Recently I read a book about several boys who ran away from a Native American boarding school during The Great Depression. The boys, on the run, found themselves in one of the many Hoovervilles – settlements of homeless people often called “hobos” who lived along railway lines – some riding the rails from place to place. These were people who generally had nothing, did whatever they could to earn something to eat for the day, and cooked over open fires at their shanty dwellings.
The boys were fortunate to meet a kind family camping in a Hooverville. All members of the family, the father, mother, grandmother, and children sought work during the day so they could eat in the evening. It was incredible that the family was willing to share what they had with the runaways.
What was masterful, however, was a scene in which the father had earned some money by working in the fields. The family was relieved and jubilant when he brought the money home. They had dinner and even some loose change to spare. However, a little later, at bedtime, they started looking for the father who was nowhere to be found. In the past he had been known to drink away the money they had, so they feared he had gone to town to get something to drink.
They all knew that a large part of the reason their family was in their desperate situation was that the head of the household had a drinking problem. First, they lost the farm, and now they faced starvation daily. The boys were indignant for the family and angered at what they saw happening to them. They focused their resentment on the missing father who was depriving his family of what little they had in the world. Inwardly, the boys were furious out of their concern for the little family who had been so good to them. They waited and watched for what would happen.
The next morning, Father still missing, Mom stirred something in the pot over the fire – trying to cobble a breakfast together. She was silent. She didn’t say a word. The boys weren’t sure how to understand the usually friendly woman’s behavior. At the height of their tension, the man returned to camp looking disheveled, his hair and face a dirty mess, and with each step he dragged the toes of his shoes on the ground as he reluctantly came to face the family. He couldn’t look at any of them and kept his eyes downcast. Ahamed, guilty, and hungover, he took a seat on a log beside the fire.
At that, his wife stopped stirring the pot, went over to sit down next to him, and held him in her arms. This incredible woman was full of sympathy for her husband. She did not let fear and frustration put out her impulse to love. She told him softly how sorry she was that he had given in to his weakness. She knew he suffered. He was a broken and unreformed man; yet, she showed him only compassion and acceptance. His personal condemnation was complete. Adding her own to his burden would accomplish nothing.
In her act of love and mercy she kept the family together, held the broken man at the edge of the abyss, and showed the boys – who had been punished savagely for their mistakes – what love really was.
This is not advice about dealing with a person who suffers with addiction. This is a full-color image of what it means to give in to the impulse to love.
That is what we find connecting our scripture readings today: the theme of love. Deep love. Agape love.
If you have been following along with our readings the last several weeks, you may not feel inclined to look on King David with much sympathy. He has been selfish, adulterous, and murderous. In the reading today, Samuel tells us that he was suddenly struck by the news that his son was killed in battle. “The king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept; and as he went, he said, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”
The most profound love gives rise to joy – as in a parent’s love for a child – profound love also has the power to render profound and painful grief. It was as if David had been mortally wounded when he heard Absalom’s fate. He loved his son. He was a broken man.
By the pen of Paul we hear poetic proverbs about love which he sent to the small church community in Ephesus. They had become judgmental and competitive with one another. They were divided by disagreement and turned away from their bonds with one another.
Paul wrote: “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
Love is a verb. Love does things. It gets up and takes action. It does not sit idly by.
This reminds me vividly of the response one woman (of my church in Virginia) had when she saw on television the suffering of people on the coast of Mississippi after hurricane Catrina. She was compelled to act. She rallied our congregation, gathered donations, loaded everything into her car and a U-Haul trailer, and stayed on the coast working with others also driven by love.
Jesus is our ultimate example of love, showing us how to turn to one another in compassion and understanding given rise by the impulse to love. He came to show and share the love of God, and ultimately, to give his life that we might understand the love God has for us. It is a love too deep for sighing, or words. It is endless compassion.
Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves… It is written in the prophets: ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ … Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life… This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
Having been taught by God, and being fed by the living bread, let nothing, not pride, fear, disappointment, envy, hatred, or the coronavirus, impede your impulse to love. Let nothing get in the way of your impulse to love, for as Christ has shown us: love is greater than life itself.
The Rev. Dawn M. Frankfurt
Aug. 8, 2021
St. James Episcopal Church, Wichita, KS