St. John’s Episcopal Church
207 Albany Avenue, Kingston, NY 12401

Sermons

  • Becoming What We Receive – The Rev. Michelle Meech

    May 09, 2021

    Depending on who you ask, the Greek language has either 4 types of love or 7.  Or 5… or 8.  And since Ancient Greek is that language most of the scripture that we call the New Testament was written in – it’s a significant point.  Because, what do we mean when we use the word love?  What does the word “love” refer to in today’s collect? Or in the first letter of John? Or in these words from Jesus’ final discourse in John’s Gospel?   “I have loved you; abide in my love… This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

    The Greek word used in these two passages of scripture is either agapao or agape.  And, according to the Strong’s Greek Dictionary, both words refer to “the active love people are to have for God, each other, and even enemies…” and it relates to the common meal shared by Christians, or what we call Eucharist.

    “The active love” is what it says.  “The active love.”  So, this love is one that elicits a response from us, an action that is real and tangible, corporeal and incarnate.  Because the more we serve another one of God’s creatures, the more we feel connected to them, and the more they take up room in our heart.  In other words, it’s about friendship.  And friendship is Eucharistic.

    I remember when I had just started attending church in my 30’s.  I lived in a small town called Bend, OR and started attending Trinity Episcopal Church every Sunday morning.  The priest there was a truly wise and wonderful person named Bill Ellis.  His father (Bob Ellis) was a retired priest, also a wise and wonderful person, and was a member of the congregation.

    Bob was a man with white hair, wire-rimmed glasses that sat on a bulbous nose, and a kind smile.  He wore seek-sucker jackets and bow ties to church.  And he always sat in the front pew.  And I remember once, during an adult education conversation, we were talking about love.  And he said, “Love is always about action.”

    And I remember being confused by that idea at first. Does that mean you can’t love someone unless you’re doing stuff for them?  Well, according to Bob and, according to Jesus… yes.

    Because this love that Jesus talks about isn’t just a fondness or a positive regard for other people, a wish that other people be safe from harm, a desire that “we all just get along” and be nice even if someone is profiting off of the oppression of other human beings.

    Friendship means that we are willing to give of ourselves for another. We give time.  We give our efforts and help out when we can.  We speak out when our friend isn’t behaving well.  We give a listening ear or a share a meal.  We give of what we have. We give to take care of another being.  We give so that we can stand up for them when necessary.  We offer time and space in our lives. We involve ourselves.  And in these actions, we find our heart opening more and more towards them.

    You see, it is the action we take, that expands our own heart, our embodied heart.

    This is what worshipping an incarnate god means – that the flesh we inhabit, the breath we share, the actions we take in this world all matter.  They are this agape, this love that Jesus talks about.

    Because this is the kind of love God has for us.  We are cared for. We have the physical things that we need to flourish.  We are blessed.  And we are called to become a physical, embodied blessing in the lives of others, in the lives of those we are called to serve.

    This love, this agape, invites community, a community of real friends. It doesn’t always result in a juicy, “isn’t love grand” feeling.  Sometimes it may feel like an inconvenience or just something on our to-do list. But the more we practice it, we start to realize that our connection to the people we serve becomes stronger. With each act of love, the person we are serving takes up more room in our heart.  And soon, serving them is just a natural part of who we are. We are blessed and we become a blessing.

    It matters how we offer this love.  Sometimes, because we’re human, we may find ourselves expecting something in return. Maybe we grow resentful or feel as if we are being taken advantage of.  Become hurt or disappointed.  So, if we (St. John’s) are to live into our mission statement, if we are to truly become a bridge of God’s love, this agape that Jesus talks about… then the practice of Eucharist is the heart of our lives as a community.

    The Eucharist is a sacred moment when we are invited to receive something tangible, Christ’s body, so that we may give of ourselves in a tangible way, bringing our full selves to God and becoming Christ’s Body in the here and now.  This practice of Eucharist is a blessing and an invitation to become a blessing for others, to continue to have our hearts expanded by God’s love.  We receive so that we may go out and give.  And with every act of service, that is, every act of love, we become love more and more.

    And I know it’s been very difficult during this pandemic.  Because being “tangible” with other people is something that has been dangerous. And we have had to amend our day to day lives to eliminate contact with anyone outside our “bubble.”

    That doesn’t mean we haven’t been Eucharistic, however. We have continued to offer of ourselves to one another.  We have continued to expand our understanding of white privilege in order to work at becoming anti-racist. We have proclaimed the Gospel of Love to the world who passes by our building on Albany Ave by raising a sign that proclaims our values… and don’t think that has gone unnoticed! We have upheld and sustained friendship in so many ways.

    But it’s time to come back to our Eucharistic practice again. To re-member who we are.  To become what we receive. To be fed once again. To reconnect and rediscover the ways the Eucharist holds us in community.

    In two weeks on the Feast of Pentecost, we will return to in-person worship again.

    The Eucharist is, as we know, one of our two most sacred acts we participate in, as Christians.  The other being Baptism, which is also mentioned in today’s scripture from the Acts of the Apostles.  Baptism is the mark of God moving deeply within us so that we decide to commit ourselves to a path.

    But the path itself is Eucharistic – we come back again and again and again to be fed by this sacrificial love, reconciling ourselves so that we may take this love and offer it forth, reconciling the world and becoming what we receive – the Body of Christ broken open for the world.

    This is what John’s letter means by “conquering” the world by our faith. It has nothing to do with who believes what.  But it has everything to do with understanding what it means to love, and to love unconditionally.  To acknowledge our blessing and become a blessing.  To be in communion.

    The Eucharistic path is the path that we have committed to – you and I – as Christians.  A path of love that feeds us so that we may, in turn, feed God’s creation.

    Behold what you are – blessed.  Become what you receive – a blessing.