Scripture Lesson: 1 John 3:16-24
Sermon: Love Is Kind of Crazy
Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells
Barely 30 years old, divorced for the second time, and the mother of 7 children, Dolores Huerta left her home in Stockton, CA where she was working as a teacher and community organizer to work on forming a labor organization for farmworkers. There was no promise of an income, a salary, health insurance, nothing. But as she puts it, “I couldn’t tolerate seeing kids come to class hungry and needing shoes. I thought I could do more by organizing farm workers than by trying to teach their hungry children.” [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dolores_Huerta] So she left home and job to take on this problem. Now why does someone do something like that? If Huerta was poor and suffering from the horrific working conditions of farm workers, she would be doing it to help herself as well as others. But Huerta was not a farm worker. As she told the audience at Eckerd College this week, she is a 6th generation American. Her mother was a successful business woman running a hotel and a restaurant. Huerta grew up with piano lessons and season tickets to the symphony. She was a majorette and a Girl Scout. [http://doloreshuerta.org/dolores-huerta/] And as an adult, she was working as a teacher and in a community service center. She was a professional. And yet she left all of this, a single mother with her children to care for, and moved to a distant community to work for human rights for farm workers because she was alarmed by the awful living and working conditions that the farm workers were forced to endure. In 1988, Huerta was severely beaten by police during a non violent demonstration. Her injuries were extreme. She was truly putting her life on the line to end injustice.
How do we explain something like this? Making such a radical choice? Enduring such suffering? After hearing the New Testament reading this morning, we know what this drastic, self sacrificing action is. It is love. In her own way, Huerta was laying down her life for the lives of others. I have to tell you, Huerta is an inspiration. At 88 years old, she has the vigor – intellectual and verbal – of someone half her age, and she has passion to match the room full of college students that gathered to hear her speak. Today she addresses her efforts to far more than farm workers. She supports full human rights for every single person. No matter what. She is committed to social change on every front and she believes this can only happen through non violent organizing. Divine Love was definitely present in Fox Hall at Eckerd College Thursday night.
Yes, packing up your kids and heading into an unknown future with little promise of security of any kind, that’s crazy. It’s also love. And love is kind of crazy.
Many songs explore the inanity and insanity of romantic love and I’m sure we can think of many examples. People do all kinds of crazy things for their romantic partner. Parents do crazy things out of love for their children. But the craziness of love extends beyond familial love to Divine Love, the love we see in Jesus. As we heard today, Jesus, out of love, laid down his life. Gave it up. How crazy is that? Think about it. If he had done it differently, he could have kept preaching and teaching and healing for decades. Think of all the good he could have done if his ministry had been so much longer. There could have been many volumes of his sermons and teachings to inspire future generations. But no. After 3 years, he laid down his life. He chose to give up his life. He opted for self sacrifice, for martyrdom, rather than self protection. Why? Love.
Jesus’ love, his full and free love of all people put him at odds with people who wanted to protect their power. The more he loved the more threatened they felt and the more hostile they became. But Jesus would not relent in his loving. And the antagonism grew to fatal proportions. The only way to avoid death was to hold back on the love. And he couldn’t do that. So Jesus chose death. He laid down his life. Yes, it’s crazy.
And there is a back side or underbelly to this laying down your life, choosing to face death. Those committed to the way of Jesus will lay down their lives, but they will not take a life. Ever. The Jesus followers of the first century were persecuted, tortured, and killed. But they did not take a life. They did not engage in violent activity of any kind. They emulated the pacifism of Jesus. We see this, too, in Dolores Huerta and in the farm worker movement. No violence. Of any kind. Under any circumstances.
The Jesus way of love is extreme. We read in the New Testament of people leaving home and family and job essentially for love. We are told of people selling land and possessions and all that they have and living in common out of love. We are told of people being imprisoned, tortured, and killed for love. To our thinking in our culture these things seem irrational, unreasonable, not prudent, even irresponsible. Yes, love is kind of crazy.
And the message of the New Testament is that those who follow Jesus, those who have been called to life in his name, are to do the same and commit to this extreme kind of love. They are to love one another to the point of laying down their lives for one another. Radical? Fanatic? Yes, pretty crazy.
A couple of weeks ago I preached a sermon about the importance of factuality and reason- based religion in this age of fake news and personally constructed realities. I talked about the need for rationality in religion. Yes, facts and reason are important. But love is the complement. It is the completion. It is the both/and of faith. Divine Love, with its seeming irrationality and imprudence and extremism, challenges us to put our intellect and reason and our moral vision to work at the highest level. With full commitment. In the extreme. So, yes, Divine Love can look kind of crazy!
This crazy kind of love is needed today as much if not more than it was in the first century. And it was as crazy then as it is now. The words we heard from the New Testament remind us that our faith is about more than just saying something or praying something. It is about taking action. Action that may be drastic. Extreme. Even laying down our lives.
Now, such opportunities for heroism, giving up your life for someone else, may be rare. So the writer of 1 John extends the expression of love from the extreme of giving up your life out of love to offering help to those who are in need in some way. First John asks: “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help?”
So even if we can’t see how we would lay down our lives we can see that there is great need in our families, in our communities, and in the world. So there is no lack of opportunity to address ourselves to the needs of the world in ways that are seemingly extreme and radical as Dolores Huerta did. So when you feel some kind of urge to do something wild, seemingly irrational, outrageous, pay attention. It might be Divine Love seeking expression in you!
When you think about it, people in our culture appear to be making sacrifices all of time. But are they self giving sacrifices made from a place of love? Or are they ultimately self serving? Made to comply with cultural norms especially around economic and material gain? Are the sacrifices made out of self interest and self protection?
The love we heard about this morning, the love that Jesus commands, is love for others, all others. It is love that sacrifices for the well being of others especially those who are in the most need. It is love that takes risks for those who are in need and who are suffering; stranger as well as friend and family.
I read some years back about a child rescued after an earthquake. [I don’t know remember the origin of this story.] There were many people buried and many who had come to help. A reporter watched as a man dug a child out from a very dangerous location. The man was clearly risking his life to save the child. He got the boy out and then carried the injured child to a taxi that would take them to the hospital. The boy’s life was in peril. The reporter got in the cab with the man and the boy. She watched as the man cradled the boy and kissed him and said soothing things to him. As they rode to the hospital, the reporter wanted to complete her notes for the article she would write. She asked the man his name. He replied. Then she asked the man the name of the boy. He looked at her. Confused. He explained to the reporter, I do not know the boy. I have never seen him before today.
“We know love by this – that he laid down his life for us – and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. . . Let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” Love. It is kind of crazy. Amen.
A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.