It seems that Christianity has gotten a bad name—often because of the hate and prejudice and even violence that has been done in the name of religion. It used to be that we did our defining and apologetics around the word “Baptist”—You know, “I’m not that kind of Baptist…”
Now it seems we need to do that around Christianity too. “I’m a Christian, but not that kind of Christian.” Whenever we downplay our identity as Christians, it plays into the hands of intolerance and evil. I think it’s time to reclaim our identity as Christians.
Identity is on the minds of people across this country. Arizona is dealing with the challenges of immigration by engaging in identity politics. They have enshrined racial profiling into the law. If this is not bad enough, John Guttermann, who speaks at today’s forum, informs us that calls to senators Franken and Klobuchar’s offices are running 10-1 in favor of Arizona’s law. The question is, where is the religious voice? Is the only religious voice the one of intolerance and restrictivism that masks racism? When will the voices of love-based Christianity stand up and be counted? There was a demonstration just yesterday and there have been demonstrations across the country in favor of immigration reform. This is a good thing. And it is a way for us to reclaim our voice.
We need to remember the words of Torah: “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do them wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love them as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:33-34) Jesus paraphrases this law from Leviticus when he says we should love the lord, our God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength and we should love our neighbor as ourselves. All of the law and the prophets are summed up by these two commandments. All ethics are based on love. All justice is based on love. All belief is based on love—unless it is based on fear (but that’s another sermon).
When we identify ourselves as Christians, we are identifying ourselves with a lifestyle based on love. As today’s scripture says, this is how people will know we are Christians.
And yet, it seems we are a bit love-starved. Every once in a while, I listen to Christian radio. While the programs often have good insights, I find there is an undertone of hatred of the outsider, of the present administration, of the people of different faiths. And worse, this hatred is called love. What’s up with that?
It gets to the point that we don’t trust people who call themselves Christians. This past week, I got visited by a couple of people wanting to pray for me. I get suspicious when these things happen. I have been prayed for and prayed at in an attempt to convert me from my errant ways. These two young men were from a neighboring church that works with students. They said that God had put it on their hearts to pray for me. I wondered how they even knew me. So we had a good discussion about our ministries. They asked if there was anything that I was going through that merited special prayer. I said I didn’t think so. I kept on wondering when they were going to manipulate me, or some such thing. But they didn’t do any of that. They sincerely wanted to pray for me. So we prayed for each other, lifting up our common ministry and neighborhood. What does it say about me or us, that I made the assumption about a hidden agenda? Maybe I’m the one who needs to trust in God’s love project.
In today’s scripture, Jesus says that he is giving us a new commandment that we love one another. It is part of a long farewell discourse, but this doesn’t seem like anything new. Maybe people were looking at which doctrines to accept and which to deny. It’s like Jesus was saying, “look, it all comes down to this: love one another. I don’t know how I can make it plainer.” Maybe Jesus said it as a joke. “look, this is what it’s all about, hello!” He even calls the disciples “little children.” It’s like saying, little children will understand this. Love one another. The earliest creeds are all about who Jesus is, who God is and how we will be judged. Funny how the central commandment of Jesus gets lost. Maybe we need to reclaim the love principle.
The Sojourners community called upon religious people to sign on to a Covenant of Civility. Seeing the ways that we are so focused incivility in even our religious discourses. Here are some of the commitments in the covenant:
- We believe that each of us, and our fellow human beings, are created in the image of God. The respect we owe to God should be reflected in the honor and respect we show to each other in our common humanity, particularly in how we speak to each other.
- We pledge that when we disagree, we will do so respectfully, without falsely impugning the other’s motives, attacking the other’s character, or questioning the other’s faith, and recognizing in humility that in our limited, human opinions, “we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror” (1 Corinthians 13:12). We will therefore “be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2).
- We will ever be mindful of the language we use in expressing our disagreements, being neither arrogant nor boastful in our beliefs.
- We recognize that we cannot function together as citizens of the same community, whether local or national, unless we are mindful of how we treat each other in pursuit of the common good in the common life we share together.
- We commit to pray for our political leaders—those with whom we may agree, as well as those with whom we may disagree. We believe that it is more difficult to hate others, even our adversaries and our enemies, when we are praying for them.
- We pledge to God and to each other that we will lead by example in a country where civil discourse seems to have broken down. We will work to model a better way in how we treat each other in our many faith communities, even across religious and political lines. We will strive to create in our congregations safe and sacred spaces for common prayer and community discussion as we come together to seek God’s will for our nation and our world.
Love one another. But don’t make it lip service love. Love so that you are there in the thick and thin with people.
When everything is going well, everyone is healthy and happy, when there are plenty of jobs to go around, love is easy. It’s harder when challenges arise. Jesus modeled loving the unlovable—even our enemies.
Love the people who drive you nuts.
Love each other and treat others the way you would want to be treated. That’s what the people of Israel tried to remember as they entered into the promised Land. They didn’t always succeed, and neither do we. But we come here week after week to witness to the capacity of humanity to believe in love once again. We come here to remember that our identity is to be those who love. That’s how people will know we are Christians.
But more than that, that’s how we will know we are Christians.
So here’s a novel idea. Let love be our identity.
Love our friends, sure. But also love the friendless.
Love with audacity.
Love with abandon
Love with authenticity.
Love with courage.
Love with commitment.
Love so that this sin sick world will be changed, just as we are changed.
Love and we will not only witness the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we will be the good news.
Love is our identity. Live the love of Christ and all things will be new because we will see each other through a new lens. And we will unleash our pent-up exuberance and live the way Jesus wanted us to live. When we resurrect the love principle, then Christ is alive in us and the world is alive with hope and pregnant with possibility.
“A new commandment I give you,” says Jesus: “Love one another.”