5-3-15 Life-Changing Love

It’s been such a beautiful week – especially yesterday at the zoo with all those young people. You could hardly ask for a more perfect day. Cathy and I went for a walk in our neighborhood yesterday and took this picture. (All the pictures in today’s service were taken yesterday, either on that walk or at the zoo.) It’s been so lovely that it’s been a little hard to pay attention to the difficult events in Baltimore, the demonstrations, the anger, and the arrests. Tuesday night I was riveted to the news stations, appalled to see the looting and burning of a CVS store. I’m sure many of us have been captured by this ongoing story that says so much about our society, about how hard it is to move toward a new, more just society that we would all hope for. Our assigned reading today, continuing in the beautiful reflections on love in I John, hold out a vision for us. I would like us to listen to these words with our hearts open to what God can do for us and for our world.

I John 4:7-21 Beloved, let us love one another because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten of God and has knowledge of God. Those who do not love have known nothing of God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed in our midst in this way: by sending the Only Begotten into the world, that we might have faith through the Anointed One. Love, then, consists in this: not that we have loved God, but that God has loved us and has sent the Only Begotten to be an offering for our sins. Beloved, if God has loved us so, we must have the same love for one another. No one has ever seen God, yet if we love one another, God dwells in us, and God’s love is brought to perfection in us. The way we know that we remain in God and God in us is that we have been given the Spirit. We have seen for ourselves and can testify that God has sent the Only Begotten as Savior of the world. When any acknowledge that Jesus is the Only Begotten, God dwells in them and they in God. Love will come to perfection in us when we can face the day of judgment without fear—because our relation to this world is just like Christ’s.

There is no fear in love, for perfect love drives out fear.  To fear is to expect punishment, and anyone who is afraid is still imperfect in love. We love because God first loved us. If you say you love God but hate your sister or brother, you are a liar.   For you cannot love God, whom you have not seen, if you hate your neighbor, whom you have seen. If we love God, we should love our sisters and brothers as well; we have this commandment from God.

May 3, 2015

Inspired to Care: Life-Changing Love

We love because God first loved us. We love because God’s love changed our lives. (Y’all agree with me about that don’t you? We love because God first loved us. I want to start out with something we can all agree on.) We can trust I John though. The writer of this letter of I John had powerful insight into the workings of that love of God. This morning, for just a few minutes, I’d like us to think about those insights and what they might have to teach us as we try to take in what happened in Baltimore this week. It’s really important that we open the eyes of our hearts to take in what’s been happening.

It would seem from much of what the news showed us that what happened in Baltimore this week was a riot, looting, people out of control, the burning of a CVS, a pharmacy built to serve a neighborhood that really needed that kind of service and now doesn’t have it. This has happened before. In fact, just in the last few months there have been a number of incidents that have caused an outpouring of anger and distress. The anger and distress seems to be building.

I was on a phone call with some Philadelphia pastors on Thursday evening who said that Philadelphia could easily erupt into the same kind of demonstrations and violence that we saw in Baltimore if one more incident of police abuse happens here. In fact you might have seen that there was a big demonstration on Thursday evening called “Philadelphia is Baltimore” where a lot of people were trying to make that point.

This is a scary thought. And what does our scripture reading this morning tell us about being scared? It says, “There is no fear in love, for perfect love drives out fear.” So what we are aiming to do as we respond to these scary thoughts and actions is to live into the perfect love of God that drives out our fear.

Let me suggest to you that if we look with eyes of love instead of eyes of fear we will notice a few things. We’ll notice first of all that people are angry for a reason. That’s pretty obvious, but we have to notice that the reason is not just that Freddie Gray was killed in a police van by police driving wildly around town and breaking his neck, but more importantly that that is not an isolated or maybe even an uncommon occurrence.

We would like the young people of Baltimore to respect authority and to respond in non-violent ways, and I would certainly advise that if I could, but I don’t have any say or authority over that response because I am not one of the ones who gets thrown into a van and driven around town to break my neck.

We might want a different response, a non-violent response, but the important thing to notice is that there has been that kind of response happening already. Are we part of that response? Are we part of that movement for racial and economic justice, that movement of love and concern? We need to notice that that non-violent response was happening even in Baltimore this week!

Did you see what happened the night after that violence in Baltimore? I was deeply moved by the lines of people standing linked together in a line in between the lines of police and the young people of the community to keep each side from violence against the other, to defuse the tension and to make sure there would not be a repeat of the night before.

Evidently there are gangs in Baltimore, gangs literally called the Bloods and the Crips, that have wars with each other. (I used to hear about gangs a long time ago in Philly that ended, but there is a lot I can’t see, so I’m not sure how it is now.) These gangs in Baltimore have now called a truce with each other to join together against the violence going on in their community. This is a wonderful & amazing thing.

I would be really like to talk more after service with anyone who would like to talk more about what happened and about our response, particularly about why we have trouble paying attention until something violent happens, what it would take for us to pay attention to the violence of a system that incarcerates a large percentage of African American men and allows & promotes such economic disparity that it’s a wonder that there is not more violence out of the despair and hopelessness.

For now, I just want us to notice that God’s love has not just changed our lives. God’s love has changed lots and lots of lives, none more profoundly than those who were linking arms in the streets of Baltimore on Wednesday night, placing themselves in between the defensive police and the angry youth. We could learn a lot about God’s life-changing love from those folks. We could learn a lot about God’s life-changing love from people like that, putting their lives on the line to protect the young people of their community, to protect the police of their community even when they too were angry and distressed about the killing of Freddie Gray.

As we come to the communion table today, may we hear that message of love, the message that John puts like this: “Love, then, consists in this: not that we have loved God, but that God has loved us and has sent the Only Begotten to be an offering for our sins.” On this beautiful weekend, may we appreciate God’s love in the blooming world around us and also in the blooming of love in places we have trouble seeing it. May we live out the life-changing love of God which has been given to us, offered to us in abundance.

Communion hymn   92 For the Beauty of the Earth