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Love Is Our Life Blood

Lent 1C-16

Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

She is just 18 years old and only 4 feet 9 inches tall, but she could be about to become one of the most recognized people in the world. Her name is Simone Biles, a three-time all-around world champion, who some say is the best American gymnast –ever. Right now, she’s focused on qualifying to compete with the U.S. team at the August 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

They say she flies through the air as if she were part bird and part cannonball, and when she competes it is nearly impossible not to stop and stare. What they don’t say is how it almost didn’t happen. They don’t say how the United States almost missed out on finding maybe its best gymnast ever.

Ms. Biles lives in suburb outside Houston with her sister Adria; her mother, Nellie; and father, Ron. Nellie and Ron are Simone’s grandparents, but they adopted Simone and her younger sister, Adria, when Simone was 3 because the girls’ mother had drug problems and could no longer care for them. Ron and Nellie, now in their 60s, became Mom and Dad and gave their young daughters a safe, loving environment, with rules and reminders to set goals. It was everything the girls needed to blossom. As Christian students of the gospel, we are not surprised when the power of love combined with the integrity to be consistent and to stick it out has such a profound impact on our lives and the community we make all around us.

It is the way of the cross, the way of life that leads into the One Life of God and to the abundance of life for us all. This cross is from a Christian community in El Salvador. I don’t suppose you can see the details very well, but I hope you’ll notice the bright, hand painted colors. It’s typical of crosses made throughout that region which makes it unlike crosses found almost anywhere else I’m aware of.

These poor, often rural communities of faith, who struggle to combat hunger, disease, lack of education, unemployment, and devastating gang violence proclaim to us our Lenten journey into Christ is a pathway to joy in the beloved community. This cross is a witness to us, who have so much, by Christian brothers and sisters who have so little, that we posses everything needed to live the good life when we share the life and love of Christ in our hearts. Then justice rolls down on us like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5:24)

This particular cross is a gift delivered to us this past week by Pastor Anna-Kari Johnson from our brothers and sisters at Trinidad Lutheran in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago. I visited Trinidad last fall. They sent me home with a huge piñata we used to celebrate Christmas with kids at Monday night tutoring. Like the faith communities in El Salvador, Trinidad is alive with the Holy Spirit, but poor in materials things. Still, they heard about the steps we’re taking to build a Latino Outreach Team here at Immanuel and sent this gift to welcome us to the party. (Besides being the wife of pastor Kristian Johnson at Pilgrim Lutheran, Anna-Kari is Associate Program Director for New Congregations of the ELCA.) As students of the gospel we should not be astonished at the surprising generosity of God’s people, but in this Lenten season I confess, that sometimes I still am.

After a quick study of today’s gospel and surrounding chapters we are startled Jesus is driven into the desert still dripping wet with the baptismal waters of the Jordan, and with the name Beloved ringing in his ears. Luke is telling us who Jesus is as quickly as possible. He is son of Joseph; son of David; son of Abraham; Son of Noah; son of Adam; the son of God.

Now, in the desert Jesus will cement his credentials. All three of Satan’s tests tempt Jesus to betray his identity and misuse his power. The timing couldn’t be more perfect for us. On this Valentine’s Day, Jesus proves he is worthy of our love. Jesus shows us we are made for love. True love is not something we do for ourselves, or each other. Love is something God accomplishes in us through faith. Without it we are like branches cut off from the vine. We quickly wither and dry out as though life itself were drained from us.

Since the fourth century, Christians have observed the 40 days before Easter (excluding Sundays) as a period of reflection, repentance, fasting, abstinence, and acts of mercy. In particular, we’re invited to remember that some day we will die in order that we may more firmly cling to the One Life we share in Christ. Love is our lifeblood.

Lent isn’t an end in itself. It’s not some sort of world-denying moralism. Rather, it’s the enactment of a spiritual paradox and our confession of a greater purpose— that to live life fully in the here and now, we embrace our mortality and the urgency of each moment as an occasion ripe with the possibility of love. By withholding this love that is our life blood, we do damage to ourselves and one another.

Living the way of the cross has life and death consequences. Outside the living shelter God makes of us with love no one should doubt the power of evil today will eat your lunch, and then charge you a disposal fee. On Valentine’s Day, of all days, we confess that we urgently need this kind of love –love to build us up; love to make us worthy; love that begets more loving; love that transforms strangers into friends; and enemies into allies; love which even now, is making a living sanctuary of hope and grace out of us.

We are a living sanctuary for kids like Simone Biles living here in Edgewater. We are blessed to receive the surprising love of God that comes to us through brothers and sisters we don’t even know in El Salvador and Wicker Park. In this Lenten season we are focused on learning how to become even better at prayer so we may cleave to the love of Christ like the sprawling branches of a vine. As students of the gospel, we seek power to keep our pledges of love true and to release the hold of the evil one upon us. On this Valentines Day we are hungry for the true love that satisfies after the flowers have withered and all the chocolates are gone. May the love and peace of God that surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7) Amen.

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