Suffering from Anemic LOVE – Luke 6:27-38

As many of you know, one of my favorite ways of attempting to name the DIVINE comes from the fourth century Bishop Augustine of Hippo. Augustine’s trinitarian formulations describes the DIVINE Creator as the LOVER, Christ as the BELOVED, and the Holy Spirit as the LOVE that binds them together. LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE Herself! Remember that Spirit is feminine in both Hebrew and Latin. LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE Herself!

Now the trouble with words is that words let us down. Words are after all simply symbols pointing beyond themselves to something other than the words. Words are a way to make meaning and to share whatever meaning we make with one another. The trouble with words is that words tend to let us down when it comes to making meaning of our experiences of the DIVINE MYSTERY. Words simply aren’t capable of giving us more than a glimpse of the DIVINE MYSTERY that is the LOVE that we call GOD.

So, even though I’m particularly fond of Augustine’s attempt to describe the DIVINE MYSTERY as LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVER Herself, I realize that even this lovely, pardon the pun, even this lovely gathering of words gives us but a glimpse of the LOVE that we call GOD. Part of the problem is the word “love”. In these parts and in these times the word “love” has become rather wish-washy. I am a child of the 60’s when the word “love” appeared all over the place in stylized letters, with flowers; often daisies, incorporated into the O.  “PEACE, LOVE, and Rock ‘n roll,” “Looking for love and feeling groovy…”

In the decades since the sixties the flower-children have all grown up and the groovy part has faded. But from our comfortable positions of North American, upper-middle class privilege, we have a tendency to over-sentimentalize the world “love”. That’s why I had Pat read, Dr. King’s warnings about the kind of love that is sentimental and anemic. Anemic love is endemic these days. Anemic love is rampant in our culture, our politics, and sadly in our churches. LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE Herself is certainly NOT anemic love. The kind of love that Jesus taught in his sermon on the mount in the gospel according to Matthew, or in the sermon on the plain in today’s gospel from the anonymous-gospel-story teller that we call Luke.  Anemic love is simply not up to the task of empowering us to love our enemies. Anemic lovers aren’t capable of doing good to those who hate them, or blessing those who curse them, or praying for those who mistreat them. That kind of love, the kind of love that Jesus is talking about, the kind of love that Jesus taught with his very life and death, that kind of love is anything but anemic. That kind of love is powerful. In the words of Dr. King:

“Now, we’ve got to get this thing right. What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.”

Dr. King had that kind of love. I was just eleven years old, when Dr. King’s power was cut down.  I can still vividly remember the stunned emotions that poured out from the adults in my life when news of Dr. King’s assassination came over the radio. Dr. King was a hero of mine. I’d followed his quest for freedom and justice for his people and cheered him on from the safety of my living room. To this day, I’m convinced that it was Dr. King’s embodiment of the teachings of Jesus that inspired the curiosity in me that led me to first seek out my mother’s bible so that I could read for myself what it was that this Jesus actually taught. I never went to church as a kid. Most of what I knew about Jesus, I picked up by osmosis. Dr. King’s speeches mesmerized me.  But I was just a kid and it would take me decades to begin to grasp the magnitude of Dr. King’s non-violent resistance. Eventually, I would learn that Dr. King was mentored in non-violent resistance by the Reverend Doctor Howard Thurman, who intern was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi’s non-violent resistance overthrew what was at the time one the most powerful empire on the planet. Howard Thurman had traveled to India as early as 1935 where he met Gandhi whose commitment to ahimsa, the Hindu principle of refusing to do harm to any creatures, sent Thurman back to the gospels to discover anew Jesus’ commitment to non-violence. In 1949, Dr. Thurman wrote a little book that Dr. King carried with him throughout his struggles for civil rights. Thurman’s little book entitled, “Jesus and the Disinherited” revolutionized the civil rights movement.  In his book, Thurman reminds us that Jesus was a Jewish man and as a Jew he was a member of an oppressed race. Jesus was also poor. Jesus was a member of a race that was oppressed by the power of an Empire that had been established through violence, an Empire that maintained its power through violence and injustice perpetuated upon the poor oppressed. Thurman insisted that as a poor and oppressed man, Jesus new what it meant to suffer at the hands of the powerful. Jesus’ concern for justice was born out of his love for his sisters and brothers who like him were poor and oppressed. Jesus had absolutely no interest in being worshipped or believed in. Jesus wanted to be believed and followed. Jesus could preach good news to the poor because he was one of them. Jesus understood what it meant to preach release from captivity because Jesus and his people were captives. Jesus taught a radical form of non-violent resistance. Jesus’ commitment to non-violent resistant lead him to Jerusalem where he would confront the powers of empire. Jesus’ teachings continue to resonate with the poor and the oppressed where-ever people suffer from the abuses of empire; be they political, military, or commercial empires. Continue reading

Can anything good come from this shit-for-brains president?”

Martin Luther King Sunday – John 1:43-51 – Epiphany 2B

Audio only version here


“Can anything good come from Nazareth?” WOW! All over Christendom, where-ever the Revised Common Lectionary is used, preachers were busy preparing their sermons on this particular Gospel reading, when the most powerful man on the planet caused us all to hone in on these words: “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” I can assure you that the sermon that I had planned to preach this morning, was nothing like the sermon, I am compelled to preach. Dr. Martin Luther King is quoted as saying that “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

I must confess that I was not exactly articulate when I first heard the hate filled comments of the man whose name sticks in my throat. For the sake of decency, I shall not quote my own reaction, which can be expressed with the letters W T F followed by a question mark. But decency does not come easily to the current president of the United States. Watching this sorry excuse for a man, sign a proclamation declaring Martin Luther King Jr. Day, brought tears to my eyes for all the wrong reasons.   The hatred expressed on Thursday by a president who holds the futures of so many hopeful immigrants in his hands makes it clear that Dr. King’s dream is not yet realized.

