"The Church of the Ostrich" - Easter 5B
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Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
April 29, 2018 at 10:45 AM
Central Passage
1 John 4:7-21
Easter 5B

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: April 29, 2018 – Easter 5B

1 John 4:7-21; John 15:1-8


Leaving the Church of the Ostrich


            When we think of bravery, we might picture a soldier rescuing a comrade on the battlefield at great risk to life and limb, a la Forrest Gump. Or the firefighters who rushed into the World Trade Center on 9/11. Or maybe even the non-violent protestor advocating for civil rights in the face of violent opposition from the state or the mob, like the Selma march. Bravery, in all these cases, is something exhibited by extraordinary individuals facing extraordinary circumstances.


            But there’s a more commonplace bravery, an ordinary kind of courage. It’s the courage that doesn’t make headlines. Folks don’t notice it very easily. This bravery is that of the Christian, who dares to try to love others as God has loved her.


            In Greek, there are at least four different words translated as “love” in English, all with various shades of meaning. Storge is the love between persons in different generations; between a grandfather and his granddaughter, or a mother and her son. Sometimes it is translated “affection”. Eros is the passionate, consuming, possessive love of romantic relationships. Philia is the love between friends, sometimes translated “brotherly love”. It’s where the city of Philadelphia gets its name. And finally, here in the reading from 1 John, we have agape. Agape is the love of God within Godself – from the Father to the Son and back through the Holy Spirit. It is the love of God for humanity – complete and unconditional. It is the love that made God’s descent into human flesh and blood a reality. And it is the love that Jesus calls and challenges us to have for each other.


            For many of us – myself included – that call is scary as hell.


            Love seems safe when it is safely ensconced on the pages of Scripture. It is safe when it remains stuck in the head. It is when we realize what really loving someone else entails that it becomes dangerous. Agape love is dangerous because it requires a vulnerability on our part that we can be deeply uncomfortable with. It requires a willingness to get close to another person or group of people, just as sinful as we are, and to love them for who they are, not for who we wish them to be. It means that we might be hurt. We might be betrayed.


            And yet, Jesus still calls on us to be vulnerable as he was vulnerable; to love as he loves. Because it is only when we can have the bravery to be vulnerable as he was that we can finally leave the church of the ostrich behind.


            The ostrich. A beautiful, huge, frightening bird with a ridiculous myth attached to it. Ostriches, of course, are said to be so stupid that they hide their heads in the sand at the first sight of danger, reasoning that if they can’t see the predator, the predator can’t see them. It’s not true – that myth was born from poor human observational skills. But it’s an enduring myth all the same. Because we human beings often act that way in response to challenges or dangers. We “hide our heads in the sand”, so to speak, and pretend that the problem isn’t there. Changing culture? Frightening news headlines? Problems in our own families? Declining congregational participation and influence? In response to all of these problems, we so often “circle the wagons” and isolate ourselves from the wider community. And in doing so, we forget to love our brothers and sisters. Love is the furthest thing from our minds, in fact. Preservation of our way of church, or our way of life, or our kind of politics, or our way of being in a family becomes the most important thing in the church of the ostrich. The overriding philosophy is “Play it safe. Don’t rock the boat. Hold on until the community and the world gets back to where they’re supposed to be.”


            And the dominant thought behind all of that is, “I’m scared as hell and I don’t know what to do. So I’ll just hide.”


            Thank God that our God is not like that. When humanity was at its darkest moment, God did not abandon us. God did not leave us to our own devices. God came to be one of us. In the person of Jesus, God – the creator, redeemer, and sustainer of the universe – was born as a human, lived as a human, and died as a human. And during that life, Jesus showed us what the love of God looks like. It is a love that is vulnerable; that doesn’t play it safe. It is a love willing to defy religious authorities and rules for the sake of the wellbeing of other people. It is a love willing to go to places normally taboo – to heal a woman with an eighteen-year flow of blood, for example; or to raise up both a dead young girl and a dead young man (touching the dead was taboo in the culture at the time). It was a love crossed cultural boundaries, including both Gentiles and Jews – there were several instances where Jesus went to predominantly Gentile territories and healed people there. It was a love that crossed class boundaries – Jesus ate and spoke with both wealthy men like Zacchaeus and the poorest of the poor, like the 5000 plus he fed. And it is a love that was willing to go to the cross for all of us. As John says in the letter, the love of God sent Jesus to be the sacrifice that deals with our sins. Jesus was and is the love of God incarnate, the love that wipes out our sin, destroys the power of death, and gives us the courage to love.


            And God is with us now. God gives us the courage to be vulnerable to each other. Because it is only when we dare to be vulnerable that we can love one another. When we are vulnerable as Jesus was to us, then we can love. I know that sometimes love can hurt. I know that sometimes love goes wrong. And I know that sometimes we have to put up boundaries with certain other people for the sake of our own mental and spiritual health. But I’m not talking about abusive love. I’m talking about everyday, ordinary love where the love of Christ propels us out to love each other as he loves us. To love other members of Zion as he loves us. To love other members of our families as he loves us. To love the people of Hartford City as he loves us. And perhaps, most importantly, to believe that we are loved by God – that God loves us more than we love ourselves. Because it is when we believe we are loved by God – not just intellectually, but in our whole being – that we know that God’s love has cast out all of our fears. God’s love leads us away from the church of the ostrich, and into the church of Christ – the church of the Vine, in whom we all belong.


            There is a whole world that God is calling us to love as he loves them. And the church is God’s best plan for bringing the love of Christ into the world. So goodbye to a head-in-the-sand church. And hello to a church that courageously steps into loving God and loving each other.


            Let us pray.


            Jesus, let your love cast away all our fears, so that we can love as the redeemed and sanctified people you have called us to be. Amen.


© 2018, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.