Loved & Lost

Older Homilies (2009-2013)

Preached with St. Paul’s Episcopal Church for the Fifth Sunday in Lent.

Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” In the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.

Have you loved and lost? Have you poured yourself into a project that failed? Have you cherished a dream or a vision all the way from its inception on a lonely beach or across a cup of coffee through the perfect plan to bring it to the world only to be shot down enough times that you just start keeping all of it to yourself until it withers up inside and dies? Has your love been unrequited, have you been faced with someone you would give up everything for, only to learn that they simply do not want it anymore? Have you saved up all your money for the best corsage that you can find only to have your date to the 5th grade end-of-year dance throw it in the garbage can because it was too gaudy and big for her dress- not that I’m speaking directly from personal experience on that one… Have you loved and lost?

Have you lost yourself in love? Have you picked up a book that made the world around you vanish? Have you worked so hard that time stood still? Have you made a friend so good that you cease to mind the stares you get when your laughter is too loud? Have you felt that your own heart is out walking in the world without you, getting off the bus, scuffing her knees, and standing up for herself when you so desperately want to be there standing out in front of her instead? Have you collapsed into arms that could crush you if they ever disappeared? Have you run until your legs give way, and lain out in the grass beneath the clear blue sky, so happy with your time that you could die right there and not mind? Have you lost yourself in love?

Jesus said, “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life,” and his words lie somewhere half between a cold hard fact and a mystery. The reality that was plain to see on the surface of these words, the reason why they ended up in every Gospel in some form or another had something to do with how true they rang: if you had a stake to gain in your own personal affairs of the world, you probably weren’t going to follow Jesus. People who followed Jesus always lost it all. There was no going home to the family and kids after a day of preaching in the Galilean countryside, there was only ever leaving. Witnessing to Jesus in the free time of your forty hour work week did not get you a good job at a cardinal parish or even a reputation you could build your name on in the county, witnessing to Jesus got you killed. It got you huddled in the back room of your house with a lamp and loaf of bread and a whole mass of strangers from the lowest walks of life telling stories of the one who saved them from nearly slipping to the grave. Those who hate their life in this world will not be bothered by appearances, will not try hoarding some small bit to save for themselves after the needy have departed, will not even try exalting themselves to some place of power and authority for the sake of speaking up for all the little ones they left behind, they will simply give and give and give until the life they have been given is all gone, and in exchange, the kingdom of heaven will be opened to them even here upon the earth. In exchange, they will see the real world come alive, in exchange miracles will happen. The scrap of bread will turn to baskets and the stranger they had thought they might avoid in the street will tell them everything that they have ever done. Those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life, those who banish the thought of ever making it by the standards of this world will be born again into the one that Jesus comes to make among us, and if you are anything like me, you will be terrified at the prospect of it, and scoff at the thought of ever becoming so miserable for the Word.

“Those who love their life, lose it,” and I am almost certain that I will. I love too many different things in this world. I love having drinks on the patio of some cheap 8th Avenue bar with my friends when the weather changes and all the neighborhood has come out to play. I love the thought of having some nice job that will afford me a good house for my family that I can come home to when I leave the outside world behind at the end of the day. I love the abundance of my own private life enough that I am willing to look the other way and shut the door when it appears that some stranger might ask too much of me, lest I risk losing the whole thing. I love prosciutto and melons and Bordeaux and weekends at the coast and, in the words of the Rufus Wainwright song, “cigarettes and chocolate milk… everything it seems I like’s a little bit stronger, a little bit thicker, a little bit harmful for me.” But that seems to be the tragic twist. Love holds the risk of harm whether we love just the right things or all the wrongs ones. One way or another love takes us outside ourselves where the dangerous world is waiting. We cannot get out of bed in the morning without the love of something, and we cannot love without the risk that the object of our longing will betray us in the end, by disappointment, by untimely death, by all the thousand failures of the flesh. Those who love, lose- you do not have to look further than the family of Trayvon Martin to see that it is true, you do not have to look any further than Trayvon himself, who now no longer has the chance to love any of the terrible things this life has to offer because of the terrible and murderous sin that shot him down. In other words, you do not have to look any further than the cross.

God, it seems, has been in love for quite some time with a very harmful thing, namely: us. God cannot send a holy thing among us without us trampling it underfoot. God cannot come into our midst without rejection, without being forced outside the margins of our life, without being bound and spit upon and nailed upon a tree. God loses all in sharing our humanity; God loses God’s own self in the Son forsaken. And yet God persists in loving dangerously. Because the kingdom of God, when it is trampled underfoot, when it is hidden far away, when it is buried underground, only ever rises back again a hundred fold. One blessed child of God shot down for no good reason but the blind fear and hatred of his killer raises a whole army of outcry at its injustice because God is in the heart of the wounded and the dead and God will not be silenced in the wretchedness of our sin, God for us and God in us does not stay empty, broken or dead but raises us to the living we are made for.

Jesus said, “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit,” and I think I may know what he is talking about. I think I may have passed enough hungry people by while clutching to the single grain that I possess until I can safely enjoy it by myself in my own room. I think that I have laid awake enough nights wondering how I am going to secure my own abundant granary until the next one may be safely filled. I think I know that it is Jesus calling from the margins I have made, inviting me in new ways every day to step a little closer to the edge. “Just let go,” he says, niggling at the fingers of my clenching fists, “give yourself away, even if only for this moment, if only for this single day and you will find that your true life springs back from every grave you are afraid of; the grain that falls will come again, milled into the bread of life this world and you are starving for.”

The world, it seems, with all its ugly sin, is still worth losing yourself in, it is still worth loving for as many times as that love may be the end of you. The good news is that for as many times as that love ends for the sake of another, it will begin again a hundred times in something new. Our life in God has as much freedom as Christ does bursting from the tomb, and all that we possess in God will come again as many times as we can give it all away. Love, then, and lose. Lose yourself in love. God will be there losing everything beside you when you do.

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