The Gift of Love

June 11, 2019
Can you imagine if you were just a casual observer today? Or what if you stumbled into this space or maybe on the live stream. The pomp and circumstance of it all, big music, choir, robes, a packed house! I am sure that you would wonder: What in the world are they doing there?
 
Licensing, Commissioning, and Ordination would be the right answer but it still would not express what really is happening here. In this season in the life of the (big C) Church  - big C, even those like us who know what we are doing here might still wonder what in the world are we doing?  And why?
 
Today would have been my mother’s 87th birthday.
 
She was a loving and caring mother who taught me to love.  She did so by the way she “ordered” her life.
 
Everyone knew Mary Lou.  Everyone loved Mary Lou because Mary Lou loved everyone. She loved unconditionally and I exhaustingly. 
 
Mother worked at WalMart as a checker and in a neighborhood convenience store. 

Her funeral was attended by people I had never met but who had encountered her love every morning at the convenience store when they stopped for coffee on the way to work or as she listened to people’s life stories as she checked their groceries. 

She knew a lot of people and knew a lot about them because she took the time to know them and to listen to them.
 
Her life was ordered around loving others.
 
I realize not everyone has had this kind of experience but I pray that there has been someone in your life that has taught you to love.  I pray that you have had a Mary Lou in your life.
 
I pray that you have encountered someone whose life has been ordered by love.
 
To the casual observer, to the stranger in our midst, to the cynical and to the skeptic: We are here to set apart people who will give their life to help others order their life by love. So that all people can indeed encounter a Mary Lou in their life journey.
 
I am not a psychologist, although I often refer to myself as an armchair Dr. Phil:  How’s that working for you?
 
Maybe even Dr. Phil would agree that loving might be next to breathing -- both being most natural and also most difficult both a requirement to be truly alive.
 
Did the Beatles have it right...All You Need Is Love?   
 
It was 1967 when All You Need Is Love was first released.  Can you believe it was that long ago?
 
It was part of a global television debut called Our World that was broadcast via satellite all over the world.
 
The lyrics for this commissioned piece were intended to be simple since it had to be understood by everyone around the world. 
 
There was actually criticism that the lyrics and the general sentiment were naïve.
 
There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done.
 
Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung
 
Nothing you can say, but you can learn how to play the game.
 
All you need is love....love is all you need.
 
Listen to what Brian Epstein said about the song in an interview with Melody Maker magazine, “It was an inspired song and they really wanted to give the world a message. 
The nice thing about it is that it cannot be misinterpreted.  It is a clear message saying that love is everything.”
 
We know this to be true.  The scriptures are filled with references to love.  Not romantic love but the love of God.  The Gospels are chocked full with messages of love that say to people like you and me that love is everything.
 
The great commandment, “you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being and with all your mind.  You must love your neighbor as you love yourself.”  No other commandment is greater than these Jesus said.
 
Really?  No other commandment!
 
This is a tall order and while the Beatles and others claim that love is easy – we know it is not.
 
Yet there is no other commandment that is greater than to love as God loves. 
 
Have you ever done that exercise where you insert your name in the place of the word love while reading 1 Corinthians 13?  Try it sometime, it is convicting....Cynthia is patient, Cynthia is kind, Cynthia is not jealous or boastful, Cynthia does not insist on her own way...I will stop there.  I am meddling in my own business.
 
You get the drift.
 
Our call is to personify love, to be love to a world that might not know love.
 
One of my favorite hymns, we will sing in a few minutes is the Gift of Love, it is also the title of this sermon because I believe that  Love is a gift.  Love is a verb.  It is something that you do something that you give.
 
Though I may speak with bravest fire, and have the gift to all inspire, and have not to love, my words are vain as sounding brass and hopeless gain!
 
When we love as God loves us we move into a thin place – a threshold place, an entrance, a place filled with possibility, a messy yet fulfilling kind a place, a place where we bump up against the holy.
 
We have all had those experiences when we find ourselves in those places where we are overtaken by an extraordinary sense of love.
 
The birth of a baby.
The death of a loved one.
A wedding,
Graduation,
Ordination.
 
There are also unexpected places at unexpected times.
 
