A Pentecost Reflection

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A professor walks into the classroom and holds up a book. “This book is red,” he announces. There is a moment of confusion and then someone corrects him, “Prof, the book is blue.” A moment of hesitation as the professor looks directly at him. “No, it’s red,” and the classroom erupts. The discussion becomes more strident as people begin to suggest that the professor is messing with them, doesn’t respect them, is crazy, is blind, but each time someone ends with the statement that everyone can see the book is blue, the professor repeats his claim. Before the class is entirely out of order he turns the book around. The side facing him was, in fact, red.

 

It’s interesting how ardent we can become defending our understanding of the world against claims that do not support our understanding. When others see the world differently than we do it throws our worldview into doubt, it’s confusing, it’s disturbing. A high school psychology class is divided in half, right down this row, half are told to put their heads down while the other half view a picture of a pretty young woman with a fancy hat, they then put their heads down and the other half of the class is shown a picture of a large nosed old woman. The entire class is then shown a composite of the two and again, the class erupts and tempers begin to flare as each side defends their own view of this composite, until the teacher shows them how he prejudiced their view, limited their view, to one interpretation.

 

We do this all the time. It’s a trick of the human brain, it’s a part of our nature that we attempt to create meaning and once we have identified it, we defend it. The meaning we have created becomes the foundation of our way of life. We assign meanings to clothing, hair,make up or lack thereof. We assign meaning to income, poverty, education, career, or lack thereof. We assign meaning to language, ethnicity, country of orgin, race, and political affiliation. And once we have determined that we have found the right one, we defend it, and we shake our heads in confusion when someone implies we have it all wrong.

 

The disciples and followers of Jesus gathered in that upstairs room, closeted, cloistered, locked in. Suffering the heat of the day in tight quarters and closed windows. They had experienced something different, something unexpected in the person of Jesus Christ and they knew that this different view didn’t quite fit in with the dominant world view. They knew that to be identified as the ones suggesting we, the religious people, have it all wrong, is dangerous.

 

We, as a church, gathered once as the session and came out of that room wanting to say that the dominant world view that we are too small to make a difference, that people ‘naturally’ segregate, that the races cannot get along, that all of this is wrong. We as a church came out of that room saying we have been called to announce a different paradigm, that race is a social construct which can and will be transcended, that minority communities are more like us than they are different, that we can transcend our differences and love one another, that we can speak the same language of love, connection, and community.

 

The disciples had seen Jesus come to them, through all their defenses and their attempts to shut the world out; through their fear and locked up hearts, Jesus came; through their doubts and misunderstandings, Jesus came. And still, we find them again, locked up, shut up inside this closed dark room, fear dripping off the walls like sweat.

 

You can almost imagine them saying, “What about the religious right? What about all those pharisees who will stone us to death, call us apostate?” You can almost imagine them saying, “We will be charged with treason, with abandoning the way of our forefathers!”

 

Are we any different? I wasn’t at that session meeting but I can imagine some of you might have said, “But what about the hate groups, what about those conservative elements in town who like the status quo?”

 

I can imagine the disciples saying, “But we don’t know how to do this, we don’t know what it’s supposed to look like, we don’t know exactly where we are going or how we will get there.” But then, the original disciples didn’t know either.

 

When we look back with perfect hindsight we can imagine the disciples understanding the Matthews 28 verse, go and make disciples of all the world, to be about the formation of the church. Go and make Christians, is generally how we hear this verse. Except, except there was no christianity, there was no christian faith at all. There was no church to which to bring people. There was only a small group of Jesus followers locked away in an upper room, sweltering away in the heat and unsure what to do or how to do it. I’ve heard it said that a better translation of Matthew 28 is not go and make disciples, but go and love all the people in the world as I have loved you. Go to all the corners of the earth, to all the strange and different people with their strange and different ways of being, and love them, just love them.

 

Except that this act of loving all the people as Jesus has loved us, changes everything. It implies that our traditions are not really all that important, that love is more important. It implies that our hierarchies are unhealthy, that anything that impedes or blocks the flow of love and healthy connection is unhealthy. It breaks through all the boundaries that help us to feel safe and to know our place in the world. Suddenly we are called into deep relationship with lots of different people, unexpected people.

 

Poor Lydia, who had a good station in life, who was respected and wealthy, who was quite, quite comfortable and enjoyed a certain station in life, found that Christ’s love for her brought her into the company of the most disreputable people. Her social standing and comfort crushed and irretrievably lost. Poor Phillip, who had been taught all his life that a man who had been castrated could never come before God, was not fit to do so, found himself running alongside an ethiopian eunuch’s chariot talking to him about God. It was so inappropriate! And God isn’t done yet disturbing our understanding of what is and isn’t right.

