Sermon, May 12: Love is a Verb

Purple is a mystical color, some would say – born of the union of fiery red and icy blue. Back in the first century, it was the color of empire – only Caesar himself wore robes of glowing purple. If this woman named Lydia was a seller of purple, she was a wealthy, confident business woman, used to dealing with people who understood all kinds of control.
Before we look a little more at Lydia’s story, let’s backtrack and trace how Paul arrived in Philippi. It had started so well. Paul and Barnabas had been travelling through Asia, converting many and planting new churches.
When Paul and Barnabas returned to Jerusalem, instead of asking how them might help them, what church leaders wanted to know was why were they welcoming and baptizing Gentiles(!) Where did they ever get the notion that they could welcome just anybody? Nothing really changes, does it?
Partly to escape perhaps, Paul left Jerusalem and set off on his next journey. When he got to Macedonia, he found that there was no synagogue where he could preach. So he went down to the river, looking for ten Jewish men to make up a minyan, and found – Lydia, the seller of purple.
The Lord opened her heart, Paul tells us, and she became a Christian. And the first thing she did was simple and obvious and different from what the leaders in Jerusalem had done. She invited Paul and his companions to her home. Lydia could see they needed a warm meal, a roof over their heads and what we all know that leads to – a word or two of comfort. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said simply, “come and stay at my house.”
Let’s look a little closer at the kind of love Lydia shared with her new friends that day. It was an immediate response to the unspoken needs of the other. Just as Paul looked at this self-confident seller of purple, and saw someone who would respond to his words, so she looked at the intense, gifted preacher and saw someone who needed simple human care. Both felt and showed the kind of love that we call mothering love today.
Mothering love will do whatever is necessary to create a nurturing space: a separate peace, not a peace as the world gives peace. Mothering love is as close as we can get to what the language of the fourth gospel is trying to express when Jesus says that “the Father and I will come to those who love me and make our home with them.”
The biblical equivalent of mothering love can be found in the story of life in the garden of Eden. Eden is the ultimate image of a snug safe place: untroubled peace with no need to plan, to think, to work. No boundaries or limitations. No separations.
But eventually, we all need to grow up and so, the lush passivity of Eden needs to end just as childhood needs to end. Love, in an adult world needs to be a verb, a word of action, that gives and functions on both sides of the relationship.
And that is what the whole message of the gospel of John is about, isn’t it? As John tells it, Jesus’ new understanding was precisely this: Don’t just say you love one another: Show it. Love each other as I have loved you. And you will know peace – peace that passes human understanding.
It’s about more than words. It’s about how Jesus loved the ones he called “little children.” Mother-like, he healed the sick. Fed the hungry. Comforted the confused. Hugged the children.
When all else failed, he went to the cross and grave. The Apostles’ Creed goes so far as to say that he “descended into hell.” Can you imagine the depth of love such language tries to convey? What the creed is saying is that there is no place, no pain that we’ll ever have to face alone, because Jesus – God-with-us – was there first.
And so, Christians are called to love each other with a love that knows no boundaries, no end. To love each other as a mother loves her child. To love each other with the same understanding that Lydia did when she knew that to make a home for God’s people is to make a home for God here on earth.
Paul’s hunger to share Jesus’ story with the Philippians and Lydia’s willingness to nurture Paul and his companions is a human image of God’s own hunger to make a home with us. It is how Jesus said we are to live – as I have loved you, he told his disciples, you also must love one another. Not just by talking, but by living the very love that is prompted by heaven, but grounded in earth – even, you could say – motherly. Amen.

Posted by Rev. Barbara Ewton

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