Here’s what I love about this reading from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians: It’s not really about marriage. Oh, it certainly has something to say to those who are getting married, but Paul wrote this letter to a church. This letter is about all our relationships---in particular, community relationships. And here’s the thing: marriage is meant to represent the love we are to have in all our relationships, and within our community.
Wait! What! That’s crazy! I mean, it’s hard enough to live out this love God is prescribing with my spouse (who is a particularly wonderful person)….and now God wants me, wants us, to live out this patient, kind, not envious or boastful, not rude or arrogant love---this not insisting on its own way, sacrificial, not resentful, but hopeful, enduring love with all people? All kinds of people? Shut the front door! What in the world is God thinking of…..?
Well, God is thinking of the world, of course, all of Creation. We are what God is thinking of---how the world might be turned right side up again. Through Love.
And yes, Beloved, this kind of love between all people and in all relationships is exactly what God wants. Of course, this love will look a bit differently with different folks and in different relationships. But at the center of all our interactions, connections and associations—family, friends, strangers, neighbors, enemies----at the center of each God calls us to have and share this Jesus kind of love St Paul describes in today’s letter.
Lord, have mercy, is this even possible? In the past I would have said: Probably not. Maybe only in the next life…..but friends, let me share a love story with you…….a most incredible thing happened this past Tuesday….right here at the Beloved Community….
Two years ago I met Rob Barndollar. He was coming to the Warming Shelter that was held in Intercession’s old building. Rob stood out to me because from the beginning, he was incredibly friendly, and grateful, always asking how he could help, how he could be of service. The first time I met him he had brought some Polito’s pizza to the shelter; he was working at Polito’s at the time, and he was offering it to those of us who had come to share Saturday breakfast.
Rob showed up pretty much every Saturday that he could that summer. Our relationship started to grow. That fall he and his girlfriend moved into the Knights Inn; they didn’t want to spend another winter outside. Rob continued to come to breakfasts at the Franciscans and he showed up when BobbieJoy and I were volunteering there.
Rob wasn’t a saint, but any means, but it was easy to see treating others well was at the core of who he was---he was constantly trying to give back. Last April, we worked with Rob and others to get him a vehicle and a driver’s license so that he could work regularly. That was the plan. Rob kept telling me about a book he was writing about God’s plan for him, for us, for people to live together differently. Rob was full of hope and possibility.
Then, this past May, Rob was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Rob could have become bitter and angry, but he didn’t. He realized how many blessings had come his way; he realized how God loved him. Due to the generosity of the folks here, we were able to help him get him into his own room, and our own Jb helped him to get hospice care. We partnered with his other friends, particularly those of Evergreen Community Initiatives, to try and make sure Rob was able to enjoy and have some comfort his last days. Again, Rob wasn’t always perfect, and he certainly did not want to go gentle into that good night. But he was at peace; he knew his creator; he was certain God was with him.
Thursday, January 24th, Rob died. He and I had talked about having his memorial service, his celebration of life, here at the Beloved Community. Not because you all knew him, but because you all cared for him through the ways we were able to help him. The service was this past Tuesday. On that frigidly cold night, 60+ plus people came out to celebrate Rob’s life and love. As one guest who had not had the pleasure of meeting Rob asked BobbieJoy: “you mean all these people came out in this weather for one homeless guy?”
It was so amazing. I wish you could have seen it. Gathered here in this holy space were two non-denominational pastors, a Franciscan Roman Catholic priest, and me. There were Episcopalians, Lutherans, non-denominational folks, Roman Catholic folks. There were homeless folks, addicts and alcoholics. Some who have known material wealth, and some who have known none at all. We all came. With different expectations, beliefs, and levels of comfort. We came; we shared stories; we ate a meal (Polito’s Pizza, of course), we prayed, and we sang. Our voices came together to sing Amazing Grace, and beloved, it was: amazing, and grace. Because, this Beloved, this was heaven. All stripes and sorts of humanity for a brief moment realizing we belong to one another. Realizing what this is all really about. And Beloved, this all happened because of Love; Love for Rob---and Love for God---Love made heaven manifest here in this place.
Oh Beloved, two years ago I was probably thinking that Rob needed me, needed us. But Beloved, I needed Rob. My heart has been changed; I see differently now….and there’s no going back….
Poet, artist and Methodist minister Jan Richardson wrote:
“Loving is never just about opening our heart. It is about being willing to have our heart become larger as we make room for people and stories and experiences we never imagined holding. It is about being willing to have our heart become deeper as we move beyond the surface layers of our assumptions, prejudices, and habits in order to truly see and receive what — and who — is before us. It is about being willing to have our heart continually shattered and remade as we take in not only the brokenness of the world but also the beauty of it, the astounding wonder that will not allow us to remain the same.”
Beloved, let me leave you with a simple prayer I pray at the end of my Morning Prayers each day….a prayer that has opened my heart for those things God longs for me, but those things I too often want to avoid or deny or shut out. It goes like this:
Lord, infuse me with your grace that I may flow from your love.
Beloved, may God’s grace break our hearts open so that we can be agents of God’s love.
Jane Johnson is the pastor and priest of the Beloved Community of Intercession Episcopal and Redeemer Lutheran.