Sunday, May 13, 2012

Faithful Lovers

For several Sundays now, you might have noticed that the appointed gospel readings contain references to ordinary and common imageries. They also give you the impression that Jesus was indeed fond of using these ordinary imageries as tools in his teaching ministry.

At one time, not too long after the resurrection event and while "showing" himself to some of the disciples, Jesus asked for fish. Of all things he could have asked for, he asked for fish. Then we heard of Jesus' claim as the Good Shepherd and our being likened as sheep. Last Sunday, we heard of his claim as the True Vine and our being referred to as branches.

Fish, sheep and shepherd; branches and vine. How much more ordinary can you get? Today's imagery, however, is different. The imagery that comes to mind while listening to the gospel for today is our being alluded to as “faithful lovers”.

Be aware, however, that I'm not bringing this up as if these were actual words of Jesus. They're not. There's no known biblical passage where Jesus refers to himself as 'The Faithful Lover'. I wish John in his gospel had added in his 'I am' sayings something like Jesus claiming, "I am the Faithful Lover". But there is none nor is there one where He calls his disciples as such. And yet I feel encouraged to use the term "faithful lovers" for some obvious reasons.

"Faithful lovers"! That's different. It is so evocative of our yearning to love and be loved; so reflective of something ordinary yet profound.  That's partly the reason why I chose the term. To use such a seemingly "secular or mundane" description and apply it to members of faith communities might indeed raise some eyebrows. My hope is that when this reflection is over that you will have a better understanding of the reason for my use of the term.

Are you in love? Notice the tense of the verb; how I use it. “Are you in love?” It’s in the present tense, meaning I’m really interested to find out whether you, at this moment in time, are in love. So, I’ll ask it again and you don’t have to be shy. Who among you here are in love?

Now, for those of you who think you are no longer in love, my question for you is: “Have you been in love?"  Again, take note of the tense. I'm now interested in the past. "Was there a time in your life when your heart would throb fast each time you were around this special someone?” If you say yes, would you boldly say it now that “Yes! I had been in love but not anymore"?  To those who think they’re no longer in love, this one’s for you.

On those occasions when adults are asked whether they are in love or not, the common tendency is for them to use as their benchmarks the usual indicators of love as fashioned by society and worded in human terms. If they don't measure close enough to the set parameters, they’d then consider themselves on the proverbial "other side of the fence".

So for those who have lost their spouse or significant other and had been widowed or divorced; their claim that they’re no longer in love is easy to understand. I mean, that’s no brainer. If you lost your spouse, your partner or your significant other, because they passed on or you lost him or her through some other reason you alone know, then you have all the right to say you’re no longer in love.

But then not all those who claim they're no longer in love could attribute their state of being to those two reasons alone. That is just half of the picture why. And who do you think the rest are?

Well, for those who had been or still are in a relationship and who used to hear sweet endearments from their significant other; or who used to receive little tokens such as flowers or Hallmark cards; or who spend quality time cuddling while watching a television show or movie or being offered help while she vacuums the house; or used to get sweet kisses and hugs but no longer do, these are the ones who also claim they’re no longer in love.

And that’s documented by the way.

There is a book authored by a Christian counselor named Dr. Gary Chapman, entitled “The Five Love Languages”. Dr. Chapman believes that everyone has a unique "affection lingo" and describes the different ways a person gets "warm fuzzies" as in "fuzzy feeling." He categorizes these love languages into five areas.

Words of Affirmation. People with this love language like to frequently hear that they're important, that they're needed. They're the ones who need to be constantly reassured that you love them. They are the ones who long to hear the words "I Love You". 24/7

Receiving Gifts. Some people feel loved when they receive little trinkets or other tokens of affection. These gifts don't have to be expensive, but they have to reflect something unique about the recipient.

Quality Time. These people feel loved when their friends and family members spend dedicated, focused time with them. This means more than just hanging out. There can be no distractions during the time they spend together.

Acts of Service. These people feel loved when others help them. Don't mistake them for the dependent or lazy ones. They're the ones who just love being with their valiant knights in shining armor.

Physical Touch. These are the huggers. They like to give and receive appropriate signs of affection, such as hugging, shaking hands, pat on the back, kisses on the cheek and warm embraces.

When a "partner" operates in one or more of the above-named "love language" and the other partner responds to it, then that person is most likely to feel loved. When this begins to happen, whispering "I love you" or offering a dozen of roses is equated with love just as preparing breakfast on weekends would spell l-o-v-e.  You get the picture?

The flip side of that then is that when that “love language” is ignored or rarely used or not practiced, all that the individual feels is that she or he is “ignored, abandoned or hurt”.  All she or he gets are little "pricks". Don't get me wrong. I don't mean that. I mean the tiny, irritating and hurting pokes that could have serious and damaging effects.

