Sermon: “Live in Love” (August 9, 2015)

Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“Live in Love” (Ephesians 5:2)
August 9, 2015
Dave Johnson

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

In the 1991 film City Slickers Billy Crystal plays Mitch Robbins, a New Yorker in the midst of a mid-life crisis. On “Bring Your Dad to School Day” he stands in front of his son’s elementary school class and describes his job as an advertising salesman for a radio station and then gives his perspective on the decades of life:

Value this time in your life, kids, because this is the time in your life when you still have your choices. And it goes by so fast. When you’re a teenager, you think you can do anything, and you do. Your twenties are a blur. Thirties, you raise your family, you make a little money, and you think to yourself, “What happened to my twenties?” Forties, you grow a little pot belly, you grow another chin. The music starts to get too loud, and one of your old girlfriends from high school becomes a grandmother. Fifties, you have a minor surgery. You’ll call it a “procedure” but it’s a surgery. Sixties, you’ll have a major surgery. The music is still loud but it doesn’t matter because you can’t here it anyway. The seventies, you and the wife retire to Ft. Lauderdale… (You) spend most of your time wandering around malls looking for the ultimate soft yogurt and muttering, “How come the kids don’t call? How come the kids don’t call?” The eighties, you’ll have a major stroke, you’ll end up babbling to some Jamaican nurse your wife can’t stand but who you’ll call “mama.” Any questions?

Mitch heads out west for a couple weeks with two friends to participate in a cattle drive. Later in the film Mitch is riding alongside a rugged weathered cowboy named Curly Washburn (Jack Palance). Curly asks Mitch, “Do you know what the secret of life is?” Mitch replies, “No, what?” Curly holds up a finger, “This.” “Your finger?” Curly leans closer to Mitch, “One thing—just one thing. You stick to that.” Mitch is puzzled, “That’s great, but what’s the one thing?” Jack points to Mitch, “That’s what you’ve got to figure out.”

The “one thing” that is the secret of life…that’s a lot to figure out, isn’t it?

Just for fun the other day my wife and I asked Siri on my iPhone a similar question several times in a row. Siri, what’s the meaning of life? Siri answered, “I don’t know but I think there’s an app for that.” Siri, what’s the meaning of life? “All evidence to date suggests it’s chocolate.” Siri, what’s the meaning of life? “I can’t answer that right now but give me some time to write a very long play in which nothing happens.” And finally, Siri, what’s the meaning of life? “I give up.”

Many of us are so busy just trying to keep up with the demands of life, especially during this frenetic time of year as a new academic year begins, that we rarely ponder what are lives are really all about. And even if you have a “life plan” or a “life coach” you may still find that the way your life actually unfolds is quite different than how you originally envisioned it, as The Player King in Shakespeare’s Hamlet declares:

Our wills and fates do so contrary run
That our devices still are overthrown:
Our thoughts are ours, their ends none of our own (III.ii.207-209).

In the pilot episode of one of the best written television shows ever, Frasier, Frasier Crane, played by Kelsey Grammar, is a psychiatrist who has just moved from Boston to his hometown of Seattle to begin a new job in talk radio. He is recently divorced, his young son lives east with his ex-wife and his father, Martin, a retired police officer, has just move in with his beloved Jack Russell Terrier, Eddie. Frasier and his father are in a heated discussion about the possibility of having an aide moving in as well.

Martin tells Frasier he just needs to learn to adjust to these changes, but Frasier is exasperated, “I don’t want to adjust. I’ve done enough adjusting. I’m in a new city. I’ve got a new job. I’m separated from my little boy which in itself is enough to drive me nuts and now my father and his dog are living with me. Well, that’s enough on my plate, thank you.”

Martin responds, “Well, you’re not the only one adjusting you know. Two years ago I’m sailing towards retirement and some punk robbing a convenience store puts a bullet in my hip. The next thing you know I’m trading in my golf clubs for one of these (his cane). Well, I had plans too you know, and this may come as a shock to you, sonny boy, but one of them was not living with you.”

In trying to keep up with the unceasing demands and adjustments of life, as the prolific literary critic Harold Bloom poignantly writes, “Many of us become machines for fulfilling responsibilities” (Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, 313). The problem is being simply a responsibility fulfilling machine can lead to fatigue and disillusionment. Some of you may relate to Mitch Robbins or Frasier Crane.

And the danger is that in those seasons of fatigue and disillusionment it is tempting to enter a kind of “auto-pilot” or “cruise control” mode, in which we are present physically, fulfilling our responsibilities, but emotionally we have “checked out.” We see this in singer-songwriter Jason Isbell’s recent song, “Something More Than Free,” a song he wrote about his father, a hospital maintenance worker:

I don’t think on why I’m here or where it hurts
I’m just lucky to have the work
Sunday morning I’m too tired to go to church
But I thank God for the work…
You see a hammer needs a nail
And the poor man’s up for sale
Guess I’m doing what I’m on this earth to do…
(from the title track of his 2015 album).

