“An Active Love”
October 23, 2011
This is my wand.
Some of you have already seen it on visits to my office. Some of you have not. But this is it. This is my Harry Potter wand from Ollivanders Wand Shop at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida.
I realize that some people think it’s a bit silly for a woman of my age to have her own wand. But I love it. I love it because I love Harry Potter. I love the books! I grieved when they came to an end. I’ve loved the movies as well, especially because the actors in those movies brought the characters to life.
But I will always love the books the most. I love them because of their depth and the emotional response that they bring out in me. But I mainly love them because they are absolutely wonderful stories. I know that in some circles they have been seen as controversial, even anti-Christian, because the subject matter is about wizards and magic. But I will proclaim to my dying day that there are no better tales about what is at the heart of our faith than the Harry Potter stories.
I say that with all certainty because what is at the heart of these stories is love. And not just love as sweetness and light, sugar and spice all things nice, but sacrificial love – the power of sacrificial love. The power of sacrificial love is quite literally imbued within the Harry Potter story from the very beginning to the very end. It is what saves Harry’s life when he was a baby, making him known as the boy who lived. It is what saves Harry’s life, and the lives of so many others, at the end.
In case you don’t know the basic premise of the Harry Potter stories, here’s a few essential facts. Harry loses his parents when he was just a baby. They were murdered by Lord Voldemort, a wizard of great power and great evil. As I said Harry’s mother, Lily, sacrificed herself to save Harry. When Voldemort tried to kill him, Harry survived. Voldemort was reduced to almost nothing. Not dead, but not alive either.
Harry doesn’t know he’s a wizard until age 11, when he is given an invitation to attend Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. From this point on his life is irrevocably changed. In each book he is tested in a new way. Voldemort is trying to regain life and power. And Harry must contend with this threat at every twist and turn of his journey. Not only does he have to deal with Voldemort, Harry must also cope with doubts, ridicule, and ostracism from his classmates and others. His home life with his muggle (that’s non-magic folk to the unenlightened) aunt and uncle is downright abusive. And he’s not without his own self-doubt and fears.
But from the beginning to the end love is there. It is the one thing that Voldemort underestimates. Because he does not know love, he cannot understand how or why it motivates others – even those who seem to be loyal to him.
In the end Harry must sacrifice himself in order to stop Voldemort. Just as his mother was willing to sacrifice herself to save him, Harry willingly sacrifices himself to save everyone else. Why? Love.
Love is the answer that Jesus gives to the Pharisees in today’s passage from Matthew. Love of God, love of neighbor, love of self. At the very core of our faith lies love.
We are at the last of the questions asked of Jesus in today’s passage. From this point on the die is cast. Jesus is heading to the cross. He knows it, but still he doesn’t shy away from taking on tough questions.
Yet today’s question doesn’t feel as tough as the others have. Well let me rephrase that. Today’s answer doesn’t feel as tough. I have to be honest. When I saw that this was the passage for this week, I breathed a sigh of relief. The issues in Matthew’s gospel the last few weeks have been intense to say the least.
So I think preachers everywhere gave a loud cry of joy when they read that Jesus answered this final question with a word about love. Because who doesn’t want to preach about love? I mean this should be the easiest sermon ever, right? It’s all about love.
Note to self. Amy, remember please that whenever you think that you’re going to have an easy time with a sermon because you think the topic is easy, than you’re setting yourself up for problems.
Love is a wonderful topic, but easy? No, it’s not easy.
It should be, I guess. We should love as easily and as naturally as we breathe. But we don’t. At least we don’t love in the way that Jesus spoke of.
I know I’ve preached this to you before, and I’m sure I’ll preach it again and again, but the love that Jesus referred to is not a sentimental love. It is not the warm gushy kind of love. He was not telling the Pharisees to go out and give big bear hugs to everyone they meet because they just love everybody. That’s not the kind of love that he was talking about.
When Jesus, and likewise Paul, spoke about love, they were talking about love as a verb. Love as an action. Love as a way of being and doing. They were not speaking about the emotion of love. They were not talking about the love we see epitomized in romance novels and, what my husband calls, “Chick Flicks.” This isn’t even the kind of love I feel when I look at my children sleeping. Jesus spoke of an active love. A love that was, that is, proactive.
The Pharisees have heard that Jesus silenced the Saducees, so now they’re giving it one more shot. They gather together, supposedly to formulate a plan. One of the Pharisees is a lawyer, so he decides to ask Jesus a question that will test him.
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
As usual Jesus knows what they’re up to. He answers, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
The Pharisees were so astounded by his answer and his next words about David, that they went away, unable to ask him any more questions, but perfectly able to plot the death of this man and his troublesome ways and his troublesome talk about love.
Because love, as Jesus spoke of it, is troublesome. Love in this context doesn’t just require us to feel something. It requires us to do something.
This past week I read a commentary on this text by two preachers. They took on the idea of being spiritual versus being religious. Being spiritual, they claimed, is easy. Their argument was that people who claimed spirituality over religion are those who simply want to feel loving. It’s easy to say “I’m a spiritual person. I love God, but I don’t want to get bogged down in all that religious stuff.”
That puts spirituality on an amorphous plane. It doesn’t require anything but warm fuzzies on our part. So it is easy, say these preachers, to be spiritual. It is easy, in this way, to love God.
But loving our neighbor? That’s the challenge. And that’s where they took up the call to be religious.
The word religious comes from the word legare which means to be tied, to be bound. Our word ligament also comes from legare. What do ligaments do? They hold our bones, our muscles, our joints together. Extrapolating from this means then that religion binds us together. It ties us to one another and to God. I can understand how some people see this as challenging at best. We don’t always like the implications of being tied to one another.
But think about those ties in terms of love. Active love. Loving our neighbor as ourselves means that we are tied in love to one another. The other’s welfare is equally as important as our own. We are called to do acts of love for one another. Our community meal this afternoon is an example of that. What do we get in return for feeding the hungry in our community? We don’t get money. We don’t get membership. We may feel good for having done it, but ultimately what we get doesn’t matter. It is what we give. It is what we do. We feed the hungry because it is right. We love the hungry actively. We love our neighbor as ourselves because we are tied to one another. Even when those we’re trying to love seem unloveable. Even when loving them is the most difficult thing we can do. That’s the kind of love Jesus was talking about.
And the good news is that when we love one another in this way, we’re also loving God. Jesus wasn’t drawing lines of demarcation between these loves. I don’t think he was creating a hierarchy of love. Instead I think he was trying to show the Pharisees and anyone else with ears to listen that when we love God, we love God’s children. And when we love God’s children, we love God. Legare. Tied. Love.
We are called to love actively, to work for the good of others, even as we hope others work for our good as well. We are called to make love a verb, not just leave it as a noun. We are called to tie ourselves up in the legare of love. Because God is tied up in love with us. Alleluia. Amen.
Thanks to WorkingPreacher.org and The Text This Week for their resources.