A Baptismal Meditation delivered by The Rev. Timothy C. Ahrens, at The First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Columbus, Ohio, Easter V, May 13, 2001, Mother's Day and Festival of the Christian Home, dedicated to Jack Michael Kosher on his baptismal day and to my beloved mother Carol Lorene Kellermeyer Ahrens on her 73rd Birthday and always to the glory of God!
Acts 11:1-18 and John 13:31-35
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of each one of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord our strength and our salvation. Amen.
Yesterday, I participated in the graduation ceremonies of the 2001 class of the Columbus College of Art and Design (CCAD). I was the "Invocator" for their 122nd graduation exercise at the Ohio Theater. Sitting center-stage in front of well more than 1,000 people, I had an opportunity to share in an extremely special occasion. Although President Denny Griffith and I have developed a good relationship through my time here, I felt like a stranger in a somewhat strange land.
For, you see, I am not an artist. When I put a pencil to paper, oil to canvas or fingers to clay, what grows out of that experience is neither sacred nor beautiful. It is odd and ugly. What is created these hands is so far from the creative genius of art, that when I enter the universe of artists and designers, I am in absolute awe.
Yesterday, I was in awe. I found myself paying attention. I found myself witnessing beauty, listening to the sacred stories of artists moving out in the world from their world. Quite frankly, I found myself, falling in love.
I imagine Peter may have felt some of the same feelings in Caesarea many close to 2000 years ago. There in the beautiful port city along the clear blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea, Peter met Cornelius and his family. Called to the city through dreams and visions, Peter (the Jew become Christian) was a stranger in a strange place. Stepping out on faith, he baptized the Gentile Cornelius and his household, after which he returned to Jerusalem to explain his actions to the other Jewish-Christians.
How do you explain a cross-cultural experience to those who take pride in homogeneity? It's hard. In Peter's case, his explanation leaves the homeboys silent. During their silent reflection, they finally come around to see the goodness and love of Peter's actions. They praise God and recognize that God has given even the Gentiles repentance that leads to life.
In actuality, I believe Peter falls in love. He enters Cornelius' world, and stands in awe. He sees Cornelius, not as a Gentile, nor as a stranger, but as a brother, one who is gifted in different ways, but truly a brother - and then following his baptism into Christ, he sees him as one in Christ.
Essentially, Peter lives what Jesus commands all of us to do in John 13:31-35. In what is known as the "farewell" section of John's Gospel, Jesus commands his disciples to: "Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another. By this, (Jesus continues) everyone will know that you are my disciples. If you have love for one another" (John 13:34-35).
I believe the whole problem of our time is a problem contained in the partial sentence which concludes this passage, "If you have love for one another." It is the problem of love. We find love problematic. We do not know how to love.
How are we going to recover the ability to love ourselves and to love one another? Thomas Merton, writing in The Living Bread puts it this way:
The reason why we hate one another or fear one another is that we secretly, or openly, hate and fear our own selves. And we hate ourselves because the depths of our being are a chaos of frustration and spiritual misery. Lonely and helpless, we cannot be at peace with others because we are not at peace with ourselves, and we cannot be at peace with ourselves because we are not at peace with God. (Quoted in Through the Year With Thomas Merton, "April 14," page 67).
Yesterday, I told you I found myself falling in love. I can't fully explain it, but I saw these graduates and their families in the light of God, the light of love. I saw each one as beloved, as blessed, as beautiful. For a suspended moment in time, I saw the light, life, and love of God in each one of them. It was a powerful feeling. Instead of focusing on their faults, or wondering why they hadn't dressed a certain way, or whatever, I simply saw in them the light and love of God. And in that act of love, I felt the power of God's unconditional love for myself.
My lack of love was suspended in time, and I found myself sharing love. I dared to love. Too often I find myself desiring the other to be a certain way before I extend love to him or her. Is this true for you? Do you want a person to be a certain way or look a certain way before you love him or her? You are essentially looking in a mirror and reflecting yourself onto that person. For example, if you demand that a person look a certain way before they are acceptable to you, you really are looking at your own unacceptable self and projecting this onto them. To love like this is to be a stranger to yourself.
Rather, the act of God's Love is unconditional! This week, I implore you to fall in love all over again. Offer someone a smile, a little visit, a short note, read them a story, bring them a pair of shoes, give them a hug. In the Spirit of the saint known in the Catholic Church as The Little Flower, do ordinary things with extraordinary love. Remember, in so doing, that we can do no great things - only small things with great love.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta tells the story in Life in the Spirit of a young man her sisters found on the streets of London lying in the street. They said to him, "You should not be here. You should be home with your parents." He said, "When I go home, my mother does not want me because I have long hair. Every time I go to her door she pushes me out." By the time they came back to him, he had taken an overdose and they rushed him to the hospital.
It is easy to love people far away. It is easy to be compassionate and full of love to others - even as I did yesterday - at the Ohio Theater. It is much harder to love those close to us. It is easier to give a cup of rice and relieve hunger than it is to relieve the loneliness and pain of someone unloved in our own home. But, today, I ask you begin your week of loving in your own home, for this is where our love for each other must start.
This day of all days - Mother's Day, the Festival of the Christian Home, a baby baptized into our household of love, and to top it off - our own born witness to remarkable love of three young women - Tiffany, Stefanie, and Jennifer - this day of all days, we should begin to live the commandment of love in our families. If you feel you have too far to go, that you have fallen too far from love to fall into love again, remember, God loves you, God forgives you, God accepts you just as you are. There are no conditions.
May the words of God guide you into love this day. I want you to realize as you go forth in the tenderness of God's love: From Isaiah 43, "I have called you by your name. You are mine. Water of temptation will not drown you. Fire of sin will not burn you. I have carved you in the palm of my hand. You are precious to me and I love you."
Keep the joy of loving God and the joy of loving Jesus in your heart and share that joy with those you meet this week. According to our Savior, this is not a request, it is a commandment, the only commandment that he ever makes - "You must Love one another." So be it.
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