 

Peter meditates and prays on the roof and God says, “take and eat, all of these defiling creatures.” What? Take and eat snakes and pigs, and nasty seafood? Be defiled? Oh, and by the way, go and talk to that Roman guy, Cornelius. It was so, so inappropriate! What more treasonous or unpatriotic act could a Jew commit? Peter himself says, ““You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile;” But he did it anyway!

 

Are we any different? Wiser heads say to us, “You’re going to what? Work on race relations in Jasper?” but we’re going to do it anyway. More cautious people suggest we lay low and just quietly go about our lives. It’s not our problem. We don’t need to fix it. But God says go anyway.

 

The disciples saw Jesus break through barriers they themselves had set up; they saw him come to them and throw all that they thought they knew into disarray. This is not something most of us want. We love to read about challenging times, we love to watch movies about people taking risks, we love to admire activists from afar, but we don’t like to be them. We don’t like being called to take a stand. We don’t like feeling as if our backs are against the wall and we can’t do otherwise.

 

So it might make sense to us that they were hiding. I mean who wanted to go out and challenge the status quo? Who wanted to speak love to violence, poverty and hate? Who wanted to let go of centuries of tradition and boundaries that helped one know exactly where they fit in and who they were? Who wanted to cross those boundaries and wonder if you’ve just been defiled? So they hid. And so do we.

 

We hide from the necessity of action. We hide from the need to speak love to violence. We hide because we don’t feel safe and we want more time to prepare, to get things right, to be certain. If the disciples who walked the earth with Jesus for three years, personally witnessing miracles and life pulled out of death were afraid, maybe it’s OK that we are too. Maybe it’s OK to admit that sometimes this call, this mission feels too big, too uncertain, too risky. And maybe it’s OK to admit that we want some certainty, we want some assurances, that we are on the right track, that we will make it, that we won’t look back later and feel like we got it all wrong.

 

But God’s not done with us yet. Here they all were, hiding in that upper room, locked into with the stifling heat and the fear. But God didn’t leave them there. That holy, crazy, wild Spirit of God moved among them, lit them on fire with passion, with creativity, with daring do, and sent them forth into the street. Oh man! We’d better be careful what we pray for! The barriers that had divided them were shattered. The fear that had kept them safe dissolved like it had never been there. Filled with the Holy Spirit they were loosed on the world! And nothing has been the same since.

 

God did not promise to keep them safe. He did not promise them pretty church buildings with stain glass. He did not tell them they would have no doubts. God did not even tell them how to do what they were called to do. Most of our new testament texts are letters written in response to conflicts and disputes. God never said it would be easy but God called them anyway. God filled them with the Holy Spirit which broke down all the barriers and resistance within them that they might be able to speak love, and be love and teach love, again and again, and again.

 

And we might pray today to be emboldened by the Holy Spirit, to be filled with love and compassion for our neighbors, to be sent out from this building to the people who are God’s beloved children, sent to them that we might love them and stand with them in times of trouble. But this is not about safety, and it is not about having the answers or knowing exactly how to do this, it is only about the necessity of going forth, it is only about the love that God has given us and the need to share that love.

 

If we go where God is sending us and we love and commit as God has put upon our hearts we will be known in this community and in the broader world as that crazy, mixed up, way out there church, the one which threatens power structures and the status quo, the one which loves unconditionally and breaks down barriers and crosses boundaries, and we won’t be safe. But we will be about God’s business.

 

Do not be afraid, God has said to us, do no, do not, do not be afraid, for I am with you always, unto the ends of the earth.

 

I imagine it happened this way, the people were gathered in the upstairs room, filled with fear and trepidation, uncertain and wary. One of them started to pray, just give us our bread for today Lord, just fill us with your spirit that we might be, in all ways, your people” and as this one person prayed others began to join in and God heard their cry and God responded. We do not have a god who would force his will upon us, but when we are ready to move outside of our cloistered spaces, when we are ready to take a risk, to admit we need God’s help, when we can let go of our fear, God is waiting, just waiting, to rush in and hold us, uplift us and fill our hearts. God is waiting for us, as a loving parent waits on a child’s first steps, knowing that when we can let go of our fear, we won’t only be walking freely, we will be running, skipping, jumping, and dancing with joy. It is our birthright as children of God and God is waiting with bated breath, eager to celebrate with us, our first few timid steps into a new life, a new beginning, a bigger and broader world than we ever could have expected.

