Via Negativa: Hunger Games
Hunger for Love

By: Candace Chellew-Hodge

Preached on Sunday, November 18, 2012 at Jubilee! Circle, Columbia, SC

Readings:
Deuteronomy 6:1-9: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart"
Mark 12:28-34: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
Rumi: "Love is reckless ..."
  Hear this sermon at the Jubilee! Circle Web site.

Our first song comes from Irish singer and songwriter Van Morrison. He started his musical career as a teenager in the 1950s and released his hit single "Brown Eyed Girl" in 1967. Over the years he's collected six Grammys and has been inducted into both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriter's Hall of Fame. Today's song comes from Morrison's 1970 album "Moondance." "Crazy Love" has become a classic, covered by artists like Rod Stewart and Rita Coolidge ... and now by us.

I can feel her heartbeat, from a thousand miles
And the heavens open, every time she smiles
And when I come to her, that's where I belong
Yeah, I'm running to her, like a river's song
She gives me love love, love, love, love crazy love
She gives me love love, love, love, love crazy love

"Hear, O Israel. The Lord our God is one Lord. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and you are away; when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand; fix them as an emblem on your forehead; and write them on the door posts of your house and on your gates."

"Hear, O Israel. The Lord our God is one Lord. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and all your might."

If there's anything that can make you crazy, it's love. It's that heart pumping, mind-numbing, sight-blinding, deaf-inducing, speechless-making love that can make you lose all your senses. That crazy love can make you move mountains to be near your beloved, make you cross great distances, make you do whatever it takes to be in the presence of the one who has captured your heart.

"Hear, O Israel. The Lord our God is one Lord. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and all your might."

Love is passionate. Love is wild. Love can be the most exhilarating feeling in the world. Love can also be the most painful feeling in the world. Love can break your heart, leave you desolate and in despair. It can lift you high and bring you love. If there's anything in the world that can make you crazy, it's love.

"Hear, O Israel. The Lord our God is one Lord. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and all your might."

Do not confuse love with infatuation. Love is not about a fantasy, or even about a dream come true. Love is not about the wanting of a some one or a some thing ... love is deeper than that. Love makes no sense, because love is crazy.

"Hear, O Israel. The Lord our God is one Lord. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and all your might."

She give me love, love, love, love, crazy love. That's the love the Holy offers. Crazy love ... a love that consumes every piece of you - your heart, your soul, your might.

"Hear, O Israel. The Lord our God is one Lord. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and all your might."

It's been said that only fools fall in love and it's true ... love really is only for the foolish. Love is not rational. Love is not logical. Love is reckless, as Rumi observes, and often consumes itself. Love is not an emotion for those who want their lives to be reasonable. Love is reserved for only the truly crazy.

"Hear, O Israel. The Lord our God is one Lord. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and all your might."

She's got a fine sense of humor when I'm feeling low down
And when I come to her when the sun goes down
She take away my trouble take away my grief
Take away my heartache, in the night like a thief
She gives me love love, love, love, love crazy love
She gives me love love, love, love, love crazy love

"Hear, O Israel. The Lord our God is one Lord. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and all your might."

YOU shall love. You SHALL love. You shall LOVE ...

This particular piece of Hebrew scripture is so sacred to the Israelites, it has a name all its own. This particular verse is called "The Shema." It spells out, quite clearly and succinctly, the basic tenet of the Jewish faith - to love God, with everything, no matter what. No matter what fates befall you, whether it be good fortune, bad fortune, indifferent fortune, whatever. If you're safe and home or exiled to a foreign land. If your crops are good, or die in the fields before harvest. If your storehouse is full or empty: "Hear, O Israel. The Lord our God is one Lord. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and all your might."

This is the prayer to be said in the morning and in the evening. This prayer is so central to the Jewish faith that it is to be taught to children, to be spoken while at home or on the road, to be said when getting up and when going to bed, to be written on your hand and on your doorposts. This prayer undergirds the entire faith of the Jewish people.

"Hear, O Israel. The Lord our God is one Lord. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and all your might."

This is not a kind of love you give because God is good to you. This is not the kind of love you give because you're grateful for every blessing you've received or all the material wealth God has given to you. No, this is a crazy love - a love that gives of itself no matter what - a love that God expects no matter what is going on in your life.

"You shall love ..." the passage says - not because God loved us first, not because God gives us good things, not because God is never absent, not because of anything God could do for us. "You shall love ... " simply because God is - not because of anything God has done or might do.

"You shall love ..." is not a command to do one thing in order to gain another thing. It is not a bargain or a conditioned kind of love. "You shall love ..." means just that - you shall love, with no strings attached, no expectations, no conditions, no limits, without thinking, without judging, without counting what you gain or what you lose by loving.

"You shall love ..." It is nothing more than a call to come into relationship with the holy and with each other. It is a call to open our hearts ... no matter the danger, no matter the cost, no matter the consequences. Do whatever it takes to remind you, tell it to your kids, recite love day and night, write it on your hand, write it on your doorpost. "You shall love," in all circumstances.

