Learning and Relearning to love – May 3, 2015
United Church of Hyde Park, Chicago, IL
1 John 4:7-21
4:7 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.
4:8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.
4:9 God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.
4:10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.
4:11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.
4:12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.
4:13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.
4:14 And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world.
4:15 God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God.
4:16 So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.
4:17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world.
4:18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.
4:19 We love because he first loved us.
4:20 Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.
4:21 The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.
15:1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower.
15:2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.
15:3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you.
15:4 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.
15:5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.
15:6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.
15:7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
15:8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.
I am honored to be here and very grateful. Thank you for trusting me to be here. I believe this is a very difficult Sunday due to the events that occurred in Baltimore this week. I will be talking about it in my sermon today and I hope you can stay with me even if what I say does not fit with what you believe. Today my sermon is about love, how to learn and relearn how to love.
Our very worship service is nothing else but our offering of love to God. It is through
our common prayers, singing, eating and sharing the gospel that we offer our love to God. Here we learn together how to love God and one another. For there is no love to God if we don’t love each other. Here, every Sunday we gain direction, we correct our vision, we ask forgiveness and we forgive. Every Sunday we reconnect with the very source of life, and are empowered. Empower to live and to serve, empowered to love and do Christ’s mission in the world.
Our two texts for this morning, both the gospel of John and the letter of John talk about love and connectivity. When Jesus talks about the true vine, he is reminding us that we do have a source, a root, a deep connection with God, where our life comes from. It is from this connection that we are loved and can love. Our baptism reminds us that we were born in God’s love and the waters of our baptism drenches us into the fullness of life. As a brunch of this three we are connected through love and through love we inevitably bear fruits of love and kindness, justice and peace.
Jesus in this text is alerting us that if we lose this fundamental connection we die. Moreover, Jesus is saying that if we cannot bear fruits, we are pruned which means that we must go through life’s twists and twirls and learn how God continues to teach us to love and bear fruits. To be pruned is to learn and relearn how to love and love better.
And then we have the epistle of John that talks about love at length. He says (16-20):
So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world.
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us.
Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.
The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.
At the core of the Christian faith there love. Nothing is more fundamental to the Christian faith than love. There is no demand to believe properly but there is a call issued to us daily that we must love. Our lives, our faith is born in the love of God. And it is this love that gathers us every morning to honor God. It is this love that makes us give our money for this movement to continue! It is this love that shapes who we are and who we will become! This love is to be constantly learned and relearned.
That is why we need to look to the world every week and see what is going on so we can learn how to love better, how we can get better prepared to love the world the way that God loves the world. Most often, when we look to the world, what we see is a composition of tragedies, violence, destructions, exclusions and sadness.
This week we saw the tragedy in Nepal and Baltimore burning! And dues to that, we need to learn how to love this country, differently. Especially, we need to love the black people in Baltimore. They are literally saying: “stop killing us” and we are responding, well, yes but, look at your violence.
How can we love them when we have been bombarded in the news by thousand voices condemning the violence of black people vis-a-vis the black people, and we have almost no space for the voices of the oppressed, the afflicted and the disenfranchised?
How can we love the black people if we are so afraid of them? As if they are the ones destroying our lives and our cities?
In fact, our world is teaching us to fear and to hate black people, to blame them for the tragedies of this week. However, our mission is to do exactly the opposite, it is to learn to love and embrace them, breaking the systems that keep them in places of vulnerability and death. In this process of learning and relearning how to love, we cannot forget that racism in this country has a long history of 300 years and we, the people of God, instead of being defensive, we must say, yes we must assume we are somewhat a part of this racist system that excludes and kills so many people.
Please my brothers and sisters stay with me. I am not here accusing anyone of anything because I don’t even know you. But we all are imbricated in this system that favors a few and condemns the vast majority. We are all a part of this web of relations. The source of our common good have been poison by an economic system that has stolen the resources of people and made it all private for the exclusive enjoyment of very few. We the people are the branches of a system that has been cut off from the tree, which means, we have been fed by individualism, by policies that benefits the rich and create class divisions that poisons our common life. The result is what we saw in the stealing of black lives, the fruits of death, of exclusion, of racism.
