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  • Writer's pictureSt. Luke's

Letting Go Into Reckless Love

Updated: Mar 19

The Rev. Sara Warfield

Scripture: John 12:20-33

A few weeks ago, I talked a little bit about theodicy: the fancy seminary word for the theological question, “why does suffering exist?” If God is all-loving and all-powerful, how could God allow us to experience pain? This is what a lot of the more radical atheists point to in order to justify their disbelief: Where was God when Mt. Vesuvius buried the people of Pompei alive? Where was God when Hitler built an entire infrastructure to murder eleven million people, including nearly two-thirds of the Jewish population of Europe. It’s all meaningless and random, some say. There’s no one in charge. And if there is, that’s not a God I want to put my faith in.

I know that’s our impulse sometimes, too. It’s my impulse sometimes. When you lose a loved one in a senseless accident. When you get a cancer diagnosis. When we see an atrocious terrorist attack on Israel, and then we see Israel’s response: tens of thousands of people killed in Gaza, and the rest deprived of food.

Where is God in all that?

But I think that’s the wrong question to be asking.

Because, from what I can see, God has given us absolutely everything we need to thrive. First of all, God gave us this creation. Air to breathe and trees to keep that air clean, sunshine and rain, food to eat, animal and human companions to love.

Our Eucharistic prayer goes on to describe how God continued to show up for us:

Through Abraham and Sarah you called us into covenant with you. You delivered us from slavery, sustained us in the wilderness, and raised up prophets to renew your promise of salvation. Then, in the fullness of time, you sent your eternal Word, made mortal flesh in Jesus. Born into the human family, and dwelling among us, he revealed your glory.

Yes, for God so loved the world, God sent Jesus. God manifest in this world, in this skin, breathing this air. God we could talk to, learn from, hug. Love embodied. Living among us.

The Eucharistic prayer continues:

Giving himself freely to death on the cross, Jesus triumphed over evil, opening the way of freedom and life.

Yes. God even gave us death. Our gospel today says, “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Death is essential for new life, we’re told. It’s so essential that even Jesus, even God embodied, died.

The plate tectonics that caused Mt. Vesuvius to erupt and kill thousands also make carbon-based life on earth possible. The soil that grows the food we eat can only be nourished by the death and decomposition of other living things.

If living things didn’t die, this planet couldn’t sustain life.

And I know that doesn’t make death easier. Up close in our own lives death is loss. It’s devastation. It’s something that happens to us all, as it must, but sometimes it happens too suddenly, too soon for our hearts to reconcile. It’s such a conundrum: we know it’s inevitable, we know it’s necessary, but when it happens, it can feel utterly unbearable.

But that’s also why God gave us each other. Why God knitted us together with the yarn of love. When death happens, when suffering happens, we are there for each other. Love holds.

Ideally. Which brings me back to the wrong question, which is: “Where was God when…?” I think the right question, or the more faithful question, is: “Where were you? Where were we?”

In Bible Study, we agreed that The Message translation of today’s gospel was more helpful than the lectionary text. The lectionary says:

Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

But The Message translates this as:

Anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.

This is the hardest lesson to learn. Or maybe not a lesson to learn, but the fact of God’s creation to accept: Our bodies die. That’s for certain. Even the body God inhabited died. Marriages end. Jobs are lost. Houses burn down. Bodies and minds change with age.

But what is actually corrosive, actually destructive to life isn’t death or change, but when we try to preserve things exactly as they are. Because it feels safe, comfortable.

How do we respond in the face of change, in the face of death? How do we show up? Do we try to keep life just as it is, to keep it the same, or do we unclench our grasp and become reckless in our love? Even if that means leaning into discomfort and fear and maybe even suffering in order to live that reckless love?

In Germany in the 1930s, a large portion of Christian leaders, both Protestant and Roman Catholic, fell in line with Nazi ideology. It was easier to go with the flow of power and preserve their institutions than to speak out against Hitler’s rising influence, to risk the reckless love that might have put them in danger but also might have built their congregations’ resistance to National Socialism, which might have saved so many lives.

It wasn’t, “Where was God?” in that time but, “Where were the pastors and priests?” “Where were God’s people?”

When I think about what’s happening in Israel and Gaza, in Ukraine and Sudan, in the conflicts and tensions within our own nation, I think, “Where am I? How am I showing up? Where are we, God’s people?”

The Message translation has Jesus saying before his impending suffering and death:

Right now I am shaken. And what am I going to say? ‘Father, get me out of this’? No, this is why I came in the first place. I’ll say, ‘Father, put your glory on display.’

Even Jesus was tempted to back down in order to keep things comfortable. Instead, he chose change, even if it meant suffering. Because living out God’s love recklessly, was the only way to make God’s glory known in the world.

It wasn’t about intentionally seeking out suffering. It wasn’t about intentionally seeking out death. It was about knowing that something needed to change. That trying to keep things the same as they ever were was actually a hindrance to growth, a hindrance to the coming of the Kingdom of God. For Jesus, it was about being reckless in his love, no matter what. Trusting that reckless love is what leads to new life.

As we were told in the Ash Wednesday liturgy, Lent was originally a season when converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism. When I bless the water for our font, for baptism, I say, “We thank you, God, for the water of Baptism. In it we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit.” In full immersion baptism, say, in a river, going under the water means to die to one’s old life, and coming up out of the water means to be resurrected and reborn into new life. For a moment, it’s risky. If I go under, will I come back up? I’m literally putting my life in this priest’s hands, but also I’m committing to dying to my old life. Can I let it go? Can I live into this new way of being?

Lent is about preparing for that moment of risk, that moment of confrontation with change, with an ending, with death. It’s why some of us give something up or commit to a practice that requires a new measure of discipline: so we can lean into the discomfort of that change in our routine and to see how it changes us, how it opens us up.

So that when we encounter a moment of real risk in our life, when we are faced with profound change or a hard ending, we’re ready to go under the water with reckless love, trusting that new life awaits when we come up.

“Anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.” That’s what our baptism calls us to. That’s what following Jesus means. Amen.

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