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The Fierce Love of a Mama God (May 13, 2018)

John 17:6-19

“I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8 for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15 I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. 16 They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.

You know what’s the most ferocious animal in all of creation? It’s any mama animal whose babies are being threatened. I’d rather face male black bear than a mama possum if I got too close to the babies.

There’s a fierce natural sense of protection by mamas. They will, without batting an eye, attack anything no matter how big, if they think their babies are in danger. This is generally true for human mamas too. Think about that image on this Mothers’ Day.

Biblical gender language aside, since God really isn’t male (we all know this, right?) I think that’s the kind of maternal protection that Jesus is praying about in this text. He’s praying that God would protect Jesus’s disciples with that kind of ferocity. Like a mama protecting her babies.

Mamas don’t fiercely protect their babies so the babies can sleep in their cave the rest of their lives. Mamas protect their babies so they can learn to be OK in this world, to take care of themselves, become big bears, raccoons, sparrows, humans, whatever. It’s not just protection for its own sake, but protection with a purpose. It’s protection so that the baby can grow up and be what it is intended to be.

That’s what Jesus is praying for in this text from John. He prays that the Father (the Mama?) would protect disciples in God’s own name so they may be one in the same way Jesus and this Mama God are one. Then he prays they would be protected from evil as they go into the world.

Whenever there’s something in the Bible about “names,” it’s more than what you tell people to call you. “Name” has to do with character, the essence of the person. So protecting us disciples in God’s name has to do with protecting us in the very nature of God—Jesus’s prayer is that we be protected in this Mama God’s fierce love, mercy, grace, and compassion. That love in all its ferocity would surround us and hold us and keep us in unity with God, but also so we can venture out into this difficult world knowing we are protected in love the whole time.

This Mama God’s protection is not so we can sleep in our caves the rest of our lives. It’s not so we can be safe inside our church buildings. It’s not so we can feel safe because we know the right things or believe the right things or understand the right things. Being protected in God’s love is so we can love with this fierce Mama-love as we were created to do—as full human beings in the image of God. Lives full of love and joy and compassion and grace.

And now, protected in this love that keeps Jesus and this Mama God together in unity, we are sent into the world. Because that’s what the Mama God’s love for Jesus has done. Sent him into the world, protected in love, in order to be free to love. That’s the whole point, isn’t it? That being protected in love, Jesus was free to love us with that same fierceness.

And good thing, too. Because protected in the ferocity of the Mama God’s love, Jesus was free to love us with that same intensity. He would take on anyone, anything, if he thought it would endanger our unity with him. Even if it cost him his life, he was protected in love so he could show that love.

And since we are now united with him in that same ferocious love, we have that same protection in order to love the world the same way. We, too, are sent into the world, protected in love, and set free to love just like Jesus. We don’t have to worry about who deserves it, or who will love us back, or who is like us or unlike us, who’s right or who’s wrong. We are always protected, like a Mama’s babies, so that we can love just as ferociously.

It’s a Mothers’ Day image that is rather compelling for me. A Mama God protecting her babies with love. Jesus, united in this Mama God with love, is sent to include us in that love. So now we too, as Jesus prayed, are brought in, united in this fierce Mama God’s protection of love. And we too, knowing we are fiercely protected in love by this Mama God and Jesus, are free to venture into the world to show that same love.

Nothing can prevent this Mama God from loving us. Nothing better try, because there’s nothing in all creation as fierce as a mama whose babies are being threatened. That’s how fiercely we are loved. That’s how fiercely we are protected. And that’s how fiercely we are set free to love the rest of the world.

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Posted by on May 13, 2018 in Sermon

 

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Today is the Day: Open Your Hearts (2 Corinthians 6:1-13) Charleston, Lakewood, and LCM

Emanuel-AME-Church-Shooting

There is some resentment and pain in the Corinthian congregation. Someone, apparently, has acted in ways that have been harmful to the church, and Paul had called that person out on it. So Paul expresses his open love to them, no matter how they feel about him personally. His heart is open to them, because he is first a recipient of God’s grace. It is this that opens his heart so that love flows forth from him even toward people who resent him.

So he encourages them. Do not accept God’s grace in vain: open wide your hearts.