As Rumi reminds us love "risks everything and asks for nothing. Love gambles away every gift God bestows.

"You shall love ..." even if it costs you everything. That's some crazy love.

Breathe deeply.

Yeh, I need her in the daytime, yeh, I need her in the night
And I want to throw my arms around her,
kiss and hug her, kiss and hug her tight
And when I'm returning from so far away
She gives me some sweet lovin, brightens up my day
Yeh, it makes me righteous, yes it makes me whole
Yeh, it makes me mellow down into my soul
She gives me love love, love, love, love crazy love
She gives me love love, love, love, love crazy love

The story is told of four siblings, two brothers and two sisters in their 50s who were taking care of their elderly father who suffered from Alzheimer's disease. Some days, as the siblings sat with him at his home, the father would tell them he wanted to go home. Instead of trying to convince the confused old man he was already home, or ignoring him, whichever sibling was watching him that day would say, "Ok, dad. Let's go."

They'd put him in the car and drive around, asking their dad for turn by turn directions to get home. The trips sometimes took them around the block, but other drives would be longer as the old man's directions took them past his old grade school or high school or other landmarks in town that continued to live in his memory. Each time, though, they would end up back home. They would take the man inside, sit him back in his chair, giving him a renewed sense of peace that he was home again.

This is the essence of love, Jubilants. We are like this old man. We forget that we sit in the midst of unconditional love that the Holy offers us in each moment.

We long to go home, to feel that love and safety once again. In those moments, if we'll go along for the ride, the Holy will take us on a tour of the amazing love she holds for us, past all the landmarks of our life where we have felt truly loved and accepted. Whenever we begin to feel lost, Jubilants, let us remember, love is always there, ready to take us back home.

Our second song comes from country music singer Patty Loveless. Born Patty Lee Ramey in 1957, she got her start in music on the Grand Ole Opry in 1973, performing with her brother Roger while she was still in high school. It would be 1985 before she saw one of her songs on the country charts. Today's song comes from her 8th album called "The Trouble with the Truth." This song is called "Everybody's Equal in the Eyes of Love."

[Verse] Well we can try and hide our emotion,
Stand there like a rock in a wall
But love can take a little old notion,
And make a living wreck of us all
[Chorus] Everybody's equal in the eyes of love
Darling don't you kid yourself
You can come on tender you can come on tough
Come on and get in line with everybody else
Quit what you're thinking of
Ain't no one above it
Everybody's equal in the eyes of love

In our Jesus story, we find our guy in Jerusalem fielding questions from some scribes and Pharisees who are trying to trap him - laying out loaded questions and comments meant to bait Jesus into committing some manner of religious heresy so they would have an excuse to arrest him.

In this passage, he fields a question from a scribe who doesn't seem to be as antagonistic as the others who have been questioning him throughout this chapter. Instead, this scribe seems genuinely curious about Jesus and his opinions.

"Which commandment is the first of all?" the scribe asks. Jesus, being a good Jew, replies with the prayer that this scribe probably said himself earlier that day, the prayer that this scribe probably had taught his children, and had written on his hand and on the doorpost of his house.

"Hear, O Israel. The Lord our God is one Lord. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and all your might."

But, Jesus goes one step further than just repeating the Shema. He also adds a passage from Leviticus 19:18: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

The scribe agrees with him, but perhaps he misses how Jesus' very traditional answer bucks the Jewish tradition itself. Jesus didn't say anything radical here, but it's in what he didn't say that proves revolutionary. In his answer, Jesus reverses the emphasis of love that the Jews know. After the Shema comes a long list of outward actions Jews must take to show their love for God - teach the prayer to their children, say it day and night, write it on their hands, write it on their doorposts. Jesus doesn't say any of this ... he merely restates that "you shall love ..."

In adding the law from Leviticus to love our neighbors as we love ourselves is again a shift from outward displays to prove our love, and instead an invitation to move inward with our love. Whenever people say "love your neighbor," they tend not to hear the last part, "as oneself." What Jesus is saying here is that all outward signs of love are meaningless, unless there is a wellspring of love inside for it to come from.

If you do not love yourself, Jesus is tell this scribe, it will be impossible to love anyone else, including God.

You can teach a prayer to your children all day long, you can say the Shema endlessly. You can scribble it on your whole body and write it all over your house, but until you have that love inside of you, all outward expressions of love will be empty.

What is sad is that these scribes and Pharisees were searching high and low for Jesus to betray his unorthodoxy and when he finally does ... they completely miss it!

Because they have heard the Shema all their lives and had surely heard the Leviticus law about loving neighbor ... they are unable to hear that Jesus is now turning those laws on their heads. Instead, the scribe congratulates Jesus for getting the answer right. Jesus' response to the scribe though is really a backhanded compliment of sorts. "You are not far from the kingdom of God," Jesus tells him.

You're not far, Jesus says ... but you're not there yet. The scribe gets close because he shows a modicum of understanding about what Jesus says - these laws are "more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices." He's on the right track. He gets it that these laws of love are better than some outward signs of devotion to God like burnt offerings - but he's still not hearing the main part: "love yourself."

