himself.  The source of all of our lives.

Bishop Curry quoted an old medieval poem: “Where true love is found, God himself is there.”

In 1st John we find:

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; Everyone who loves is born of God Whoever does not love does not know God For God is love.” (1John 4:4-8)

And our Good Bishop said: “There’s power in love. There’s power in love to help and heal when nothing else can. There’s power in love to lift up and liberate when nothing else will. There’s power in love to show us the way to live But love is not only about a young couple who are newly married. Jesus of Nazareth on one occasion was asked by a lawyer to sum up the essence of the teachings of Moses.  And he read back, and reached back into the Hebrew scriptures to Deuteronomy and Leviticus, and Jesus said:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength. This is the first, and great commandment. And the second is like it.

Love your neighbor as yourself. And then in Matthew’s version, he added, he said: On these two, love of God and love of neighbor, hang all the law, all the prophets

Bishop Curry said: “Everything that Moses wrote, everything in the holy prophets, everything in the Scriptures, everything that God has been trying to tell the world! Love God! Love your neighbors. And while you’re at it, love yourself.

He said: “Someone once said that Jesus began the most revolutionary movement in all of human history.  A movement grounded in the unconditional love of God for the world.  And a movement mandating people to live that love.  And in so doing, to change not only their lives, but the very life of the world itself. I’m talking about some power. Real power. Power to change the world.

“And if you don’t believe me, well, there were some old slaves in America’s Antebellum South, who explained the dynamic power of love and why it has the power to transform.  They explained it this way – they sang a spiritual, even in the midst of their captivity.  It’s one that says:

“There is a balm in Gilead

A healing balm, something that can make things right There is a balm in Gilead

To make the wounded whole

There is a balm in Gilead

To heal the sin-sick soul.”

And one of the stanzas actually explains why – they said:

“If you cannot preach like Peter,

And you cannot pray like Paul,

You tell the love of Jesus,

How he died to save us all.”

Oh, that’s the balm in Gilead!

“This way of love, it is the way of life!  They got it! He died to save us all!  He didn’t die for anything he could get out of it!

“That’s what love is.

“Love is not selfish and self-centered.

Love can be sacrificial.

“And in so doing, love becomes redemptive.

“And that way of unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive love, changes lives. And it can change this world.

“If you don’t believe me, just stop and think, or think and imagine a world where love is the way.

“Imagine our homes and families when love is the way.

“Imagine neighborhoods and communities when love is the way.

“Imagine our governments and nations when love is the way.

“Imagine business and commerce when love is the way.

“Imagine this tired old world when love is the way.

“When love is the way, unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive.

“When love is the way, then no child would go to bed hungry in this world ever again.

“When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook.

“When love is the way, poverty would become history.

“When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary.

“When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields down by the riverside

“to study war no more.

“When love is the way, there’s plenty of good room – plenty of good room – for all of God’s children.

“And when love is the way, we actually treat each other – well, like we’re actually family.

“When love is the way, we know that God is the source of us all, and we are brothers and sisters.  Children of God.

“My brothers and sisters, that’s a new heaven, a new earth, a new world.

“A new human family.

“French Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin was arguably one of the great minds, great spirits of the 20th century.  A Jesuit, Roman Catholic priest, a scientist, a scholar, a mystic.  In some of his writings he said, from his scientific background, as well as his theological one.

Some of his writings he said, as others have, that the discovery, or invention, or harnessing of fire was one of the great scientific and technological discoveries in all of human history.

“Fire to a great extent made human civilization possible.

“Fire made it possible to cook food, and to provide sanitary ways of eating, which reduced the spread of disease in its time.

“Fire made it possible to heat and warm environments and thereby made human migration around the world a possibility, even into colder climates.

“Fire made it possible – there was no Bronze Age without fire.  No Iron Age without fire.  No Industrial Revolution without fire. The advances of science and technology are greatly dependent on the human ability and capacity to take fire and use it for human good.

“And de Chardin said fire was one of the greatest discoveries in all of human history.

“And he then went on to say that if humanity ever harnesses the energy of fire again, if humanity ever captures the energy of love, it will be the second time in history that we have discovered fire.

“Dr. King was right.

“We must discover [the power of] love. The redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this old world a new world.

“My brother, my sister, “God love you, God bless you. And may God hold us all, in those Almighty hands of love.”

May God’s people say Amen.

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