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May 21, 2006 (Easter VI)
Intern Pastor Joshua Graber
I John 5:1–6, John 15:9–17
It’s good to be back here with you. Some of you may know I have been traveling the past ten days. I was able to spend a couple days in Seattle with my friends, and last weekend I was able to go to Holden Village, a Lutheran retreat center in the Cascade mountains. I then participated in an internship cluster meeting with Steve and 12 other intern teams in Washington State. Steve and I stayed at my alma mater, Trinity Lutheran College, on Tuesday night, so I was able to see the old campus again, meet with teachers, and see old friends and how the Spirit was moving to continue to bring young people of faith to that school. Finally, we joined Sean D’Evelyn and Peggy Anderson as the LCH contingent to the Pacifica Synod Assembly in Irvine, California.
This traveling has been great—full of wonderful moments and great conversations. But as you can imagine, it’s a bit of a challenge to write a sermon in the midst of all this movement and activity. I had hoped to write a sermon in advance of my departure, but I’m glad I didn’t because, at this point, I think all these different contexts and experiences I have had have really added to the texts meaning for me.
I carried the texts for this week with me and took notes as I traveled. This created a very unique opportunity to interact with Scripture and brought me many insights, hopefully some of them may be helpful for you as well.
As I read the texts for today, the first thing that struck me was the use of the word “Love.” It’s all over these texts. It appears nine times in our gospel lesson. We are told that Christ’s commandment for us is to love one another as he has loved us. This is not just any love, but the love he shows us is a radical love—a love that would, as stated in verse 13 of our gospel lesson, lead you to “lay down your life for your friend” —a love that, as our epistle lesson tells us, God used to conquer the world, a victory we share through our faith.
I think it’s hard for us to understand the radical nature of this love these days. I think the word “love” for us may feel compromised by overuse. Like so many words, its value seems to be diminished because we hear it so often in so many different ways. How is God’s love different from the loves of this world?
When an ex-girlfriend called me this week, I was convicted of my own understanding of love. What does it mean to be in love with someone? What does it mean to tell someone you love them? Does it last?
At our internship cluster meeting a discussion of love came up when someone brought up how they had often fielded requests to change the vows in a wedding service from “as long as you both shall live” to “as long as your love shall last.” How do you feel about that? All of us have impacted by divorce one way or another, but don’t we at least hope that the love will last and be life-long?
Driving with my friend Heather to the internship cluster meeting, our conversations also turned to love. As single pastors, would we ever find it through the challenges of our calling? As individuals, how did this desire for love affect us?
I sat in on a Men’s Breakfast Bible Study at my friend Tyler’s internship site in Tacoma. The men and a few women gather every Monday morning to share fellowship over breakfast and discuss the next Sunday’s texts. They brought me back some perspective. They looked at the texts and focused on what it meant to be chosen by God, not just chosen for servitude, but to be called friend and to be chosen for joy and for love. They felt that that’s what it meant to abide in Christ, and that is the love that leads to all others.
How is that love of Christ different from other loves?
I think one of the understandings of love that comes closest to Christ’s love is Aloha. And at the Synod Assembly, the representatives from Hawaii were hard at work spreading the spirit of Aloha. You see, because it was decided last year that the next Synod Assembly would be in Hawaii for the first time in twenty years, there was some pretty heated debate about whether it made sense to do this because of the time commitment and cost.
So, as soon as we hit the convention, we had our Aloha on: we all wore Aloha shirts, and instead of normal name tags we attached ours to kukui nut leis. We also tried to be very friendly and appear knowedgable about next year’s convention on Oahu. Dave Kiefert, the pastor of Christ Lutheran in Mililani, who is a bit militant in his distribution of leis, also helped out by making sure whenever there was an opportunity to put a lei around someone’s neck, he would be there to do it.
Amazingly, there were still some leis left over by the time of the Banquet on Friday Night, and so we decided to auction them off to raise money for travel to Hawaii. They were the cheapest leis of course, but we didn’t know how many other people knew that!
A member of the synod staff began the taking bids with his best auctioneer impression. The bids slowly climbed up—getting as high as $60, then $120, then even $140. We felt pretty good about this, but then when the other leis ran out, the auctioneer decided to auction off his own lei, saying that giving someone a lei that you had already worn is an even more special gift.
The bidding predictably started at $2 and didn’t go much higher from there. The auctioneer stood there, beginning to show real embarrassment. He started talking about how his mother wouldn’t be proud of him if he went home with such a low bid. There was an actual awkward pause as the bidding didn’t go anywhere. The bids that came in remained low. And then from our Hukilau tables, a voice shouted “$200!”—more than had been bid all night and a huge jump from where the bidding was at, I think around $20. It was Robert from Joy of Christ in Pearl City who had made the bid.
And as he went forward, he humbly received the lei from Dave Kiefert and then immediately went up to the stage and to the recently redeemed auctioneer and put the lei right back around his neck.
I think for us in the Hawaiian contingent, who had been somewhat nervously doing the business of Aloha at the Assembly, it was refreshing to see the gift of Aloha shine through.
I think, in Robert’s example, the gift of aloha met the gift of the gospel, hopefully giving dozens of pastors at the assembly who like me were still completing their sermons in their head an example of the love of Christ—the love that gives first, the love that sacrifices in order to bring that love to another.
As Jesus tells us in our gospel text, we are called to be lovers of the world because we are called to love our neighbors with the same love he showed us. We are no longer servants blindly following orders, doing the work of love, simply because we were told to by our master. Jesus calls us not servants but friends. We are friends of Jesus, led by his action, taught by his love to love the world freely, openly, welcoming all. Knowing that that love will not always be returned and that we may even be rejected for it.
It is a radical love, and the world may not be ready for it. On the cross Jesus took something of little value—of negative value—and made it the greatest gift we could receive, whether we deserve it or not. And God calls us to love one another with that same love, wherever it may take us, even if it takes us to our own deaths.
There’s real freedom in that. That’s something I realized in my travels. Jesus makes us conquerors of the world through love. And Jesus takes our shame—and even our failures at love—and gives us a crown, which he places on our heads, and that we wear even now.
Just like Robert placed the lei around the auctioneer’s head, we receive a lei of aloha that will never wilt or fade, so that fed by God’s amazing grace, we receive the power to love as Christ called us each day.
Copyright © 2006 Joshua Graber
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