This I Command You: Love One Another:Sixth Sunday of Easter 5/10/2015

What’s love got to do with it, dear Tina Turner? “Everything!” is the answer in the readings for this Sunday and throughout the eight weeks of Easter during which we celebrate the risen Christ and the ways in which Christ remains with us.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  who, like Jesus, gave up his life for his friends, struggled with applying the gospel message of radical love and inclusion to our social and political structural context in America. In 1967 he said: . “…we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing‐oriented” society to a “person‐oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and propertyrights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered… True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice, which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth… A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual
death.” —“Beyond Vietnam” (April 1967)

The first reading is from the book of Acts about the growth and struggles of the early church,struggles about exclusion and inclusion that are like ours today.  In Acts 10:25-48 we learn that despite the wishes of the early church to keep God for themselves and their small group, after a vision showing him that nothing (and no one) is impure when God makes them clean, and experiencing the righteous life of caring for the poor and prayer of the Centurion Cornelius, Peter instructs them: “I begin to see how true it is that God shows no partiality-rather, that any person of any nationality who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to God”(verses 34-35). And so, in the recent words of Pope Francis:”Who are we to judge?” When the Jewish Christians saw the compassionate actions of Cornelius and saw that the Holy Spirit equally visited Cornelius and his friends, they were open to Peter’s conclusion that all can be baptized. How awful it is, then that we can cite time after time that baptism was refused by a priest of the Roman Catholic Church (and I’m sure of other Christian faiths as well) to the children of gays, divorced, “intermarried”, or couples cohabiting and to these adults themselves as well. See, for example, https://newwaysministryblog.wordpress.com/2015/03/28/religious-superiors-call-for-rethinking-about-gay-couples-cardinal-burke-calls-them-murderers/ . Moreover, some also deny baptism and other sacraments to those who are not members of a certain parish. All of this is about exclusion and is the stark opposite of what Jesus asked of us. Clearly the texts of this day tell us that there is but one criteria of being right with God: that we love one another.

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From the earliest years on we need to learn love, especially when people are different than we are. We have one Haitian boy,Jerry, that has been with us for a few years. One of our other boys constantly taunts him with remarks like: “Your people eat dogs, do voodoo and speak mumbojumbo”. We have addressed this as it happened and it is better, but not gone yet! Finally in the group I had Jerry share how the remarks made him feel. He looked up and said one word: “hurt’, adding “It’s not funny to me”.  Finally the other boy heard him.

Another example is acceptance across the racial divides. Fort Myers’ schools were not integrated until 1969. Most neighborhoods and most churches still remain segregated. School “balance” was achieved through a desegregation busing law but when that law reached its legal limit about two years ago it is no longer in force.     Our smaller kids are more able to cross the divides than the older ones. Sometimes the older kids reach out to one another but often they do not. It is our task to help remove these divides now or “integration” really has not happened and probably will not happen for them. Similarly we work on acceptance for our members with mental illness, mental challenges and those who may be gay or bisexual. With young people we work against ugly name calling, but with adults we work for full inclusion.

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A few weeks ago some new children joined our Sunday school. One handsome little boy had long dreadlocks. One of our little girls,also African-American, said he was ugly because of his raggedy hair. (She also used stronger terms). We needed to take her aside and teach her about love and acceptance. The next week all of the children were eating and playing together and the incident was over. I commented to the boy that the little girl had learned something important, He said with remarkable honesty: ” I learned too- I said something mean back to her last week and now I won’t do that”.  This same 6 year old corrected a 13 year old boy who was sassing his teacher: “That is not the way we speak to adults”. Wow! He is a welcome addition.

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The Epistle of 1 John 4:7-10 says: “Beloved, let us love one another….You who do not love have known nothing of God ,for God is love“.  Selah-pause and take that in. How blessed we are to have and know our God of love. Yet, what a struggle it can be for each of us to love as God does, as Jesus did. Jesus was full of surprises in who he embraced and loved-he included the social and political outcasts of the time and those who the strict religionists of his time saw as sinners- “impure”,unclean and outside of God’s love. Indeed, for Jesus, no one was outside of God’s love. We note in 1 John 4:10 that it was God who reached out to us, embraced us and gave all for us-God showed us how to love. We can take no credit for it, other than doing what we are asked to do: to love one another as God has loved us.

In the Gospel (John 15: 9-17) Jesus asks us to “live on in my love. and you will live on in my love if you keep my commandments”: “Love one another as I have loved you”. Jesus also calls us friends. How wonderful to have friendship with God through Christ. We pray to truly call each other friends. Recently I asked our Tuesday group members to write down the three things that empowered them most in their lives.  Most included “Friends” “community” ” church fellowship” and relationships as the source of empowerment. Carter Heyward and Mary Hunt, both feminist theologians, see friendship as a paradigm for our relationship with God. Bernard Cooke sees it as sacramental.    In John 15:17 loving one another is turned into a crystal clear commandment:”This command I give you:  Love one another”.   We are a work in progress. Real growth in love is hard to achieve. Let us pray for the grace to know what love means in our everyday lives,as a society, and as a church.  

AMEN! 

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