Monday, July 30, 2018

7-29-18 “Gleaning and Hope”

7-29-18   “Gleaning and Hope”

  As I’ve shared before, I went to college at Indiana State University. And during my sophomore year at Indiana State, like many college students in that day, three buddies and I went to Daytona Beach over Spring Break. Like most 19-20 year old young men in of that era, we didn’t have a plan - we had a hotel reservation on the beach, we had a car to get there, and we had what we thought would be enough money to eat, drink, be merry - and play some of the newest video games, like Space Invaders and Pac Man. And while we didn’t have a plan as such, we did have a hope - we hoped to meet up with some young women of about our same age with whom we could eat, drink, and be merry while we were nearly a thousand miles away from home. 
   And lo and behold, on our first day there we encountered four young ladies who were of the same “eat, drink, and be merry” mindset as we were. 
And as it turns out they were staying in the same hotel. Even better! So, the four of us guys cleaned up our acts after a nearly 20 hour drive from Terre Haute, IN to Daytona Beach, FL and arranged to meet these four young women at a beach side bar for drinks. 
Well, we all met and everything was going along swimmingly, everyone was getting along well, and we were all thinking the same thing - let’s have a good time this week, no guilt, no commitment, just have some fun and then we’ll all go our separate ways, never see each other again, and all will be good. And that ideal, that plan, that dream lasted all of about 15 minutes, until one of us asked one of them where they went to school, and they replied “Indiana State University.”
   Last week while we were on vacation in Tennessee, we arrived late on Saturday afternoon after a nearly eight hour drive from our home in Reynoldsburg. As we were unpacking our car, our sister-in-law noticed that the car parked next to ours was also from Ohio - not unusual at all. When the owners came out we introduced ourselves and asked where in Ohio they were from they said they were from Reynoldsburg. We laughed and shared that we were also from Reynoldsburg. Then we asked them where in Reynoldsburg they lived. Turns out they live on the same street we live on, four blocks south of us - we’re neighbors.
   There is an old adage that goes, “a coincidence is a miracle in which God prefers to remain anonymous.” In the second chapter of our story, Ruth goes out to glean barley to sustain herself and Naomi, and “as it happened, she came to the part of the field belonging to Boaz.” And Boaz happens to be a pillar of the community and a relative of Naomi’s dead husband, Elimilech. Mere coincidence? I think not. You see, in the Book of Ruth, God doesn’t appear in burning bushes; God doesn’t make God’s self known through the parting of seas, miraculous healings, or multiplications of food. No, God makes God’s self known through the faithfulness of ordinary human beings. God uses the compassionate acts of faithful human beings to enact God’s hesed, God’s steadfast, loyal, compassionate love. And in this story, God’s love is shown by the man, Boaz, toward the foreign woman in his midst, Ruth.
   A little history. We remember the story of Abraham and Sarah, right? God came to them and told them that their descendants would be one tribe, a new tribe, and that they would be as numerous as the stars in the sky, and that they would be blessed to be a blessing to others. Well, they were blessed. In fact, Abraham and his family became very wealthy. And at one point in the story we find Abraham and his nephew Lot making the decision to go in different directions because their herds had become so large that the land couldn’t sustain both of them. So Abraham goes one way and Lot goes in another - God’s desire for one tribe goes awry - over money. The Moabite tribe then, of which Ruth is a member, are the descendants of Lot. And throughout the Hebrew Bible we read of the conflicts that arose over the centuries between Israel and Moab. Is it mere coincidence that this Moabite woman is treated with grace, love, and compassion by the Israelite family redeemer of her deceased father-in-law? I think not. Here, God’s hesed, God’s steadfast and enduring love, is displayed through Boaz, the Israelite, who welcomed this alien from another land, praised her for her faithfulness to Naomi, and provided for both of their needs. Ruth was willing to do whatever it took to provide for her family, and through Boaz, God rewards her for that. As both the psalms and the song go, “God’s steadfast love endures forever.”

