I recently heard a parent say that they are teaching their child not to be perfect but to be loving.
The mother, Glennon, wrote a letter to her son, Chase, saying:
“Chase we do no care if you are the smartest or fastest or coolest or funniest. There will be lots of contests at school, and we don’t care if you win a single one of them. We don’t care if you get straight A’s. We don’t care if girls think you’re cute or whether you’re picked first or last for kickball at recess …
We didn’t send you to school to become the best at anything at all. We already love as much as we possibly could. You do not have to earn our love or pride and you can’t lose it. That’s done.
We send you to school to practice being brave and kind. Kind people are brave people. Brave is not something you should wait to feel. Brave is a decision. It is a decision that compassion is more important than fear, than fitting in, than following the crowd. Don’t try to be the best this year. Just be grateful and kind and brave. That’s all you will ever need to be.”
I wonder if this message is at the heart of Jesus’ call in Scripture today.
In the Scripture, Jesus is sitting around the dinner table with his friends and disciples. Jesus is sitting around the table with those who will betray him, with those who will abandon him, with those who will deny him. Jesus knows hard times are ahead. He knows real life can be painful, messy and difficult. In the midst of this reality, Jesus calls the disciples to be loving.
Jesus doesn’t say believe x, y & z and sign on the dotted line; Jesus doesn’t say get your life cleaned up so it’s perfect and shiny; Jesus doesn’t say that we need to have it all figured out.
Instead, Jesus says: I already love you as much as I possibly could. You do not need to earn my love and you can’t lose it. That’s done.
I’m sending you out into the world to practice being brave and kind.
Sometimes, you will mess up. Sometimes, you will fail. You will be imperfect. You will make mistakes. This is not what matters.
What matters is:
Are you loving? Are you gracious? Are you forgiving?
Toward yourself? Toward others?
This is how they will know you are my disciples, Jesus says, if you love one another.
What does this kind of holy love look like?
As I was pondering that question this week, I read the story of Priest Greg Boyle, from California, whose church hosted a homeless shelter on the Saturday night before church. Come Sunday morning, there was always the faintest evidence that the homeless had been there. Congregants would try to clean up the best they could. They would sprinkle “I Love My Carpet” on the rugs and vacuum like crazy. They’d strategically place potpourri and air freshners but, still, the smell would linger, reminding everyone that nearly fifty men had spent the night before there. The grumbling set in and people spoke of “churching” elsewhere, where it smelled cleaner.
One day, Father Greg decides to talk about it in his sermon so he asks: “What’s the church smell like?”
People are mortified, eye contact ceases, women are searching inside their purses for they know not what.
“Come on, now,” Greg throws back at them, “what’s the church smell like?”
“It smells like feet,” someone finally says.
“Excellent. But why does it smell like feet?”
“Cuz many homeless men slept here last night?” says a woman.
“Well, why do we let that happen here?” Greg continues.
“Because it is what Jesus would do,” says another
“Well then … what’s the church smell like now?”
“It smells like commitment,” a man bellows.
A woman pipes up, “It smells like roses.”
This, I think what love looks like. This is what loves smells like. Not like perfection. But like compassion and beauty and dirty feet.
What Greg teaches us is that Love is not about passively tolerating the people that come into our lives, but celebrating them and celebrating all the diverse ways that we are journeying together toward the flourishing of all of God’s creatures.
In the words of U2, “We are one but we are not the same. We get to carry each other.”
This is the call of love.
This is what Jesus calls the disciples to do in the real and messy days ahead.
This is what Jesus calls the disciples to do when he bends down on the earthy floor and washes their dirty feet.
This is what Jesus calls the disciples to do when Jesus takes the Bread of Life and Cup of Blessing and passes it around to each and every person proclaiming they are bright, brilliant, beloved children of God who are beautiful to behold.
This is what Jesus calls the disciples to do when he says to them, “Love one another … This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples.”
This what Jesus call us to do right now.
I was reminded of that truth is week when I read a story about Glennon Melton, the mother who wrote the letter in the first part of today’s sermon.
In this true story, Glennon decides to do a 280 bike ride to race money for AIDS research. Glennon is a young in recovery from bulimia, cigarettes, drugs and alcohol. She is not a likely candidate. She hasn’t done anything for charity before and she hated physically hard things. Sometimes just finding the right key to unlock her front door seemed like too much to handle.
Still, she agrees to do the AIDS ride. She decides to quit smoking cigarettes the very day that she starts the race.
Then she begins. One hundred miles in nine-five degree from North Carolina to Washington D.C. She describes most of the trip as “hellish.” She losses feeling in her butt as she rides and spends her nights on the roadside in a leaky tent. The sun is brutal and the stretches of road last forever. And as she rides, she passes signs that say, “You are my hero.” There is something, Glennon says, that touches your heart when someone calls you a hero when you are at your absolutely weakest. And so she cries and pedals on.
As the hours and days pass, Glennon thinks over and over about taking back her decision. As she debates this she see a mountain, appearing over the horizon like a sick joke. Over and over. Mountain after mountain. There is no quitting and so she pedals on. Even so, when Glennon reaches the next mountain she knows that she just can’t do this one. It isn’t going to happen Her soul is willing but her body is defeated. She approaches the mountain cautiously and as she does a thin, gray-skinned, baldish man comes up on a hike beside her. He has hollow cheeks and eyes that are set far back, skinny and small. Glennon makes eye contact with him and he reads her pain and says, “Just rest, I’ll push you.” And she rests her legs and let’s herself be carried. The manpushes her up the hill, riding his bike, one hand on his handle bars, one hand on her back. Slowly, together they make it to the top. “Thank you,” Glennon squeaks out. The man looks her square in the eyes, “Thank YOU” and turns around to ride back down the hill to help another rider. Glennon looks back down and sees at least twenty of these angels pushing people up. Knowing the riders would never make it on their own, these angels carried them. One at a time. Back down for another. Until everyone made it over the hill together.
Glennon later learned that they were AIDS angels. They were sick, they were dying of AIDS and they had come to help the healthy riders over the mountains.
“We are one but we are not the same. We get to carry each other”
This is our call as disciples of Jesus send out into the world. It’s not a burden; it’s a gift; we get to carry each other, using out gifts as bridges, as love gifts, as together we live into Jesus’ call to discipleship.
The Good News is that we are called not to perfection or strong leg muscles or straight A’s, we are called simply to love.
What Jesus asks us is:
How are we compassionate? Gracious? Kind?
Glennon tells another story of how stressed she used to get when she was invited to a party. She couldn’t cook to save her life and even the thought of stopping by a story and buying chips gave her anxiety. She was talking about her trouble with a good friend when the friend said to her, “Yeah. You don’t bring amazing dishes. But you know what you bring? You have a way of making me feel important when we talk. You really listen to me. That’s why I like having you at our parties.”
From then on, when people invited her to parties, Glennon would say, “I will bring my amazing listening ears,” because that is what she was good at, that was her love gift.
I’m sending you out into the world to practice being brave and kind, Jesus says, to practice carrying one another.
How will you do that this week?