Rev. Scott Summerville
May 13, 2012
“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you….”
“Love one another as I have loved you.”
I have a confession to make – several confessions in fact.
First: I am intoxicated.
Second: I am in love with another woman.
And third – how shall I say this? – I have become a mother.
It is a total scandal.
When our son was a little tyke, one day he reached up and tugged at his mommy’s dress while she was distracted with something or other, and he said, “Mommy, I love you.” Still distracted, she said to him, “That is nice Thomas; I love you too.” To which he responded, “No, mommy, I mean I really love you.” “Why thank you, Thomas,” she saqid, “I really love you too.” To which he responded, “No, Mommy; I mean I really love you!!” This was not platonic love he was declaring! He was declaring his passionate desire for his mama! We deceive ourselves when we think little people are not capable of such large emotions.
To love can mean many things, but to be in love is to be possessed in the body, in the imagination; being in love is a condition of the flesh as much as it is a condition of the mind. In this very moment such love possesses me. My skin craves the touch of her skin. My nose craves the scent of her. My arms long to hold her. My hands ache to caress her head and stroke her soft hair.
You may be amazed that my wife is able to sit here and listen to all of this so calmly. No, we do not have one of those open marriages. No sir, we do not go for that stuff. But we have both fallen in love with this little woman, our granddaughter, and when infected with such love, you are intoxicated; it is pleasant, but achingly pleasant. There is a constant longing in your whole being that is satisfied only when one is able to caress and hold the beloved.
It is a considerable coincidence that I have been absent from this pulpit in recent weeks tending to our daughter and granddaughter and that I should return to you on Mother’s Day. Mary Ellen and I have been immersed in fatherhood and motherhood for several months. We have been camped out in neonatal intensive care units and in a children’s hospital. We have been surrounded by injured and ailing infants and children, lactating mothers, anxious fathers, and fearful grandparents.
Troubles and tragedies hurl people together in ways we never anticipate. Certainly that has been true with our family during these months. In the normal course of events, when your children live more than a thousand miles away, you hope that they will bear children, and that you will be able to visit them, spend a little time, and wish you could spend more. That is not the case in our situation. We have already spent more time with our grandchild and had more intimate contact with her than we would have had in ten years, had the circumstances been more normal.
That is why I say I have become a mother. Some mothering instinct has been gradually aroused in me. I feel like a mother. You are going to ask me the test question – I know you are – to determine the strength of my claim to be a mother: “Do I change the diapers?” That happens to be a personal question which I am not going to answer.
“Love one another as I have loved you.”
I feel personally and as a family that in this time we have been saved by love. We have passed through the valley of the shadow of despair and death; our hope and sanity have been tested; we have journeyed in the wilderness; love has preserved our sanity and our hope.
There is a Jewish tradition known as “reciting the Torah while standing on one foot.” One of the greatest of the rabbis, one who lived not long before the time of Jesus, Rabbi Hillel, was challenged to recite the Torah while standing on one foot. Rabbi Hillel said , “OK, sure,” and while standing on one foot declared, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary; go and learn.”
Jesus was given a similar challenge; a lawyer asked him, “Rabbi, what is the most important teaching of the torah? (Matthew: 22:37-40)
He answered this way: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.”
The great rabbis took the complexities of religion and tradition and law and custom and distilled them into their essence – the essential quality of the relationship of human to human, and human to the divine: the quality of love. I have had a notion kicking around in my mind for some time now, similar to declaring the Torah while standing on one foot. The thought is that, if I were asked to distill the message of Jesus into a phrase, I would say, “Talk is cheap.”
Talk is cheap.
And “love” is one of the least expensive words in the world.
It falls off the tongue so easily.
Love love love love love love love love love love.
Blah blah blah blah blah blah.
In these last months Mary Ellen I have witnessed, day in and day out, the most extraordinary scenes of love, scenes of devotion and sacrifice; we have seen so many young parents strained to the breaking point and persevering and giving and giving and giving of themselves for the lives of their children. We have also seen small armies of compassionate and caring hospital personnel surrounding these parents and children, going beyond the formal requirements of their jobs, saturating the work they do with the gift of love.
To “love as I have loved you,” is to live in caring and committed relationships with family and friend. To “love as I have loved you” is to live in active solidarity with sisters and brothers who suffer. To “love as I have loved you” is to live in solidarity with the poor. To “love as I have loved you” is to live in solidarity with those who are denied their human rights.
In our family life and in our life as a congregation we can misuse this word, “love.” We can pay homage to love as a concept and forget about it as a constant challenge and claim upon our lives. Talk is cheap. Love is just blah blah blah blah, unless it is expressed in action.
There is a certain thing I have seen in the hospitals that has touched me deeply. I have occasionally seen children who seemed forgotten, that is, days would go by and I would not see any visitor come to them. I would think, “How sad that someone does not care enough to be here for this poor child.” But then, after a couple of days, people show up, and you learn that they live at a great distance, do not have a car, have other young children at home to care for, have jobs that they must keep in order to put bread on the family table and which do not give them time off, but with every scrap of time they have they take the buses, the trains, the subways; they make the long trek to the hospital, and when they arrive they bestow upon their child the most extraordinary pent-up love and tenderness.
Love as I have loved you.
When love is not just spoken but embodied in the flesh, lives are changed, lives are saved, and there is hope for this world.
Grace and peace to you.