Saturday, August 19, 2017

Speak Love

Speak Love                                              Matthew 15:10-20

Bicentennial Chapel, Ft. Gordon, GA. 20 August 2017

I am deeply troubled by the events in Charlottesville last week.  I will not wax political, but I cannot ignore what happened.  A young woman, Heather Heyer, died and several people were injured. This is a tragedy. MS Heyer was with a group protesting a group who were protesting the removal of a statue of General Robert E. Lee.  Those in the group against the removal of the statue had a permit to gather at that park for the purpose of protesting the removal of the statue.  Some in that group used the occasion instead to promote their White Supremacist agenda.  That is what the counter-protesters were protesting—the White Supremacist agenda.  Racism is a sin. White-Supremacy is evil. 

It is not illegal to have racist beliefs.  It is not illegal to speak about racist beliefs.  However, just because something is legal does not necessarily mean it is ethical, moral, or Godly.  I heard a speech given by MS Heyer’s mother the other day. She said, “I’d rather have my child, but if I have to give her up, then by golly we’re going to make it count.”  If the Church, the body of Christ, will refuse to participate in hate, and speak love instead; then we can be a part of making that dream come true. 

Racism is not a new problem, and it is not only an American problem.  Racism has been around for a long time.  The tragedy at Charlottesville is just the latest exposure of the truth—left to our own sinful selfishness we human beings tend to focus inward and seek the comfort of gathering with people very much like us without regard for those who may look, sound, think, or worship differently. We can do better. We can be better. We must speak love.

This week, I have seen this famous quote from Martin Niemöller several times:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

This is a very eloquent way of saying, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. The problem is racism, the solution is love. 

Christians must speak love. This is the third week of our focus on love.  Chaplain Hudgins talked about loving one another, CH Sprecher talked about loving our enemies, and today I say “Speak Love.”

Have you heard the old axiom, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me?”  Well, that is a lie.  A well-intentioned lie to help people get past the hurtful things others say, but a lie nonetheless.  Words do hurt. They can do lasting damage.  Jesus’ brother James said it best in his letter, “no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so.”[1] In our reading from Matthew 15 this morning Jesus teaches how important it is to be mindful of what we say.

In verses 1-9 of Mtt 15, Jesus is in Gennesaret, and encounters some Pharisees and Scribes from Jerusalem—some fired up religious leaders from the center of the Jewish Universe. These folks are experts in the laws and traditions of Judaism, and it has come to their attention that Jesus’ Disciples have not been paying attention to detail when it comes to the traditional ways of ensuring one is ritually clean before eating. Jesus responds by pointing out their inconsistencies and condemns them by quoting the prophet Isaiah: “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’”[2]

Jesus is not advocating for eating with dirty hands, that is gross! Jesus takes this as an opportunity to teach a deep truth that they had missed. Somehow, sometime way back, God’s chosen people got off track a little and now instead of following God, they were wrapped around the axel about following rules. Jesus turns the confrontation with the Pharisees into a teaching opportunity for His disciples. He emphasizes the priority of the heart over external matters, such as handwashing and ritual purity. Jesus' parable raises questions about the understanding of where the boundaries of God's mercies are to be located. Traditional ways of locating what is unclean or outside are called into question as Jesus calls for a new understanding and a new heart as the origin and center of God's ways among us. Yesterday’s lunch is gone forever. Jesus asks, “Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?”[3] It is a crude image. The sewer has carried away any mistakes we may have made by putting into our body things that the dietary laws call unclean. However, the careless words, the evil, the lies, and the fornication continue to be harmful. Our words and actions have the power to defile and hurt, and the pain of those choices is not washed down the sewer like yesterday’s lunch.[4] For Jesus, harmful actions toward others express one’s character and are defiling.

 Matthew is continuing the theme laid out in “The Sermon on the Mount,” where Jesus began his powerful challenge of tradition. Jesus points out that outward tradition and ritual are empty without an inward transformation.  Jesus is asking “do you want to know what is truly motivating someone?”, “pay attention to the message they are proclaiming through their words, actions, and inaction.” I see a call to introspection here. What conclusions can be drawn from my words, actions, and inaction in the face of the evil, injustice, hurt, and loss of this world? And a call to action: Speak love.

