Blest Be the Tie That Binds

 

A sermon, based on 1 John 5.1-6 and John 15.9-17, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 6th Sunday of Easter, May 6, 2018

LOVE

Reflecting on today’s epistle and gospel readings, the words of an olden hymn come to mind; so appropriate for our continuing Eastertide-work of deepening our understanding of the resurrection of Jesus:

Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Jesus’ love;
the fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.(1)

From the epistle: “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ,” which is the preeminent Easter proclamation, “has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent,” God, “loves the child,” all born of God.

Blest be the tie that binds.

From the gospel: “As the Father,” God, “has loved me,” Jesus, “so I,” Jesus, “have loved you” (therefore) “abide,” remain, reside, live, be “in my love.”

Blest be the tie that binds.

Yet these readings call us beyond our deeper understanding to our greater living of the resurrection of Jesus.

From the epistle: “By this we know that we love God’s children, when we love God and obey his commandments.”

From the gospel: “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.”

Now, being bound together in love, notwithstanding the word “commandment”, is not a demand. Rather the word “commandment” implies, nay, proclaims that it is the will of God. Being bound together in love is the truth of God as revealed in Jesus. Therefore, the nature of the universe. Therefore, the ontology, the beingness of our human creatureliness. Being bound together in love is not only the way things are meant to be, but the way things are! The Creator, the creation, and all creatures thereof and therein not must be, ought be, should be, but are bound together by love, from love, in love, through love, with love! (It must be true when any preposition works!)

Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Jesus’ love;
The fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.

Now, God grants us free will to do as we choose, which includes not obeying the commandment to love. Yet when we don’t obey the commandment, we fail to fulfill not some higher calling, but rather we fail to be who we already are as God has created us; we fail to be fully human. And when we choose to follow Jesus, loving one another as he loves us, we live his life, our life in him made real by his resurrection.

All this is theoria, the theory, the “what” and the “why” of our Easter-living. Now, for the praxis, the practice, the “how”; what it looks like being bound together in love. I offer a personal, a very personal example.

Last Sunday, we looked at Jesus as the vine and we, his branches,(2) focusing on our bearing the fruit of his love, which, let us remember, is not about how we feel about others, but rather our Spirit-given, Spirit-driven power to will and to act unconditionally, indiscriminately benevolently toward others regardless of how we feel about them!

Last week, someone near and dear to me asked me for help. Help I readily provided. Help that was received gladly, but soon misused for other and, in my view, less than wholesome purposes. I was hurt, especially by what I considered a brazen misrepresentation of need. Then, I was angry, which, coupled with my elephantine memory for offenses, might have guaranteed, surely now and maybe for longer, the fracture, perhaps the end of a relationship. Then, serendipitously, a friend (and I say “serendipitously”, as in Spirit-led, for it was not possible to her to know or for me to know the effect!) shared with me a gracious word(3) that she had found helpful, hopeful about how to love; a word that I, also finding it helpful, hopeful, paraphrase:

When others cause us harm (however small or great),
let us resist the temptation to fall prey to our desire, perhaps our need for vengeance.
For such is not our life, we whom God has created by love,
we whom Jesus has saved through love,
we whom the Holy Spirit strengthens to love.
Rather, let us understand, let us know this:
All who hurt others are hurting inside.
And, in understanding, in knowing this, then let us do this:
Pray for their healing, for that is what they most need.

And, so, the one who has hurt me and has aroused my anger, the one who I have loved and for whom I have prayed is the one who I do love and for whom I do pray, unconditionally, indiscriminately. And so, I sing:

Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Jesus’ love;
The fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.

 

Footnotes:
(1) Blest be the tie that binds (1782), verse 1, altered; words by John Fawcett (1739-1817)
(2) John 15.1-8
(3) A word by Najwa Zebian, a Lebanese Canadian educator, author, and poet: “Never wish them pain. That’s not who you are. If they caused you pain, they must have pain inside. Wish them healing. That’s what they need.”

4 thoughts on “Blest Be the Tie That Binds

  1. Dear Paul,

    I am so glad that Najwa Zebian’s words, serendipitously (utilizing the same definition you enunciated in your sermon!) conveyed from the St. Mary’s meditation for the day last week, offered a new and helpful perspective on loving response to the disappointing behavior you encountered from your loved one. Praying for healing for the other in a circumstance like that, I think, cannot fail to precipitate healing in ourselves as well, something I began to learn agonizingly slowly through years of challenging encounters with my brother. I finally saw that the pain to which I was subjected was nothing compared to the pain he was in, which had caused his hurtful behavior in the first place. Learning that and learning to pray for his healing in those situations was counterintuitive, arduous even, and not always something I could immediately do, but when I was able to do it, it was rather miraculous in its effect on me, and in some ways, on him as well.

