Morning Worship: All of us can take up our mat and walk

“God’s love is loose in the world and lurks in a world that needs to go negative,” said the Rev. Otis Moss III at the 9:15 a.m. Thursday morning devotional service.  His topic was “Radical Love” and the Scripture was John 5:1-9.

“Neighbor, oh Neighbor, God is calling us to live radical love,” he said. “Love is loose in the world. It is a powerful concept that has taken a thousand years to conceive. It has consumed the poetic mind.”

Moss described a story often told by preacher and theologian Fred Craddock, which tells the tale of a Christmas with Craddock’s family in rural Tennessee. His father was an alcoholic who had moments of sobriety. A few days before Christmas, the parents gathered the children together to tell them there would be no presents and no food for the holiday. The parents wanted the children to prepare themselves.

When Craddock got up Christmas morning and went downstairs, there were presents everywhere and a feast on the table. He never asked how the miracle occurred. When he was a teenager he was talking to his father and noticed that he was missing some teeth. His father had pulled out the gold teeth from his mouth and sold them so the children would have Christmas.

“When you see the holes in his mouth, you see the power of love,” Moss said. “When you see the holes in [Jesus’] hands, you see the power of love so that the next generation will be fed. Love is loose in the world.”

Moss’ sister read to him from work by Maya Angelou and Zora Neale Hurston. He later realized “that this was the syllabus for Morehouse [College].” Moss attended Morehouse College and his sister was giving him a “head start.”

God’s love is radical by nature. It is not sentimental, it is married to justice, he said. Love without justice is sentimentality and justice without love is naked brutality. Love and justice together become radical love.

“Jesus was always encountering people with no requirement of discipleship,” Moss said. “He did not demand that they follow him. Jesus would look at them and say, ‘I love you so much I want to enter into your life.’ ”

Jesus was dialoguing with people, and those conversations changed lives. The man at the pool in John had been there for 38 years. People were brought to the pool and hoped they could get in after an angel stirred the waters so they could be healed.

“The man’s friends brought him to the pool; they brought him to the edge of healing but did not push him to the next level,” Moss said. “His friends did not even come back to check on him. There is nothing worse than seeing healing but [knowing] you can’t get there.

“And there is nothing worse than church folk who go through a different door so they don’t have to step over humanity in pain. Church folk should not be shielded from pain; it should motivate them to transform the moment.”

When one is satisfied and desensitized, one is living in hell.

“I think hell is a cold place,” Moss said. “Like the former planet Pluto, there is light but no heat. We are so far from God that we can see light but never feel heat. We have to move closer to the orbit of the Son.”

How does one move closer to God? he asked. It happens when one looks at the pain of humanity and one’s heart breaks for someone else.

“It creates a calling in you,” Moss said.

Jesus was on his way to a feast and stopped when he saw someone in need. He walked up to the man and asked him if he wanted to be healed. The man did not answer Jesus’ question but complained about how rude the people were who got into the pool ahead of him.

“That was not the question Jesus asked,” Moss said. “The man loved his victim status. It was difficult for him to see himself as a hero and rewrite his script.”

Moss told a story about his son, Elijah, who writes his own comic books. Moss once asked him, “Do you know you are the hero [of these comics]?” Elijah replied, “I know, Dad, I wrote it.”

“If we want to write our own story,” Moss said, “we have to control the ending.”

The radical nature of Jesus’ love was such that he healed the man without his permission. He did not ask to be healed, yet Jesus responded to his situation by seeing him as better than he was at that point. Love sees one into the future.

“Jesus enters into radical love and tells him to do something he had never done — stand up,” Moss said. “It was a power the man did not realize he had. Then Jesus told him to take up his mat and walk.”

The mat was the symbol of his past and his pain, Moss said. Jesus told him to take it with him to show people that he had been healed.

“We want to hide our mat, but all God’s children have a mat,” Moss said. “Jesus says don’t hide it, let everyone know, ‘I have some mats but I can stand on my own feet and walk.’ ”

Moss then recited the first verse from the old hymn, “Love Lifted Me”:

“I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore,/ Very deeply stained within, sinking to rise no more,/ But the Master of the sea, heard my despairing cry,/ From the waters lifted me, now safe am I./ Love lifted me! Love Lifted me!/ When nothing else could help/ Love lifted me!”

“Love has the power that this country needs,” Moss said. “We need a love story that says no one is too dirty to be cleaned, too sinful to be saved. Take love and justice together, for God’s sake,” he said.

The Rev. George Wirth presided. Maddison Williams from the International Order of The King’s Daughters and Sons Scholarship Program read the Scripture. She is from Calera, Okla., and studies political science at Southeastern Oklahoma State University. Jared Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music, led the choir.

Joe Musser, pianist, and Barbara Hois, flutist, played “Andante Pastoral et Scherzettino” by Paul Taffanel. The Motet Choir sang an arrangement of “America the Beautiful” by Mark Hayes. At the beginning of the piece, the Rev. Moss read the first lines of the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream.”

The Geraldine M. and Frank E. McElree Chaplaincy and the William Jackson Fund for Religious Initiatives provide support for this week’s chaplain.