A few weeks ago Michael Curry, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, gave a sermon at the royal wedding that captured the attention and imagination of millions across the globe. It was all about the power of love. The problem with attention and imagination is it evaporates like the morning mist. The remaining echo is just so much blah, blah, blah, or, as Tina Turner sang, “What’s love got to do with it, what’s love but a second hand emotion?”
It’s a good question. The answer, from a Christian point of view, is to leave emotion out of it. The love bishop Curry preached about is not a second hand emotion, but the powerful word of God spreading out over the chaos of disorderly conditions of life, bringing them into the full abundance of life God intends for them. As Christians, we’re to express that love by respecting the dignity of every human being, which is not a very emotional thing at all.
Doing it takes disciplined effort. It’s not something we’re inclined to do on our own. Respecting the dignity of the ones we most dislike and distrust is hard to do. Respecting the dignity of the homeless, addicted, corrupt, and ill informed seems like a hopeless task. Jealousy of those who are better and have more displaces respect. Racism creeps in. We’re likely to disrespect people who are not like us, who may replace us in the accepted social order. Closer to home, the guy next door can really bug us.
But making the effort, deliberately working on respecting the dignity of every human being, or at least that human being over there whom you really don’t like, has an amazing effect. It is, in some small way, your participation in the work of God’s powerful redeeming love. It not only helps give new life to the other, the one you don’t like or want to be around, it gives new life to you also. Of all the crazy things, it becomes an emotion of deep, overwhelming gratitude for all of creation and your place in it. It isn’t a second hand emotion, it’s a primary emotion of sure and certain trust in God’s grace for you and for all. What’s love got to do with it? Everything!
Strange, this godly love, it refuses to be bound by our expectations and limitations. Respecting others not because they deserve it, but because it’s in imitation of Christ, bursts all kinds of limitations we place around ourselves and others. It opens us to new possibilities, but also to new vulnerabilities. It’s scary, exciting, and curiously freeing. If you’re reading this, and wonder if this love thing can be real, try it. You might like it. If you’re a professing Christian, you have no choice. It’s Christ’s command that you love others as he loves you. You’re certainly free to ignore the command, but there isn’t another one.
By the way, how am I doing with godly love? I’m a priest and pastor. I should be a pro at this, right? Wrong! It’s a work in progress, slow going but I try to keep at it. Let’s work together.