Homily for Sunday, May 5, 2018
“While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word.”
“Just as the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.”
I am a fan—and as of this moment an out-of-the-closet fan—of the New York Times’ “Modern Love” column, which I read every Sunday. A year ago January, one Betsy Verecky, now in Nashua, New Hampshire, but at the time living in Brooklyn, chronicled her crush on the hipster owner of a local bakery. In her essay, “Boy, What a Fabulous Baker” [Jan 20, 2017], Verecky tells of her first visit to the bakery where she was smitten, not only by the baker’s friendly manner and muscular forearms, but by his bread:
After I asked him what they had, he began to talk about the bread. I grew up in a blue-collar Ohio town where bread comes in two flavors: white and brown. I couldn’t keep up with all the details he provided about grains.
I’m not shy, but being around him made me feel as if I were underwater. I kept my eyes focused on the loaves in front of me and finally asked which bread he preferred.
“Ohhh,” he said, hesitating. “That’s like picking a favorite child.”
He picked up a sharp knife and, like Zorro, sliced off a generous piece, handing it to me. My crush was born.
Soon, all her friends knew of the crush: “How’s it going with baker boy?” they would ask. “I love this guy for you!” They suggested she ask him out. She spent weeks visiting the bakery, trying to screw up the courage to ask him on a date. Finally, just before her lease expired and she was set to move to another neighborhood—(now she finds the courage!)—Verecky goes to the shop one last time, approached the counter… “…took a deep breath and said, ‘Do you want to hang out sometime?’ Relief set in as soon as I heard the sound of my own words,” she said, “so much so that I wished I had just done it sooner.”
He stared at me, flustered and confused.
“We could talk about bread or something,” I added.
At that, his face softened. “I’d be up for that,” he said. “Do you have a card?”
I pulled one from my wallet and slid it across the counter.
“I’ll text you,” he said […]
Later that day […] I found myself […] watching my phone, waiting for a text. Friends said he had several days.
It never occurred to me that he might not text at all […]
Which is what happened. Reflecting on her experience of this final exchange with her “Baker Boy,” Verecky writes:
What I had somehow missed in my middle-school nervousness is that the grandness of my gesture was known to me alone. He had no idea. All he knew was some girl had asked if he wanted to hang out and talk about bread.
One day passed, then two. After a week, I checked the bakery’s Instagram account to see if he was still alive. He was. All I had been getting was really good customer service. That, and a lesson in love.
The verbs used in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles to describe how the Holy Spirit works are “fell” and “pour:”
While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles.
These verbs—“fell” and “pour”—suggest that with God there are no half-measures; God is one who “falls upon” and “pours out,” who goes all-out. And so, when God invites us into deeper relationship—something God always does—God is clear. In all God’s communications with us—in the scriptures, in the sacraments, in the world around us, in the depths of our being, through others—God is clear that God doesn’t just want to “talk about bread or something;” God wants a relationship. With us. As excited as Betsy Verecky was about her “Baker Boy,” from what we can tell in the scriptures and sacraments, God is even more excited about us. As much energy and time as Verecky spent on her crush, from what we can tell, God spends even more time and energy thinking about us! God wants to be with us, wants to better know us; God hopes that we’ll be attracted to and see something in God that we like; God hopes that we’ll give God a chance. God yearns for us and hopes that maybe God’s love will be returned.
And, yes, with God, it’s all about love. “Just as the Father has loved me, so I have loved you,” says Jesus in today’s Gospel lesson. And, “This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you.” This love of Jesus for us is at once “modern” (like the Times) and ancient. Ancient: “No one has greater love than this, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” which Jesus did 2,000 years ago. And modern, because as Julian of Norwich writes, Jesus would yet die for us again: “For love of me [he is] willing to die times without number… His goodness would always make him willing to do so.” God is always clear that, with us, God wants our hearts; God wants relationship. God wants us!
As clear and direct as God is in God’s invitation, the catch is we don’t always clearly hear. It may take years for us to hear God telling us how much God loves us. We often find it difficult to believe that God loves us, or even that we are loveable at all. And so, God’s invitation often goes unheeded and unmet.
The Eucharist is our weekly “school” for learning God’s love. We come here weekly to have our hearts kneaded, as it were, to increase our capacity for love and for hearing—and believing!—how God loves us. Hopefully, over time, we will better hear how God loves us, how God has chosen us, how God is appointing us to go and bear fruit. Hopefully, over time, we will more fully allow ourselves to truly believe God’s invitation.
I invite us today to come back next week. And to come back the week after that. And then the following week after that. I invite us to come here week by week to learn to hear—in the scriptures, in the sacrament, in the gathered community—Christ’s love poured out for us. For in all that he does, Jesus is clear: Jesus has chosen us. He wants to be in relationship with us. He loves us. And while it’s true that, “I love this guy for you!” it’s even more true to say, “He loves you for you!” And invites you to abide in his love. And he is appointing you to go and bear fruit.