Love is Still the Answer
in which appears the insistent ghost of my father
The sermon where my dead father showed up halfway through and exploded a lightbulb over my head.
Sermon: Love is the Answer
Scripture: John 13:1-15; Psalm 139; 2 Corinthians 5:14-21
Date: August 27, 2023
© Rev. Jessica Star Rockers
Good morning everyone! This is the last in our speaker series on love, how has God’s love touched our lives, and I am honored to close this out with my testimony on love.
Einstein is here with me, as well as my scientist husband William, and we have crunched all the numbers, done all the experiments, thought rationally and irrationally and argued at length and we have come to the conclusion that love is the answer.
When I was in high school and searching for answers, I read a little book called Einstein for Beginners. It is a graphic novel of sorts written in 1979 about the history of the development of physics that led to Einstein’s discovery of E=MC2. My attempt to grasp Einstein’s theory of general relativity broke my brain, in a good way. At the time I was a Catholic. And I was trying to make sense of my experience of the holy and the sacred while also challenging the narrow interpretation of “holy and sacred” with which I had been raised.
If you know me than you know, I am still doing this! But I have made progress in the last thirty years. I think. To be honest, in my mystic quest I sometimes take more steps back than I take forward. But that’s ok. This is not a linear process, as Einstein himself would tell you. I do hold Einstein as a sacred text, not just his discoveries, but his imagination and his curiosity. And his questions.
Einstein himself tried to come up with a unified theory of everything but he wasn’t able to achieve this in his lifetime. He was taking notes up till the day he died. Physicists are still working on it. But Einstein established this as a goal. A unified theory of everything.
The trick is that one unified theory may not be possible. Instead, modern scientific thought points to interconnected theories, each describing their own version of reality. 1 Reality that is dependent on the mind of the perceiver. There is branch of physics called string theory, which you may have heard of, and they call this interconnected network of theories M-theory. No one seems to know what M stands for. Some people say it means Mystery, which I like, so we’ll go with that. The Mystery theory.
I love the Mystery theory. I think it perfectly describes my experience of my faith. There are all these different realities, and certain theories make sense in those realities. But it is only when they are put together, overlapping one on top of the other, that a unified theory presents itself. Love is the answer.
I hope I have painted this picture adequately for you. I am an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister. I am Catholic, in how I experience God, in my relationship to my ancestors and in my expression of faith in a lot of ways. I am a member of a United Church of Christ congregation whose community and whose worship resonates deeply with me. This is all part of my Mystery Theory of Faith, where Love is the unifying force.
And these days, more than ever, I am committed to Love as my ultimate theory of everything. And I want to explain why. So get your hankies out.
The scripture we read today begins with Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. And not just his disciples, but Judas, whose feet he washes while knowing Judas has betrayed him. This is the sort of love that I was taught growing up, a love we should aim for--to be that selfless and forgiving, to humble oneself to that degree—a Christ like love that is nearly impossible for humans. And I was socialized female in a deeply patriarchal religion, so for me that message was doubly so. I was sinful by nature, thanks to Eve, and so the stakes were even higher, and the expectations as well.
And I tried, when I was little. I really tried. I loved my dad, who was the head of our household and next in line to the priest who was next in line to God, you know how it goes. I knew my dad worked very hard. He was an electrician and he would work all day, on his feet, sometimes in the hot sun, and then after a full day at his job, he would work on my grandmother’s farm, doing all those chores. So he would leave our house in the morning before the sun came up and he wouldn’t get home until after it was dark. And he wore these giant, stiff boots, partly to protect his feet and his toes. And he would come home and collapse in his chair and I would kneel down and slowly unlace his boots and take off his shoes for him. As an expression of my love.
This reality of love sits alongside the reality that because he worked hard for me and my family, he was very tired and often very grumpy. And he drank too much. And he wasn’t always sober enough to be patient and kind. There are many reasons why I left Illinois and moved all the way out to an island in the Salish Sea. And his drinking was definitely one of them.
You see how these realities exist, how they overlap, how love is the only thing that makes sense of them. The only thing that resolves all of the questions.
