I would like to begin by saying that my heart goes out to our Jewish brothers and sisters that have been involved in the shooting this weekend. The families that have been affected, the lives of the congregation, the community that has been changed…we pray for them. I pray for the congregations gathered around the world that feel fear as a result of this horrific act. This comes to me as a powerful reminder that hate is never okay. In a time when our country is hurting over so much division leading to rhetoric and actions filled with hatred, we cannot stand idly by and watch evil happen. As Christians, we have a responsibility to stand with our brothers and sisters…reminding others that hate is never okay, in no way, shape or form. Hate for others because of their faith, their skin color, their background, or their country of origin is never okay. At no point did Jesus condone hate…not even to those that wanted to take his life. At no point can we, as Christians, condone hate either. But we have to do more than not condone hate…we have to stand against it by standing in love. We have to rise up with love…we have to be the ones that come together and find ways to love more, love better, and love actively. We have to let our Jewish brothers and sisters know that we know that this is not okay and we stand with them in love…in the battle against hatred…in solidarity that hatred and hate filled acts will not be tolerated…ever. We must show love like never before…standing tall in LOVE. Our world and our country needs to hear our voices…of love. And while that sounds great, what does it really look like? What does it mean to stand in love? What does it mean to not tolerate hate?
As I prayed and searched for the right words to say…the right actions to take…I am drawn to Jesus’ words recorded in John 15. This scripture reminds me that if I am abiding in Jesus, I am abiding in love. If I am truly following Jesus, I am loving one another. I cannot abide in Christ and not love, there is no room for that. Jesus clearly speaks to that. And to abide, to be with Christ, to walk with him, to fulfill his commandments, to be his disciple, means that I love others. There is no place for hate. If, as his disciple, I am to be known by my love, then that means how I love shows…it stands out…it unites rather than divides. We are given a clear command…an appointment…a directive to go and to bear fruit…fruit that lasts. We are to love one another. Yet, how often do we see love? How often do we live as those that love?
I find that we are in a time of such clear divide. I hear such words as…”If you don’t believe like me, then we can’t be friends. If you are not on my side politically, then you are wrong and I am right and we cannot discuss this. If you believe that, you must be an idiot or stupid or completely crazy.” It seems that we don’t believe that people can have differing opinions and we still love them. It appears that we only spend time with those we agree with and if you don’t agree, you become my opponent rather than my friend.
As I consider this, I know that both sides of most any political debate are represented in the church…and I am so thankful for that. I know that there are differing parties and differing opinions represented…and I am grateful. While worship is a time to put our entire focus on God, we have been united in our worship and not divided by our opinions – when we leave worship, that unification should not stop. Regardless of what our views are, we have to come together as God’s people to love…and to love loudly. When we spew words of hate or opinions that are filled with prejudice, we have missed it. When we begin to clamor to defend what we think is ours rather than finding ways to love, we are the ones that are losing.
What leads us away from loving one another? I think it begins very slowly. We do not necessarily seek to not follow and not to love. I think it is a gradual progression that we are often unaware is happening. It begins by spending less time seeking God, following his will, doing his work. It begins with a small divide, a small crack. We slowly begin to detach ourselves from the One that created us and we begin to do what we think is right. We become possessive and a little more selfish each day…because we aren’t seeking God and his will. We begin to go our own path and to follow people rather than Christ. And it happens all so subtly.
It can happen as easy as forming a divide. If we begin to divide ourselves and begin the “us” versus “them” mentality, we get off track. We begin the thinking of – “At least we are not like that. That group of people should do this.” – When we form the divide, we find it really difficult to love. It does make it easier to not help…it does enable us to justify our lack of reaching out…it does help us to feel better about our lack of love if we divide ourselves… If we can separate ourselves from another group, then we can feel better when we dislike them… and we can feel better when fear or terror comes in and we, maybe, even find myself disliking them to hating them? It is such a slippery slope. And it happens so quickly. We begin to divide rather than reach out…to help…to share…to care for one another. It is easier not to feed and clothe and support if we can develop an us versus them thought pattern. And there goes our love.
No matter what you believe politically or socially, we have to begin by seeing people as people…as God’s creation…as one of us…in this together. This act of terrorism was by a man that watched Jewish people doing what they believed God had called them to do…a response they were doing because of an initiative they believed in…to feed and clothe and shelter. It is likely that he is mentally not stable, but regardless, the act is fueled by hatred. Regardless of your opinions about the caravan of migrants, please remember that they are people…there are dads and moms and children…there are people that breathe and walk and struggle and cry and hunger…just like you and me. There are people that God created just like you and me. And no matter what you may think should happen or what you believe the solution may be, we can never forget that each person is a real person, with a real story, and a real fear, and a real life…seeking and searching and trying to find what is next. And whatever our response, it should come from a place of love.
When we cut off love for others, no matter who they are, it reflects in our speech, in our words, in our actions. We may not even detect it. We may even realize it. Words mean something. What we say does have an effect. What we speak matters. Our words can lift up or tear down…our words can condemn or condone…our words can support or destroy…Words mean something. We must be careful about the language we use…for what comes out of our mouth originated in our hearts. We often speak that which we believe…and if it is not love, we need to re-evaluate the source. In whom are we abiding?
Note that in none of this am I saying that we compromise what we believe or who we are. I am saying that becauseof what we believe…because of the One that we follow…because of the commands of Jesus…because of his example,we love. I am saying that we reach out, rise up, and stand with those that are scared and lonely and living in fear and show love. I am saying that there is plenty of hate in our world. There is plenty of bullying. There is plenty of backbiting and hatefulness being spread. We can be the difference by our love. We dig deeper into what it means to love God and to love others and hear God speak.
Christians, we have a responsibility to rise up and love. We have an opportunity to show love to our neighbor. We show love by abiding in Christ… We cannot share that which we do not have. If we do not have the love of Christ in us, we cannot share the love of Christ. If we do not know what it means to be loved by him, we cannot love others.
We have to take the difficult road to love…it is much easier to divide and hate… We have to take this road by uniting ourselves against hatred, against fear. We cannot tolerate hate filled speech or hate filled actions. This is a country where people should not be afraid to go into their places of worship…no matter their faith! People should know that places of worship are where they can find love and kindness and goodness. This is a home, a shelter, a refuge for those that are beaten and battered and lost…and that includes you and me.
We can change the tide of hate by speaking out against it. This is not the time to be silent. We are appointed to go and bear fruit…to love one another…to love God with our everything and to love our neighbor as ourselves. If we don’t do that, then who does? If we don’t set the bar for how to love, then how does our world know love? If we spew hate, then what makes us any different from anyone else? We are the CHURCH…we are the BODY OF CHRIST…we are called and commanded to love… What does that look like for you? I find myself holding to this quote from Eugene Peterson… “And yet I decide, every day, to set aside what I can do best and attempt what I do very clumsily – open myself to the frustrations and failures of loving, daring to believe that failing in love is better than succeeding in pride.” God, may love begin with me.