   So, let me pose a rhetorical question…or eight.  
  • What would you do to protect your family? 
  • If your family, or a member of your family - your child, your parent, your grandchild - were in danger, how far would you go to protect them? 
  • What is the limit of your love for your family? 
  • Is there a limit?
  • Is there only so far that you would go to protect them, to rescue them? 
  • If you were poor and the only way to feed your child was to steal something from a store, would you do it?
  • If you and your child were confronted by a person with a gun who told you that one of you was going to die - you or your child - and you had to choose, would you be willing to die so that your child would live? What would you do for love?

   Those are difficult questions, excruciatingly difficult situations that hopefully none of us ever have to face - or that perhaps some of you have already faced -  
but I think that most of us would say, if faced with a similar situation, that we would do anything to protect our children, our grandchildren, our family, even if meant the loss of our life or our freedom. Anything. And while it’s unlikely that we will ever face those kinds of situations, there are people in the world for whom that is an everyday occurrence.
   Several years ago I had the opportunity to visit El Salvador. Completing what is called a Cross-Cultural Immersion Experience is a requirement for the Master of Divinity Degree at the Methodist Theological School, and I only chose to go to El Salvador because the trip I intended to take to Africa was rescheduled and I needed to complete the trip during this particular academic year. I didn’t want to go. I complained - I moaned. Firmly ensconced in my white male north-American privilege I tried to make the case that I could have a cross-cultural immersion in any number of places right here in Columbus. My selfishly naive complaints fell on deaf ears, and in January 2008 I boarded a plane at Port Columbus for the flight to San Salvador. 
   We were a motley crew, the 15 of us; 8 men, 7 women, one black, one Korean - we thought we were pretty diverse. But we stood out like sore thumbs among the small statured, brown-skinned Salvadoran people. For most of us, it was the first time we’d ever been in the minority. 
   We joked like 13 year old boys when we saw “BIMBO” painted on the side of the road, not knowing it was the Salvadoran equivalent of Wonder Bread.

   In the U.S. we think we have an understanding of what “normal” is - it’s only when we travel outside our comfort zones that we realize that “normal” is a relative term. In El Salvador, it’s normal to have concertina or barbed wire strung across the top of your yard, your house, or your fence, for your protection - from gangs, or criminals, or the police. 

It’s normal to see lean-to’s set up against buildings on busy streets that may be used by farmers selling their produce or by homeless people to live in. 

It’s normal there to see a truck drive through the center of town with a load of coconuts that they will try to sell for 15 cents each.

   We saw familiar things like Burger King and McDonalds restaurants, we saw beautiful things like flowers that were native to Central America, and we saw things that were meaningful and historic, such as this church altar where Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated while presiding over mass.

   And here, the blood-soaked robe and vestments he was wearing when he was shot - on full display, and his burial place in the abbey of a church.

   We’re used to seeing murals and public art in public places, but we probably aren’t used to seeing the violence of a nation depicted in such a way.

A closer look at the segments of this mural reveal:
   Romero seated at the base of a cross that looks like a tree, with roots going down into the ground signifying that their faith is at the root of who they are. And on his lap, a child whose hand is over Romero’s heart - the bullet hole in the child’s hand marking the place where the assassin’s bullet pierced Romero’s heart.

  Or at one side of the mural, where figures represent the army who inflicted much of the violence on the people of the country, and the government officials and rich oligarchs who turned a blind eye to the killing that was being done at their behest.

   Or at the other side of the mural, where common everyday people, the campesinos as they are called, are depicted with bullet holes in their hearts. 
On their hands and feet are the signs of the stigmata - the marks of the crucifixion - depicting the way they have been sacrificed and slaughtered.

   We visited several churches while there, and they were all beautiful in their own unique way. But here is something that we found in every church we visited - that is, it was normal - but not something we would ever want to have in our church. 

It’s a list on the wall of all the members of their church who had been murdered or disappeared at the hands of the government over about a 10-12 year period. These are their martyrs. In Central America in general, and in El Salvador in particular, martyrdom is normal. Having a family member who was killed in war is nearly universal, but killed by your own government?
   The violence of this place doesn’t just show itself in public murals. It also makes its way into the arts and crafts that people make. Do any of you do needlepoint or that kind of crafting? 

