God cares. Do you?

Sermon for June 24, 2018 based on Mark 4:35-41 and 2 Corinthians 6:1-13

qrmh6fouqnihdekkaj0ug.jpgLast Thursday I went to Los Angeles to participate in an interfaith religious leader protest. There were probably 250 people of many faiths, with the majority being Christians and Jews. I think there were 9 of us Lutherans. Why would various religious leaders protest? Because not only is justice at the heart of our faith, proclaiming justice to the world is part of our calls.

Right now, we are experiencing a big storm in our land. As we try and navigate I can easily imagine Jesus asleep in the boat. There’s much noise. The waves are huge. And with the wind it’s difficult to do anything. Like the disciples we can’t control the boat. And maybe it seems to some that Jesus is sleeping.

In today’s gospel, the disciples are terrified, so they wake Jesus, saying,

“Teacher! Don’t you care that we are about to die?”

Don’t you care?
That’s been quite the question this week. (And I wrote this sermon before the first lady’s visit to Texas) Don’t you care? How often do we ask this of one another? And of God?

I think the last time that I preached about this story of the disciples frantically calling Jesus “to care,” was at the funeral for Harris. At his service I shared that when I arrive here, he sent me an email. In it he shared a lot of hurt and anger towards our church. In his letter he’d asked me, “don’t you care that I was hurt?” (He had been hurt by the then controversary about same gendered marriage. Thankfully our congregation is now explicit in our welcome of our LGBTQ sisters and brothers.)

I responded to Harris, “yes, I care.” It took a while but we were able to have reconciliation here, with Harris and his church. I am grateful that he was able to worship here shortly before his death. It was All Saints Sunday and I remember the hugs amongst those present. I was beautiful. I was also grateful to be able to preside over his funeral. All because I cared. But it’s not really me…as I live out my call as pastor, I am always reminded that it is Jesus who cared then and who continues to care today.

I am thinking about this this week because we too may have the question in the midst of the storm. Maybe we think that after navigating the call to love our LGBTQ neighbors, we were expecting calm seas. But life does not work that way and we are faced with turmoil in our nation. In the midst of the storm we wonder: Does Jesus care? Does God care? Should we care?

Those at the demonstration Thursday care. All of the pastors I know care. Many people in and out of the church care. But sadly, not all Christians care about children being torn from their parent’s arms. Some actually support this. An acquaintance on mine on Facebook shared a video of a pastor literally yelling about how Romans 13 permits the actions now being taken at the border. The reality is that Romans 13 has been historically misused to justify slavery and the holocaust. I wish that all Christians would care.

Especially because the way we treat others is at the root of the call that we have from God. Each day we need to remember that God loves us and that God’s command is that we love God and we love others, especially our neighbors. But it’s not always easy to love our neighbors…in every situation. Especially when we are divided into political teams. Then we might lose the common good because we only see the team.

But those commands to love are not only for those time it’s easy. No, God’s command to love is for all time…when it’s easy and when it’s hard. I’m pretty sure that most of us had difficulty with loving someone in the last week. I certainly did.

Some of us have problems loving immigrants, especially undocumented immigrants. And others of us had problem loving those who don’t love immigrants…. This is a big division in our country and in the church. Last Monday I shared on a clergy page that I was feeling crappy about the horrible news. I wasn’t prepared for the responses of fellow clergy who described the difficulty they are facing in their calls, when love of neighbor is now controversial and “political.”

For all of us these difficult feelings are like that big storm and we are all being pushed this way and that way as we wonder what to think and what to care about.

Here are the two, no three things I know…

  1. God loves us…and in that love God cares for us
  2. We are to love others…especially those who are oppressed and poor…as Jesus says, the least of these.
  3. Number two isn’t easy…so the life of faith is not easy.

But that doesn’t mean it’s all bad either. I think that is what Paul is describing in his letter. His list of what they go through is both good and bad. That is the reality of life.

He wrote:

3We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, 4but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger;

None of us wants this. The list continues:

6by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, 7truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; 10as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

Life is a mixture of easy and hard. Ugly and beautiful.

All this brings me back to the constant reminder that it is about how we treat one another. When we have hate or when we don’t have empathy we are living against the commandments of Jesus. When we do this as Christians, we are also blocking access to faith because people see us as representing God…or as Paul says, “ambassadors for Christ.”

