What is love?

All Saints' Sunday C

In the name of God, who is the creator, embodiment, and spirit of Love.  Amen.

Earlier this week my oldest nephew, all of 15 years old, texted me because he had a question.  I’m his uncle, and his godfather, and his confirmation sponsor, and I’m also a priest, so I get these questions from time to time.  And Brooks never fails to disappoint.  Even as a young child he had an unusual depth to him.  As he’s grown, he keeps growing into that spirit in a beautiful and fascinating way.

This week he asked about my view on love, and why we have it.  It led to an interesting back and forth over the course of a couple of hours.  At one point I stepped away from the conversation to get some apple pie that Michael had made with the last of our apples we picked this fall, and I suggested to Brooks that perhaps that was the point of love – that sometimes it get us pie.

But in seriousness, the real crux of what I could offer to him – other than a venue through which he could explore his own thoughts and reflections – was that love is a gift from God.  It’s one of those human experiences that makes life worth living.  It often brings joy, but even when it brings pain, it’s about more than just the emotions it creates.  Love is one of those gifts from God that makes meaning.

As this week has progressed, and as we’ve moved through Halloween and All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day to today – the day when the church celebrates the Feast of All Saints in our principle act of Sunday worship, this conversation on the nature of love has stuck with me.  I think that’s really what today is about.  Perhaps even more than many of the other celebrations of the church year, the Feast of All Saints and All Souls is about our recognition that God loves us.  And not just that God loved us in creating us.  Or that God loved us in giving us the example and salvation that came in the person of Jesus.  And not even just that God loves us through the ongoing indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  The love of God is so profound and so overflowing that it couldn’t even be contained in the Trinity, in all of its abundance and complexity.  The love of God kept flowing and keeps flowing into our lives through the saints of the ages and through the saints we know (and don’t know) even now.

That’s what we celebrate this day.  We celebrate that the love of God keeps being shown to us through the examples and the lives of the people who have followed God in their lives on earth.  The love of God isn’t just some far off, spiritual concept, but something earthy and present.  Something we can put our hands on, and through our own tangible experience wrap our minds around in a very real and concrete way.  The love of God isn’t distant in time or space, but immediate.  Right here.  Right now.

And that’s the message Jesus is teaching in the beatitudes that we read today.  “Blessed are you who are poor…  Blessed are you who are hungry…  Blessed are you who weep…  Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you…”

The blessings of God aren’t reserved just for the ones we see as blessed – the ones who enjoy the good things of the world.  The blessings of God aren’t reserved for anyone at all.  They are spread wide.  Wider than we can imagine.  On a breadth of different kinds of people and experiences so diverse that we can hardly comprehend it.

We see that in the lives of the saints that the church honors.  There are martyrs who suffered for their faith.  And even in their suffering they were blessed, and their lives were embodiments of the love of Christ.  There were others who worked tirelessly in their lives to spread the Gospel of Christ in far off lands.  But no matter how far they traveled they could never go farther than the love of God.  Wherever they went, there it was.  There were those who worked to teach the forgotten and to minister to the ones no one else wanted to minister to.  But through it all, God’s blessings and love never left them out, nor did they leave out anyone they were called to serve.

And the same is true of all the lesser-known saints.  The ones we celebrate and honor, but whom the wider church knows only in spirit.  The parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles and children and spouses and friends we lift up to God on this day.  Each of them loved.  Each of them shared a piece of the heart of Christ with us in their own way.  Each of them made meaning in our lives in simple and profound ways.  And so we lift them up to God.  We lift them up to each other as examples of and testaments to that wild and abundant love of God that we know a little better because they showed it to us.

As my conversation with my nephew was coming to a close the other day, I ended by giving him a little bit of an object lesson in love and its meaning and its purpose.  He said “thanks and I love you” and I replied, “I love you, too.  More than I bet you can imagine.  Since before I knew you.”  And it’s true.  I love that kid more than I know how to say.  I still vividly remember the anticipation of his arrival and the first moment I laid eyes on him.  My heart exploded and it hasn’t stopped since.  And if that’s how an uncle can love his nephew, can you even imagine the way God loves us?  I can’t.  I just know I’m grateful for it.  And I know that I’m still working at loving God back as much as I can.  May we all strive to be the saints that someone else looks up to – the saints that give someone else a glimpse of the love that God has for them.  Amen.