Between Love & Loving
“God is Love. Love casts out fear. Even the most ardent revolutionist, seeking to change the world, to overturn the tables of the money changers, is trying to make a world where it is easier for people to love, to stand in that relationship to each other.” Dorothy Day
Catholic Hadith activist Dorothy Day writes, “Whenever I groan within myself and think how hard it is to keep writing about love in these times of tension and strife which may at any moment become for us all a time of terror, I think to myself “What else is the world interested in?” What else do we all want, each one of us, except to love and be loved, in our families, in our work, in all our relationships.
“God is Love. Love casts out fear. Even the most ardent revolutionist, seeking to change the world, to overturn the tables of the money changers, is trying to make a world where it is easier for people to love, to stand in that relationship to each other.
“We want with all our hearts to love, to be loved. . . . It is when we love the most intensely and most humanly that we can recognize how tepid is our love for others. The keenness and intensity of love brings with it suffering, of course, but joy too because it is a foretaste of heaven. . . .
“When you love people, you see all the good in them, all the Christ in them. God sees Christ, His Son, in us and loves us. And so we should see Christ in others, and nothing else, and love them. There can never be enough of it. There can never be enough thinking about it. St. John of the Cross said that where there was no love, put love and you would take out love.  The principle certainly works.  . ..
“Love and ever more love is the only solution to every problem that comes up. If we love each other enough, we will bear with each other’s faults and burdens. If we love enough, we are going to light that fire in the hearts of others. And it is love that will burn out the sins and hatreds that sadden us. It is love that will make us want to do great things for each other. No sacrifice and no suffering will then seem too much. 
 John of the Cross to María de la Encarnación, July 6, 1591, in The Collected Works of John of the Cross, trans, Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez (Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 1979), 703.
 Dorothy Day, On Pilgrimage (New York: Catholic Worker Books, 1948), 52.
 Dorothy Day, House of Hospitality(Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 2015), 267.
Between Martha & Mary
When asked what surprised him most about humanity, the Dalai Lama answered, “Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices his money to recuperate his health. And then he’s so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never lived.”
Long before Internet, reality shows, or other mindless distractions Jesus taught us something about living in the present, in mindfulness. It comes from Luke’s gospel; what happens in that space between two sisters named Martha and Mary.
In the ancient world, hospitality was a big deal. Since there were no hotels like we have today, travelers relied on families, friends, and even strangers to welcome them in for some respite from their journey.
When someone dropped by, it was commonplace for everyone to stop what they were doing to help out, and make that person feel right at home. This seems to be the case when Jesus stops by to see Mary and Martha, the sisters of his dear friend Lazarus.
As the story suggests, Martha expected her sister to help prepare a meal for their guest, and not plop down at Jesus’s feet while she did all the work. I get why Martha complains. There’s an imbalance in the way it’s supposed to work.
When Kathleen returned to college, I took over a lot of the duties she did. She didn’t ask me to do this, I stepped in because stuff needed to get done. During this time, I had a few Martha moments – banging pots and sighing loud enough for the neighbors to hear – because I wanted my kids to help get supper ready. Who could blame Martha for doing the same?
Having said that, I also identify with Mary who jumps at the chance to sit at Jesus’ feet, taking on the posture of a disciple. If given the opportunity I’d exchange sweating over a hot stove to learn directly from him.
I’m curious to know which sister you are more like. The striving Martha who busies herself with the practicalities of life. Or the mindful Mary, who understands the importance of being present. Maybe you are a little of both, like me; constantly striving to find the divine presence in your everyday life. Of course, there’s a third person in this story.
In the space between Martha and Mary is Jesus who accepted the invitation to find refreshment in their home. I’m convinced Martha wants this moment to be perfect for her special guest.
But when she complains about her lazy sister, Jesus just smiles and says, “Martha, Martha, Martha. Stop getting so anxious and distracted.” Although we don’t know how Martha reacted to Jesus’ answer, I’m sure it’s not what one wants to hear when the pot is boiling over and the bread is burning.
Now, I’ve heard a number of sermons that make Martha out to be the bad person in this story. But I don’t think Jesus sees her that way. Luke does not suggest Jesus is upset by her busyness. After all, he wants to eat, and someone has to prepare the meal.
Phil Hooper suggests Jesus says these things to his hostess because she’s worked herself into "a state of anxious distraction" over something as basic as lunch.
Have you ever thrown a dinner party, only to spend the entire time in the kitchen making sure everything goes according to plan, and still everything goes wrong? I have. Ask my wife why I am no longer able to use our outdoor grill.
If we only focus on Martha’s frustration, then we miss the bigger point. True hospitality isn’t about making a perfect meal. It’s about being fully present. Martha’s focus is on her sister when it ought to be on Jesus. For he is the One who gives our work meaning and significance.