Here’s a series of needlepoints that one woman made - I’ll zoom in on just a couple to show you the detail.This needlepoint depicts a person being shot in the head on a street corner.

   This one a person being clubbed to death while another person holds their arms behind them. Any of you needle-pointers ever do work like that? 

   But the constant presence and threat of violence also makes its way into the art of the church.

   This artwork - part of a collection of pencil and charcoal drawings - shows the violence inflicted on people whose bodies were found bound, gagged, mutilated, and left in dumps or in the gutters. In this particular church, they took the place of the stations of the cross usually found in Catholic churches.

   The violence is also present in the stories they tell. 

This man told of how, as a child, he somehow managed to survive the slaughter that took place in his hometown of El Mozote, when during the civil war government soldiers came to their town, herded the men into a field, the women down a side road, and the children into the church. First they gunned down the men. Then they raped and machete’d the women. And finally they locked the children in the church and burned it to the ground.
   This image is of the church that was rebuilt on the spot where the original had stood. The images of children dancing and playing adorn the side of the church facing what is now called the Children’s Garden. 

The plaques along the bottom list the names and ages of all the children who died there, several of whom were only days old infants. There are dozens of plaques here, representing hundreds of children.

   And this monument, resembling our own Vietnam War Memorial, lists the names of the 50,000+ civilians in the country - men, women, and children - who were killed and/or disappeared during the country’s civil war. 

This is one of, if not THE most violent country on earth. This is what normal looks like here. 
   Violence and crushing poverty are everywhere - yes, that is a pig walking into someone’s house. This is a common house found in rural areas of the country. 

   Even things of beauty are framed by symbols of violence. 

If this kind of poverty, this kind of fear and violence was the normal situation that you, your family, your children, your grandchildren faced EVERY DAY, wouldn’t you as a parent do whatever you had to do to save them from it? 
I know I would, no matter how many laws I had to break - no matter how many borders I had to cross.  We’ve already normalized violence - we cannot criminalize love. Jesus commands us in Luke’s gospel:
Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate.
“Don’t judge, and you won’t be judged. Don’t condemn, and you won’t be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you… The portion you give will determine the portion you receive in return.”

   So in our story this desperate Moabite immigrant Ruth happens upon this Jewish man, Boaz, who coincidentally, or by God’s design, happens to be from the family of her late father-in-law. But rather than treating her as less-than, rather than considering her a mere criminal or an illegal alien, he models for us the compassionate love of God by welcoming her, providing for her needs, and praising her for doing whatever was necessary to care for her family. Something I hope all of us would do if we were in her shoes.
   A couple of weeks after I returned, as things for me were getting back to what we considered normal, Lynn, her brother and his wife, and I went to a favorite Chinese restaurant in Reynoldsburg for dinner. I ran into a couple of friends there and in talking told them that I had just come back from two weeks in El Salvador and that the experience had been life-changing for me. At that, a young man sitting in a booth by the window, hearing our conversation, jumped up and came over to me and said, “I’m Oscar, I’m from El Salvador.”
   Coincidence? I don’t think so. Rather, I think God used Oscar to remind me that my normal would be a new normal, not the old normal. Having seen what I had seen, and experienced what I had experienced, I could never go back to the old normal again. Oscar, and the many Salvadoran and other Central Americans I’ve met in the years since, serve as a reminder to me that as Christians we are to embody God’s hesed, God’s enduring, steadfast, forever love in how we treat the least of these who are only doing whatever they have to do to survive and to protect and provide for their families. What any of us would do.
   In our story today we see God’s hesed embodied in human action. Boaz praises Ruth for her loyalty to her mother-in-law (2:11) and then enacts through his generosity the blessings of God that he calls down upon her: “May the LORD reward you for your deeds, and may you have a full reward from the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge” (Ruth 2:11-12).
   Naomi sees the astonishing amount of barley that Ruth has gleaned, and finds out that it is Boaz who helped her. And it is only then that Naomi begins to move from the despair that had become her normal to a new hope. 
She recognizes in this turn of events the hand of God and she is quick to name God as the source of blessing: "Blessed be he [Boaz] by the LORD, whose kindness (hesed) has not forsaken the living or the dead!" (Ruth 2:20).
   The tide is turning. Emptiness is being filled. Hope is born. And it is an old widow (one who has seen more than her share of sorrow) who recognizes the hand of God in these seemingly happenstance circumstances. Coincidences? I think not. Amen.

