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Love is Not a Zero-Sum Game

The Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori preached this sermon at the ordination of deacons, Chris Craig-Jones, Hannah Wilder on May 18 at St. Paul’s Cathedral, San Diego.
Jeremiah 1:4-9; Psalm 119:33-40; 1 Timothy 3:8-13; Luke 22:24-27


The Anglican tradition arrived on this coast almost exactly 440 years ago. Frances Fletcher, chaplain to Sir Francis Drake, led a prayer service on the beach near Point Reyes in June of 1579.  Fletcher’s log notes the gracious welcome they received from the Coast Miwok people.  The Spanish called Drake El Draque, the dragon, because of his piracy, but on the Pacific coast he met the indigenous inhabitants in peace and encouraged the chaplain to gather the crew for worship.

Drake was the son of a farmer who was ordained a deacon and served as vicar during Francis’ childhood.[1]  Drake resisted his father’s vocation, preferring to follow the sea, and while he wasn’t exactly a prophet to the nations like Jeremiah, he was still a vessel of grace.  Drake had the courage and drive to sail around the world and learn all he could – and the grace and patience to meet the Miwok as friends.

Often the example of others shapes our journeys more than their words do, and frequently it’s things we’re little aware of that lead others to imitate or follow.  Deacon Drake’s example taught his son something about the dignity of other human beings, even if it wasn’t wholly conscious.  That witness is part of the long road that has led to today’s ordinations.

Chris and Hannah have built a remarkable friendship through their years of study.  Their roots are in different cultures and contexts, yet they have come to affirm and celebrate the dignity of the other.  Their way of being in the world, including their solidarity, will teach and transform others, far more than any outward success they find in ministry.

Hannah and Chris, and the rest of us, have dignity because all are beloved of God, loved simply because we are, and loved in spite of what we do or don’t do.

Jeremiah’s resistance to God’s call is rooted in his fear of inadequacy, ‘no, not me – I’m just a kid!’  That reluctance often comes from feeling unworthy, yet God still calls.  Sometimes we resist because we’re not too happy about the gifts God has given.  Yet when God reaches out and touches Jeremiah he recognizes that abiding love, and begins to answer.  He discovers the courage and will to tell the people around him they’re going in the wrong direction.  Being a prophet is no walk in the park, but his truth-telling is necessary for healing – both claiming the truth of his own gifts, and speaking truth about injustice in his own community.

The challenge for all who want to follow Jesus is to recognize how deeply we are loved.  When we begin to realize that we cannot ever be ‘unloved,’ fear begins to recede, and what seemed to be disaster can be rediscovered as blessing.

Sometimes the gifts are unwelcome – like the wounds we bear from childhood, career frustrations, or failed relationships.  Resurrected life comes in discovering those wounds becoming creative and life-giving.

Another Anglican sailor, two centuries after Drake, described that as, ‘I once was lost, and now am found.’[2]  Following Jesus depends on being found, in a relationship of knowing and being known.  Jesus repeatedly claims that deep knowledge in his relationship with Abba:  “I and the Father are one.”[3]  One in relationship, one in love, and one in deed to love the world God has made.

Jesus loves his followers in deep and eternal ways, and challenges us to seek deeper love when relationships get distorted:  “the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves.”  The youngest have gifts of awe and wonder, curiosity, openness to the new, living in the moment, unconcerned about the future, and confident their needs will be answered.  Most of us spend ourselves in fret and worry over what tomorrow will bring.  Children don’t fret until they’re hungry or exhausted.  Yet children have to learn how to share and serve, and some never do, because those basic needs weren’t adequately met.  We can’t serve if we’re worried about getting enough for ourselves. We have to know that we are loved always, and in all ways.

That’s what all the requirements in Timothy’s letter are about.  They sound like complaints about the leadership:  ‘get real:  this guy can’t even see that people need help; that one won’t tell the straight truth; those folks are distracted by wine or money.’  Those lapses are all about loving others less than self.  And then the author says, “they must hold fast to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.  And let them first be tested…”  How would you name the mystery?  It’s not just Chris and Hannah who need to be ready for testing.

I believe the central mystery of our faith is that the love of God transcends anything mortals can imagine.  Love reaches across 14 billion years of creation to say to each of us, “you are my beloved; in you I am well pleased.”[4]  Love reaches beyond the grave and past error.  New and risen life isn’t just possible; it abounds!  Love calls us all quite literally to be servants of that unquenchable love, table waiters who pour out more than expected, charging glasses to overflowing, heaping plates with banquet abundance that fills bellies and enlivens spirits, greeting strangers and newcomers with open arms and the best we have – including prayers on a beach with new friends; even Laundry Love – pouring out rivers of quarters for those who seek the dignity of clean clothes.

The mystery of faith is that we can’t lose that love.  We can ignore it or reject it or close our eyes to it, but it does not cease.  Love makes more of itself, even to the end of the ages.  Even black holes seem to have back doors that eventually emit some of what they’ve swallowed.  Love is not a zero sum game; like the universe, it keeps expanding.

Hannah and Chris are here today, promising not only to say yes to that mystery, but to be love in the world.  They will do it with the gifts they have been given – Hannah’s gifts with words and the ability to feel and announce the pain of injustice; Chris with his very presence, quietly reminding elders of that long faithfulness of love, and a gentle, healing touch – and both of them have other gifts yet to discover.

We all have the ability to be love for the world, to live in that long faithfulness, using our own unique gifts.  It starts with tasting the mystery, hearing ‘you are my beloved, and in you I am well pleased to dwell, no matter where or when or what you do or not.’  Love is here.  Jeremiah feels it like a holy kiss.  Timothy sees that love in loving neighbors as ourselves, without rivalry.  Jesus shows us love in the flesh.

Chris, Hannah, be your beloved selves and show the world that eternal love, bringing new life wherever it turns.  Be good table waiters, serving up a gracious overabundance of love to the neighbors, whether new friends on the beach, at the bedside, in broken bread, in bleach and laundry soap, or on FaceBook.  The world yearns for that love, and it is your particular gift as deacons to perceive that yearning and challenge God’s beloveds to respond.  We expect you to call us out of ourselves, and then send us out to love the neighbors – the Miwok, the dragon, and the enemy.  Tell us to get up, get out, and get lost in loving and serving the world heaping helpings of holy and healing love.

[1] Upnor Church in Kent https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Upnor#The_Church

[2] John Newton, Amazing Grace

[3] John 10:30

[4] Jesus hears this at his baptism – Mark 1:11 and parallels


Category: #Bishop's Blog, #Communications, #Sundays, #Worship & Formation

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