 

 

 

Falling Gently into God

John 12:24  Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

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What does it mean to let yourself die that seeds of new growth might flourish? If a seed does not fall to the ground, it’s an ominous thing to hear one say. The easiest and least threatening response is that this is Jesus talking about his approaching death and this makes it not about us which is a relief! I mean what if Jesus were inviting us to die? And did he mean this literally? It’s the same sort of response he gave Nicodemus, One must be born from above, but how, Nicodemus wondered, does one do that? What does it mean that anyone who loves his life will lose it? It appears that Jesus was talking about more than his approaching death, he was talking about us. And if being born again from above gives us pause, surely dying that we might yield a rich harvest is certainly pause-worthy.

 

It’s pause-worthy because we have been taught to grasp, to achieve, to accumulate. It’s pause-worthy because we have learned to identify ourselves with what we have done, what we have, by our careers and all of this is not something from which we come but is something which we create, leaving us in control. What does it say of us that we seek less to express the dna of our creator than that we seek to create ourselves according to what we have learned is the best, most appropriate, most desirable? Jesus gently mocked our striving saying, do not be anxious nor strident in your seeking to provide. Look at the birds, they do not sow nor reap nor gather into barns but the father provides for them, look at the lilies of the field, they do not toil nor spin but look how your father has clothed them. Do not be anxious, do not strive for your own success, let all of that die in you, do not be afraid, do not be anxious. It is God who will provide.

 

Dying to our own striving and self-protecting, self-producing ways is to fall gently into the hands of God. It is to let go, finally, of all our striving. It is to lay back upon the waters, gently releasing our earnest efforts to hold our heads above the waters, and allow the waters to carry us, to bear us up, to cradle us gently.

 

Dying to our own striving is to release our tight grip on the seams that appear to hold us together, noticing that something within us is struggling to be born, is struggling to blossom and it can only do so by ripping apart the seams of our carefully ordered world. It is to breathe that deep fresh breath of new life that tells us we will no longer be constricted and made small by our tidy efforts to control life, no, instead we breathe deeply of the spirit, the wild, holy wind which blows where it will and which will carry us with it, if we can release our tight grip, if we can dare to come apart at the seams and allow all the seeds within us to burst forth like dandelion seeds before the breath of a child. If we can allow our hearts to be torn asunder by compassion and love and weep the tears of bitter loss and even more joyful laughter.

 

So it’s easier and safer to believe that Jesus was only speaking about himself, falling to the ground that a rich harvest would ensue. And this easier and safer keeps our lives very small and stifles that impudent, unrealistic, blossoming, burgeoning thing which threatens to rip the seams of propriety apart and we can all breathe a sigh of relief, except…

 

except that it keeps our lives very small and very safe and something within us dies and we know that and it hurts so we become very tightly laced and proper because that thing that wants to live inside of us cries out to be born and to live this wild crazy life where we burn as bright and beautiful as the lilies of the field and sing like birds but it seems too impossible for us and we don’t dare listen. Because if we listen, if we hear these cries of the Spirit, then we must die to all our striving, controlling, perfecting, and we don’t know how to do that.

 

We do ourselves no favors if we say that it is easy or that it is not frightening. Jesus goes on to say, my soul is troubled, but what should I say? Father save me from this? This is why I came, that the Father might be glorified in me. So we ought not be ashamed of being afraid, or struggling to release our tight grip on what we know, but we have been called to something more, something more beautiful and mysterious, more gracious and more loving, than anything we could do on our own.

 

It is the stepping into an impossible mission of reconciliation even when we don’t know exactly how it will work. It is the leaving of friends and family and the only way of life you’ve ever known to go where you are called. It is the tender vulnerability of saying out loud that God has touched you and changed your life and you know it sounds weird but you’ve got to say it anyway. It is the refusal to stop loving, even after pain and loss. It is the saying of “Yes, this too,” to all that life has to offer. It is the promise to show up fully, heart, soul, and body and the promise you won’t leave when things get scary. It is the stepping into the unknown, knowing only that God is with you, when you truly don’t know anything else and even that you take on faith. It is all of this and more.

 

It is releasing our tight grip on the life we thought we ought to have, that we should have had, in order that something new might be born in us. That something new might live through us and claim us for that higher good, that higher meaning; that some ineffable mystery of the Spirit would light up inside of us, burn brightly within us and we would have new life.