I grew up in far west Texas where it is flat and you can see forever.  Often the sandstorms cause this amazing hue over the horizon and the sunset is like none other.  The orange glow is amazing and the sun is giant and as it sets it is almost as if it slips into a pocket leaving a purple, orange, and yellow shadow on the horizon.
 
Nothing like it!
 
Each time I experience it I experience an extraordinary gift of love. A beautiful sunset made by God’s hand swiping a paintbrush across the sky, just. For. me.
 
I have to say that as I look at you I am overtaken by the gift you are to the church.  At a time when our world and our church is in turmoil, you are here!
 
As the church, we love faces possible schism, splintering, and brokenness  - you have said YES! 
 
The United Methodist Church has not seen anything like this in over 150 years.  Who knows what will happen?

Yet you are here!
 
The world has shifted,
the church has shifted!
 
Yet you are here! 
 
God is still calling people!
God has called you!
 
You raised your hand and said,
“Here I am Lord, send me!”
 
You know that fear and love cannot go together!  You know that love casts out all fear.  Here I am - send me!
 
You have been called by love – God’s love for you and your call to love neighbor. 

For our founder, John Wesley all that God is and God does is motivated by love.

Author Mildred Bangs Wynkoop, a Nazarene and holiness scholar said in “A Theology of Love” that to be Wesleyan is to be committed to a theology of love.  
 
Love was probably no easier for Wesley than it is for some of us. 
 
He was not easy to love and I am guessing it wasn’t easy for him TO love.
 
He was a quite a rebel.  He fought the establishment and challenged the status quo.
 
Take note ordinands and lay folk you too ought to listen in.
 
John Wesley was denied the opportunity to preach in his home church. 
 
So, Wesley went to the only plot of ground that actually belonged to him – his father’s grave and it was from there that he preached - just outside the church. 
 
I was also reminded recently that Wesley had no authority to ordain. 
 
He was an Anglican priest, remember? 
 
Yet, it was Wesley who ordained Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke as they set sail for America to organize a new movement.
He did so for the sake of the mission. Every clergyperson in this room is part of an unlawful ordination chain.  Mine is hanging on my wall! 
 
I would guess that Wesley was not loved by the establishment and that he might have had a hard time loving those around him.  He was criticized for his unorthodox ways. 
He preached outside the church walls which was considered evil to the Anglicans. 
 
He was tempted on more than one occasion to give up after his failed trip to Georgia. 
 
But it was on his trip home that he encounters the Moravians who were calm and faith-filled.  This moves and disturbs Wesley. 
 
It is out of this discouragement that Wesley decides to reluctantly go to Aldersgate Church and it is there while listening to Luther’s Preface to the Book of Romans that his heart is strangely warmed.
 
Licensed Pastors, commissioned pastors and ordinands you are part of a legacy of reluctance, resistance and in some cases downright doubt that God is at work in your life.
Strangely comforting. 
 
In our legacy is one who on his deathbed was to have said a couple of profoundly important things that should resonate with us...” Where is my sermon on the Love of God?  Wesley asked, Take it and spread it abroad, give it to everyone.”  Ten thousand copies of  “God’s Love to Fallen Men” were printed and distributed. 
 
This is also the man whose final words were, “The Best of All is that God is with us.”
 
We, both clergy and laity have a legacy of love and an assurance that in all things, God is with us.
 
I know many of you have been in ministry for a while and you have already had an incredibly fruitful ministry.
Yet what lies ahead is an extraordinary relationship, a covenant, that will be with you always. 
 
A covenant that I pray will remind you often, that the best of all, God is with you. 
 
Some church out there is waiting for you!  It might be the one you will report to on July 1, 2019 and it may the one you will report to in 2029.  They don’t know it yet nor do you.  But they are waiting for you! 
 
They are waiting for you to love them to help them order their life by love. They will not always be very loveable nor will you.  They will complain and so will you.  But if you show them love – they will love you. 
 
You will teach them and they you that,  “The Best of All is that God is With Us!” 
 
When times are rough one of your sisters or brothers in Christ, the ones you covenant with tonight will say to you, “The Best of All is that God is with Us!”
 

 
One of my favorite things is to learn a little more about each ordinand.  I love learning about your call, about what motivates you and about the challenges, joys and loves in your life.
 
