Column by Mary Lee Talbot
Love — the word rolls off our tongues so easily. Our greeting cards drip with declarations of love. I am numbed by the sheer volume of the messages in what we write and sing that claim to love a lot. But most of the time, we get love wrong,” said Bishop Latrelle Miller Easterling.
She preached at the 9:15 a.m. Tuesday morning worship service in the Amphitheater. The title of her sermon was “I am a Friend of God: Not a Greeting Card Kind of Love.” The scripture reading was from Matthew 22:34-37.
Easterling told the congregation that we use love to describe many different experiences. “We say ‘I love your hair,’ or ‘Pastor, I loved that service,’ or ‘I loved that movie; it kept me on the edge of my seat.’ ” Love dominates art and the soundtrack of our lives.
She noted that people have been singing “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” in honor of “the late, great, queen of rock and roll, Tina Turner.”
M. Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Traveled, wrote that love is too large and deep to be measured by words. Love, he said, is not an emotion but an action. “From Genesis to Revelation, the canon of the Bible leads us to love,” said Easterling.
In the scripture lesson in Matthew, when confronted by the Pharisees and asked to name the greatest commandment in the law, Jesus reached back into Hebrew Scripture to the Shema prayer. After declaring God is one, the prayer commands the Jewish people to love God with “all your heart, soul and strength.”
Jesus knew the question was a loaded one, but he added another scripture from Leviticus: to love your neighbor as yourself. “This was the message of Jesus’ life in the Sermon on the Mount, the stories of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son, from the washing of the disciples’ feet to the farewell address in John: To be in relationship with Jesus, we must love,” Easterling said.
She continued, “The only way to fulfill the law is to love. God said, ‘I am who I am and I am love.’ ”
The Pharisees took their best shot, Easterling said, and tried to throw Jesus a theological curveball. “The word ‘test’ in the Bible is only used in relation to the Pharisees and the devil. They didn’t realize that Jesus could play ball. They threw a curveball and he hit a home run. Jesus called them out as they were trying to demean him. He said, ‘All are worthy of love. Full stop. All are worthy of love.’ ”
No one is beyond grace, and in the grasp of God, divisions are destroyed.
“There is no separation between us,” Easterling said. “There is an African proverb, ‘I am because you are.’ We are in a web that can’t be untied. The nature of God is love. As the saying goes: ‘The isness of God Is not troubled by the ain’tness of man.’ ”
She called the congregation to love as disciples, not like manufactured, Hallmark love. Real love is self-opening, not self-gratifying. It is unfettered.
Author bell hooks defined love as the will to extend oneself for the purpose of one’s own and others spiritual growth. This love nurtures the self and the other. Love is as love does. It is impossible to tell someone you love them and do them harm. “Love and abuse can never coexist,” said hooks.
Theologian Howard Thurman noted that the only way to deal with a person is in the concrete, not the abstract. To say “I love all humanity,” is ridiculous, asserted Easterling.
She continued, “That bit of humanity gets born, has a name, gets hungry. We can’t say ‘I love you in general, but I am not so sure I can live next door to you.’ If we are friends of God, we need to include migrants as our neighbors. We need to stand with the queer community so they don’t lose any more rights. We must see the world as the differently abled do. We will never look into the eyes of someone God does not love.”
Easterling told the congregation: “You can’t call yourself transformed and still see people in a carnal way. Love in the trenches, in the muck and mire, requires a decision to remain and love someone even when you don’t like them. You don’t have to acquiesce to their hatred, but you can work for justice, oppose evil and give voice to the truth.”
She urged the congregation to “trust God to do what only God can do.” There are people who are causing pain in the world and they know it and they do it anyway. Jesus commanded that his disciples should pray for their enemies. “We have to pray that they will hear the still, small voice and let God be God,” she said. “That, too, is love.”
The answer, she said, is not more hate. Easterling quoted Martin Luther King, Jr. that hate cannot drive out hate, only love can drive out hate. “We have to love our enemies before it’s too late,” she said.
She closed her sermon with a poem that she wrote in a time of great turmoil, titled “Before it’s too late.” She said, “God help us to understand before it’s too late. God help us to love.”
The Rev. George Wirth, a retired Presbyterian pastor, presided. Joanne Sorensen, a member of the Chautauqua Motet Choir, read the scriptures. Nicholas Stigall, organ scholar, played “O Perfect Love,” by Raymond Haan, for the prelude.The Chautauqua Motet Choir sang “Love is the Key,” music by Arlen Clarke and words by Christina Rossetti. Joshua Stafford, director of sacred music and Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist, directed the choir accompanied by Stigall on the Massey Memorial Organ. The postlude was “Alla Marcia” by John Ireland, played by Stafford. Support for this week’s chaplaincy and preaching is provided by the J. Evert Hall Memorial Chaplaincy and the Geraldine M. and Frank E. McElree, Jr. Chaplaincy Fund.