“Fall in love with God, stay in love, and it will decide everything.” This past summer, the Killeen family embarked on our first college tour. One of the schools that we visited was Holy Cross, a Jesuit college up in Worchester, Massachusetts. During the tour, when I should have been listening to our guide talk about teacher-student ratios and studying abroad, I found myself Googling a saint of the church who was new to me.
Outside the science building at Holy Cross is a bronze statue of Pedro Arrupe. The artist sculpted Arrupe humbly kneeling in prayer, a serene expression on his face. It’s appropriate that Arrupe’s statue was outside the science building, as he trained to become a doctor before becoming a Jesuit priest.
Arrupe was born in the Basque region of Spain. As a young man, he studied medicine in Madrid. His life changed direction when he and his sisters made a pilgrimage to Lourdes, the French shrine to which people come from around the world to be healed. He witnessed miraculous healings at Lourdes, and that experience drew him to a religious vocation. After his ordination to the priesthood, Arrupe was sent as a missionary to Japan.
There, his faith was put to the test. At one point, suspected of espionage, he was imprisoned for a month during the season of Advent. On Christmas Eve, he heard noise outside his cell, and he assumed that it was his executioners coming to take him away. Instead, it was a group of Christians who had visited him, at great risk to themselves, to sing Christmas carols.
The true test came later, in August of 1945, when Arrupe and his fellow Jesuits lived on a hill on the outskirts of Hiroshima. On the morning of August 6, Arrupe was talking with one of his fellow Jesuits when the blast knocked him to the ground. Blinded by the unreal light, ears ringing, he got up and looked down on a city engulfed in fire. Survivors of the atomic bombing soon began to arrive at the Jesuit house, and Arrupe immediately put his medical training to work. For six months, the home became a makeshift hospital where the people of Hiroshima were cared for with compassion.
You might think that Arrupe’s life experiences would have hardened his heart and made him cynical about God and human nature, but the opposite was true. The violence and suffering he witnessed opened his heart to become even more gentle and joyful.
He would go on to lead the worldwide Jesuit order through the exciting but tumultuous years of Vatican II, when he often found himself trying to mediate between reformers and conservatives. He ended up making no one happy, and yet, through it all, he shone with God’s love.
He is known for a simple prayer that goes like this: “Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in Love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.”
Arrupe knew that as human beings we are hard-wired to fall in love. The problem is that we so often fall in love with everything but God. We fall for power and prestige, money and possessions, knowledge and security, to name just a few of the idols to which we bow.
Which brings us to our readings, beginning with Job. The main theological question asked in Job is whether or not you and I will love and praise God even if there is nothing in it for us. You’ve heard of the prosperity Gospel. The Book of Job is the austerity Gospel that wonders if we will still love God even when we’re stripped of power and prestige, money and possessions, knowledge and security.
In the beginning of Job, we learn that this leading citizen has it made in the shade. Plenty of money in the bank, beautiful homes, a loving wife, all of his children, like the children in Lake Wobegon, are above average. And here’s the thing: Job has come by his wealth and success in life honestly. No accounting tricks or offshore accounts. He is a good and ethical man who loves his family and community.
But then he loses everything in a day. A Cat 5 hurricane roars in and strips him of everything that he has worked for, everything that he has loved in this world. His family perishes. His home is reduced to rubble. His body is racked with disease and pain. And just at the time he needs God most . . . silence. Utter silence, utter absence for 37 chapters of Scripture.
We can’t hear this reading and not think of our brothers and sisters west of us. These are God’s people who have lost loved ones, whose homes have been reduced to rubble, who are re-building their lives piece-by-piece. Like Job, they have been stripped of everything but gratitude. That’s the amazing thing when you listen to those recovering from the hurricane: they’ll tell you that they are so thankful to God for their life, for the kindness of others, for love.
In today’s reading, God finally break’s God’s silence. And you know what? God is anything but warm and fuzzy. Instead, God speaks from the storm, out of the whirlwind and tells Job to man-up, to gird up his loins, to step back and see the world from God’s perspective.
God wonders: “Were you there when I created the world, when I first poured the foundations and made sure the walls were level? Were you there when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings sang with joy?”
Here’s what’s happening: God is inviting Job to fall in love in a quite absolute, final way, to enter into a relationship that will decide everything. With this cosmic language, God is seizing his imagination, a move that will affect everything. It will decide what will make Job get out of bed in the morning, what he will do with his evenings, how he will spend his weekends, what he reads, whom he knows, what breaks his heart, and what amazes him with joy and gratitude.
Fall in love with God, stay in love, and it will decide everything.
Jesus’ disciples arrive at the same truth today, and like Job, they arrive at this truth the hard way. In the beginning of our reading, we witness James and John angling for power and prestige. Recall that Jesus nicknames these brothers the “Sons of Thunder.” They’re Sons of Thunder because they’re impulsive, reckless and ambitious to a fault. They know how the world works: nice guys finish last. You have to take care of yourself and look out for your own.
Fisherman by trade, they know that those who get up the earliest, work the hardest and guard their fishing waters with their lives do well. Life is a zero-sum game: there are only so many fish in the sea—you need to stake your claim or someone else will. When Jesus calls them to follow him, the Sons of Thunder are busy at work mending their nets.
Yet, they give it all up to follow Jesus, to become fishers of people and menders of our broken world. The only way that we can make sense of their decision is love. In Jesus, they meet a human being so fully alive, so filled with God’s love, that they are drawn by that light into his inner circle.
But as they journey with Jesus, they begin to fall back into old patterns, into other loves. They bow down to idols of their own making: little gods of power and prestige. They have hitched their wagon to a star who will free them from their Roman oppressors. Jesus will be a new King David, a political and military leader who will rule with strength and justice. And they will sit at his right and left hand in glory. A new administration is coming to town, and their cabinet positions are assured.
To which Jesus says: “Not so fast.” That’s not how God’s kingdom works. Remember what I said: I will go to Jerusalem, be arrested, die and on the third day be raised. You want to sit to my right and left, but soon, two criminals will be on my right and left as I hang on the cross. Is that what you signed up for? You see, in this world, greatness means command and control of others. That’s what the Romans do—they lead through intimidation. But in God’s kingdom, greatness comes through self-giving love.
Jesus is speaking to us out of the whirlwind, through all of the hurricanes of our world’s violence and hunger for power. In our readings today, Jesus is inviting us to fall in love with God in a quite absolute, final way.
For what we are in love with, what seizes our imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get us out of bed in the morning, what we do with our evenings, how we spend our weekends, what we read, whom we know, what breaks our hearts, and what amazes us with joy and gratitude.
This brings us back to Pedro Arrupe, who once was amazed with joy and gratitude in a very poor village in Latin America. After a Eucharist, one of the men in the congregation invited Arrupe to his home. With joy and a sense of urgency, he told the priest that he had a present for him there. They hurried and arrived just in time at the man’s home, which was literally falling over. One of the walls was broken and missing several bricks, which formed the perfect frame for the setting sun outside.
This was the man’s gift to Arrupe: a sunset that they could savor together in prayerful silence.
My brothers and sisters, God is finally and absolutely in love with you and all of creation. Fall in love with God, stay in love, and it will decide everything.
A sermon preached at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Tallahassee, FL on October 21, 2018.