Here we are in week 2 of this sermon series, “I Want a New Life!” The idea is that resurrection sounds great in the abstract, on Easter Sunday, when the flowers are blooming and everyone’s all dressed up. We sing, “Jesus Christ is Risen Today,” and gather Easter eggs, and eat brunch – and then what? Sometimes it’s hard to see resurrection in our own experience, especially when life seems to bear down on us far more than bear us up. So this series is about where we might look to find the new life Jesus has begun. Last week’s sermon was about giving up control to find peace. This week, the topic is love and what we might do to get our hearts refilled.
Now, maybe your heart’s just fine. If so, you can spend the next 10 minutes giving thanks for that. But I think many of us might find ourselves running a little low on love. Maybe it’s a matter of being tapped out. Maybe your life is so busy, so demanding, that you feel like someone’s always asking you for something. You come to the point when you want to say, “Wait a minute! I need to feel valued. I need to know I matter, not just that I’m productive.”
Or maybe your deficit of love comes from a problem at the other end of the spectrum. Maybe it seems no one needs you anymore. Friends and family aren’t around; interactions are relatively few. Life just seems to plod along. You come to the point when you want to say, “Wait a minute! I need to feel valued. I need to know I matter not just because of who I used to be, but because of who I am right now.”
Well, I want to tell you about a friend of mine, a friend I never imagined having. He is Fr. Colbert Estil, our partner priest in Haiti. I want to tell you about Colbert because I think he has something to show us about finding love.
Colbert has the most demanding life of any priest I know. He oversees one of the largest Episcopal parishes in the southern part of Haiti, St. Sauveur. That would be a challenging life by itself. But in Haiti, the Church works differently than in the States, and congregations share priests much more than happens here. So Colbert also oversees 10 other smaller churches. On top of that, he’s ministering in a place with a level of material need that’s hard for us even to comprehend, not to mention the spiritual and emotional needs that all people have. On top of that, each of his churches also has an elementary school, so there are those balls to juggle. Add to that trying to have some semblance of a personal life. Colbert and his wife, Monese, have four kids, including a son who’s one month old.
Then, on top of all that, you have to know about a particular stumbling block Colbert faces. If you’ve been here when Colbert has come to visit, then you know: He stutters. A preacher who stutters. As if his job weren’t hard enough….
I can only imagine Colbert’s level of stress. No, scratch that. I can’t begin to imagine Colbert’s level of stress. Talk about someone who might want a new life! If I were Colbert, I’m pretty sure I'd be feeling low on love. Who’s ministering to him? How is his heart filled after being drained and drained and drained?
So what does Colbert do in the midst of this life where he’s expected to be so many things to so many people? He goes and plants a church. He was here last weekend, and Colbert told the story of his call to ministry in southern Haiti, leaving his work as an accountant in order to be a priest. He said that, when he was ordained, he promised God that if he were sent to the south, where the Episcopal Church isn’t as widespread, he would plant churches. So he’s done that in Jérémie, a city 45 miles away from his home in Les Cayes. It used to be a six-hour drive to Jérémie, Colbert says. Now, with a graded road, that 45-mile drive up and down the mountains only takes three hours. But still – just to get there and back is a six-hour investment of time.
Why am I telling you all this? It’s not to hold up Colbert as Superpriest and beat myself up because I can’t do everything he does. I’m telling you this because Colbert’s heart is fueled by the power of resurrection. Like nobody else I know, Colbert reveals the joy of someone who knows he is truly loved. Sure, he’s tired, and his life is deeply challenging. But he knows the love of God filling his heart. And in every encounter you have with him, you feel that love, too.
Where does it come from? Was he just born with a huge capacity for storing up God’s love, like a camel trekking across the desert without needing a drink of water? Maybe. But I think Colbert also shows us what Jesus is trying to show the disciples in today’s Gospel reading.
As is so often true, it helps to know what comes just before the passage we heard today. Jesus and the disciples are at the Last Supper. Jesus takes a basin and a towel, and he washes the feet of his friends. He says, “If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14). Then a few minutes later, he explains why, as we heard this morning: “I give you a new commandment,” Jesus says, “that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (14:34-35)
The mystery here is the deep mystery that permeates our faith, the paradox you find all through our Scripture and tradition: that we find love by giving love away. The emptier your tank feels, the more you need to empty it for someone else. Why? Because in doing so, God fills you with an unexpected peace that surpasses understanding, an impossible love that empowers you to love more.
When we feel empty, it’s time to give ourselves away. When our lives overwhelm us, it’s time to go to Haiti, at least in spirit (maybe in person, too). When we’re drained, it’s time to take a meal to someone whose life is turned upside down, or write a note to someone who’s alone, or go serve lunch at the Kansas City Community Kitchen. When we have nothing left to give, it’s time to come to the Fools for Christ’s Sake Dinner tonight and remember how filling a child’s belly can fill your own heart, too.
When we share from God’s blessings, we see God’s blessings. When we give love, we find love. When we shine Christ’s light into the darkness that presses down upon us – showing the world what it means to be Jesus’ disciple – we also remind ourselves of the mystery that keeps us going when logic says we should quit: That it’s in giving that we receive; it’s in loving that we are loved; and it’s in dying that we are born to eternal life.