Carla J. Bailey, Senior Pastor
May 3, 2009
I John 3:16-24
Early yesterday morning, Warren and I stood in line at a Dunkin Donuts before Saturday’s meeting of the Bangor Seminary Board of Trustees. Ahead of us was a family, clearly carrying out a regular Saturday morning ritual. The two boys, age maybe 12 and 14, were in softball uniforms. The parents were dressed in casual Saturday clothes. We started up a conversation while waiting for our bagels and coffee and learned that yesterday was the first game of the season, an away game, and they were on their way, fueled for the trip by Dunkin Donuts. It reminded me of some of the pleasures of spring – baseball games, the smell of turned earth and lilacs, naps on the porch on pillows that smell slightly mildewed and dusty from the winter’s storage. Simple pleasures, uncomplicated hours, nostalgia is filled with such simple, sweet moments. While I don’t generally long for days gone by, there are moments when, looking back, everything seemed easier and kinder and as unhurried and uncomplicated as a shared bag of donuts in the car on the way to a Saturday softball game. We have to shake ourselves out of such reverie, don’t we? “The woods are lovely, dark, and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, miles to go before I sleep” (Robert Frost, Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening”).
You’ve heard of Occam’s razor, the theory that the simplest explanation is usually the right one. Detectives use it to determine who’s the likeliest suspect. Physicians use it to determine the illness behind a set of symptoms. It’s used to slice through a problem or situation and eliminate unnecessary, distracting data. But what we call Occam’s razor is a little different than what its author actually wrote. There are two elements that are considered the basis of Occam’s razor: The Principle of Plurality - Plurality should not be posited without necessity, and The Principle of Parsimony - It is pointless to do with more what is accomplished with less. They came from one William of Ockham, a Franciscan monk who, in the 1300’s dedicated himself to a life of poverty, living with only what was absolutely necessary. William was most likely indebted to Aristotle for his theories however, which later merged to become Occam’s razor. It was Aristotle who wrote, “The more perfect a nature is, the fewer means it requires for its operation”. You could apply both William of Ockham and Aristotle’s principles to these words from the first letter of John, especially, the verse, “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?” How indeed?
The three letters of John, so similar in style and tone that many have attributed them to the writer of the gospel of John, simply and poetically describe the life of Christian discipleship. They warn congregations of the danger to community where love is not the central guiding principle. This theme is particularly strong in the first of the three letters, describing as inseparable religious experience and moral conduct. In other words, if we say we have had a religious experience, if we say we are religious, we are Christian, we are disciples of Jesus Christ, then we must also examine, critically, our moral conduct, our actions, our words. If we’re going to talk the talk, then we had better walk the walk. In a commentary from The New Interpreter’s Bible, Clifton Black describes the Christian obligation to love as a direct response to the fact that God first loved us. We are to love because we are loved. And because we are loved, we are to act, give, and speak, in love, always.
No one knows better than I how challenging this can be, especially when harmful, uninformed, and ill-considered things are being said, when selfish rationales are given for withholding the world’s goods from those in need, when language about patience and restraint and the need for longer deliberation is used to halt progress toward equal justice for every person. It is very difficult to let such sentiments go unchallenged, unrefuted, uncorrected, particularly when they sound so reasoned and well-motivated. That is always the difficulty, isn’t it? knowing when to correct, when to challenge, when to confront.
Back to Occam’s razor – the simplest explanation is usually the right one. God loves me, therefore I must be loving in return. God loves you, therefore I must love you, too. I must love everyone and everything God loves. And confrontational words are hardly ever loving words. And human needs for food and shelter and protection are hardly ever met with words. And the denial of full participation in the privileges of the majority is hardly ever met with patience and understanding. And hungry, suffering people do not feel loved while they are hungry, and while they suffer.
Does God love us? Bless us, we lucky, lucky souls, yes. And shall we love in return for that generous gift? Yes again. That’s the simple truth. Amen.