My friends, the love that God calls us to be a light in the world and we must learn how to shine Jesus light in a world that is destitute of light. We are all called to live in love, peace and justice. And for that, we must learn how to love our black brothers and sisters in this country, including Baltimore and Chicago.
I have couple things to offer to you this morning as we try, together, to learn and relearn how to love this country and especially the black people of this nation.
How can we love our precious black brothers and sisters from Baltimore?
Before I say anything, let me reaffirm that what I am doing here is an attempt to learn together, how to love, a way to interpret the gospel in a community of love and faith. As I say it, please disregard anything that does not fit what you believe. Please remember that I am not attacking anybody here personally but just trying to help us engage in a conversation. After the worship you can tell me what you think. Please accept my words as an attempt to love you, and to love God and to love the world. So here are my suggestions:
First, we must be very suspicious of any news that does not come form the black community that are at the ground experiencing the pains and fears and sorrows of that life. They are the ones going through the breaking of the spine of Freddy Gray and the breaking of their own communities. We must listen to them first and foremost and not the news that distorts what is happening there!
Second, we must pause before condemning the violence of Black people on the streets. This violence might be misguided, might not be the best way to organize and to protest, but it is still a voice of the oppressed and we serve a God who is the God of the oppressed. Martin Luther King Jr. talked about Urban riots during his time and there is something fundamental we can learn with him. He said:
Urban riots must now be recognized as durable social phenomena. They may be deplored, but they are there and should be understood. Urban riots are a special form of violence. They are not insurrections. The rioters are not seeking to seize territory or to attain control of institutions. They are mainly intended to shock the white community. They are a distorted form of social protest. The looting which is their principal feature serves many functions. It enables the most enraged and deprived Negro to take hold of consumer goods with the ease the white man does by using his purse. Often the Negro does not even want what he takes; he wants the experience of taking. But most of all, alienated from society and knowing that this society cherishes property above people, he is shocking it by abusing property rights.
A profound judgment of today’s riots was expressed by Victor Hugo a century ago. He said, ‘If a soul is left in the darkness, sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but he who causes the darkness.’
The policymakers of the white society have caused the darkness; they create discrimination; they structured slums; and they perpetuate unemployment, ignorance and poverty. Let us say boldly that if the violations of law by the white man in the slums over the years were calculated and compared with the law-breaking of a few days of riots, the hardened criminal would be the white man. These are often difficult things to say but I have come to see more and more that it is necessary to utter the truth in order to deal with the great problems that we face in our society.
Let us learn how to reinterpret the riots we see on the streets from the perspective of the poor and not of the ones who hold power. As I said to my students this week: I’d rather be wrong with the poor than right with the powerful. And before we condemn the violence of black people let us instead condemn
* the police violence against black people;
* the political war against black people through the war on drugs and mass incarceration;
* the very conscious historical political moves to take away people’s rights,
* the ongoing economic measures that are strangling poor communities;
* the uses of law that criminalizes protests and protect the rich;
* the clear politics of “public security” of a oppressive state.
* the silence of white people against THIS kind of violence.
THIS is what needs to be criticized!
Let us not fall into the trap of the dominant and criticize the victims!
As Michelle Alexander says: “I say yes to peaceful protests, but no to blatant hypocrisy.”
Friends, we are deeply connected with one another. The demise of the black people is our demise. The death of black people is our death. And not only here but everywhere. In Brazil more than 10 black boys are killed daily. How can we love and act and believe this love in such a world of violence? We must engage with grassroots movements and listen to what is happened in the ground. Resist! Rest! Resist! And like God, have a preferential option for the poor. Always.
Under the effects of the events in Baltimore, we must relearn how to love. Concretely! Fundamentally! Let us use our voice against a racist system that is benefiting just a few and throwing into death the majority of people, poor people.
Let us not forget that “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” Let us not be afraid of saying we are all part of this system. Let us not be afraid of fighting it back. Let us not be afraid to love! Boldly! You are loved by God! boldly loved by God! Let this bold love empower you to fight for others.
And as we learn to love more and better, perhaps the first challenge to you this morning is to love the preacher and learn how to forgive him for such a terrible political sermon. Will you forgive me? My love to you all my good brothers and sisters.