The Devastation of Love
Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, September 26, 2021.
Ken Wilber is a contemporary philosopher and writer in Transpersonal Psychology. In his book entitled GRACE AND GRIT he tells his personal story of loss and transformation. In it he speaks about love in a way you may never have heard. He does not use the romantic language you hear on tv or in movies. He tells the truth. In fact, his definition of love is a little terrifying. Here it is.
“Real love hurts; real love makes you totally vulnerable and open; real love will take you far beyond yourself; and therefore real love will devastate you."
Of course, we do not want to be devastated. But isn’t that what the Cross signifies? If we take up our Cross, as Jesus instructs, and die to ourselves in order to follow him, is that not what Wilbur is talking about?
Do you remember the book LOVE STORY? The definition of love in that book was, “Love means never having to say your sorry.” Now that’s just plain silly. Love means having to say I’m sorry quite a lot. One young man told me once that he had been with a lot of women and he loved every one of them. I replied, “If you loved them, where are they? Maybe that wasn’t love at all.” Seems to me that love has a little more staying power than that. Saying I’m sorry when you need to and sticking with someone long term are ways of dying to self. There are multitudes of ways to die to self.
I don’t think Jesus expects us to die to self all in one fell swoop. We have to ease into it. Dying to self is not a single solitary moment of extreme humility. It is a way of being, a way of thinking, a mode of perception that “believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things” for the sake of the other. It is a way of being that does not grow tired of caring for others even when we don’t think we can take even one more step, change one more diaper, cook one more meal, give one more dollar.
The Orthodox understanding about salvation is not about individual salvation. I like this little quote from Abu Sa’id, "There is no greater trouble for us than our own selves, for when we are occupied with ourselves, we remain far away from God.”
Salvation is relational. It is not about me and my salvation, but rather us and ours. Not just a relationship with God, but with one another. In fact, it is the same thing! Look at the first verses in our epistle reading today. “No man has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us…” How do we know? By loving one another. In this same letter John writes that “he who does not love his brother whom he can see, cannot love God whom he cannot see.” And who is our brother? Who is our sister? Everywhere you look, there they are! And God is there as well, peeking though their eyes.
A wonderful writer and teacher by the name Eknath Eswaran wrote this about I John 4:8. "He that loveth not, knoweth not God, for God is love.” These words sound so ethereal that most of us cannot connect them with daily life. What, we ask, do personal relationships have to do with the divine? I would reply that it is by discovering the unity between ourselves and others – all others – that we find our unity with God. We don’t first get to know God and then, by some miracle of grace, come to love our fellow human beings. Loving others comes first. In this sense, learning to love is practicing religion. Those who can put the welfare of others before their own small personal interests are religious, even if they would deny it."
I’ll never forget something the late Patriarch IGNATIOS said to us, “We are not baptized for ourselves, but for all.” The interconnection of humanity means that the prayers and blessings for one are the prayers and blessings for all. In the Liturgy we pray for “all mankind.” In the Great Litany we pray for everyone and everything. It is our job to bless the cosmos. Do not tell me that we are not to pray for the non-Orthodox. We do it all the time.
I am so very happy that people in our parish are helping Afghan refugees who have come to Massachusetts. I hope and pray that more of us will volunteer. I expect we will be visited by one family. The father has said that he wants to come to church to see what it is like. He and his family are welcome here just as everyone is welcome here. We will greet them as brothers and sisters and provide them with as much help as we can because it is our intention at St. Mary’s to follow the Way of Jesus Christ. Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, atheist, Protestant, Catholic, whatever the case may be, will find the warmth of God’s love here.
For us Jesus is the ultimate example of pure love. It is pure love that took him to Calvary where he died. His personal devastation. He promised us that we would suffer the same kind of persecution that he suffered if we follow him. “If they persecute me, they will also persecute you.” He asked us to willingly take up the Cross, to embrace our own devastation in order to follow him! And yet we say that the Cross “has brought joy into the world.” The Cross that devastates us, that calls us to let go. This is a paradox that does not fit in our materialistic society where joy is found only in acquisition.
So, how does the Cross bring joy? By teaching us how to truly love. The gradual letting of all in us that isn’t love is the only path to joy. The same love that brings us to the Cross is the same love that brings us everlasting and abundant life. Dying to self is coming alive to God.