So, when we are confused in the midst of the storm, we remember that Jesus is indeed present in the world and he is not sleeping. He cares about us. He cares about everyone, especially those who have no power. He calls us to care also because to love is to care. The simple question is then, are we loving our neighbor as God would have us love?

Paul wrote about opening hearts. That is another way to say love. Yes, loving the neighbor might be hard, but it is also the way we are able to experience God’s love in our midst and to share that love with the world.

Traumatizing the Children

Each week, in our Sunday worship service, we have a time for a Children’s Chat. Yesterday, we didn’t have any children. For our small congregation this occurs about once a month (last week we had 10 children, which is also a monthly occurrence). Anyway, I often will just skip this time with the children. But yesterday I opted to talk about the children. Other children. Children who are being traumatized. I didn’t write down my comments, so I don’t know exactly what I said, and how, but here is what I was thinking.

We have a crisis at our border today. Our government has decided to take children away from their parents, as a “deterrent” to other migrants (many seeking asylum) who might try to make their way to our country. We’ve been praying about this for a few weeks. But now we must act. I urge each of you to speak up. Write to our representatives. Voice your concerns at all levels. We cannot be silent on this.

This morning, as I drove to join a group run, I listened to the news and heard a pediatrician speaking about the trauma that is being visited upon these children (and their parents). This trauma has the very real potential to cause life-long problems for these children. Trauma actually affects developing brains. To make matters worse, we are hearing stories of little children taken from their parents and being placed in strange surroundings, sometimes in cages. These children may be provided food and shelter, but they are not receiving nurture. Apparently there is a policy that “shelter” (more like prison) employees are not allowed to touch the children. Being deprived of comforting touch is heaping additional abuse onto these traumatized children.

As I listened to this, I visualized the scene at our preschool on those first days of school each year. This is when little ones are oftentimes separated from their parents for the first time in their lives. It’s an important developmental step, but it is hard. So, the sound that often comes from the school those first few days is of children crying. Not all children cry, but once in awhile one child crying will cause them all to cry. Sometimes the parents cry too…and the teachers often have to encourage the parent to leave.

Not much formalmteaching happens those first few days. But there is a lot of comforting. (I think the teaching here is to learn that mom or dad will indeed return and that all will be well.)

At this point in my talk, a retired preschool teacher interrupted me with the question:

“And do you know what we tell those children?”

“What?” I respond.

“We tell them that mommy or daddy will return very soon.”

She was emotional as she shared this.

The children who are being taken from their parents have no idea when or if they will be reunited with the parents. Can you imagine this?

This policy of separating children from their parents is evil. Yesterday, I was at a loss of words beyond this recognition of the evil of these actions.

As people of faith, we are called to love our neighbor. We are called to welcome the stranger. We are called to care for the children (in fact Jesus gives dire warning against those who would harm children). We are called to all of this by a God who loves us immensely. It is this love that should, and indeed can give us the power to use our collective voice in opposition to what is happening.

Please speak up.

Protective Love

With permission to use this personal sermon, I’ve changed names to protect privacy.

I don’t remember exactly when this occurred, but my best guess is six years ago. It was definitely in June (or maybe in May). I know the time of year this because it was a graduation party. Another church member, Juanita, and I went as guests of the graduate, Mark, who’d just received his Master’s in Public Policy,

Except for Juanita and Mark, I didn’t know any of those gathered for the celebration (not always the easiest thing for this introvert!). We met Mark’s grandparents and chatted with then over dinner. Boy were they proud of their grandson that day!

Eventually Mark wanted us to meet his mother. She was in the living groom, seated in the middle of the sofa. I don’t remember who or how many people were around her. All I remember is that she looked serene or even regal as she sat there. AND she wasn’t interested in meeting me. Maybe Juanita , but certainly not me! This was my first encounter with Mary.

Why? Why would the mother of someone who’d become a friend have such a negative reaction to me?

Well, we need to back up a bit. Juanita and I were board members at the local nonprofit where Mark worked. That’s how we knew him.

Mark had also been talking to me about matters of faith. He told me once that as a child he’d felt the Call to become a priest. But as a young man, he instead spent some time in a futile effort to prove to himself that God does not exist.

Why? Why would someone who felt that Call to ministry turn his back, or at least attempt to turn his back, on God?

