May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father be with us in the name of his son, our risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; Amen.
Not long ago I talked about the fact that Jacob's Porch, our Lutheran Campus ministry at OSU, uses cleaver bumper stickers to not only tell the towing company who is allowed in their parking lot, but to also proclaim something about the theme for the school year in their worshiping community. There was Keep Church Weird and We Are All Beggars from years past; the newest sticker, from the year that just came to an end, said simply, “Assume Love.” I have had this sticker on my car for the better part of 9 months now without really knowing what is behind it.
I have thought about it – that Christians are called to assume that love will win the day, or that we are to be counter-cultural in not going along with the old adage that you are never to assume….because you know that that makes out of you and me.
I was pondering that bumper sticker as I read the texts for today, thinking especially how much the word, “love” is prominent in our second lesson and Gospel. I was wondering if it meant more to me that just a reminder of how to act toward that guy who just cut me off at the intersection of Henderson Road and Olentangy during rush-hour. I sent a message to Pastor Grant Eckhart to ask him exactly what was behind this bumper sticker, and indeed, the entire theme of the year, Assume Love.
Grant said that the theme focuses on the fact that the word, “assume” has three definitions: 1. To suppose something to be the case. 2. To take or to begin to have power or responsibility. 3. To take on or adopt something. Being intentionally ambiguous about which definition they intend to mean, these students recognize that the first definition is about relationships – we must assume that love exists between me and the other person. This is the one that I focused on, that we are to assume that the other person has good intentions in what they say or do. The second definition has a lot to do with handling or seizing the power and responsibility that love brings. The third one is a call to take love up – to don it, assume it, begin the actions of loving, the position of loving. According to Pastor Grant, the first definition is a mood, attitude or framework for life, the second is the call or moral tone that we take on, and the third is the word, “love” becoming flesh in our lives, especially as Jesus lived it out on the cross. From a cross-centered perspective, to love means to ascribe inestimable worth and value to the other person in any relationship in a way that it costs you something; the opposite of which is ascribing worth and value to yourself in a way that another bears the cost.
I think that the phrase, “Assume Love” is another way of saying some of the things that the author of our second lesson as well as Jesus is saying when they both talk about abiding in God's love, obeying God's commandments and loving our brothers and sisters. As we abide in God's love, we suppose it to be the case that God's love is unconditional, and God has good intentions for us because of this love. Supposing that to be the case, we take on the responsibility of loving God in return, of responding to that love with worship, respect and joy! And in doing this, we put on, take on and don love toward our brothers and sisters just as Jesus took on love when he went to the cross. Love, in this way, is much more than an emotion or feeling; love is a way of life, dedicated toward the ones who God has called us to be in relationship with. Those three things – God loves us, Obey God's Commandments, love God's children – form a circular chain where each aspect is so permanently connect to the others that one cannot help but live make love a part of one's every relationship. The command to obey is not, as the second lesson claims, burdensome or heavy because it is so closely related to God's love and our love for each other. Assume love is the mantra of everyone who seeks to live in peace with family, friends, neighbors, friends and even enemies.
I am a fan of the television show, “The Big Bang Theory.” On the most recent episode two of the major characters, nerdy scientist Leonard and his attractive fiancée Penny, were being questioned by Leonard's roommate, Sheldon, about when they were going to set a date. Caught up in the moment, Leonard and Penny decided to get married that very day – to drive to Las Vegas and tie the knot. In the car on the way, Penny talked about how excited she was, and that this was going to be a brand new start to their relationship as they committed themselves to each other. Leonard got a little nervous, and said that in order for him to have a new start, he had to confess something. When he was on a ship in the North Sea for a research project a year or so earlier, one night he and one of the women on the ship ended up kissing. When things were about to go further, Leonard put a stop to it because of his love for Penny, but he still felt guilty for having broken her confidence in this way. After he spoke, you could see a look on Penny's face of concern and disappointment. The wheels were turning about what she should do: she genuinely loves this guy and has been through so much with him, but she was also hurt by what he did. Leonard asked her if he should turn the car around. She said no – you could see a look of relief on his face as she firmly explained to him that from here on out the only things his lips should touch are food and her lips. He promised that would be the case. When he said something about this being the happiest day of their life, her response (obviously still hurt over it) was, “don't push it!”
I admired the way that the episode played out. Like many viewers, I am invested into both of these lovable characters and want to see their relationship succeed. But they are flawed, imperfect like all of us. When Leonard confesses his sin to Penny, the things that they have been through have strengthened their love from being predominantly based on attraction and emotion, to being based upon commitment and devotion. I have no idea what will be next for them, but I hope that the writers continue to portray them as two people who have truly decided to “Assume Love” for each other.
Love is strengthened by living with each other, interacting with each other, enduring things with each other. We assume love as we remember how we are first loved by God and called to live that same love out with each other. As people in our country celebrate Mother's Day today, we cannot help but think of our mothers as the people that assumed love when they bore their children. More than just a superficial emotion, the love that our mothers showed to us were, in many ways, the physical manifestation of God's love when we first started having memories and experiences. Although they are or were flawed, human beings like all of us, they helped us to not only understand but to experience love in a close, intimate way.
Yesterday we said goodbye to our Christian sister, Gloria Krause. In her tribute, Gloria's daughter, Joan, mentioned that her brother Rocky said that they should just remember the good times. It seems to me that when love begins to become a burden it is when people stop remembering the good times and start to focus on the negatives, the challenges and the disappointments. Thankfully, God does not do that with us; God continues to love and forgive us daily. As we seek to follow God's commandment to love one another, may we see it as a matter of assuming love! Let us learn from our students at Jacob's Porch, and may we grow in our love through committing ourselves to each other every day. May it be so, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord; Amen.