Jesus calls out Martha, not to chastise her actions but to awaken her heart. He knows that all the cooking and cleaning and the tending to the small, daily things can open the door of possibility for the divine in-breaking of God in our lives. (Hooper)
But if we’re not paying attention, when our work is not done mindfully of God’s ever-present love, then we might miss it. And we’ll miss the peace and wisdom that comes with it.
Mary’s actions teach us that our presence, our full attention, is the most important thing we can bring to the table.
Jesus doesn’t want us to lose our focus of him … in the many things that worry and distract us in our daily life. Take a moment to think about the “many things” out there distracting us. Not just the big stuff like the pandemic, our politics, and prejudices that still plague our communities. But the little stuff too. I mean how many times have you been distracted during this message?
Just as we need God’s full attention and presence on us, so too does God need ours. The best way to do this is by keeping our focus on Jesus. This is what Mary does. She takes the opportunity to be in God’s grace and glory by being present with Jesus. As Luke states, Mary has chosen the better part.
Again, Jesus isn’t trying to make Mary out to better than Martha. That’s not his style. He’s inviting Martha, and all of us, to enter that sacred space where God comes to meet us in real life. The dichotomy between the two sisters isn’t either/or. It’s both/and. We are both Martha. And Mary. Our needs are both internal and external. Christ both sustains us. And summons us to be his heart and hands in the world.
One of my favorite church stories is about St. Bonaventure - a man who struggled to accept his call to be a monk. Because of his crappy attitude, he was given the job of washing the dishes after every meal.
Bonaventure made it very clear to his Abbot and the other monks, that he hated and despised this task. Yet it was there among all the messiness that this saint developed a deeper understanding of his calling. And more importantly, made a deeper connection to Christ who had called him to serve.
Bonaventure’s story shows us that service comes in all forms. Some more glamorous than others. But it’s all needed in the kingdom of heaven. We often see monotonous tasks like doing the dishes, or dusting, or folding the laundry as annoying necessities rather than acts of holiness.
But not Bonaventure. Like Martha and Mary, his commitment teaches us that “The path to sainthood does not lie in showy ostentation, in external honors and achievements, but in the mundane, humdrum tasks of daily living.”
In a pile of dirty dishes, in the hunger of a crying child, in the sewing and mending, in this sacred space, God comes to meet us and make real change happen. To quote Tish Warren, “God is forming us into a new people. And the place for that formation is the small moments of today.”
Divine transformation is carried out in real life, where we dwell with God and one another. But if we are distracted, and not fully focused on the One who transforms us, then we might just miss it. And miss out on all that God wants to give us.
As you go out into the world, may you never lose sight of Christ in your midst. He’s not just in the busy work, but he’s also in the homeless man at the off ramp; in the addict passed out in the park; and in the elderly widow who’s terrified to go out into the world.
When we are able to see Christ in these heavenly bodies, then we will be able to see Christ within us; transforming us from inside out.
The crisis and challenges that worry and distract us are the very places where God comes to claim us and call us and bless us with love. That love, my friend, is the good part of life that Jesus says, will never be taken away.
Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol 3. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010.
Hooper, Phil. Trick Question. episcopalchurch.org. July 10, 2022 (accessed July 15, 2022).
Warren, Tish Harrison. Liturgy of the Ordinary: sacred practices of everyday life. Downers Grove, Il: InterVarsity, 2016.
In John’s first epistle, the Apostle writes, “God is love.” He goes on to encourage us to love one another, because those who love will know God. We need to remember this, especially in these trying times, that it’s in the way we love one another that people come to know us, the church.
It’s in the space between being loved and becoming loving beings that we enter the flow of God’s infinite love in a place we call Anamesa.
So, our theme today is love. No surprise. I’ve vowed to make love my priority. I will continue to preach this particular word and action until it erases all the hatred and anger that permeates throughout creation. Some of which has seeped out from the church.
Today, I want to focus our attention to probably the most well-known verse in the entire bible. It comes from the mouth of Jesus as our reminder of who God is, and why God does what God does for us. It comes from John 3:16-17.
Billy Graham is reported to have said that all of his sermons come down to these 27 pivotal words that make up John 3:16. In fact, every one of his messages could be boiled down to one word in particular: Love. And not just any love but God’s infinite love for us.
Simple, yet profound, these familiar words have created the very foundation of Christian theology. Yet, they are also difficult words for us because they stretch and challenge us constantly. And for good reason: living into the flow of God’s love is serious business.
While this passage is popular in Christian culture, the church has not done a very good job living them out into the world. There are still people being excluded, and judged, and marginalized.