The answer to this question is, also ironically enough, the answer to the question as to why Mark’s mother rejected me at our first meeting. You see, the church had hurt Mark deeply. Just as the church, through the years, even centuries, has hurt countless people deeply. How? By rejecting him because he is gay. By telling him and others that they are condemned solely because of who they are.

Tragically, many Christian churches continue to do this. Mary knew of this rejection. She also knew that I was a pastor. Thus, I posed danger to her son. I represented those who could reject him…those who could harm him. This by the way is something I’ve experienced with others as well. I remember being a new neighbor at a neighborhood gathering. I was introduced to other neighbors as, “This is Nancy, she’s a pastor, but she’s nice.” There’s a lot of history in that “but.” As pastor, I represent what, for some, has been a place of deep hurt and rejection. Mary had no desire that day to know me.

From today’s epistle:

“So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.” (2 Cor. 4:16).

Here the apostle Paul is writing about the resiliency of what is within…not because of, or through, our own efforts but through the love of God. It is a beautiful and comforting idea. But sometimes that inner nature is undergoing a battle that cannot be seen from the outside. We see that this week in the tragic suicides that are in the news.

Sometimes, what is within and given to us by God is distorted and destroyed by others. If you hear the words that condemn you in the name of God, words like, “God hates f—,” then it becomes difficult to hear anything else.

Mary, as the loving and caring mother that she was, feared for her son. She feared his responding to God’s call on his life, not because she feared God, but because she feared people who claimed to speak for God.

Eventually though, she began coming to Our Redeemer. She was very helpful when we were trying to get a Spanish language worship service going. We used to have lunch after the service. She would tell stories. She would tease. She would laugh. I loved her sense of humor and her laugh.

When she contemplated joining Our Redeemer, she shared her concerns with me. Would the Lutheran Church truly be a place that would love and care for her son? Would he be hurt? Rejected? We talked about these things. She decided to join, just in time to vote! So, she was one of the members who voted that day in August a few years ago to make us a Reconciling in Christ congregation. This in Lutheran speak means that we are fully and explicitly welcoming and affirming to our LGBTQ sisters and brothers. The vote was nearly unanimous.

A little over a week ago, Mary departed this world. She had been hospitalized for 14 days. I am so thankful that I was able to see her the day before she left us.

More from today’s epistle:

“For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but a what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” (2 Cor 4:17-5:1)

These earthly tents that we have, our bodies, don’t last forever. They fail us. We fail them. We get frustrated with them. We sometimes abuse them. Some of these earthly tents last longer than others. Sometimes we wonder about life. About why some people leave us so early. And why some don’t. The one thing that we can all know is that we too will depart this world. The death of a loved one is always painful. And death is also a reminder that each day we have is a gift.

Living each day as that gift means living with the hope that is within us. Living each day as that gift means living in such a way that we are fierce protectors of those we love. Mary taught this by the way she lived with love for all her sons. For this I am thankful. I am also hopeful, because living as fierce protectors of those we love is our Call from Jesus. May we respond to that Call from Jesus to love and protect our neighbor as fiercely.

 

 

Where’s Jesus? Part of My Sermon for John Chapter 3:1-17

Where’s Jesus? I’m reminded of a dumb joke, or what I’ve always thought was a dumb joke. The thing is, I keep remembering it. Here it is.

A mom was having problems with her two young sons. They were misbehaving, probably in the same manner that all children misbehave. But the mom was frustrated. So she asked the pastor to help. This (male) pastor agreed to go and visit and talk to the kids.

Once at the home, he decides to first talk to the youngest boy, leaving the older sibling to wait in the bedroom. In the living room with the young boy the pastor asks, “where’s Jesus?” The boy doesn’t know how to respond so he says nothing. The pastor repeats the question, raising his voice a bit, “where’s Jesus?” Confused and becoming nervous the boy continues in his silence. The pastor then, in his most loud and authoritarian voice, repeats the question, “where’s Jesus?”

At once the boy flees, running to the bedroom shared with his brother and diving under the bed. The older brother asks, “what happened?” To which the younger brother replies, “someone stole Jesus and the pastor thinks we did it!”

The part I don’t like about this joke is that it is so disconnected from the idea of child discipline. What, I ask my logical self, would the pastor have been trying to accomplish? But, in thinking about the question, “where’s Jesus?” this particular joke always comes to mind.