In the Psalm that we sang we hear that we cannot escape from God. God is everywhere. In my youth, in my attempt to make sense of the contradictions of my life, my spiritual search led me inadvertently to escapism, and my own alcohol and drug addiction. In the madness of addiction there were so many times I cried out to the holy. At the time I believed I was pursuing God, and that I couldn’t find it. That I had been abandoned by the holy.
I no longer hold that perception of reality. Now when I look back, I see God everywhere. God pursuing me, God comforting me, and I was the one turning away. When I was in heaven, God was there. When I was in hell, God was there too. I was hemmed in by love. It was there even all that time. Even when I didn’t feel it. That’s the part that gets me. That’s the part of my theory of Love that defines my life. Love is there even when in one narrow reality, I don’t experience it.
And it was this realization of the nature of love--that it is so large we don’t even realize we are inside it because our perception is so narrow--this is why I got sober and pursued ministry. Because through it all God had searched me and knew my heart and accepted me just as I was. I wanted to learn how to offer this to others. And my learning to offer this sort of Love is what allowed me to show up wholly and completely as a loving presence for my dad when he was dying.
By that point I had made peace with the way that love had shown up in our lives. Maybe not always the way I had wished, all the painful and joyful realities overlapping. But it was there. His last words to me, his last words in this life, were ‘I love you.’ This from a man who didn’t always feel loved, didn’t experience it in his hard scrabble life, didn’t believe he was worthy of love, and certainly didn’t always know how to show it. In the end, it was all that was left.
When my dad was sick his feet became a real vulnerable point for him. They were hot, they were cold, we were always removing the bedcovers from his feet, putting the bedcovers back on. The nurses told us under no circumstances should we touch his feet. Which was hard for me. I just really wanted to console him that way. Wash his feet. It’s kind of eeww gross, I guess, but he was so vulnerable. I just wanted to care for him.
So I knit him a pair of socks. In the hospital, in the nursing facility, and finally when he came home on hospice, I sat by his bedside knitting him a pair of light wool green socks. When he died he took the socks with him.
What wondrous love is this? I can tell you that if I take one of my realities and separate it out from the others, this kind of love feels impossible. It’s beyond me. But when my dad died and I held all the overlapping truths, I experienced the mystery, the M-theory, where the only answer is love.
After my dad’s death my perception of life shifted. Healing is an insufficient term for an experience of holy reconciliation. I’m not even sure it was very healing. The love I have for my dad remains powerfully and sacredly unresolved in my heart. And I am reconciled to the mystery.
In our reading from Corinthians it says, when we live for Christ we don’t look on anyone in terms of human judgment, we become ambassadors for love and reconciliation. So often I feel like we move through our daily lives trying to apply sacred text to everyday moments. And in some ways, it works. I have a spiritual practice of trying to be aware of each persons’ humanity. So when I’m driving or at the grocery store or standing in line at the ferry, I try to remember each person is human and so am I, and I try to connect with that shared humanity. It is not easy. There are so many people everywhere and they are frustrating and they are all in my way.
And when I try to hold up this ideal, every moment, of connecting with everyone’s humanity all the time, I quickly become inauthentic. I start to put on a show, for God I guess, I don’t know.
I’m not saying it’s not a worthwhile practice. But it can be shallow in comparison to what I think our scripture is talking about. Which is love as a mysterious, unifying force. Love not as a performance of Christ-like behavior, but a truth that exists in every reality whether we feel it or not. Love that is so massive we are inside of it at all times. In order to understand the unifying nature of it, the real power of it, what it means to offer it to others, we take the deeply painful and the deeply miraculous, and the frustrating and shallow, and the messy and the synchronous and we overlap it all. Then we claim love as the unifying force in that space of honesty and vulnerability. We bring that with us wherever we go and offer it as the only thing we have. It is all we have. We don’t need to feel it every moment for it to be true. We need only to be aware that in some moments, in some realities, it is beyond our capacity to experience.
We reconcile ourselves to the mystery and trust that Love is the answer and we resolve to offer it to the best of our ability.
Because ultimately, in the chaotic universe that exists—or universes, of multiple realities and infinite perceptions and eleven dimensions (I didn’t even get into all the dimensions)—in all that chaos, Love is the only thing that, when tested, proves itself again and again. I promise you I have tried everything else. It’s the only theory that makes sense. At least, it’s the only one that has ever made sense to me.
And Einstein, obviously.