Preaching: Rebecca A. Henry
Date Presented: Sunday, July 10, 2016
Scripture Reference: I John 3:11-24, Luke 6:27-36
Sermon: All My Days: People to Love
I have to admit, I am feeling more and more at a loss. I feel more and more like I don’t know what to pray. It is feeling like such a struggle to even hope anymore when every week we are hearing more news of mass shootings and terrorism. There isn’t even enough time to forget the previous horror before something else happens. When I remembered the opening of today’s service, there was a bit of a cynical laugh to think, “Love is actually everywhere.” It sure doesn’t seem so as of late.
As much as it may seem tempting to just not read the paper or not listen to the news anymore, that is not the answer. All that does is avoid reality. It doesn’t change anything, but it makes us less aware of where our Christian witness is needed. It makes us less aware of why and how God’s heart is grieving, for while I in many ways feel at a loss about what to think or do, one thing that is clear to me:
THIS IS NOT WHAT GOD WANTS. It is clear in our scriptures today this not what God wants for us or from us. Rather, God is calling us to love, to love even our enemies, to put love into action, to show our love for God in the ways we love our brothers and sisters, those we like and those we hate.
We may disagree on whether we think homosexuality is a sin, but it is not okay to kill.
We may feel victimized by racism, always being judged or threatened for the color of our skin, but it is not okay to kill.
We may be feeling threatened by changed happening in our country, feeling like we are losing power and influence as demographics shift, but it is not okay to kill.
Rather we have to find ways to love another: to forgive, to be patient in the face of anger and ignorance, to make sacrifices so others can have more and have a chance to succeed, to listen rather than being so quick to judge.
Oh, I realize this is easy to say, and much, much harder to actually do. But nor does that make it all right for us to merely dismiss this command, saying we can’t possibly do what God is asking of us. We are seeing and hearing enough of that in angry politicians who hurl insults; leaders that act more like bullies than they are willing to compromise and work together to save the dignity of ALL people. Not just people who are like us, not just Americans, but ALL people. And until we do that, until we stop hiding behind our judgements, our inaction, we have no business calling ourselves disciples of Christ. Until we love ALL, until we act out of love, we have no right bearing the name Christian; “This is how we know what love is: Christ gave his life for us. We too, then, ought to give our lives for our brothers! If a rich person sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against his brother, how can he [how can we] claim that [we] love God?” (I John 3:16-17).
Yesterday morning Joe and I awake to find an editorial by Tony Evans in the Washington Post. In his writing Evans claims the violence we are seeing is evidence of the church’s failure, our failure, to extend God’s Kingdom of love and justice. He writes,
“Far too often, we have limited the definition of the Church. While not in all cases, in my cases, ‘church’ has become an information, inspirational weekly gathering rather than the group of people that God has ordained from heaven to operate on his behalf on Earth in order to bring heaven’s viewpoint into history. There needs to be a recalibrating of many of our churches to the unified purpose of the Kingdom of God.
“The church must move people from membership to discipleship. Just being members of the Church is not good enough anymore. We need visible, verbal followers of Jesus Christ who are public with their witness and trained how to do that. If the Church doesn’t train people to do that, then they have failed.
“Churches need to come together in their communities and do good works, such as adopting schools across the nation, that are visible so that people see the benefit of the Church in their community. The presence of God’s people in public is desperately needed right now for the good of the Church and the good of society, which we are called to serve.”
Tony Evans is echoing what we have heard in today’s reading. Love means we do something to change what is happening. It means love is the force behind all the decisions we make, our interactions with the community, our responses to tragedy and racial unrest. Love, not judgements, not fear, not hate, not greed, not self-preservation – LOVE is our motivation.
And God knows we need prayer, we need help, Divine help to truly love. We need this little prayer bead more than ever to pray for God’s guidance in how to love one another when we are so divided, so angry, when we keep hurting one another. Prayer for God’s help is where we have to start.
In the face of all the racial tension I find myself thinking back to the Civil Rights Movement and all that I learned and experienced in high school on the Freedom Tour. One thing that became so clear is how crucial prayer and worship were to the movement. It was in those moments they found the strength, the courage, the commitment to love, even their enemies, even when they were spat upon, even when people tried to kill them, even when they were beaten and had fire hoses and police dogs turned on them. Even then they responded, not with violence, but love.
So how do we love in the face of our turbulent and violent times? What must we do? First, we pray, and then we listen. We listen to the voices of the victims, voices of anger, voices of those who feel threatened, who are afraid. We need to hear their pain. Maybe we disagree with their ideas, their answers, but we need to hear the pain, the stories, the anger that is behind their ideas. That’s love, to care enough to value that person enough to hear and see their experiences, and then pray again. Pray for guidance in how to respond with love. Maybe the prayer is just to be open to even hear their stories, to hear and see what truth they have to offer. For the truth being affirmed in today’s scriptures is that ALL lives matter. Black lives matter. Gay lives matter. White lives matter. Muslim lives matter. Mexican, Syrian, Hmong, ALL lives matter, even the lives of our enemies.
In the last few days I keep thinking of a phrase from the Civil Rights Movement, “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.” “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Are you? Are we as church? Are we so sick and tired of these killings, this hatred that we are finally ready to move, to do something? Are we so sick and tired that we are ready to love even our enemies? For the truth is, the hard truth is, love is the ONLY way to end all this.
May it be so. Amen.