May 19, 2019: Sermon preached by the Rev. Carolyn Eklund
 
Year C; 5 Easter; 5.19.2019
John 13:31-35
Yesterday, on a rare beautiful spring day in Maine – blue sky, sun shining, plants and trees were blossoming and leafing – a vibrant scene of life and love unfolded in the Memorial Garden of St. Paul’s.
 
It was a particularly delightful scene for me because it was completely intergenerational. People of all ages from little children to those 90 years old and older took part in a “Renaissance” festival and feast fit for a king. It was our annual spring fund-raiser and “FUN” event.
 
I saw with my own eyes our treasurer and a retired dietitian vestry member collaborate with a professional chef to create the food.
 
The chef was Divi and Olivia’s dad. They cooked authentic Renaissance food.
 
I saw a St. Paul’s staff member making silk flower garlands with the children.
 
Another staff member created the publicity.
 
I saw a retired engineer vestry member who had worked in his professional life to ensure water access to vulnerable communities, build a jousting horse out of wood, placed on gigantic wheels. We named her Guinevere, for surely she was a female jousting horse!
 
Our recently widowed, beloved Nick Smith served as “King of the Court” and Carol Layton of the Holy Stitchers served as “Queen of the Court.”
 
And we were all entertained by the “Court Jester” who, as the MC kept the activities on track all day.
 
There was a youth minister juggler and lots of youth enjoying themselves with the amazing drum circle that kept the beat most of the day and called neighbors over to us.
 
A family visiting the library joined us, had their faces painted and rode the “jousting horse.”
 
The Earth Care Team made sure we had compostable products for our food and served as stewards of the
new recycling station that included composting.
 
We had a strolling opera singer making song throughout the day and our DJ, yes, they certainly must have had DJs during the Renaissance – kept the wonderful early Renaissance music coming through his loud speaker that stood outdoors.
 
More vestry members served in the kitchen and one retired art teacher brought her yarn and taught young and old alike how to spin that yarn.
 
It was a fun day for fellowship and fund-raising.
 
Thanks be to God for the gathering of all
ages – a beautiful diversity of the faithful!
 
It was an example of our faith community coming
together in love to share our many gifts with each other to create a joyful and generous event.
 
Our thriving, vibrant community works together to share our multiple gifts. We are called the Body of Christ. When we send a Eucharistic Visitor with consecrated elements directly from Sunday Eucharist to those who are home-bound, we acknowledge our Body of Christ when we
say, “We who are many are one Body, and we share one bread together..”
 
All ages, all classes, all people…we share one bread together.
 
And we don’t gather together in community as Christ’s Body for no reason – for “Oh! The heck of it1” We gather together as Christ’s Body because Christ calls us into his community of life and love. We are to be strengthened by his life and love and then go out and share him
with the world.
 
Even as Jesus himself gathered with his disciples that last week of his life…even as he had just told his betrayer Judas Iscariot – to go do what he had to do, to bear false witness to Jesus and get him arrested and killed – even after all that happened, Jesus then turns to his disciples and gives them the simplest instructions ever; “I give you this commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” For him it boils down to “love one another…”
 
He is saying, “My precious darlings, hear these brief, but essential words, ‘…love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’”
 
Dear me, even a toddler could remember this commandment, “Love one another” and know what it means!
 
But if it’s that simple, why have so many wars and conflicts been fought over Christian belief? I’m going to get into “the weeds” a bit right now…One of the things that split the Eastern Orthodox Church from the Roman Church over a thousand years ago was the thing we say in the Nicene Creed, “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the
Father and the Son.”
 
Well! The Eastern Church has objected to saying “proceeds from both the Father AND the Son” because there is only ONE “Father.” They say that the Holy Spirit cannot proceed from two entities. That would be heresy.
 
And so, to correct this “heresy” and to join with the Eastern Church, the Episcopal Church agreed at our last General Convention to omit the statement, “and the Son.” Battles were fought over these three words, and it took over 1000 years to agree with the Eastern Church!
 
“Believe THIS _____ fill in the blank! Or die!” We become entrenched in our “beliefs to the point of forsaking Christ’s command to love. The rigidity of belief over love has given our religion a terrible reputation.
 
We do stand for many good beliefs – We do believe that the Eucharist is a meal Christ gave us to strengthen us in faith, unite us with him, and give us his sign of forgiveness. And we believe that Baptism is a once-in-a-lifetime symbol that we are forever bonded with Christ and all the saints in heaven and on earth.
 
But I can say with certainty that Christ’s command to love is the bedrock for right Christian practice. I don’t believe for a minute that “hot-button” beliefs have much to do with Christ’s command to love one another.
 
For example, last week a neighbor of mine asked me to sign a document that objects to the religious exemption for vaccinations. Some Christians want the government to exempt their children from having vaccinations based on their religious beliefs. My neighbor has two young school-aged children and does not want non-vaccinated children to catch and spread measles in her school. She didn’t know I was a trained microbiologist and know a little about virology and infectious diseases. There is no good theological Christian reason not to vaccinate our children. Unvaccinated children are a threat to public health. If we know they are Christian by their love, I’m not sure I’m feeling the love.
 
Another “hot-button” belief for some Christians is their drive to legislate against abortions. They call it “right to life.” As a pastor, as a female pastor, when a woman comes to me asking for counsel for an unwanted pregnancy, or a predicted birth that her doctor suggested might be abnormal and recommended ending the pregnancy, I speak first about the miracle of life and how she might feel ending the life that is inside her. Indeed, I am for life and love. But there is no Christian belief that would make me consider that she should be subjected to man-made laws that would make her a criminal or a law-breaker if she chose to end her
pregnancy. Her body is her temple. Her choices are between her, her loved ones, her doctor and her God. As a Christian, I look with compassion on her and her very difficult and sorrow-filled decision. I am called to the commandment to love her deeply and inflict no harm on her emotional and spiritual well-being.
 
Precious, darling sisters and brothers in Christ, our love for one another is the first way to live. St. Paul tells us to wear our love like a garment. He writes, “…clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”
 
What would it look like to begin each day dressed in Christ’s love.