How about you? Does your life ever feel like a very long play in which nothing is happening? How are your responsibilities and adjustment impacting you? Perhaps this morning some of you are on auto pilot or cruise control.

Over the summer while cleaning out the office building a 1990 Christ Church pictorial directory was discovered. Some of you ladies had big hair then, and some of you gentlemen still had hair. You’re not alone—I actually had a full head of hair as a newlywed that year. How has your life changed since 1990? What adjustments have you had to make? What responsibilities have you had to fulfill? Do you ever wonder if you’re doing what you’re on this earth to do?

I think Curly was onto something when he told Mitch to figure out the “one thing” and stick to it—and in today’s passage from the Letter to the Ephesians we get a glimpse of what biblically that “one thing” is: “As beloved children, live in love,” Paul writes, “as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” (Ephesians 5:2).

Biblically, that “one thing” is love.

“Live in love”—the word for “live” here could also be translated as “walk”—as it is in the King James Version (the version Jesus used by the way) as well as in the offertory sentence we use every week here from—“Walk in love as Christ loved us, and gave himself for us, an offering and sacrifice to God” (The Book of Common Prayer 376).

But to live in love is a response, a response to who you actually are and a response to what Jesus has done for you. You are much more than a responsibility fulfilling machine. You are actually a beloved child of God for whom Jesus gave himself.

Love begets love. People who do not feel loved are rarely able to live in love. It is hard to give something to others that you have never received yourself. But when you are assured that you are a beloved child of God—really and truly loved, accepted, forgiven, cherished by God with no catch, no qualifications, no disclaimers—when you are assured of that, then to live in love is not something you have to generate or one more responsibility for the machine. When you are assured that you are a beloved child of God, to live in love is a natural response.

To live in love is also a natural response to Jesus’ giving up himself for you.

The Apostle Paul personally experienced this in spite of his sinful past in which, in his own words he was “a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence” (1 Timothy 1:13). When on the road to Damascus Paul encountered the risen Jesus and learned that he was a beloved child of God and realized that Jesus had loved him and given up himself for him, well, that changed his life and he was never the same—so much so in fact that as he later wrote to the Galatians, “the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

And what is true for the Apostle Paul is also true for you. You are a beloved child of God. Jesus gave himself up for you. In today’s gospel lesson Jesus directly speaks about this—“I am the living bread that came down from heaven,” he said, “Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51).

In giving himself up on the cross for you, Jesus did what he was on this earth to do.

And throughout every decade in your life—past, present and future—you remain a beloved child of God for whom Jesus gave himself. And regardless of the ever changing adjustments and responsibilities in your life, even if you are on auto pilot or cruise control, God’s love for you will never change.

Back to Frasier for a moment… following his argument with his father Frasier returns to the radio station for another edition of his talk show. “Who’s our next caller?” he asks his producer. “We have Martin on line one. He’s having problems with his son,” she replies. Frasier, a little slow on the uptake, says, “Hello, Martin, this is Dr. Frasier Crane. I’m listening.” “I’m a first time caller,” Martin begins. Frasier’s eyes widen as he realizes the caller is his father, “Welcome to the show. How can I help you?”

“I’ve just moved in with my son and it ain’t working. There’s a lot of tension between us.” “I can imagine,” Frasier says, “Why do think that’s so?” “I guess I didn’t see he had a whole new life planned for himself. I kind of got in the way.” “Well,” Frasier responds, “these things are a two-way street. Perhaps your son wasn’t sensitive enough to see how your life was changing…anything else?”

Martin says, “Yeah, I’m worried my son doesn’t know I really appreciate what he’s done for me.” “Why don’t you tell him?” “Ah, you know fathers and sons. They have trouble saying that stuff.” “Well,” Frasier says, “if it helps, I suspect your son already knows how you feel. Is that all?” “Yes, I guess that’s it. Thank you, Dr. Crane.” “My pleasure, Martin.”

If from your perspective your will and fate prove to be contrary, that’s okay, because your will and fate do not depend on the changes in your life, but on the unchanging love of God. With all due respect to Siri, there is no app for that.

On the high school summer mission trip last month our group was joined by a volunteer named Caley Jo, a nurse from Chicago. Over lunch one day we each took turns answering the question, “How do you want to be remembered?” Caley Jo said, “I want those who knew me to have always felt loved.”

“As beloved children, live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us.” The good news of the gospel is that the one thing is love.

Amen.