It's only in loving and caring for ourselves that we can come to understand that no one deserves more or less love than anyone else. We all deserve that unconditional, no strings attached, reckless, crazy love, because in the kingdom of God - in that new Jerusalem - everybody's equal in the eyes of love.

Breathe deeply.

[Verse] Some are 'bout as subtle as thunder,
They just try to barrel on by
But love'll leave 'em weak and wonderin',
Ain't it funny how they turn up shy
[Chorus] Everybody's equal in the eyes of love
Darling don't you kid yourself
You can come on tender you can come on tough
Come on and get in line with everybody else
Quit what you're thinking of
Ain't no one above it
Everybody's equal in the eyes of love

What was really on the mind of that scribe who quizzed Jesus was what's still on our minds thousands of years later - how much can I let slide and still be part of the Holy's ultimate realm? The scribe wants to know, and so do we, what parts of the law can I neglect? Which parts do I need to study and which parts are minor and will be left off the final test?

Jesus' is answer is that there are no unimportant laws in God's realm - instead, there is only one law and if you observe this one law, you will observe them all by default. That one law is love - and not just any love, but that crazy, unconditional, priceless and wasteful love.

Why is this the only law? Because love is found at the heart of every law, so if we have love, no other laws are needed. If we love, we will never steal. If we love, we never need to steal, because we, and everyone else, would be fed, clothed, housed, taken care of so there would be no need to take anything from others. If we love, there will be no war, no hatred, no need to defend ourselves from others, because when we love we're only concerned with what is good not just for me but for you, and you, and you. When we give ourselves over to that crazy love, we start to think about "us" ... and not just "me."

Those mop-headed singing theologians, Lennon and McCartney, were right ... love really is all you need.

Because when love is working properly, all our needs are taken care of - food, water, shelter, companionship, community, relationship, livelihood - it all stems from love.

When we block up that flow of love, we know what happens - look around at the world and you see the evidence, greed, corruption, homelessness, hunger, war, poverty, torn relationships, loneliness, depression, disease. These things happen because we constantly violate the first and greatest commandment ... "You shall love."

That litany of the world's ills might make you think love is the easy way out, but if it were, we'd all be doing it. Instead, obeying the law of love is difficult because, as Ken Wilber reminds us in his book "Grace and Grit, "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."

If all the war, famine and unrest in the world makes you crazy, love will make you crazier, because love, when done right, devastates us.

"Having died of self-interest," Rumi writes, "[love] risks everything and asks for nothing. Love gambles away every gift God bestows."

Rumi seems to contradict Jesus here - isn't "self-interest" the same as that "self love" Jesus commands us to have so we can love our neighbor?

No, both Rumi and Jesus are telling us the same thing - to love another as we love ourselves is a selfless, unconditional love. We will give to ourselves without hesitation, and out of love, we will deny ourselves anything that is not good for ourselves. When we extend that kind of "self-interest" outward, then we die to our self interest, because love suddenly is not about ourselves, it's about us - everybody - the world. When we get beyond "what's in it for me" then we enter into that Holy territory of real love, that love that risks everything and asks for nothing. That dangerous, crazy love, that renders us all equally worthy.

This kind of love asks a lot - in fact, it asks everything of us. To live into that kind of love requires a certain form of holy insanity - a craziness that says "you shall love ..." even when your hated. "You shall love ..." even when you're rejected. "You shall love ..." even when you don't like the person before you. "You shall love ..." even when it's uncomfortable. "You shall love ..." even if it costs you everything.

Hear the good news, Jubilants. We are very near to the kingdom of God. We are in the neighborhood of the new Jerusalem.

In those moments when we feel lost, and we want to go home to that pure, unconditional love - the Holy bundles us up, drives us around the block and plops us back right where we are. Wherever we are, we are home, Jubilants.

To make this home right here, right now, that new Jerusalem we hunger for, all we have to remember is this: "You shall love ..."

[Verse] Love can make nothing out of everything
Turn something into something else
It'll treat a loser like a doggone king
And treat a doggone king like everybody else
[Chorus] Everybody's equal in the eyes of love
Darling don't you kid yourself
You can come on tender you can come on tough
Come on and get in line with everybody else
Now don't you kid yourself
No you're not above it
Quit what you're thinking of
Ain't no one above it
Everybody's equal in the eyes of love

Oh, Yeah!

Candace Chellew-Hodge is a recovering Southern Baptist and founder/editor of Whosoever: An Online Magazine for GLBT Christians. Her first book, Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians, published by Jossey-Bass is now available at http://www.bulletproofbook.com. She currently serves as the pastor of Jubilee! Circle, a progressive, inclusive community in Columbia, South Carolina. She is also a spiritual director and is currently taking on new directees. She blogs regularly at Religion Dispatches. She can be reached by email at editor-at-whosoever.org or by using the suggestion box.

Copyright by the author All Rights Reserved

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