Christ Church Gardiner
May 19, 2019: Easter 5C
Jeff and I met in April of 2001 and were married 18 months later. Almost a quarter of the time we were dating or engaged, we lived in different states. But we didn’t want a long courtship or a long engagement—no need to live together first to make sure we were compatible. We were certain of what we were getting into, and while everyone around us may have thought we were rushing, we were sure we knew what we were doing. We were in love—what else did we need to know?
At our wedding, we received a gift from my priest. This print by Corita Kent—some of you may recognize it. It was issued as a stamp for the United States Postal Service in 1985 in a series of stamps with the theme of “Love.” But this print says more than just love. Love is in big letters and then underneath, in very small letters, it reads “is hard work.” “Love is hard work.”
When I received this gift, I thought it was nice. I appreciated the gesture and the sentiment. But I didn’t really understand it. I really had no idea what “love is hard work” even meant.
And then I discovered what it meant to be married. And in our first year, Jeff and I found ourselves changing jobs, spending a couple of nights a week apart due to work and school, unemployed, working night shifts, underemployed, without insurance, and discovering a cancer diagnosis. By the end of that year, what I had thought was a cute, inspirational print about love, meant so much more to me. Love WAS hard work.
And I have been thinking about this all phrase all week as I have thought about today’s Gospel, which is all about love. But in this passage, at least in the shortened form that we get in our lectionary today, we get the sort of overly sentimental, mushy, wedding kind of love. The great commandment about loving one another, but without its context—without the reality of how hard that really is. Love is, of course, about moments like this one in our Gospel today, between Jesus and his beloved disciples sharing a meal together. But it’s also about Jesus holding both Judas and Peter in love despite one’s betrayal and the other’s denial. And about the terror and the grief of the disciples that is borne of their love for Jesus. And about the suffering of Jesus that is unavoidable because of his love for the world. Real love knows that on the other side of those wonderful, mushy moments lies sacrifice and adversity and hard work.
When Corita Kent created this print, which was first a stamp, she knew that love was more than a romantic sentiment. Kent was an artist, educator, and advocate for social justice. She took vows and became a nun at age 18. She dispensed of those vows at age 50. During her lifetime, she used art to protest and comment on the state of the world around her. In both her art and her life, Kent confronted issues such as the Vietnam War, poverty, racial injustice, and gender inequality.
In was 1980 when she was asked to design a postage stamp for the “Love” series. She issued the design you see here in 1985—the stripes of color and the word “love” but not the other words beneath.
The Postal Service decided that the unveiling of the design would take place on the “Love Boat.” You remember that show—the one about finding love while cruising on the seas. Its theme song promised, “Love, exciting and new. Love, life’s sweetest reward. A love that won’t hurt anymore—an open smile on a friendly shore.”
Corita Kent was furious. She refused to attend claiming that was not the kind of love that she meant. She disapproved of a TV depiction of love which is shallow and where all the problems get resolved in an hour. She believed it was dangerous to lead people to believe that love happened that quickly and that troubles are resolved that easily.
She had hoped the stamp would be unveiled at the United Nations. She wanted to spark a conversation about what love means on a global scale. Corita Kent knew that love is the only thing that has the redemptive power to save the world. And the kind of love that can do that is the kind of love Jesus teaches us about in the Gospels, not the kind of love one finds on the Love Boat. So she took her stamp with the word “love” on it, and painted underneath the words, “is hard work.”
Jesus showed us the hard work of truly loving. If we look closely at the Gospels, we see him showing the disciples the kind of love that he then asks of them at the Last Supper.
The kind of love that said…
I will wash your feet even though I am above you in status.
I will heal you even though your skin disease may be contagious.
I will invite you to dinner even though my peers may shun me.
I am will welcome children into my presence even though they have no wealth, status or power to offer me.
I will feed you even though it may mean there’s not enough food for me and my friends.
I will welcome and celebrate the one who has sinned and strayed, risking the alienation of those who have been loyal.
I will love the betrayer even though his actions help others to harm me.
Jesus knew that the kind of love required to save the world is a love that puts others and all creation above self.
Where are we being called to love today in ways that are hard—ways that put others and creation above our self-interests?
What about in our national conversation about immigrants? I can understand the logic behind wanting to bring immigrants to this country who can fill the jobs that are needed to keep our economy running. But we cannot forget about those who need to find a home in our country because they are fleeing violence, persecution, or relentless poverty.
Or what about care of the poor who are already in our country? How can we shift the economy to one that pays a living wage to those at the bottom instead of being preoccupied with favoring those already at the top?
What about acknowledging the racial injustices of our past and present and continuing to work for racial reconciliation in our country?
And working to include those who have been pushed to the margins for so many years, particularly those in the LGBTQ community?
What about the hard work of addressing our environmental crisis—global warming caused by humans—the effects of which we see in the rise in flooding, hurricanes, wildfires and other natural disasters that are causing destruction across our world.
We could go on and on—and it can get overwhelming when we start to list all of the ways in which our world is broken and needs love and healing. And all of these places of brokenness require a love that is willing to take risks, a love willing to persist, even in the midst of fear, for the sake of others
But we are always invited to rest in the knowledge that Jesus first loved us. He doesn’t just say—love one another. He says, “Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another.” It is the love of Jesus that makes it possible for us to imagine loving one another and the world.
And it is only through love that we will make of this old world a new world—as Revelation reminds us–making all things new—a new heaven and a new earth.
It won’t be easy. Nothing worth doing ever is. We have to live with the tension of these two truths—Love is the hardest thing in the world and yet, it’s the only thing that will save the world. And we have to live into these truths even as we know that it’s unlikely that we will truly see a new world in our lifetime here on earth. And yet, we are still called to be a part of that hard work of love, believing in its redemptive power, knowing that not only is love the only thing that can save the world, but love’s the only thing that ever saved any of us.