Monday, July 23, 2018

7-22-18 "Loss and Loyalty" by Rev. April Casperson

 Themes of emptiness and fullness abound in this little book: famine turning to abundant food, loss turning to love, bitterness turning to joy, barrenness giving way to birth. And the improbable catalysts for all this Naomi and Ruth, widows and a foreigner. This little domestic tale is a story of God’s hesed, God’s faithfulness, God’s covenant love, lived out in the lives of everyday, ordinary human beings, much like you and me.

The first chapter of Ruth sets up the story that follows. “In the days when the judges ruled” (1:1) refers back to the time of the judges, a time of chaos and disobedience in Israel. In fact, the verse just previous to this (the last verse of the book of Judges) reads, “In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes” (Judges 21:25). Doing what is right in your own eyes is never a good thing in the Bible; and, indeed, the book of Judges traces a story of decline and anarchy in Israel. 

Set against this backdrop of national calamity, a more personal calamity comes upon Naomi and her family. Famine sets the stage for difficulties encountered even before the story begins. If you read the text carefully, it sounds like Namoi and her husband, and their two sons, had a home. But then there was a famine in Bethlehem, which forces Naomi, her husband, and their sons to immigrate to Moab in search of food. How ironic, considering the meaning of Bethlehem – literally “house of bread.” 

After they moved to Moab, Naomi’s husband died, leaving her to rely upon her two sons. Her sons married local women from Moab, which was a violation of Mosaic law – they were not Jewish women - and also probably made it more complicated if the men wanted to go back to their roots and the country they originally came from. 
There is also another layer around how the women became wives. Dr. Wil Gafney reminds us that “the taking of the women in Ruth 1:4 is done with the same verb that describes the abduction and rape of the young girls in Shiloh in Judges 21:23”3 and “is a particular problem for English readers because it masks sexual and domestic violence.”4 Despite these circumstances – because I am sure that Naomi knew what was going on and how her sons acquired their wives - Naomi found enough healing to forge a genuine friendship with her sons’ wives. 
But then about ten years after Naomi’s husband died, both of her sons died, leaving behind Naomi and her two daughters in law. The losses were devastating. For Naomi, it meant not only grieving the death of her husband, but also feeling the loss of her sons. No parent expects to bury their children. Perhaps, an unanswerable “Why God, why?” question lingered in her soul compounding her bitterness.

[Three examples of parents who have lost adult children. They all acknowledged that they knew God did not cause those deaths, and that God has been with them in their grief.] 

Their basic security was at risk, even as the women all grieved. No possibility of work, food, or home. History is not kind to women left alone. The news that there was bread in Judah must have been music to Naomi’s ears. She decides to go home, taking her daughters-in-law with her. Having started the journey together, it must have seemed odd to Orpah and Ruth that Naomi attempts to persuade them to return to home. Having experienced what it means to be an outsider/refugee/immigrant in Moab, perhaps Naomi wants to spare Orpah and Ruth a similar experience in Judah where they would be “too distant from her own kin to receive care and sustenance.”1 Persuaded, Orpah decides to return to Moab.

But Ruth could only see a meaningless future without the presence of her mother-by-marriage. In that moment, Ruth made the choice to go with her mother-in-law assuming that wherever Naomi was going was better than staying where she was. She begged to go with Naomi saying: 
Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.(v. 16) Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me. (v.17) 

Rudy Rasmus, a modern day prophet and lead pastor at St. Johns United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas, explains that Ruth did as so many of us have and continue to do; refashion family as required. Ruth was not Jewish, but she had come to trust in Naomi’s God, surely due to the model that Naomi had presented through her life. Ruth is redefining the definition of family and faith for us. We live in an age where faith is not necessarily passed down by families. Our spiritual fathers and mothers are not necessarily our fathers and mothers. We live in an age afflicted by death, divorce, and distance. The people with whom we break bread, share our lives, and spend our holidays become family without the bloodline – our family of faith. 

