RCL – May 13, 2012 – Sixth Sunday of Easter
Acts 10: 44-48
1 John 5: 1-6
Sometimes the Holy Spirit has a very odd sense of humor. Earlier this week before looking at the lectionary readings, I told my spouse that I was not going to make this post about North Carolina and marriage equality. Then things happened. There was the story of Sean Harris who essentially told his congregation to beat the gay out of their children which sent ripples of horror through many people – conservative and progressive alike. This was followed by Joe Biden’s public statement that he is “comfortable with” gay marriage which raised questions about Obama’s views on the subject. Then North Carolina made their dreadful choice. And today, we have Obama stating that he believes in marriage equality. So when I read the lectionary in the midst of these events, I had to laugh.
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
There isn’t much of this going on in many of our churches, or so it seems. Before I say more, I have to confess that I do not understand prejudice and even less do I understand it when it claims biblical support. Never in my life did it occur to me to judge someone as somehow less (less human, less worthy, less deserving…) based on skin color, ethnicity, country of origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, intellectual ability, or any number of other factors beyond a person’s ability to control. Of course, I have judged people and misjudged individual people but not whole groups of people. It does not make any sense to me to dismiss an individual or a group they are as God intended them to be. Lest you think I am naive or have lived under a rock, I assure you that I’ve witnessed the expression of intense prejudice countless times. Moreover, I have been the victim of it as well – inside the church and out of it. Still, I do not understand it at all.
That being said, all of the readings for this week speak strongly against hatred and judgement. In Acts, Peter challenges the belief that Gentiles didn’t deserve the gift of the Holy Spirit. Psalm 98 is a call to honor and praise God for God’s work, and a not-so-subtle reminder that God will judge all peoples (implying that we probably should spend more time worshiping and working to God’s glory and less time judging others). 1 John echoes the message of the John text – to love God’s children is following God’s commandments. The gospel lesson says it all, really:
You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.
Jesus called his disciples his friends. He didn’t call them friends because they followed him around for three years and listened to him. The proof of his friendship was in the living out of his commandment to love the way he loved. This is a big deal and one that is often overlooked. I am not sure how many friends Jesus really has in this world. Where is the “proof” he asked for? We aren’t called just to love the people that are easy to love, or even the ones that stir compassion in us, but we are called to love all people.
On a personal note, I grew up with a deep and profound sense of unworthiness; I truly believed that I had no value – that I was not lovable. This perception of myself went deep enough that I didn’t believe that God loved me even though the church I grew up in was nothing but supportive and accepting of me. The short version of the long story is that it took me more than 40 years to change my self-understanding, a journey that I survived by the grace of God and some amazing people God put in my life. Why do I share this here? Because the absence of love – for ourselves and our neighbors – is life threatening. There is too much hatred out there. And too many people doing too little to make things change.
Yes, on the LGBTQI front, the world is changing. Even the president endorsed marriage equity. But this does not begin to combat the prejudice, the hatred, the dismissal of too many of God’s children. We can grieve over the choices of states like North Carolina. We can celebrate the president’s personal views made public. But where is the outcry on behalf of all the people who are dying to know that they are loved exactly the way they are, exactly as God made them?
Where is the proof that we are Jesus’ friends?
One last thing to ponder. Here is one of my favorite quotes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer:
Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness and pride of power and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear rather than too much. Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now. Christian should take a stronger stand in favor of the weak rather than considering first the possible right of the strong.
Friends, it is time to sing a new song, not just write the words…