What is the greatest commandment? (Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength…and love your neighbor as yourself[5]). We need to be oriented toward God. If the Bible has a Big Dipper, this is it: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but has eternal life." But there's more to the Christian life than just believing. Just as the Big Dipper points us to true north, John 3:16 points us to the much less commonly recited 1 John 3:16: "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” The journey of awakening is the Spirit empowered, hard fought movement of John 3:16 to 1 John 3:16.[6]

God is love. Therefore, we are called, we are commissioned, we are commanded to reflect God’s nature back to God, and out into the world around us. Church, we must speak love.  Not hate. Not evil intentions. Not murder. Not adultery. Not fornication. Not theft. Not false witness. Not slander. Have you watched the news and been on social media in the last week?  Think through the things Jesus listed, have we not heard or seen most of those things. People I love and respect have added to the hate recently. As a society, we have frayed nerves. We need healing, and we, Church, are called to be instruments of that healing.  We are called to speak love.

If racists wish to spew their own brand of degrading nonsense, that is a price we pay for life in a relatively free society. Christians, however, should speak up in opposition when they encounter ideas inconsistent with the value that God has assigned to human beings–all human beings. We must speak love. We must challenge these ideas. We must drag them into the court of public opinion and make our best case that there is a more excellent way. We must find our voices, unashamed of the truth of the Gospel. And we must do so with dignity, integrity, and intellectual rigor.

Society is very caught up in tribal language—in labeling people. Republican, Democrat, Conservative, Evangelical, Liberal, Traditional, Progressive…, but to be honest, those designations are not very important to me. I don’t care about being conservative, evangelical, Republican, or anything else like that. My identity is in Christ. I want to follow Jesus, and I want to have the courage to go wherever that takes me.

In light of all the divisiveness of late, James 4:17 “Anyone who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it commits sin” is weighing on me. We must speak love. It is important that people speak up to articulate clearly that the views of racist groups do not reflect our values as Americans nor as Christians. Our nation's founding documents note that “all [people] are created equal,” and the Bible is clear that all humanity are children of God, and, as we learned as children, “red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight.” It is particularly important to those who are in the majority population – to those who are Anglo – that we speak up when someone in a minority population is being harassed or threatened, whether by torches and marches, or inappropriate jokes or other comments. Scripture calls us to “speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves.” That includes those in minority populations when faced with bigotry or activities meant to instill fear.

We need to speak love with our words and actions. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. articulated six principles of non-violence that were pivotal in bringing about change in our country. Here they are as found in the article on non-violence in the King Encyclopedia hosted by Stanford University:

                First, one can resist evil without resorting to violence.

                Second, nonviolence seeks to win the ‘‘friendship and understanding’’ of the opponent, not to humiliate him (King, Stride, 84).

                Third, evil itself, not the people committing evil acts, should be opposed.

                Fourth, those committed to nonviolence must be willing to suffer without retaliation as suffering itself can be redemptive.

                Fifth, nonviolent resistance avoids ‘‘external physical violence’’ and ‘‘internal violence of spirit’’ as well: ‘‘The nonviolent resister not only refuses to shoot his opponent but he also refuses to hate him’’ (King, Stride, 85). The resister should be motivated by love in the sense of the Greek word agape, which means ‘‘understanding,’’ or ‘‘redeeming good will for all men’’ (King, Stride, 86).

                The sixth principle is that the nonviolent resister must have a ‘‘deep faith in the future,’’ stemming from the conviction that ‘‘the universe is on the side of justice’’ (King, Stride, 88)

The problem is sin, the solution is love.  Racism is sin. Purity and faithfulness are shown ultimately by how we, the Church—the Body of Christ, speak and live out the radical hospitality and love of Christ[7] in order to stand against the evil of our sin-sick world. God is love. Therefore, we are called, we are commissioned, we are commanded to reflect God’s nature back to God, and out into the world around us. Church, we must speak love.  Not hate. Not evil intentions. Not murder. Not adultery. Not fornication. Not theft. Not false witness. Not slander.

Our world is sick with sin like racism, but..

There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole,
there is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul.
2 If you can't preach like Peter, if you can't pray like Paul,
just tell the love of Jesus, and say He died for all. [Refrain]

We must speak love in word and deed.

Christians   Must   Speak   Love. Amen.

[1] James 3:9-10. NRSV
[2] Isaiah 29:13
[3] Matthew 15:17 NRSV
[4] Bartlett, David L.; Taylor, Barbara Brown. Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 3: Pentecost and Season after Pentecost 1 (Propers 3-16) (Feasting on the Word: Year A volume) (Kindle Locations 12086-12090). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.
[5] Matthew 22:36-40
[6] JD Walt
[7] Bartlett, David L.; Taylor, Barbara Brown. Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 3: Pentecost and Season after Pentecost 1 (Propers 3-16) (Feasting on the Word: Year A volume) (Kindle Locations 12016-12017). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.