Trust is another word for faith, and faith is often the by-product of meaningful relationships, like the one between Naomi and Ruth. When Ruth left Moab, she left the other gods behind, because she had seen something in her new mother, Naomi, that made her declare that nothing mattered more than that relationship.

Trust is important. On Friday I spent the day at West Ohio licensing school -where people who are preparing to become licensed local pastors go. The school takes place once a year and includes topics such as mission, ministry, funerals and weddings, sexual ethics, pastoral boundaries, and biblical reflection. I co-presented with a friend about ministry and diversity. One of the exercises we asked the students to do was to pair up and do some role play. One person played the role of someone who was not religious and thought of church as an example of hypocrisy. The other person was a Christian. The two met at the county fair, they find out that their kids are friends in the same classroom, and they begin to talk. We asked the Christian to talk to the non-Christian about the importance of church without using churchy language.

The students LOVED the role play. After they did the role play, students reported back about their experiences. For a lot of them, the people playing the Christian knew that they could not argue or convince the non-Christian into coming to church. But what they could do was build a relationship – and a relationship takes time, and trust. Trust is another word for faith. Ruth chose to take the path toward redemption without knowing how the ultimate process would work its way through her life to the ultimate end. 

The two women made the journey back home to Bethlehem where they were greeted by family and friends. (v. 19) All the city was excited because of them; and the women said, “Is this Naomi?” (v. 20). But she said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.” In spite of bitter experiences, Naomi knew that if she could get home to her family, her problems would give way to provision and all would be well. 

In Bethlehem, acting on the instructions of Naomi, Ruth begins to toil and glean the left over grain from Boaz’s fields. One of the challenges we often face is giving up before God can show up. Ruth continued to toil. Ruth trusted the instruction of an elder family member who was close to God. 
In the critical next step of Ruth’s journey, she meets Boaz who falls for her. We will talk about this more next week, but be sure to remember that Boaz, before falling for her, protected her from assault and starvation, even though she was a foreigner, an immigrant, someone who came to a new country because she had nothing left where she came from. So, the last verse in this chapter of Ruth tells us that Boaz showed kindness to Ruth, an immigrant, and she became his wife.

(example of campus ministry with two main groups – very churchy students and those who have no deep roots in church but are searching for God – the challenge is to help them trust each other and build relationship.) It is as though the two groups came from different countries into a new place, and they were learning how to live out their faith together. 

I believe that even in the midst of all that she had lost, Ruth saw something hopeful in staying with Naomi. Trust and relationship matter.. However, remember that Naomi blessed both of her daughters in law before continuing on to Judah – she blessed Orpah, the daughter in law who went back to Moab, and she blessed Ruth, who continued on the journey into a strange land. 

Kimberly Knight reminds us: Blessed be those who choose a life with us AND those who choose a life outside of us. Blessed be the ears who hear the Word in new ways AND those who cannot let go of previous understandings to traverse into the unknown.  
This story from ancient Hebrew scripture reveals at least two key attributes of God. This narrative tells us that the God of all creation is concerned with the mundane affairs of humankind, with everyday life, the inconsolable grief of an older widow who has now buried her sons plus the broken heart of a young woman. 

In addition, this story affirms that our hope in God is well placed. May the examples of Naomi – the widow who blessed both those who decided not to follow her and the one who came with her – and the example of Ruth – the one who trusted that the God of Judah had a better future in store for her – may we cherish these examples and consider how we are called to respond to God in our own lives. 