Where’s Jesus? Somebody stole him…

We laugh at the idea that someone would have the power to control Jesus’ coming and going. Or do we? These days it doesn’t seem to be so funny. At least the idea of Jesus seems to have been stolen. Stolen and replaced with a fake, plastic, moldable Jesus. This Jesus says whatever those who seek power in his name want him to say. This Jesus doesn’t really care about moral behavior if it gets in the way of the quest for earthly power. It’s interesting, this quest for power though. Because some who use it also try to make God into someone completely powerless.

644188_526552814037754_1413004826_nHow else to understand that meme that goes around after every school shooting…and every other atrocity that happens? This week I saw it as a photo of a t-shirt. It’s supposed to be a letter to God, along with God’s response. Here it is:

There is so much that is wrong and harmful in this.

First, the “God is not allowed in school” argument is referring to prayer. Compulsory prayer, led by a person in authority is not allowed in school. But any person can pray. Why not compulsory prayer? Because everyone is not of the same religion and even people of the same faith might have different interpretations of that faith. On this Memorial Day weekend we remember those who died fighting to defend freedom…freedom of religion is part of this freedom.

Second, the God of this meme is vindictive. The implication is, “I would help you but…” How else can you describe a God who would have the power to stop the violence but chooses not to.

Third, it blames people for supporting freedom of religion but then absolves those responsible of committing crimes with the misplaced logic that “if only we had organized prayer every day there would be no violence.”

Fourth, if the problem is that God is not allowed to be in school – through prayer – then we don’t really have any responsibility in the matter.

Last, and most importantly, it assumes a great arrogance in the human ability to dictate to God, where God can and cannot go. The God I know is more powerful than that.

Can we control where God goes? Is it then like the story of the children…Jesus is missing and they think we took him?

Where’s Jesus?

Right here in this world. Sent by the father because of love for the world. In fact, he was sent by love for the world, not to condemn it, “but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (3:17). This is not because of anything we did, or could do. Jesus is here because of God’s love for the world.

This is what Jesus told Nicodemus during his late-night visit. It was a late-night visit because Nicodemus was afraid of what the other leaders would think of his associating with someone who’d just violently thrown people out of the temple…people who’d been abusing religion. Who’d made it a method of gaining wealth and power. Nicodemus didn’t understand.

I wonder how often we too are silent because we desire the approval of others…or fear their reactions. As I wonder this, I am increasingly convinced that now is the time to speak up. To counter the dangerous, hateful, and harmful depictions of God. I understand the fear. But I also see a need to speak up, especially for our neighbors.

Nicodemus visited in the night out of fear but later, after Jesus had been abandoned to a lonely death on the cross, Nicodemus was one of those who cared for his body. He had experienced the love of God through Jesus and it changed him. How might that love change us? Will we share the love that we’ve received to a world that is need of experiencing it? I hope so.

 

The Power of Love – A Sermon for Pentecost

Yesterday morning I got up at 4:30am. Yikes! Unfortunately this happens pretty often. I wake up early, do some meditative breathing to try and coax my body\ back to sleep and if I’m successful I “sleep-in” until 6:30 or 7:00. If I’m not successful I get up, make coffee and sit down in the den to read the morning news in my iPad, while also listening to it on television.

Yesterday, coffee in hand, I turned on the tv and found the coverage of the royal wedding. Not my thing… So I changed the channel and then discovered that the wedding was on every news channel. Really?!?! I turned off the television and commenced reading my iPad. Which, on Twitter, was guess what? All about the wedding.

But then I saw that Episcopalian Bishop Michael Curry was preaching. I’ve had the privilege of experiencing his sermons at preaching conferences. He is a wonderful preacher! So I turned the tv on again and watched, at least the sermon part, of the wedding.

I think we could say that the fact Bishop Curry was preaching was a Pentecost moment. This man, a descendant of slaves is preaching to the royal family in Great Britain. The same can also be said for the bride, the daughter of an African American mother. The members of the groom’s family are descendants of those who participated in the slave trade.

In a world where generational animosity is so often the norm, the fact of this wedding and this preacher is truly a work of the Holy Spirit. And then there was his sermon…all about love…actually about the power of love. As I listened I kept saying to myself, “that’s what I’ve been preaching!” Just not as eloquently as Bishop Curry.

Love…the gift from God to each of us

Love… the command from Jesus that we share this gift with one another and the world.

Love…that is the fruit of our life in Christ.

Love…where the power is.

