Sermon for 6th Easter - May 6 2018

Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year B
May 6, 2018
The Rev. Evelyn Wheeler, Rector

Acts 10:44-48; Psalm 98; 1 John5:1-6; John 15:9-17

Last week I was at a diocesan clergy retreat and learning session.  We heard several talks on something called “Fierce Conversations” – which is a trendy label for conversations that aim to get at basic truths, real issues, and actual problems that maybe we would be a lot more happy to never have to discuss at all, but know we need to anyway.

“Fierce” in this context does not mean angry or rude or hostile or insulting; it means powerful, invigorating, enriching, connecting … even loving. 

In other words, Fierce is a technique to encourage honest, open, and trusting discussions about important ideas and concerns, thereby developing greater understanding, deeper relationships and stronger bonds between the people in the conversation, and perhaps, even an action plan! 

Once we know what to look for, we can see Jesus using similar skills in his conversations.   Even today, we can see the signs – he tells us the most important thing: That we love one another as he has loved us.

The Greek word translated here as “as” means two different things – one is “in the same way” and the other is “by or because of.”

That one small word, depending on how we understand it, accomplishes two things:  it gives us the task and the standard, and it gives us the power to do the task and meet the standard.

God’s word is never only a word.  When God said “let there be light,” there was light.  When God said, “You are my people,” we become God’s people.  And when God says, “Love as I love,” we are enabled to love as God loves.

Yet we see signs of other things, as well, as we confront reality: there are far too many people that do not love; far too many institutions and ideas that squash and squander the power to love; far too many traditions that discount love; and far too many times when we, who dedicate ourselves to the love of God, fail to love others – and even, fail to love ourselves.

Why is that, do you suppose?

From my perspective, it is because we are afraid.  We see the evil, and it frightens us.  We see change, and it frightens us.  We see our mortality, and it frightens us.  We see failure, and it frightens us.

I’m not sure why, but we are afraid so much. 

Maybe it’s because we want to believe in God, but our ideas about God are too timid and too narrow.  We want God to protect us from the assaults of life, the bad things, loneliness, loss, pain, wickedness … but God doesn’t make those go away.

So we have to grapple with our ideas about God – just as the disciples had to grapple with their ideas about a messiah, and what a messiah was supposed to do. 

In a recent homily, Timothy Seamans, a friend of mine and Episcopal priest in Virginia, quoted James Cone, a very well-known and highly regarded theologian who died just this past week.  Cone wrote that, if you are truly committed to the good news of Jesus in this society, “then you must be for the poor and weak, and if you are for the poor and the weak, then you must also be concerned about the liberation and freedom of black people, too.” He also insisted on the necessity of black self-love in a society that worshiped whiteness.[1]

Love your neighbor as yourself, Jesus said.

I’ve seen reports from studies about black girls who want white dolls.  We know that black women will apply chemicals to their hair to straighten it.  There is a division even among black people that sometimes favors the lighter skin tones.

Black people have been told, and are still told, in many ways, that being black is bad, having black skin is bad, having black hair is bad.  Black students in schools all across the country are frequently treated more harshly if they misbehave in class than white students.  And we know, if we are paying attention, that lots of people – white people – are quite comfortable saying terrible things about black people, speaking of and to them as less than human, and on and on.

Both Howard Thurman and James Cone wrote that for Black people to believe in God and Jesus is an exercise fraught with pitfalls, because God and Jesus have been used by white people for generations to deny the humanity of non-white people.

When you are told, over and over again, that you are less valuable, less human, simply less than someone else, some of that is going to rub off. 

Self-hatred is taught by our culture that clearly values some folks  more than others. 

How can you love your neighbor as yourself if you cannot love yourself?  If you are told that God can’t love you because of the color of your skin, or your ancestry, or your sexuality, or your religion, why should one believe in God at all?

Why should any of us believe in a God that discriminates against some and favors others?

Is it any wonder if we don’t?

No, the wonder is that we do.  And the real wonder is that any member of any oppressed group does. 

The amazing wonder is that everything that builds us up, and tells us that we are loved and loveable, and so is everyone else, is in the Bible, too.

It’s in the things Jesus was telling his disciples all those years ago, before his arrest.  “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.  If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.  I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”[2]

If the object is joy – and the means is love… and, as the author of the letter to John said, Perfect love casts out fear – then the ANSWER is trusting in God to give us the power to love, and then our joy will be complete.

The answer to fear is God.  And God has appointed us to go and bear fruit that will last.  To love one another.  And that, my friends, is truly fierce.



[2] John 15:9-11. NRSV.

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