Toughminded Love

Message for the Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year A (6/14/2020)

Romans 5:1-8

Matthew 9:35-10:23

“Hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

I wonder if this phrase from the apostle Paul isn’t as good a summary of faith as we’re likely to find in all of scripture. Where does our stubborn hope come from, after all? Why do we keep telling this incredible story of God with us, the rabbi Jesus, who meets us in our suffering and yet overcomes it, who urges us to join him in his ongoing work to heal and make new? It all has to originate somewhere; why not the very love of God, love that has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit’s initiative?

“Love is not just an affection,” writes Joseph Sittler. “It may indeed be true as Dante says when, reaching… for the foundational life of things, he talks of the love that holds the sun and all the other stars in heaven. Love may be the fundamental principle of the creation as well as that which makes human life possible.”[1] When we affirm that God is love,[2] it’s not a terribly great leap to suggest that love is also the manner in which God relates to the world: God creates and recreates in and through love, redeems what is lost in and through love, and sustains what is weary in and through love.

This is the significance of the incarnation, that the posture and actions of Jesus reflect God’s own heart: “He had compassion for the crowds, for they were harassed and helpless,” or more literally, “oppressed and thrown to the ground.”[3] Naturally, love incarnate responds to suffering and need with compassion, and acts decisively to heal and give life and cast out evil. These expressions of love are the fruit of God’s harvest, the harvest to which Christ calls us as laborers.

That God’s love has been poured into our hearts is a liberating word. It establishes our identity as beloved, an identity that can never be taken from us. But, divine love also “stretches [us] to live into that identity,” to borrow a phrase from David Lose.[4] “Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and [God’s] love is perfected in us.”[5] If God has filled our cups to overflowing, then our cups overflow to others, loved ones and strangers alike.

But, love is not naïve. When Jesus sends the twelve to proclaim the love of God come near, he recognizes the dangers: “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” Even as divine love grants us gentleness and grace, it also inspires astuteness and discernment. To be “wise as serpents” means to cultivate the capacity for honest and informed judgment. It is, according to Martin Luther King, Jr., to be “toughminded”:

“Who doubts that this toughness of mind is one of [humankind’s] greatest needs? Rarely do we find [those] who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is almost a universal quest for easy answers and half-baked truths.”

Of course, this phenomenon is at the root of racism:

[Excerpt from Strength to Love, pp.15-17]

These observations remain painfully relevant, even if some of the legal structures and emphases of the Civil Rights movement have changed.

What does it mean to be a laborer in God’s harvest in our context, to reap the fruit of God’s love in the United States in 2020? Friends, the answer lies in a toughminded assessment of our circumstances. We can’t be satisfied with racial platitudes and simplicities. We can’t suppress uncomfortable truths or ignore the testimony of our Black neighbors. To be sent by the living Christ for the sake of God’s reign, to partake in divine love come near, is to see and hear the ones who are “oppressed and thrown to the ground,” to resist the urge to disregard or discredit them, and to do the hard work of understanding and solidarity.

God has proven God’s love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. How shall we prove our love for one another, that God’s love might be made perfect in us?

[1] Grace Notes and Other Fragments, 106.

[2] 1 John 4:8, 16.

[3] Guy D. Nave Jr., in Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol. 3, 141.

[4] “Just Start,”

[5] 1 John 4:11-12.

[6] “A tough mind and a tender heart,” Strength to Love, 14-17.