Sunday, July 8, 2018

7-8-18 “God is Love3” (to the 3rd power)

7-8-18    “God is Love3” (to the 3rd power)

   In an episode of the epic television series “The Twilight Zone,” a Chicago-style mobster of the 1920s, who lived a life of endless debauchery, is gunned down and we find him in the afterlife. There, he’s enjoying everything he ever wanted - all the things that he lied, stole, and otherwise lived a life of crime to acquire - wine, women, endless poker games where he just can’t lose, and more money than he can spend. In fact, in death he’s living it up. There’s an “angelic” presence, played by Sebastian Cabot, the butler from the show “Family Affair,” with him almost at his beckon call. It doesn’t take long, however, before he finds himself growing frustrated and increasingly bored with the tedium and lack of challenge with his lot in death. Turning to his other-worldly host, he says, “This is becoming boring. I don’t know how long I can take this. Maybe I should go down to the other place,” to which the angel replies, “This IS the other place.”

   Author Mark Dawidziak, in his new book, Everything I Need to Know I Learned in the Twilight Zone, points out that in that classic television series of the 1960s, the irony that played out in nearly every episode was that the foil in each show was paid back in spades with whatever it was they brought into the story. If they were a person who sought control, it was lack of control that did them in. If they were a person who elevated physical beauty to near idolatry, it was beauty that brought them crashing down. It’s a classic representation of the idea that we reap what we sow. So the irony in the episode about the gangster is that that which he pursued in his life through crime, violence, and reckless disregard of others turned out in the end not to be the heaven he thought it would be, but his eternal hell.

   We often don’t consider that possibility in the midst of our own pursuits of heaven - whether in the afterlife or in a “heaven on earth.” We have ideas of what heaven is or isn’t - some taken literally from scripture including mansions and streets of gold, and others taken from our earthly perception that “if this or that isn’t there it can’t be heaven” (read that for me as, “if there are no golf courses, it’s not heaven!”).

   So while we won’t know what heaven is like until we get there, the French philosopher, paleontologist, geologist, Jesuit priest and theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote that “the physical structure of the universe is love.” And picking up on that understanding, Fr. Richard Rohr writes that, “If a loving Creator started this whole thing—the Big Bang, the evolution of diverse and beautiful life forms—then there has to be a ‘DNA connection,’ as it were, between the One who creates and what is created. The basic template of reality is Trinitarian, it’s relational. God is relationship.” And he goes on to say that the Hebrew writer of Genesis used plural pronouns for some wonderful reason when describing God’s words in Creation, “Let us create in our own image, in the likeness of ourselves.” 

   So the “DNA connection” that Rohr refers to is between the Creator and the creation and reflects not only the make-up of the Creator but the nature of the Creator as well. We know the nature of God as Trinitarian, right? The three-in-one nature or relationship of God as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer in relationship with the Christ and the Holy Spirit. And de Chardin confirms in his writing what the author of 1 John tells us in his, that the structure of the universe has the same DNA as the one who created it, the one who is love. So God is love, and that DNA fingerprint of God is found in and on everything in all of Creation - from the heavens to the earth and everything in between.

   In our reading for today, the elder gets to the point of what he has been leading us to since chapter 1: God is love. In fact, he so wants to make this point clear to us that he says it twice, in verse 8 and again in verse 16; God is love. And with that claim of who and how God is framed within our trinitarian understanding of God as the loving relationship of three-in-one, then the elder’s words take possession of us: “the person who does not love, does not know God.” And that claim should produce a hard swallow and nervous downcast eyes within each of us, because who among us does not “not love” someone?  
   Lest we forget, love as used in scripture is less about an emotion or feeling and more about action. Loving another, loving God, is as much something we do as it is something we feel. So that resonates with us as we hear the elder’s continued message: “This is love: it is not that we loved God, but that God loved us.” God took action for us. God gave us love. God gave us love in Jesus Christ and God gave us love in all of creation. 
   And he goes on, Dear friends, if God loved us this way, we also ought to love each other. 12 No one has ever seen God. If we love each other, God remains in us and [God’s] love is made perfect in us. 13 This is how we know we remain in [God] and [God] remains in us…” It’s a conditional statement: “IF we love each other, God remains in us and God’s love is made perfect in us.” IF we love each other. The alternative, then, is also true. IF WE DO NOT love each other, then God’s love DOES NOT remain in us. 