But here’s the thing. Infinite love has no boundaries, no limitations, no exclusions. It has been given to us all, not for our condemnation but so that we can be exalted into the heart of God. God’s love is infinite, limitless. It either flows in and out of everyone, or it doesn’t flow at all. We don’t control the flow. We only enter it.
Jesus began by saying, “For God so loved the world…” to let us know that love originates from God. It is a gift given to everyone and everything. We don’t earn it. Or buy on Amazon or at Target. It just shows up in our life without any precondition outside of God’s own desire to give it away whether we deserve it or not.
That’s why it’s called the good news because who among us is worthy? Jesus said you are, I am, the whole world is. For some strange and mysterious reason, we are the objects of God’s affection.
This can be hard for many of us to understand and accept. Many of us don’t feel worthy or deserving of this love. Other’s think that they can control it or use it to draw circles around themselves in order to make it exclusively their own.
Jesus makes it very clear here. God so loved the world…that God was willing to come to be with all of us. For those of us who believe this, well, we too bear the responsibility of making love a daily practice.
Just as God’s infinite love was made manifest in Christ, we too must we allow the flow of God’s infinite love to become visible in us as we move through the space between being loved and loving beings.
This is the goal for me and you, as individuals and as the church. Thankfully, we have a good example to follow. Jesus knew the power of love. He also knew the dangers as well. Yet he dared to love faithfully and fearlessly.
By looking at Jesus, we will know what infinite love looks like, sounds like, and acts like. We will be in that infinite flow.
By living out God’s love like he did, we will grow a compassionate heart…not one full of contempt. Through his faithfulness to God’s love, Jesus showed us how to heal, how to forgive, how to accept all people for who they truly are - beloved children of God.
If we are going to follow Jesus and we must follow his way, by entering into a love which knows no boundaries, crosses all lines, and goes to all depths and heights to save and redeem the world back to God’s open heart.
Simple, yet difficult because we get in our own way.
On those days when I feel like I’ve failed to live up to what I think God has called me to do, I recite John 3:16 out loud.
Instead of saying “the world” I say my name. “For God so loved Ian that He gave His only begotten son for me.” I make it personal because God’s love is personal. It’s been given to me, and to you, and to anyone and everyone who wants it.
Our self-worth begins with the sure and certain truth that out of great love for us, God came to be closer to us. God did not send Christ to condemn us but to save us; to heal and redeem us.
In spite of whatever has gone horribly wrong in your life, whatever has wounded or hardened your heart and caused you to stumble or rebel, God has already made peace with you through Christ. That’s the good news. That’s the gospel truth.
God sent the world this gift, wrapped in swaddling clothes, so that you and I might have a new life that extends beyond the many places we are in right now. Through Christ, God breaks down the walls and barriers we’ve built around ourselves. In this sacred space of Anamesa, God moves wildly and recklessly to make sure no one and no thing is left untouched by God’s merciful grace and love.
The goal of the Christian church is to testify to this infinite gift in all that we do. Jesus said it like this, “love one another as I have loved you.” This tells me that we are both the loved and the loving, called to live it out in this space between.
In a homily entitled “We Create Our Destiny,” Richard Rohr made this shocking confession. “If God’s infinite love and grace is not flowing through the church, then we might as well throw away the Christian religion because it’s not doing the world any good.”
Like we’ve seen in the past few elections, most Christians don’t behave any differently than anyone else. Try to imagine Jesus behaving like many of us do towards someone we don’t like.
The world is watching. Some are waiting for us to mess up, which we so often do. But I believe most people are looking to see if we’re authentic, if our actions meet our words.
The world is hungry for love, and tired of all the arguing and fighting. Christ’s church needs to lead the way. And that way is the way of love. That’s why I pledge to preach it every week. But what good are my words if I’m not willing to back them up?
God isn’t asking us to be perfect. God loves us despite our imperfections. God wants us to jump into this divine flow and love just as wild and recklessly as God is willing to do.
Through Christ, we are invited to be one with God. And one with each other. This is a life-long journey… a daily and dangerous practice that strengthens our personal faith as well as our faith communities.
Thus, I think we all need John 3:16 tattooed on our hearts. We need to memorize it, reflect upon it, teach it to our children. We need to jump into it and give ourselves over to it, so God can take full root within us.
Without such love we suffer, anguish and perish. But with it, we thrive and bear the good fruit of the Spirit who moves us in the space between being loved and being loving beings.
Based on an original sermon Love on July 24, 2016.
Indermark, John. The Greatest of These: Biblical Moorings of Love. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2011.
Rohr, Richard. We Create Our Own Destiny. Homilies With Richard Rohr podcast. February 23, 2019 (accessed on June 29 2022).
Ziegenfuss, Lynn. Youthworkers.net. Oct. 2008. http://www.youthworkers.net/pdf/T5200810.pdf (accessed July 22, 2016).
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”