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Love: a Series of Courageous Vulnerabilities

Love: a Series of CourageousVulnerabilities
A sermon preached Trinity Sunday (June 15, 2014)
The Falls Church Episcopal, Falls Church Virginia
The Rev. John Ohmer, Rector

Trinity Sunday is a day set aside in the church calendar to recall our belief that God is One, and that this One God reveals God’s self as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

One God, revealed as
God the Father Almighty, as
God’s son Jesus Christ, and as
God’s Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life.

Now, already at this point this point in my sermon, I am glad I have a rule for preaching, a rule I keep in mind when I am writing sermons, which is this: I try to imagine a bored tenth grader, sitting about ten pews back, rolling his or her head back  thinking or saying “so WHAT?!? Who CARES?!  

So: to you bored tenth graders and to the bored tenth grader in all of us: Why should you care that God is One God revealed in a trinity of persons? 

Because you are desperate for love.

I am. You are. We all are.

And as desperate for love as you are, you haven’t even begun to comprehend love.

You don’t – I don’t – none of us understand love. We don’t “stand under” Love, we don’t stand on Love, we don’t feel surrounded by Love, we don’t feel motivated or pushed forward by Love.

You may – I may, we may – occasionally feel glazed by Love, but rarely do we feel marinated in Love, inseparable from Love, tasting and tasting of Love.

And that – people so thoroughly marinated in love that they give off the flavor and smell of Love everywhere they go, everywhere we go, is what the world craves the most and needs the most.

Love is what will first heal you,
and then heal those closest to you,
and then heal this city, and the the world.

But Love starts with God and your image of God.

God is not only IN relationship with the world,
But that God IS relationship…
God is, God’s self, relationship.

C.S. Lewis points out that all sorts of people are fond of repeating the Christian statement that 'God is love.' But [the expression “God is love” makes no sense unless] God contains at least two Persons. Love is something that one person has for another person.

That is important because it helps us to see the true nature of God – as a relationship of love, love between Father and Son, Son and Holy Spirit, and Holy Spirit and Father.  

This love that flows within God’s own self is a “missional love” and by that I mean that it is a love that cannot be contained!

Missional love is love that overflows its banks, spills out into the world!

Now let me stop here a minute and back up to define Love.

Despite what we often think, “love” is not primarily an emotion, or a feeling.

(“Oh, great, happy Father’s Day!” you might be thinking: “on a day we’re supposed to express our love or our appreciation for our Father’s love, here’s the preacher saying love is not primarily an emotion or a feeling.”)

But it’s not. And that’s good news. Because if Love is not primarily an emotion or a feeling, what is Love?

Love is a series of courageous vulnerabilities.

Let me repeat that: Love is a series of courageous vulnerabilities.

I get that from the Bible (and from reading the modern prophet Brene Brown). I get that from the story of salvation history.
God’s goodness and love are not a secret. God’s goodness and love are “made known to us.”

As one of our Eucharistic prayers puts it, “God’s goodness and love are made known to us” in the courageously vulnerable act of creation, the calling of Israel to be God’s people, God’s Word spoken through the prophets, and above all, God’s courageous vulnerability in the Word made flesh, God’s becoming one of us.

Creation: We heard the story of God’s missional love this morning in the creation story. God not being able to contain God’s love within God’s self so God’s love exploding out in creative creation.

Created in the image of God, in the likeness of God, who is a relationship of interdependent love, we are created not to be alone, not to strive for independence, but to be in relationship. In relationship with God with creation, and with other human beings. Interdependent.

You see? An acknowledgment of our interdependence requires vulnerability. Interdependence requires us to say, “I’m not complete by myself; I need others.

Here’s the thing: Only strong people can admit their vulnerability. It takes a lot of strength, a lot of courage – sometimes more strength and courage than we have -- to say, “I can’t make it myself. I need help.” 

But Love is a series of courageous vulnerabilities…starting in creation, moving on to God’s calling of Israel to be God’s people: a love that is as often rejected as returned.

God’s missional love continues as God speaks God’s Word through the prophets, beckoning and calling us back. (God’s prophets throughout history aren’t treated so well. Beginning with the biblical prophets and continuing in our own day, God’s prophets are often ridiculed, marginalized, and even murdered. But Love is a series of courageous vulnerabilities.)

And above all God’s goodness and love was made known to us in God’s Word made flesh, God’s becoming one of us, Jesus.

Jesus, a human being fully marinated in God’s love, God’s love walking among us, teaching and preaching and healing and leaving us a meal.

Talk about courageous vulnerability. Love as courageous vulnerability is not always returned, and sometimes it is opposed.  

This morning we heard the Biblical creation story. Some of you will recall that back in early Advent, I read to you another creation story, one of my favorites. It’s the story told in Gordon MacKenzie’s book titled Orbiting the Giant Hairball, written as a kind of guide for artistic people to keep their creativity in a major organization.