   Now, I know your heads might be churning a bit. 
I can hear that question forming in your thoughts: “Pastor Jay, you always preach Romans 8 that says ‘nothing can separate us from the love of God,’ but now you’re saying that if we don’t love each other God’s love doesn’t remain in us.” How can that be?
   Well, I’m glad you asked. Let me come at that from a different direction to see if it helps. Have you ever accidentally taken a drink of milk or taken a bite of food only to realize too late that it had spoiled? Something had changed in its nature, in its biological or chemical makeup that made it no longer edible or at least palatable, right? Or try this one, have you ever had an encounter with, oh let’s say a pastor, who in the midst of a bad moment or a bad day, said or did something that didn’t seem very pastoral? 
Unlike the curdled milk, which gave way to a natural biological process that is part of its nature, the aforementioned pastor in that moment, didn’t change his or her nature, but momentarily denied it. As Richard Rohr puts it, as humans we sometimes deny our true selves - our true nature as beloved children of God, as the beloved community of God - and give in to our false selves when we deny the nature of God that is created in us from the beginning. We do that, he suggests, when we fail to love each other as God created us to. It is a denial of the nature of God within us; the DNA connection between God and all of creation; the image of God in which we are all created. 
It doesn’t mean that God no longer loves us, it means that in those moments we are not fully loving God. 

   Why do we do this? We claim that we always love God, but to paraphrase the elder, actions speak louder than words. Often, if we really think about it, our failure to love God comes down to a fear of something or someone. Greed, for example, often manifests itself as a result of a fear of running out, of not having enough, or that someone else is going to get more than us. 
Xenophobia, the fear of strangers or those who are not like us, often comes from a lack of understanding, a lack of relationship with the very people we fear. 
Hate of another is often the result of a personal, deep-seated fear of inadequacy. 
Consumerism, materialism, idolatry are often born out of a fear or lack of trust in God, that God won’t really provide all that we need, or particularly all that we want, so we put the acquisition of things above God.

Our scripture addresses this, though, saying, 
God is love, and those who remain in love remain in God and God remains in them. This is how love has been perfected in us, so that we can have confidence on the Judgment Day…” Note he says so that we can have confidence, not fear, “because we are exactly the same as God is in this world.” We are made in the image, with the same DNA, as God. And it continues, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear expects punishment. The person who is afraid has not been made perfect in love. 19 We love because God first loved us. 20 If anyone says, I love God, and hates a brother or sister, he is a liar, because the person who doesn’t love a brother or sister who can be seen can’t love God, who can’t be seen. 
21 This commandment we have from him: Those who claim to love God ought to love their brother and sister also.”
   Because love is the true nature of God, and we are made in God’s image, it is also the nature of our true selves as well. Love in relationship with God and with one another. 

In John’s gospel, Jesus says to the disciples, 
“As the Father loved me, I too have loved you. 
Remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. 
11 I have said these things to you so that my joy will be in you and your joy will be complete.”

   Jesus said that just as God loved him, he has loved them. And then he commands them, and us, to love our neighbors in the same way. And in another place he tells them that God will send the Holy Spirit as a companion to help them, and us. It is in that relationship that we experience the never-ending, all-encompassing love of God. 
   As Rohr suggests, “…here love characterizes God, whose expressions of love create relationships between God’s self and others. The love that defines who God is, finds expression in what God does through [the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ]. 
The highest manifestation of love is to lay down one’s life for another (Jn 15:13). [To demonstrate that God’s love is more powerful than fear, more powerful than hate, more powerful than empire, more powerful than torture, more powerful than death,] Jesus laid down his life and was, in turn, lifted up by God.”

   God’s love is “perfected” in us, the passage says, when we love one another.  The Greek words translated here as perfected are based on the word “telos,” which means “goal,” or “purpose,” “desire,” or even “God’s preferred future.” The idea is that God’s love reaches its goal or desired end when it creates relationships of love with people among people - when we live into our true selves as we were created to be. As an abstraction, that is when we disconnect from God by giving in to our false selves, love falls short of that goal. It is imperfect. 

