December 11, 2020

Urgency of Love

Urgency of Love
Matt Roberts
Episcopal Church at Yale
Urgency of Love
09-06-20

 

WELCOME
Hello, and welcome to the Episcopal Church at Yale. We’re glad you’re here with us, wherever you are
physically located this fall. Whether you were moving to New Haven for the first time, returning
under strained and ambivalent circumstances, or moving from New Haven to another place for a
virtual semester, I’m sure these last few weeks have been filled with anticipation, uncertainty,
excitement, fear, and hopefulness, often all wrapped up in one.
Take a moment. Breathe in… and breathe out…
You’re here. The first week is over.
Of course, the urgency remains. The circumstances of Fall 2020 are just as dire as the circumstances in
March, when Covid-19 first stretched its tendrils in the United States. And, the urgency has continued
through Pentecost, where the tongues of fire that anointed the disciples with prophetic power
anointed again, this time directed at the racist systems of policing and governance that have long
propped up this nation with unholy power. And the urgency continues, with a political election down
the line, with Covid statistics published weekly, and with no foreseeable end in sight to our long, racist
legacy.
Breathe in… and breathe out…
You’re here.
And, as we will hear, where two or three are gathered together, there God will be also. Let the dictum
of urgent love we hear in today’s Lessons ground our urgent response in the infinite love of the holy
and undivided Trinity.
Breathe in… and breathe out…
Welcome to ECY. We’re glad you’re here. And now for our opening hymn.
HOMILY
I don’t often equate love with urgency. For some reason, when I think of love, the predominant image
that comes to my mind is peace, joy, patience, all those fruits of the Spirit that I learned in Sunday
School. But in our lesson from Romans, St. Paul seamlessly transitions from the power of love to the
dawn of God’s eminent salvation. Love here is urgent, emphatic, and demanding. He seems sure that
the coming reign of God is just over the horizon. But here we are now, 2000 years later, in the slog of
the year 2020, where that incoming reign has yet to reveal itself. Instead, despair and evil seem to loom
around every corner. Is Paul’s urgency here in his letter to the Romans misplaced? If the reign has yet
to come, why the urgency?
Urgent love is everywhere in our lessons today. In our reading from Hebrew Scripture, we overhear
instructions for preparing for Passover. The prose even reads rushed: take a lamb, if you don’t have the
means, find a neighbor who does. Eat it the same night, and don’t bother about preparing it, curing it,
boiling it. Cook it whole, don’t leaven the bread, and use the bitter herbs you have on hand. Burn
whatever remains, for God is coming now to deliver judgment against the powers that extort you for
economic gain. For the Israelites, this event is deeper than a temporal moment of justice: this liberative
act reveals God’s character. The Exodus is both temporal and eternal, an event that communicates that
the God who saved is the God who saves, that the God who loved is the same God whose love is
infinite. The urgent love that prepares and liberates the oppressed is none other than the eternal
character of God, whose liberation is love, whose justice is mercy. God’s liberating character even
frames how the Israelites structure their calendar: the Passover is a perpetual ordinance , a flowing
spring of identity where looking back in history is the same knowing who God is and what God will
do. The Exodus is the event that frames the identity of a people, a people loved and liberated by God, a
love that is urgent, demanding, and all-encompassing.
Similarly, in the Gospel of Matthew the urgency of love animates how believers should act toward one
another. If you have something against a neighbor – approach them – don’t let it simmer, don’t let your
animosity ferment into vendettas. While these words strike us as harsh today, Matthew’s community
understood reconciling to one another as the outworking of love’s urgency for their neighbor. The
actions of Christians toward each other is framed analogously to how God acts toward God’s people:
whatever you bind or loose on earth is bound or loosed in heaven . Just as God’s love transcends the
present moment, love shown toward one’s neighbor echoes in eternity. Because of this, love’s urgency
is a call to action with eternal ramifications. Love, in other words, is the urgent, prudent, and
profound call to embody and enact the justice of God. Love is an emphatic dictum, a call to bravely
embodying reconciliation. This urgent love is none other than the love that stitches together the Body
of Christ. For this early Christian community, God’s love was urgent, demanding, and
all-encompassing.
So is Paul’s urgency misplaced because the salvation he anticipated has not yet arrived? It seems that
Paul’s urgent love is less about when God’s salvation will come, and more about how God’s love
flowers in our lives. For Paul, the call to put on the Lord Jesus is a call to become like him. Salvation is
not a moment to come, but a decision to participate in God’s urgent love. To participate is to be
incorporated in Christ’s Body. So, Paul’s urgent love is less about meeting a requirement before the
time limit is up, and more about how eternal love, through transcending the present moment, can
therefore transform the present moment.
The love proclaimed in our lessons today is urgent because it is eternal . When all the circumstances of
our lives fade, how we participated in God’s love will remain. When the Israelites exited Egypt, God’s
love remained. When the expected eschaton came and went, God’s love remained. When quarreling
believers bicker, God’s love remains. The urgency of God’s love is not a fear that God’s love will fade
or leave. Rather, God’s love is urgent in that it asks for all of us, seeks to transform and liberate us, and
desires us to become one with Christ and one another. This love is urgent, emphatic, and
all-encompassing because it seeks to be all-in-all, to sanctify every person, to recapitulate all of our
history within an eternal communion of love. This eternal love moves endlessly, from the Exodus to
the day when Christ comes again, continually calling us to ever embody and ever rediscover what that
love demands in this moment. This love is the eternal activity of kindness, the ever startling
recognition of a neighbor where we once saw an enemy, the fermenting of justice even in the midst of
injustice.
So what does love urge you to do, here, in this moment in time? How is the love that liberated the
Israelites, the love that fulfills the law, the love that roots us in the work of reconciliation, calling us to
act, today?
The circumstances of our present moment are urgent. As I described at the start of this service, our
complicity in racism, our disproportionate Covid infections, and our increasingly alarming political
landscape looms and presses urgently upon us. But God’s loving work of redemption is also urgent,
also all-encompassing, also emphatic. What does enacting the infinite and liberating love of God look
like this semester, in this time, with these neighbors?
Breathe in… and breathe out. You’re here. And God is here. Love beckons. How will you respond?
Amen .

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