One illustration that Bishop Curry shared was one I’ve before and it get s right to the Pentecost spirit. He was talking about this fire:

Fire, to a great extent, made human civilization possible. Fire, made it possible to cook food and to provide sanitary ways of eating, which reduced the spread of disease in its time. Fire made it possible to heat warm environments and thereby made human migration around the world a possibility, even into colder climates. Fire made it possible—there is no—there was no Bronze Age without fire. No Iron Age without fire. No Industrial Revolution without fire. The advances of science and technology are greatly dependent on the human ability and capacity to take fire and use it for human good.

Anybody get here in a car today? An automobile? Nod your heads if you did. I’m guessing—I know there were some carriages. But those of us who came in cars, fire, the controlled harnessed fire, made that possible. Now that the Bible says and I believe that Jesus walked on the water, but I have to tell you, I didn’t walk across the Atlantic Ocean to get here. Controlled fire in that plane got me here. Fire makes it possible for us to text and tweet and e-mail and Instagram and Facebook and socially be dysfunctional with each other. Fire makes all of that possible.

And he said, fire was one of the greatest discoveries in all of human history. He then went on to say, if humanity ever harnesses the energy of fire again, if humanity ever captures the energy of love, it will be the second time in history that we have discovered fire.

 

Ahhh…Fire. Power. Pentecost. Holy Spirit.

I love the story of everyone being able to communicate with one another, despite not knowing one another’s language. Everyone from the known world was there. Can you imagine the diversity? The different skin colors, cultures, ways of dressing, and of course languages. It could be like walking through downtown Los Angeles on any given day.

All these different people. It’s beautiful. And more beautiful was that everyone was able to share God’s deeds of power. Now we might be thinking yeah, but I can’t speak any other languages, so I can’t do this. I admit that I wish I could harness the power of the Holy Spirit to better speak Spanish with my neighbors…even more I wish I could harness that power to understand what my neighbor is saying to me. You see, in my experience it is sometimes easier to learn to speak a language than to hear and understand it.

So do we give up and say that this story of God’s gracious gift of the Holy Spirit and power were for another time? I don’t think so. Instead we must remember that the greatest power is love. The greatest language is love. So the great examples of God’s power that were shared that day were found in love…specifically a love of inclusion, a love that says you all have a place here. That’s pretty awesome.

Now we might still be thinking to ourselves, but we’re too small. We don’t see how we can make a difference. We’re tired…and so on. I know. I also know that anything is possible with God. Just look at the new life described in that wonderful Ezekiel story of the dead and dry bones being reinfused with life. I love that story. Especially as the purpose of that renewed life is so that the people could return to their calling, which was to be a light for the world. To be about loving God and loving neighbor.

Our world is hurting today. This Sunday we mourn the loss of life from yet more mass shootings. We see strife and oppression and exclusion all around us. We see all kinds of reasons for hopelessness. But we all have one bigger, overriding reason for hope and that is in the love that is so abundantly given to us. Love!

I think Bishop Curry’s message was not one for a wedding (although it was) but rather it was a message for a world. For a world that needs to be reminded of love.

Love. That my friends is where the power is.

Amen

They are People and Deserving of Dignity

Today I took a glance at my Twitter feed and came across this quote from the current president:

Trump on deportation: “You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people. These are animals and we’re taking them out of country.”

This should be shocking, but based on the last couple of years it is not. It should be shocking that we have the president of the United States dehumanizing people, calling them “animals.” Why would he do that? Well, I can’t claim to understand the thinking behind such a statement. But I can unequivocally disagree with and condemn such a statement.

No human being is an animal. People who have come to this country, have lived, and have contributed to our communities, all while living without legal status are not “bad people.”

Sure some have (and will commit crimes), just as some citizens of this country commit crimes. Every time I read crime statistics, the actual rate of criminal activity among all immigrants is lower than that of native born citizens.

(see https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/26/us/trump-illegal-immigrants-crime.html and http://www.politifact.com/california/statements/2017/aug/03/antonio-villaraigosa/mostly-true-undocumented-immigrants-less-likely-co/)

The major problem is not whether or not immigrants, or more specially undocumented immigrants commit more crime. No, the major problem is the dehumanization of people. When we look at groups of people as “bad” or worse, as “animals” we are not looking at them as humans. This is the first step towards finding it acceptable to harm them…because if they are “animals” then they are not worthy of human dignity. This is not ok.

