All You Need is Love

Presenter: 
Rev. Megan Foley
Sermon Date: 
Sun, 01/12/2014

This month, we’re curious about, our theme is, what a truly just world might look like. And, of course, being UUs, we think the truly just world ought to have a Unitarian Universalist spin on it, so I’d suggest we’re really wondering about what “UUtopia” might be like.

And you can’t talk about UUtopia, a Unitarian Universalist ideal society, without talking about love. That is because Unitarian Universalism was born from Christianity, which in itself was born from Judaism, and, for reasons that will become apparent by the end of this sermon, that particular religious stream predicates its notion of ideal society squarely on the practice of love.

Now, there’s different sorts of love, of course. Plato outlined three kinds, and a quick visit to his ideas will help us sort out which sort of love we need for our UUtopia.

There’s the sort of love called eros, romantic love, the sort you might practice on Valentine’s Day. And there’s philia, brotherly and sisterly love, the sort you feel towards your family and friends. But most importantly, and especially important when we’re talking about UUtopia, there’s agape: the type of love that one feels for other people because you share a common humanity. Agape is the sort of love that leads to the Golden Rule, because when you love in this way, what you want for yourself, you want for others, too.

Martin Luther King, Jr. liked to talk about agape love. He describes it this way: agape is “love in which the individual seeks not his own good, but the good of his neighbor (1 Cor 10:24). Agape does not begin by discriminating between worthy and unworthy people, or any qualities people possess. It begins by loving others for their sakes. It is an entirely ‘neighbor-regarding concern for others,’ which discovers the neighbor in every man it meets. Therefore, agape makes no distinction between friends and enemy; it is directed toward both.” [King, Jr., Martin Luther. “An Experiment in Love.” A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of MLK, Jr. James M. Washington, ed. San Francisco: Harper and Row Publishers. 1986. P. 19.]

With agape love, you don’t love someone because you think they’re cute and you want to date them, and you don’t love someone because you’ve bonded as good friends, or you share a genetic code. With agape love, you love a person simply because they are a human being like yourself. And by loving them, I mostly mean, you treat them the way you yourself would like to be treated.

Agape love is the root of compassion. Agape is the root of our Unitarian Universalist principles, with our strong focus on the inherent worth and dignity of every human being. And the reason agape is the root of our UU Principles is because agape, love, is actually the key, the pathway, to utopia. UUtopia. Beloved Community. Heaven on earth. The Kingdom of God.

In our video this morning. [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d56rsXJ86Yw] we heard examples from many of the world religions that promote a version of the Golden Rule. Another of my favorite versions, this one from an African traditional religion of the Yoruba people in Nigeria, phrases their version of the Golden Rule this way: “One [who is] going to take a pointed stick to pinch a baby bird should first try it on himself to feel how it hurts.”

But because Unitarian Universalism stems directly from the Christian tradition, which itself stems directly from the Hebrew tradition, perhaps it is best to go to those sources as keys to our understanding of what agape love, the Golden Rule, can do for us and for our world. How does agape, love, bring about UUtopia, anyway?

The first clue comes straight from the horse’s mouth, Jesus himself, when we read in the bible that he is being asked by some tricky lawyers what the most important of all the laws and commandments are. This comes in Matthew chapter 22, and the story there is that Jesus has gathered a whole bunch of people around and is offering advice and answering questions on a whole number of topics, from whether or not to pay taxes, to whether or not all the people you were married to in life showed up as your husbands and wives in heaven, and so on.

The religious establishment of the day was testing Jesus to see if he was going to say anything blasphemous or particularly egregious, since he was an untrained newcomer acting as a teacher and leader of his people. At any rate, at the end of all this questioning, the religious leaders ask Jesus which of all the laws, all the commandments, of which there are so many, which of all of them is the most important?

And Jesus says this: “‘You shall love the Lord your God - [God being the name for the Source Of Life, which UUs call by many names] - you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments” – Jesus said - “hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

Two commandments that undergird everything else. Two commandments that mean more than any others: Love of God and love of neighbor, whether that neighbor is enemy or friend.

See, Jesus spent a lot of his ministry talking about the Kingdom of God. His plan was to bring it to life on earth, and the goal was to enlist everyone’s help in causing it to arrive. The mechanism by which the Kingdom would come is the one Jesus already outlined – you love the Source of Life with all your heart and your soul and your mind, and you love your neighbor as yourself. The Golden Rule.

But what IS the Kingdom, you might be asking, the Kingdom that you bring about using the Golden Rule? What was Jesus’ version of utopia, and can it really be that close to what a UU might consider utopia to be? In other words, what does what Jesus talked about have to do with the UUtopia WE might like to see here on earth?