   There is hope, however. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. observed that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but bends toward justice.” 
That is, God’s desired end will win out in the long run. However, we live in the short run. Protestant pastor and political leader Rev. Dr. Willam Barber addressed that, saying, As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. saw clearly in the last years of his life, we face a real choice between chaos and community—we need a moral revolution. If that was true fifty years ago, then we must be clear today: America needs a moral revival to bring about beloved community.”
   And what Barber goes on to suggest is that this “moral revival” is a natural outgrowth of realizing how connected we already are: what we do unto others or to the earth, we really do to ourselves.That is, when we sow anger, we reap anger; when we sow hate and fear, that is our harvest as well. 
In an almost Twilight Zone kind of way, whatever we bring into the story will ultimately decide our fate in the story.
   William Barber writes, “The main obstacle to beloved community continues to be the fear that people in power have used for generations to divide and conquer God’s children who are, whatever our differences, all in the same boat.” When the love of God finds expression in human love, there the goal is reached.

   I want to share part of an article I read recently by a young woman named Madisyn Taylor. She’s not an overtly religious or faith-based writer, more like one of those Spiritual-But-Not-Religious folks I told you about last week, but her words preach. And she writes, Love is often presented as the opposite of fear, but true love is not opposite anything. 
True love is far more powerful than any negative emotions, as it is the environment in which all things arise. Negative emotions/actions are like sharks swimming in the ocean of love. All things beautiful and fearful, ugly and kind, powerful and small, come into existence, do their thing, and disappear within the context of this great ocean. At the same time, they are made of the very love in which they swim and can never be separated. We are made of this love and live our whole lives at one with it, whether we know it or not.
   “It is only the illusion that we are separate from this great love that causes us to believe that choosing anything other than love makes sense or is even possible. In the relative, dualistic world of positive and negative, darkness and light, male and female, we make choices and we learn from them… 
Underlying these relative choices, though, is the choice to be conscious of what we are, which is love, or to be unconscious of it. When we choose to be conscious of it, we choose love. We will still exist in the relative world of opposites and choices and cause and effect, and we will need to make our way here, but doing so with an awareness that we are all made of this love will enable us to be more playful, more joyful, more loving and wise, as we make our way. Ultimately, the choices we make will shed light on the love that makes us all one, enabling those who have forgotten to return to the source.
   “This world makes it easy to forget this great love, which is part of why we are here. We are here to remember and, when we forget, to remember again to choose love.”

   This fourth chapter of 1 John is one of the Bible’s great “love” chapters. At its core is that “God is love” (4:8, 16), and we share that perfect love modeled in the Trinity - God’s love to the third power. God is the subject and love is the descriptor. God is a living being, whose identity and nature is defined by love. Love characterizes God, whose expressions of love create relationships between God’s self and others. The love that defines who God is, finds expression in what God does through Jesus Christ, and that then is displayed to all of creation by those of us who claim to be Christ’s followers. The moral revolution that the world needs will come only when we as the beloved children of God, as Christ’s hands and feet on earth, live into the DNA of God that is birthed within us and live into our true selves. When we do that, when we choose love over fear, or hate, or anger, or anything that denies our true selves, then we can offer HOPE to the world. We do that when we choose to:

Be HOSPITABLE. Welcome others as God in Christ has welcomed us. When we reach out and receive all persons. All hunger for something more and better than the world is offering. No one is outside the love of God. 
OFFER them Christ. The Jesus story is an irresistible story. Take the opportunity to learn, to be shaped and formed as Jesus followers, and then live into the image of who God created you to be to the world. 
PRACTICE: Practice your faith. Participate in prayer, in study, in service, in worship; talk about your faith and be encouraged to put your faith into action. Be invitational and not just informational.
ENGAGE: Engage with the community, with the neighbors and  neighborhood around us. Build relationships and connect the Gospel and the love of God to activities going on in our community.

   Offer HOPE and remember: Perfect love casts out fear. In a time of great fear, focus upon the love of God. Hold before all people the love of God we have experienced in and through Jesus. I pray that you will be courageous, not cautious. Hold before all people the hope we have in and through Jesus Christ. Remember, God has the final word. And that word is LOVE. Amen.