May 19, 2019: The Fifth Sunday of Easter, The Rev. Candice Frazer

There is a scene at the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in which the evil Lord Voldemort and Harry face off in the Great Hall at Hogwarts for a final, epic duel.  They are surrounded by many of the surviving wizarding world as wizards and death eaters alike have been battling it out over the grounds and inside the school in this final battle.  Now it is just Harry and Voldemort alone—the two of them—at the center of the drama that has been unfolding over seven years.  Over the course of that time, love has protected Harry—it began one fateful night when he was an infant in Godric’s Hollow and his parents died to save him and love has continued to protect him.  So when Harry and Voldy face off in this final battle, it is not surprising that Voldemort is done with this idea of love as a greater power than anything he himself possesses.

Harry and Voldemort prowl around one another in a circle when Harry asks if Voldy wants to hear something important before he makes another big mistake.  Voldemort’s reply is to jeer at Harry, “Is it love again?  Dumbledore’s favorite solution, love, which he claimed conquered death, though love did not stop him from falling from the tower and breaking like an old waxwork?  Love, which did not prevent me from stamping out your Mudblood mother like a cockroach, Potter—and nobody seems to love you enough to run forward this time and take my curse.  So what will stop you dying now when I strike?”

Voldemort does not/cannot understand love; much less does he see any power in it.  And yet, love is what brings him down—not simply that Harry is loved, that when his mother died trying to save him she transferred that love onto him to protect him, but Snape’s betrayal of Voldemort and switching sides to become Dumbledore’s spy was due to his love of Harry’s mother; Narcissa’s deep-seeded love for her own son, Malfoy, leads to her betrayal of Voldemort in the Forbidden Forrest when she assures him of Harry’s death knowing that Harry is alive; and even Harry’s love and compassion for his fellow man keeps him from ever casting a killing curse which in the final battle will be how Lord Voldemort ends up destroying himself because his own killing curse rebounds off Harry’s disarming spell.

“Is it love again?”  Spoiler alert—technically no, but in all other ways, yes:  yes, it is love that destroys evil, love that destroys selfishness and pettiness and violence and oppression and all those other things that do not know love.  Because once love is made known in all those dark and broken people and places and things—its light cannot be put out.

Love is the story of who we are as God’s people.  It is the Great Commandment given in Matthew and Mark—love God and love your neighbor as yourself.  The Christian commandment to love one another is not new—it is grounded in Judaism.  The Torah tells us to love the Lord thy God with all your heart, soul, and might in Deuteronomy and to love your neighbor as yourself in Leviticus.  And, just in case you are under the impression that Christians and Jews hold the rights on love, every religion known to man has some sort of the Golden Rule maxim regarding love or, at the least, that our actions should advocate reciprocity.  But, in John’s Gospel we get something new.

Yes, John’s Gospel tells us to love one another but then he adds a twist:  not simply “love one another,” but, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”  The new thing is not loving one another—written evidence of that concept has been around since 1300BCE—the new thing is loving one another as Jesus loved us.  And Jesus-love is something worth taking a look at.

So what does Jesus love look like?  In part, I think it looks like socializing with the unclean and unkempt of society be they wealthy or poor.  Jesus eats dinner with tax collectors like Zacchaeus who are very rich even if due to ill begotten gains and hangs out with harlots like Mary Magdelane.  He never approves of their behavior—but neither does he judge them for it.  Instead he responds to the brokenness of their lives, compassionately keeping that brokenness at the forefront of their relationship and offering something better.  Jesus doesn’t root for other people’s failures, instead doing all in his power to ensure their success whether they realize it or not—just go ask the servants at the wedding feast in Cana.  Jesus doesn’t preach judgment or damnation—even when offering a corrective—think about the  Beatitudes.  And Jesus doesn’t resist us or condemn us for our betrayal or denial of him.  Right before Jesus gives his disciples this new commandment, he knowingly allows Judas to go out to betray him.  And following this final discourse, Peter will deny Jesus three times.  We never hear Jesus say one negative word regarding either of them.

So, if we want to be known as Jesus followers, then here are some things we are going to have to do:

  1. Hang out with sinners be they corrupt by their poverty or their wealth and intentionally shine a light of hope into the dark places of their hearts.
  2. Do all that we can to encourage and support others to help them succeed—whether we get any credit or not and whether we like the other person or not.
  3. Resist the temptation to judge others—especially those who differ from us politically, racially, socially—even when offering a corrective. We don’t get to say, “You’re wrong.”  But we do get to ask, “I wonder what the world would be like if…?”
  4. Don’t resist or condemn others. Instead allow them to be true to who they are.  This life is one of discovery and, if we are supporting and caring for one another along the way, our betrayals and denial of one another do not become the thing that defines us or our relationships.  Judas may be a betrayer but in the end he is remorseful—flinging his blood money back at the feet of the Pharisees and unable to carry on in this life due to the crushing weight of his guilt.  Peter who denies Jesus three times is redeemed three times—“Peter, Do you love me?”

To look back over Jesus’s life to define Jesus-love is a powerful means of shaping who we are as Jesus followers.  But it is in looking forward from this moment—from this issuance of a new commandment—that we might truly understand Jesus-love.  In Jesus’s conclusion of his farewell discourse he says, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)  And then he does just that—on a cross in a place called Golgotha.  Jesus’s death is his ultimate act of love and it is in his rising to life again that we know how powerful love truly is—that love is the only thing powerful enough to destroy evil.

When Lord Voldemort snidely asks Harry, “Is it love again?”  He doesn’t know that this is exactly what Harry Potter did—walk into the woods, alone and unarmed and lay down his life for his friends.  That is why Harry Potter wins—that is why love wins.  As disciples of Jesus Christ, we do not put ourselves at the center of this world.  We put God first and then others before us.  And those others may agree or disagree with us; they may look like us or not; they may seem valuable to us or maybe they don’t.  But if we are to be known as Jesus’s disciples; if we are to love as he first loved us; if we are to practice Jesus-love it can have no condition but compassion; no resistance, only allowance; no judgment, only affirmation.

Is it love again?  Of course it is love again and again and again and again.  It will always be love. It has always been love.  Why would it ever be anything different?

 

Easter 5C: Acts 11:1-18; Psalm 148; Revelation 21:1-6; John 13:31-35

Church of the Ascension – Episcopal, Montgomery, AL

Sunday, May 19, 2019

The Rev. Candice B. Frazer

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