    I recently thought of these situations in connection with Jesus’ admonitions about when someone strikes you on one cheek, or asks for your coat, or asks you to go with them one mile. What are we actually doing when we “turn the other cheek” or “offer our cloak also,” or “go the second mile?” I don’t know, of course, but I think what it means is: give what is asked if you can, but also look behind what is asked in order to understand the true need behind the request, and then in addition to supplying what has been requested, also, if you are able, respond to the need behind the request in the first place, i.e., oftentimes the pain that needs healing. Call in whatever resources are at your disposal to help heal the pain, which for most of us probably means: pray, be kind, be patient, be benevolent. In other words, love and tend to the loose, frayed ends of those ties that bind us to each other in the overarching embrace of all-encompassing love.

    Thank you, Paul, for always leading toward and teaching and reinforcing the things that truly matter.

    Much love,

    Karen

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  2. Paul,

    I love the sermon and the ties that bind, it stirred up a great deal in me. That said, I’m very sorry for the hurt you received from someone you love. I pray that you find peace as you move forward, and I’m glad you found a reading that you found helpful as you examine what comes next (if anything) with that person and your relationship with them. Blessings to you as you reflect.

    Love

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  3. Thank you, again, Karen, for sharing Najwa Zebian with me. Doubtless, as I have come to know myself as one who thinks and rethinks and thinks again, her words will take the shape of new meanings and applications in the future.

    And thank you for your wondrous observation: “…Praying for healing for the other in a circumstance like that, I think, cannot fail to precipitate healing in ourselves as well…” Yes, amen, for so I, too, believe. And in finding self-healing, there is an attendant, nearly immediate lessening of the hurt and anger I feel/experience.

    I also very much appreciate your interpretation of Jesus’ counsel to turn the other cheek, offer our cloak, and go the second mile. (Indeed, my dear sister, I lovingly would advise you not to be so quick to say/write, “I don’t know, of course,” for interpretation, as true, I believe, of many things, is in the mind of the beholder.) I think that responding to a request be considering what I have to give (and, of course, my willingness to proffer it) AND peering behind the asking to seek to discern the deeper, compelling need is spot-on!

    Still, I will share here a view of turning the other cheek that began to form in my mind some time ago as a different take or twist on what can/may appear, at first glance, Jesus’ advocacy that we allow ourselves to be mistreated by others. In ancient times, the one who would strike a blow oft was the master or the superior to a slave or one considered inferior. As the inside of the hand was employed for eating, the blow would not be rendered with an open hand, but rather the back of the hand. Imagine, then, the blow being struck and turning or spinning the head of the one struck in the opposite direction. Now, imagine the one who was struck turning her/his head to expose the other cheek, thus, calling for the one who struck the first blow, if s/he was to strike another, to use the open palm of the hand, which, therefore, would be to treat the one who was struck as an equal. Hence, to turn the other cheek is a metaphorical (and, in an actual circumstance of being struck, a literal) expression of demanding to be treated as an equal, which is a recognition of all being made in the imago Dei.

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  4. Loretta, it is ALWAYS a difficult matter in dealing with hurt – whether caused by me or done unto me…

    The difficulty arises, immediately, in considering what to do. I have grown (thank goodness, thank God!) from remaining in the rehearsing-and-nursing the grievance mode that keeps the hurt and anger fresh and accessible to a point where I can acknowledge my hurt and anger and choose not to remain in that place of pain. In this, I can continue to love and, as Zebian encourages, pray for the healing of the other.

    That said, there remains the matter or matters of how to go forward in relationship with that one. For, surely, forgiving does not mean allowing myself to fall prey to the same treatment (whatever it was). Forgiving does mean, I think, that I strive to remain benevolent and in relationship though it does/may mean responding differently to future requests for aid.

    Moreover, forgiveness is one thing, which I can do alone (or rather with God’s help), but remaining in relationship involves both of us; meaning that there is one person I can control (more or less!) – me – and one I cannot (at all!) – the other person. (And by “control”, I mean I am responsible and I take responsibility for my behavior.)

    Love

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