Jesus’ version of utopia is actually not Christian; it’s Jewish. It is described in the Hebrew Scriptures, in the book of Isaiah. Listen to this vision of a peaceable, equitable Kingdom of God. This vision is set within the context of an oppressed agrarian culture in what would someday become Israel, and the person speaking is God, with a promise for a new Kingdom:
(Isaiah 65:17-25)
For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.
19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
or the cry of distress.
20 No more shall there be in it
an infant that lives but a few days,
or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;
for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,
and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.
21 They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
22 They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
23 They shall not labor in vain,
or bear children for calamity;
for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord—
and their descendants as well.
24 Before they call I will answer,
while they are yet speaking I will hear.
25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
but the serpent—its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain,
says the Lord.

If you ever want a piece of scripture to meditate upon, especially this month when we’re talking about UUtopia, I can’t recommend better than this passage from Isaiah 65. It paints a vivid picture of what peace looks like.

The takeaway line, the one you can bring home today, is the last one: “They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain.” Imagine a world where no one hurts or destroys, where no one is hurt or destroyed. A world where the Golden Rule rules. Where love rules. Where the study of war is ceased. A world of peace.

UUtopia, if you ask me.

Here’s an alternative vision of such a world ruled by peace, sent to me by a congregant, written by a Methodist minister, set in our day and age. Close your eyes for a minute, and imagine this scene:
"And the table will be wide.
And the welcome will be wide.
And the arms will open wide to gather us in.
And our hearts will open wide to receive.
And we will come as children who trust there is enough.
And we will come unhindered and free.
And we will open our hands to the
feast without shame.
And we will turn to each other without fear.
And we will give up our appetite for despair.
And we will taste and know of delight.
And we will become bread for a hungering world.
And we will become drink for those who thirst.
And the blessed will become the blessing.
And everywhere will be the feast." (Jan Richardson)

Imagine this place, this table, for a minute.

Isn’t this what we long for, in our heart of hearts, a place where we belong, where we are fed, where our hurt and our damage isn’t important anymore, where what is balm for us transforms in us into balm for others?

This is the Kingdom of God, the Beloved Community, UUtopia. And all we need to get there is love, agape love, as shown, essentially, through the Golden Rule.

So, it’s obviously so easy, right? All you need is love. It’s easy to teach, for sure. There’s a very old story in the Talmud about the young sceptic who went to the wise Rabbi Hillel with a challenge. The sceptic was what my mom would call a smart aleck, and he told the Rabbi he would become a student if the rabbi would teach him the whole of the Torah, the whole of Hebrew scripture, while the kid stood on one foot. Other teachers had chased this kid off, but Rabbi Hillel took the challenge. Hillel simply said, "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor: that is the whole Torah; all the rest of it is commentary; go and learn." (Talmud, Shabbat 31a)

The whole of the Torah: What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. All you have to do is love God and love your neighbor; on this hang all the law and the prophets. All you need is love to make the Kingdom of God, a UUtopia – it’s so easy. Just use the Golden Rule. You’d think the Kingdom would be alive and well amongst us right now. Where is that wide table that gives the bread for the hungering world, since it’s so simple? Where is the Beloved Community of which King spoke?

Today’s theme song is “All You Need is Love” – and that’s true, all you need IS love. But my next sermon’s theme song is “Love Stinks” – because that’s also true. If this Golden Rule is so easy, why don’t we see it being lived out more often? What if we don’t even know how to treat ourselves, and so we’ve got no guide on how to treat others? What if the commonalities between us and others just seem invisible? And by the way, weren’t those Scripture passages written thousands upon thousands of years ago? If this Kingdom of God stuff was going to happen, wouldn’t we be seeing it by now?

The Golden Rule is easy to teach, but extraordinarily difficult to learn. It takes the work of a lifetime to understand and implement it. It’s incredibly easy to fall off the path, even when we have the best of intentions. It really is the most impossible, easy challenge that any group of holy people scattered across time and culture ever put in front of us.

And yet, despite its difficulty, despite our failures, there the lesson remains. All you need is love to make UUtopia. The question is, how do you make it happen? How do WE, we UUs who want to know what a truly just world looks like, how do WE make it happen?

There are some ideas on how to help UUtopia along in the theme packet this month, which you can find on the website. And we’ll talk more in two weeks about the sort of things that get in the way of love, the sorts of things that need to be overcome before we can hope to bring about the Kingdom of God.

May the path before us seem clear, even when it also seems difficult. Amen.