When we read our Bibles which have been translated to English, we often lose much of the poetry of the original language. The ancient Hebrew and Greek words have been translated and re-translated by scholars and scribes who have worked hard trying to get us as close to an understanding of the original meaning as possible. Unfortunately, it’s just not always possible and we miss out on some of the delicate intricacies of the old words.
One example is the word “love.” Fortunately, we see the word love throughout the New Testament. It is a central theme to Jesus’ teaching and his followers continue to speak about love as they document his ministry and ponder its meaning. However, when we read the word “love” in English, it may actually be any one of a few differentGreek words. In the Ancient Greek, all of these words were used for love but each had a more nuanced definition. For instance, philia means an affectionate love or friendship as between family members where eros is a more passionate, sensual love that one might feel for a dating partner or spouse.
The word I’d like to focus on this morning is agape. When the New Testament writers spoke of agape, they were talking about a deep, affectionate love. This is the love that Paul discusses in First Corinthians when he says “love is patient and kind, not envious or arrogant.” This is the sacrificial love that led Jesus to cross as he attempted to show us the error of our ways and to teach us that we are all capable of loving one another from the depths of our souls, just as God love us. This is the love with which we are invited to the Communion feast at God’s table.
We are called to this Agape feast as God’s children. And as we sit across the table from one another, we are invited to see God in the eyes of our dining companions. God calls us to this table with a deep, soul filling love and we are called to share with others these gifts of bread and cup and of extravagant love. [pause]
God’s agape love is not only available to us one Sunday morning out of the month. It is present for us at every meal we eat, at every table we share, at every meeting and every conversation. That can be a difficult call for us to answer. It’s not always easy to accept God’s love and it is often even harder to share.
In two days we will (gratefully) come to the end of the election season. As we have found ourselves face to face with others with who we disagree politically, we may have struggled to share God’s agape. Political arguments may have hindered us from entering into or maintaining a relationship based in God’s love. Many of us may have had difficulty even sitting at the table of a colleague or friend or family member who we know will almost definitely check different boxes that we will on Tuesday.
The election season has been nasty with members of all parties and no parties attacking and ridiculing their fellow children of God because they disagree. The comments seem to get nastier and more personal as time goes on. And unfortunately, they will probably not cease simply because the election is over.
However, in the midst of all the partisan bickering and insults, we were blessed with a quick glimmer of hope this week. As the effects of Hurricane Sandy quickly became evident in New Jersey and the surrounding area, President Obama and New Jersey’s governor Chris Christie – two men who are no strangers to party politics – put aside their differences and worked side by side because they saw that people needed their help. Faced with the devastation and loss of life, they recognized each other’s humanity and saw Christ in the eyes of families who lost everything. So they put aside their political differences and they worked side by side to begin putting the pieces back together.
Lynne Guhman, a Boston area resident has also found a way to demonstrate a powerful love for God’s children. Back in January of 2000, Lynne took a vacation from her investment management job and headed to India. While she was there, she witnessed the poverty and the suffering of many people. Lynne was especially moved by the fate of the children who had been orphaned or abandoned by families who could no longer care for them. She came home, quit her job and returned to India to live and work at an orphanage. As she worked with the children she recognized the need for schooling and medical care for the growing population of children with HIV and AIDS. In 2003, she launched an organization that she called “Agape” dedicated to caring for those children.
Through your donations to Memorial Congregational Church, we are able to support Agape International by sponsoring a child. For a few years now, we have been sponsoring Swathi. Swathi is a teenager now who has done well in her schooling and has been able to have doctors care for her needs and manage her HIV positive status. Every so often, we’ve received letters from Swathi and our children in Sunday School and our summer program have written letters to her so she knows that we are thinking of her.
The love that God has given us, the love that is evident in the work and teaching of Jesus Christ, that agape love moves through this congregation by way of the Holy Spirit. We gather at Christ’s table in the spirit of agape and we share this meal with our neighbors in the pews and with Swathi half a world away. That love can permeate our every thought and every action. As we head towards a contentious and bitter election day maybe we can dig down deep, open our hearts up to the Holy Spirit, listening to the ancient words of scripture and maybe, just maybe, we can learn to share God’s agape even with someone who votes differently than we do.