It is always fascinating to me that each of your stories, as different as they might be, has points of intersection. 
 
You share similar experiences, similar challenges.  You have times when you have been the rebel, sometimes the rule follower and when you have had to bend the rules – maybe just a little.
Each of you had a person in your life that loved and nurtured your call.  A Mary Lou --  Someone who saw something in you that needed a nudge, a reassuring word, a reminder, a visible sign that God was indeed with you!
 
In some cases they were pastors, some were your parents and in a majority of cases they were lay people who accompanied you in the process. 
 
Lay friends, your role in recognizing and nurturing the call in another is critical.  The only place people enter ministry is from your churches. 
 
You have to be on the lookout for those with the gifts for set apart ministry.
 
Bob Burgess wouldn’t take no for an answer from Klay.
It was a guitar that got Fernie into church.  He was asked to play for worship and he said yes so he could tell his friends he played in a band every weekend.
 
For Austin, Frederick, Shawn and KC the call was continual and came at several critical intersections of life.
 
It was Ben McGehee that did not accept a whole host of excuses why Jessica could not attend the discerners retreat.  I don’t have a car – I will set up a ride to Alexandria.  I don’t have the money, I will pay your registration fee. 
 
It was camp that called Katie!  Someone believed in her to be a leader at camp. 
She reminded me that it is not a good idea to play chicken with God.  Thank you, Katie...I think!
 
And these are just the stories of the ordinands.  All of you have your own story of how someone has led you to the church – lay and clergy alike.  In each and every one of these experiences the God in you was teased out. 
 
This morning we sang – The Jesus in Me Loves the Jesus in You!  It’s so easy!
 
We all have Mary Lou’s that see the Jesus in us often before we see it. A Mary Lou whose example, shows us what it looks like to order our lives by love.
 
Whose life reminds us that All You Need is Love. 
 
To disciple is to love and to love is to disciple.
 
Love is the bedrock of the Gospel.  It is the bedrock of who we are and who we are called to be.  We are made in the image of God to carry out a life of love. 
 
A love that punches holes in the darkness. 
 
A love that sees the hunger for acceptance in a person’s life. 
 
A love that speaks truth into the world. 
 
This is courageous love. 
 
Richard Rohr says: who you are in God is who you forever are.  In fact, that’s all you are, and it is more than enough. [REPEAT]
 
Lay folk in the room, this is not just a word for those licensed, commissioned and ordained. 
 
You don’t need a license or a certificate of any kind to love.  This isn’t just a question about who is trained theologically but a question of loving people into a life in Christ.
 
Lay leadership is not about credentials, roles, titles, office, or costume but about leading people to conversion, transformation – new life in Christ. 
 
While we all need a Mary Lou to love, nurture and support us,
 
WE need to be that person to those who are living on life’s ragged edge and yes, even those who seem to have it all together yet need to continue to experience the transformative love of Jesus.
 
We all need to know that we are not only loved but BE-LOVED.  That we are a child of God  - chosen by God! 
 
Do you remember as a kid when people picked teams on the playground?  You may have never been this person but I remember what it felt like to not be chosen or to be chosen last. 
 
God chooses everyone first.  No one is even chosen second or third and certainly not last or never. 
 
We are God’s beloved sons and daughters - chosen to help mend broken people, broken communities, broken homes.  We are God’s beloveds chosen to love as God loves. 
 
Our call to love can change the trajectory of the world.  Our call to love can change people, situations, and circumstances. 
 
Our call to love can change the Louisiana Annual Conference,
 
Our call to love can change the United Methodist Church.
 
Our call to love can change YOU!
 
My prayer for you – all of you, is adapted from John’s Gospel.  A prayer that models a new way of being together that grows us into a truly beloved people of God.
 
“I ask not only on behalf of these but also on behalf of those who will believe in Jesus through their words, 21 that they may be one.
As you, Father, are in us and we in you, may those who are yet to know you, may they also be in us,[a] so that the world may believe that you have sent your son to live among us. You have given us everything we need, especially extravagant love, that we might be one in you and one in one another’s lives.
 
25 “Father, the world does not know you, but we know you and we will make your name known, so that the love with which you have loved us may be in them, and we in them.”