Last month I was involved with a couple that were deported. These were pastors, parents, grandparents, neighbors, contributing members of my city. They are not animals. You can read about this here:  We Shall…

As a person of faith, and as a pastor, I cannot stay silent as my fellow human beings, my brothers and sisters, my neighbors are referred to in such horrendous ways. I hope and pray that people of faith, and people of no faith or creed, will unite against this inhumane way to talk of and then to treat our fellow human beings.

A reminder from Matthew 25:

31“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ 41Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’45Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

 

A Big Distraction

This is a sermon based on John 17:6-19

I confess that I struggle reading this prayer from Jesus. Whenever I read it, it seems as if the words go in circle after circle. After about the third circle my mind is dizzy and I’m ready to jump off. Maybe this is why I don’t seem to have preached on this text.

But this week, finally, I understood something.

This something is connected to the text (and thus message) for the past two Sundays. Which, duh, of course it is…it is all the same discourse. Except that today, Jesus is no longer instructing his disciples, he is instead praying for them.

Two weeks ago (Discarded Vines? A sermon on John 15:1-8), we contemplated the vine and the branches. We were reminded that no matter how things may look, we have Jesus. While the vine is pruned, and in a church (or anywhere) this is a might painful process, we have the assurance that we are not pruned away. We have that promise that Jesus abides in us. We are then invited to abide in him. The good news was that his abiding or living in us is not conditional. It just is!

Then in last week’s text (The Greatest Fruit – John 15:9-17), Jesus took us a bit deeper. We were reminded that the fruit of the vine metaphor is love. I shared some delicious fruit with everyone and we talked about those things that distract us the way the abundance of sugar masks the natural sweetness of fresh fruit. The good news, again, is that Jesus loves each of us and he loves us collectively, as a church. His commandment is that we love one another…in the same way.

Sometimes this is hard to do…all those distractions that get in the way of our loving others. Today we are introduced to a mighty big distraction…hate. To get to this we need to weave our way through all that circular language…

About Jesus recognizing the disciples as belonging to God the Father, and yet given to him…

About being in the world but not of the world…

About truth and unity and a plea that the disciples are protected.

About his joy being made complete…as in love being present.

But the world will hate them.

Why? If what they are about is love…love of God and loving one another, why would the world hate them?

What do you think? (discussion ensued of those who advocate for others, like Colin Kaepernick who protests against racial injustice…by the way he was confirmed in a Lutheran church. We also talked about Martin Luther King Jr who’s unfavorable rating at the time of his death was more than 75% and is now over 90% approval.)

Here’s what I think. The world, as it is referred to here, doesn’t much like love. In the world, it is far better that people are divided and distracted. In the world, there is always a winner and a loser. In the world, there is the in group and the out group. In the world, things like racism, sexism, nationalism and other ismsare the currency of the day.

But to love one another means:

Thatwe love beyond the label, whatever it may be.

Thatwe see our neighbor, not as an opponent but as a precious child of God.

Thatwe defend our neighbor.

Thatwe leave our own comfort zones so that we can learn about and build community with our neighbor.

None of this should be controversial. But it is. And so, we might stay silent and inactive because we don’t want to be on the receiving end of criticism… of hate.

But Jesus is praying for us for expressly this reason.

This week I asked on my Facebook feed if anyone has received pushback for doing what was the right thing to do. Here are a couple examples of what I received:

  • We put a sign in front of our church offering a “Blessed Ramadan” for our Muslim neighbors. We were surprised at the negative response.
  • I am an immigrant from Mexico (and an American citizen). I tell the stories of, and advocate for my fellow immigrants. For this I am sometimes told to “go back where I came from.”
  • I once join with other kids in school and became a bully…attacking a fellow student who was Jewish. “Afterwards I felt really bad and went over to his house to tell him I was sorry.” Our relationship was never the same, but we are, thankfully, friends on Facebook today.

We all have the opportunity before us to love or reject our neighbor. How will we respond? Sometimes it’s hard to know…unless we’ve thought about, and even prayed about it in advance.

And that takes us back to today’s gospel, and to prayer. Jesus prayed for his disciples and today that includes us. It is prayer that helps us to see our neighbor. It is prayer that gives us strength in the face of opposition. It is a prayer that gives us hope in the midst of turmoil. It is prayer that gives us the power to love.

Let’s follow Jesus’ example and pray for one another…and then let’s harness the power of prayer so that we can better love God, one another, and our neighbor.