Gordon MacKenzie relates this story near the end of his book:

“Before you were born, God came to you and said:

Hi there! I just dropped by to wish you luck, and to assure you that you and I will be meeting again soon. Before you know it.

You’re heading out on an adventure that will be filled with fascinating experiences. You’ll start out as a tiny speck floating in an infinite dark ocean. Quite saturated with nutrients. So you wont have to go looking for food or a job or anything like that. All you’ll have to do is float in the darkness. And grow incredibly. And change miraculously.
You’ll sprout arms and legs. And hands and feet. And fingers and toes.

As if from nothing your head will take form. You nose, your mouth, your ears will emerge.

As you continue to grow bigger and bigger, you will become aware that this dark, oceanic environment of yours – which when you were tiny, seemed so vast is now actually cramped and confining. That will lead you to the unavoidable conclusion that you’re going to have to move to a bigger place.
All of this will be what the big people on the other side call being born. For you, it will be only the first of your new life’s many exploits.

God continues:

I was wondering, while you’re over there on the other side, would you do me a favor?
“Sure!” you chirp.

Would you take this artist’s canvas with you and paint a masterpiece for me? I’d really appreciate that.

Beaming, God hands you a pristine canvas. You roll it up, and tuck it under your arm and head off on your journey.

Your birth is just as God has predicted, and when you come out of the tunnel into the bright room, some doctor or nurse looks down at you in amazement and gasps:

“Look! The little kid’s carrying a rolled-up artist’s canvas!”

Knowing that you do not yet have the skills to do anything meaningful with your canvas, the big people take it away from you and give it to society for safekeeping until you have acquired the prescribed skills requisite to the canvas’s return. While society is holding this property of yours, it cannot resist the temptation to unroll the canvas and draw think blue pale lines and little blue numbers all over its virgin surface.
Eventually, the canvas is returned to you, its rightful owner. However, it now carries the implied message that if you will paint inside the blue lines and follow the instructions of the little blue numbers your life will be a masterpiece.

And that is a lie.

For more than 50 years I worked on my paint-by-numbers creation. With uneven but persistent diligence, I dipped an emaciated paint-by-numbers brush into color No. 1 and painstakingly painted inside each little blue-bordered area marked 1. Then onto 2 and 3 and 4 and so on. Sometimes, during restive periods of my life, I would paint, say, the 12 spaces before the 10 spaces (a token rebellion against overdoses of linearity). More than once, I painted beyond a line and, feeling embarrassed, would either try to wipe off the errant colour or cover it over with another before anyone might notice my lack of perfection. From time to time, although not often, someone would complement me, unconvincingly, on the progress of my “masterpiece.” I would gaze at the richness of others’ canvases. Doubt about my own talent for painting gnawed at me. Still, I continued to fill in the little numbered spaces, unaware of, or afraid to look at, any real alternative.

Then there came a time, after half a century of daubing more or less inside the lines, that my days were visited by traumatic events. The dividends of my noxious past came home to roost, and the myth of my life began horrifically to come unglued. I pulled back from my masterpiece-in-the-works and saw it with emerging clarity.

It looked awful.

The stifled strokes of paint had nothing to do with me. They did not illustrate who I am or speak of whom I could become. I felt duped, cheated, ashamed – anguished that I had wasted so much canvas, so much paint. I was angry that I had been conned into doing so.

But that is the past. Passed.

Today I wield a wider brush – pure ox-bristle. And I’m swooping it through the sensuous goo of Cadmium Yellow, Alizarin Crimson or Ultramarine Blue (not Nos. 8, 13 or 4) to create the biggest, brightest, funniest, fiercest damn dragon that I can. Because that has more to do with what’s inside of me than some prescribed plagiarism of somebody else’s tour de force.

You have a masterpiece inside you, too, you know. One unlike any that has ever been created or ever will be.

And remember:
If you go to your grave
without painting
your masterpiece,
it will not
get painted.

No one else
can paint it.

Only you.

Do you see why I am saying Love is not primarily an emotion or a feeling but a series of courageous vulnerabilities?  

God, who is Love, loves wildly, recklessly, and endlessly.

In the resurrection, God started a movement, a fellowship, a cause, a church, Christ’s body. 

The Body of Christ (you…me…us…) on earth, to continue God’s creative vulnerability.   

You see the impact that can have on us?

It changes the way we see God...and because God is the ultimate reality and is the one in whose image we are made, if this belief really gets inside of us, it changes our view of the world and our selves.

·        If we believe that God is a relationship of love, and
·        If we are created in the image of God,
·        Then we are created ourselves to be in relationship, interdependent, and in love,

And if love is a series of courageous vulnerabilities,

Then our “duty” as Christians – individually as a church -- is not to be perfect, or perfectly follow rules
but to be swept up into that love,
marinated in that love,
so swept up that we ourselves have a missional love

…to be so deeply convinced that we are so deeply loved 
that we are filled with love to the brim, over the brim, overflowing, out into the world,

and -- in a series of courageous vulnerabilities -- 
to paint our masterpiece.



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