Yes, many of us have come a long way. Some of us can still see Dr. King’s vision. Some of us have lived that dream. But we all received a real slap in the face that ought to wake us up to the reality that we have a long way to go before Dr. King’s vision can be embodied by all those who seek justice and freedom from poverty. Slapped in the face by a man who has ridden his own racism to the pinnacle of political power, we must awaken our sensibilities to the positions of privilege that we enjoy as a result of the legacy of tribalism that continues to enslave our world in systems of abuse that perpetuate fear; fear the enemy of compassion, fear the enemy of justice, fear that leads to hatred; hatred that divides us from one another and robs us of our humanity.   

“Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Indeed, how can anything good come from Nazareth? The soon to be disciple of Jesus, asked a question born out of the very tribalism that continues to haunt us. In Jesus’ day, Nazareth was what number 45 would call a “shit-hole”.  Nazareth, where Jesus was from, was located in Galilee, a hick-town in the Roman occupied backwater of Judea. Judea was characterized by its Roman occupiers as a real shit-hole, and Nazareth was a hot-bed of radical terrorists bent on overthrowing the established order. Nothing but trouble came from Nazareth. Nothing and nobody from Nazareth could be trusted.

“Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Nazareth, a shit-hole of a town, in the back of beyond. The last thing anyone in Jerusalem needs is a bunch of Nazareans coming into town to stir up a whole lot of trouble. The juxtaposition of this particular Gospel reading with the comments made in the White House on Thursday is tragic in and of itself. But add the memory of Dr. King to this horrendous outpouring of hatred and perhaps we might, just might, be able to shed some light on the darkness that has descended upon our world. Dr. King insisted that, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.

Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” And while it is so very easy to hate the spewer of racist venom who wields more power than anyone else on the planet, Donald J. Trump is also our brother and we, my dear sisters and brothers, we are called to love even this sorry excuse for a human being. And while it is so very tempting to respond to his venom by asking, “Can anything good come from this shit-for-brains president?” two wrongs won’t make it right. As easy as it is to assume that Trump is beneath contempt, my hatred of Trump will not shed the kind of light that drives out hate, only love can do that.

So, how do I learn to love Donald J. Trump? I confess that a big part of me doesn’t want to learn to love this despicable excuse for a man. But bear with me for just a moment as I try to explore some things that Mr. Trump and I share; indeed, some things that I suspect we all share with Mr. Trump.

Let’s begin with the disciple Nathanael’s question:  “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” I suspect that each of us have asked a similar question at some point in our lives. As a child, I lived in Belfast, Northern Ireland. I was trained to believe that people from certain areas were worthy of my suspicion, simply because they inhabited Roman Catholic neighbourhoods. Later when we immigrated to Canada, I was taught to believe that people who came to town from reservations were lesser beings. I was taught to suspect that the people who lived on reservations, were lazy, no-good, drunks, who spent their lives freeloading off the government, and that nothing of much worth ever came off a reservation. As I grew to adulthood, I was taught to be suspicious of everyone who wanted to come to this country who was not British. My parents didn’t teach me this; this I learned in the playgrounds of the various schools I attended in both Ontario and British Columbia, where I learned to label fellow students as, “pakies and rag-heads” because they came from countries that our brother Mr. Trump would call “shit-holes”.

Take a moment. Look into your own lives. Do you remember the way people used to talk about our First Nations sisters and brothers? Do you remember the way people used to talk about immigrants? Most of us, I hope had enough compassion not to say these hate-filled things but if we are honest with ourselves, I suspect that the fear behind these hate-filled words, infected us to the extent that we became at the very least suspicious of people whose origins we did not share. Continue reading

Let Freedom Ring

MLK FREEDOMWednesday would have been Martin Luther King’s 85 birthday and on Monday our neighbours to the south will celebrate Martin Luther King day. So, this Sunday our worship will commemorate the life and witness of this martyr of the faith. I know that there are some who say that as Canadians we don’t celebrate MLK Day. However, the gospel reading assigned for tomorrow includes Jesus’ early followers first attempts to figure out who Jesus was and hints at what it might mean to follow Jesus. While we have many images of what a follower of Jesus looks like, the life and witness of Martin Luther King, Jr. provides a concrete example of what it actually looks like to follow Jesus.  We will spend some time exploring what our lives might look like should we have the courage to follow Jesus. 

We will sing as our Hymn of the Day what was once known as “The Negro National Anthem,” Lift Every Voice and Sing. I have known a good many people who insist that “white people” ought not to sing this particular hymn. For a time I shared their reluctance, knowing that I have absolutely no idea what it means to live as a person of colour in a predominately white culture. However, over the years I have been convinced that Left Every Voice and Sing speaks to Dr. King’s dream of a world in which we are all freed from the shackles imposed upon us by the colour of our skin. The empathy engendered by this powerful hymn opens us to the possibilities inherent in Dr. King’s dream. 

This video of the ‘ Negro National Anthem’ was originally screened at the historic African-American Church Inaugural Ball in Washington, DC on January 18th, 2009. Many of the esteemed individuals featured in this video in attendance and we presented with the ‘ Keepers of the Flame’ award for the monumental contributions to social justice. This version of the song was performed by the Grace Baptist Church Cathedral Choir, conducted by Derrick James.  While Canadians might balk at the overtly “American” images, we would do well to remember the history we share with our American cousins and the work that both countries need to engage in in order to move us closer to realizing Dr.King’s dream.

I include this pdf of tomorrow’s worship bulletin here, which includes preambles to some of the music we will be singing. Worship begins at 10:45am