Easier said than done, Paul. Opening our hearts makes us vulnerable to being hurt. We all are pretty selective around who we open our hearts to. If we’re open and vulnerable to the wrong person, we are giving them power over us, potentially even to hurt us.

Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC opened their hearts and their doors on Wednesday to a young man who they believed needed help and prayer. As a result of opening their hearts to him, he brutally killed nine people inside the church. Opening our hearts certainly risky.

Which is why we often set up barriers to protect our hearts. No one wants to put themselves into a situation where they could be wounded. We protect ourselves, restricting the openness of our hearts. Which means we restrict  who can access our hearts, but it also restricts what comes forth from our hearts.

This has taken me a long time to realize this truth, and probably will take a lot longer to live into it more deeply. There are all kinds of hurts we can try to protect ourselves from.

My dad left our family when I was eight years old. I remember crying hysterically, blocking the door to prevent him from leaving. “You belong here!” I screamed. “You can’t leave, I love you!”

Without uttering a word, he gently moved me aside, opened the door, and walked out. I felt such love and admiration for my dad that I thought the injury to my heart was irreparable. The pain of that abandonment was so deep that I decided, at eight years of age, to never let anyone get close to my heart again. I developed habits and patterns around how I dealt with people that kept my heart protected. Even now, without me being aware of it, those patterns keep emerging and I sometimes come across as uncaring.

And yet, Paul says, “open wide your hearts,” even to people who might hurt you: whether with a gun, with abandonment, or gossip.

I think Paul understands that. And I’m certain the people of the church in Corinth do. Without a doubt the people of Emanuel AME Church do. But God, Paul tells the church, loves you and keeps loving you no matter what. God’s grace opens your hearts so that you can show love for each other. And as you love each other, that is the love of God at work. And opening our hearts and pouring out God’s love is the only way to stop the hate, stop the violence. It is the only way to proclaim the gospel of life.

Paul says, that is why I will love you, even though you are angry with me. I will love you with God’s love, without condition, without regard for whether or not I get hurt. I will endure afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger and more. If that’s what happens to me because I love you, then so be it. I will love you.

Paul explains that they already have everything they need for open hearts. They have God’s grace. They have God’s love. They have God’s forgiveness. They have God’s generosity. Paul has seen it in them. Paul commends them for it over and over. God’s love is already there. As you open your hearts to recognize that love that is already there, that love can also pour out to others.

Emanuel AME Church is opening their doors this morning. They are opening their hearts and having Sunday School today. They are opening their doors for worship today. God’s love, already present in their midst, is pouring out of their hearts this morning.

So why wait? He writes. You already have everything. There’s nothing left to achieve or fix or adjust. Right now, he says, right now you are loved. So right now is the time to love. Open wide your hearts, he urges. There’s nothing left to do but love. Our resentments, grudges, gossiping, divisions, prejudices, conditions gain us nothing anymore. They simply close off our hearts. The people of Charleston, SC are seeing that happen among them today as Emanuel AME opens today.

Yet we do these things to try and keep our hearts safe and protected. We push people away, spread rumors about them, judge their behaviors, keep our distance, all the while believing this separation will keep us safe and less vulnerable and thereby protect our hearts from being hurt.

I’m here to tell you it doesn’t work. I’ve tried for decades to protect my heart. All that’s happened is that I’ve had to work through a heart that’s been closed to giving and receiving love. I’m inspired by Emanuel AME Church today. If anyone has reason to protect themselves, it is this church. But they are opening their hearts!

God is still opening my heart. Some days are more open than others. But the single most valuable way God is opening my heart is by being loved—persistently and without condition. Especially when I know I’m not being very easy to love. I think that should be the experience of being church, but it isn’t always. Yet God opens our hearts through that kind of love and for that kind of love. We’re called to do that for each other, we’re called to do that for the world. Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church is showing us what that looks like this morning.

We have everything we need: all the love, all the forgiveness, all the peace, all the happiness, all the generosity we will ever need. Right now.

Open wide your hearts, Paul urges us. Share the life that comes with loving and being loved. You already have it all. Today is the day to open wide our hearts. Let the world know they are loved—no matter what. Amen.

Opening Hearts, Opening Doors

Opening Hearts, Opening Doors

 
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Posted by on June 22, 2015 in Sermon

 

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