Lest we get carried somewhere with these 'affection lingo', let me ask you now this.

Do you think there is a particular “affection lingo” that we can apply to God; something that would give him the “warm fuzzy” feeling and would induce him to claim, “I’m in love”? Is there one that will win back God’s “heart” and therefore prevent the Godhead from getting the unrelenting “pricks” from a hurting and broken world?

I realize that my own finiteness, my being just a mere speck in God’s Grand Design ought to convince me that such a question is so remotely answerable, if at all possible. And yet, I cannot help but ask: “So what is God's language of love? When does he feel most loved?”

Maybe there is none, after all God is Love! God is absolute and does not need anything else to complete its being. But perhaps, come to think of it, there might be one. I believe there is a way for us to know the answer to these questions, a way for us to understand the depth of our love for God and his, for us.

In today’s gospel lesson, Jesus alludes to these very things. Listen once more to part of today's gospel.

“Jesus said to his disciples, ‘As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete’”. (NRSV John 15: 9-11)

The key words in this passage are “abide and keep” or as in other versions “remain and keep”. The proper thing to do then in so far as our relationship with God is concerned is for us to “abide and remain” to the True Vine, the Good Shepherd, the Light of the world, the Son of God, Christ Jesus.

To “abide” means to be “faithful” to all that God has asked of us. And to be "faithful" means to be "obedient". It looks then that the “affection lingo” that we can offer to God is “obedience” which is what “abide and faithfulness” would entail. In other words, with God’s creation becoming “obedient” to its Creator, God would get that “warm fuzzy” feeling.

Now, is that too far fetched of an idea? Before you say in chorus that it is, listen to this. Those who had been or are still in the workforce would know by now that there are situations when employees would "obey" their boss, out of sheer obligation. You follow what the boss tells you otherwise you’d get axed and relegated to the wilderness of unemployment. They are also the one who are often lacking in any form of joviality. They’re grumpy and they generally do a poor job. But then there are also those who “obey” the commands of the office gods but do it without feeling like they're selling their soul every time they do it. They are the “obedience driven” people who do it because they feel that what they're doing, in spite of the aggravated circumstances, still has meaning and purpose.

There is indeed a way to rise beyond “burdened obedience” and it is with this mindset that we take a second look at our relationship with God. When we do, we will notice that obedience is closely linked to love as though love and obedience are synonymous.

And in this context, it is. That's exactly how Jesus showed his love for God: in loving faithfulness. Even though he was equal with God in every respect, he voluntarily submitted himself to God's will. By that very act, Jesus sets a model for us. Obedience that stems from love always results in joy. When we obey out of love, we end up having joy in what we do.

Of course, that doesn't mean obeying God will exclude or prevent us from earthly losses that bring us sadness and grief. But even underneath the pain, there is a sense of fulfillment and peace that tells us that God is in control.

So Jesus tells his disciples to obey God out of love so that their joy may be complete. Jesus also gives them a commandment that demands obedience. Jesus says: “Love each other as I have loved you”.

And do you think it is an easy command to follow? I wonder about that. I think it is in this area where we often fail. We even willfully resist it and in so doing give God a barrage of those little “pricks" I referred to earlier. It's one commandment that many have difficulty obeying.

The truth is that there are people who are simply difficult to love. They can be rude, obnoxious, demanding, controlling, domineering, abusive or simply inarguably unlikable. Did I omit anything? Help me out in this. Disgusting, maybe? You can add your beef to the list. You get the picture?

Yet, God’s command is plain and simple: Love them anyway. Love them in spite of. When we do, when we obey this command, when we do it out of love, then we win back God’s heart and give Him the “warm fuzzies” that He even shares back with us, undeservedly at times. And thus, God’s joy becomes complete and so is ours.

Fellow “faithful lovers”, at one time or another, we have erred and have gone into paths that might have distanced ourselves from God. We had been in those situations when we have rejected the same “cornerstone” that St. Paul once talked about. But we can go back to the course once set for us at our baptism, can’t we? Even if we have trodden a different path and even if we had failed to follow God’s commands, it’s not yet late to begin renewing our relationship with God. It’s never late to fall back to God’s loving arms.

Brothers and Sisters in the Lord, today, we celebrate Mother’s Day, the day when we honor that special breed of people who have demonstrated to each of their offspring and before the world, their willingness to respond to any and all that love languages have demanded of them. If being loved is the customary end in view, for them, for the Mothers we love so dear, giving and offering love is their end in view. My prayer is that they become worthy exemplars of our very own calling as “faithful lovers” to God and to the Beloved Community.

So how are we doing so far, faithful lovers?

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