 

If the grain of wheat, which is only a single grain, should fall to the ground, it yields a rich harvest. Let us be fall gently into the ground that is God, that is God’s way and God’s path, and God’s love, releasing our anxious striving, that we may be a rich harvest which gives joy to God. amen

 

 

Abiding in the Shelter of Love; a mother’s day reflection

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I am because we are. No where is that more apparent than in the relationship of a parent and a child. I am, because, we are. No where is that more true than in our relationship with God. We are relational creatures, formed out of relationship for relationship and no relationship changes us, forms us quite as much as that of a mother and child. We all need mothering and sometimes we have to look outside the bonds of family in order to find that mothering but it is part of who we are that we are all capable of mothering and, on some level, we all seek out and benefit from mothering. While the awareness of the mothering God has diminished in our tradition the prophets were fond of referring to God as the mother of Israel, how can a mother forget her own child? they asked, implying that God’s love is just like that of a mother. Jesus compared himself to a mother hen when he looked down on Jerusalem and said, how I have wanted to gather you to me like a mother hen gathers her chicks. Created in the image of God does not imply that God walks on two legs, or is gendered, or has to come the tangles out of her hair in the morning, but that our hearts and souls are created to be in these holy, sacred, nuturing relationships with one another.

 

We abide in the shelter of one another. Created in the image of God we are created to be in relationship. We are created in the image of the perichoretic God and how I really want all of you to know that word! Perichoresis is about a dance, it’s about a dance with God, it’s about God dancing with the whole of creation, drawing everything to her as she dances this incredible dance of creation, of new life, of resurrection, of a love that surpasses all understanding, of deep and abiding relationship! We have this incredibly beautiful image of God as the one who dances within God’s very self, the three aspects of the trinity, Mother, Child, Spirit, Father, Son, Holy Ghost, dancing together, this image of God as the one who draws all of us into the dance with divine mystery, all of creation trailing along as she dips and swirls bringing life and joy and love in her wake.

 

We abide in the dance of the perichoretic God, a God who is not one but three, a God who delights in us and in the whole of his creation! We abide in the shelter of one another as we learn to engage in the dance. We abide in the shelter of one another as we celebrate the good fruits, the laughter, the joy, the love, the creativity, the mystery of one another. We abide in community as we struggle with our expectations, our shoulds and should nots. We abide in love for one another as we encourage and contend honestly with one another. As we learn to dance with one another keeping that appropriate space between us, not stepping on toes, learning to follow a lead. We were never meant to be alone! Created in the image of a God who is, in and of God’s very self, relational we were created for relationship.

 

We are most ourselves when we are true to the vine that we grow from, when we are true to the seed from which we sprang. It is so tempting when things become difficult to swear off relationship. I’ll just go it alone, I don’t need that person or this person, but we were never meant to be alone. We were created to abide in the shelter, the love, the relationship of one another.

 

Last week we spoke about how right and true and good it is to let our hearts break in compassion for those who suffer around us. This abiding in the shelter of one another is so very, very good and it brings us face to face with our own shortcoming and difficulties. Such very good and very hard work. We abide with one another when we stay present in the difficult and painful times, refusing to take the easy way out, saying, “well, that’s not my problem,” but instead remain present.

 

We learn how to stay present when others are able to stay present with us. For some of us this happens when we are children and our parents mother us and nurture us and care for us. For others of us we learn this as adults when friends and family-by-choice mother us and nuture us and care for us. And it is often only in hindsight that we can see how this abiding love has changed us, has formed us that we might be better people ourselves.

 

In the beginning we want to grow up to be just like our parents, as teenagers we hope we don’t and then as adults we miss them and see the strength and courage in them and we can only wonder how we missed it when we were younger.

 

We carry aspects and characteristics of those who have raised us even when we don’t want to. We look in the mirror one day and realize that we have become our parents in so many ways. We hear our words as if spoken by another voice and realize that we have adopted language patterns and habits from those who have cared for us. We hunger so much for this parenting, this mothering that our need is often expressed in unhealthy and dysfunctional ways. It can become a cry of pain and disappointment.

 

There were so many times growing up when I was angry with my mother, angry with that livid, furious anger that only a child can hold. In so many ways she failed to live up to my expectations.. She didn’t love us as much as we needed. But then who could have? The child in me still wants someone to come and make everything all right again even as the adult in me knows that I must face the world as it is. As a child I was so often furious with my mother for not being the be-all and end-all of my life, for not being the supermom I was sure I needed and should have had. Truth is, no one is able to be the mother we all so desparately want.

 

There were many times as an adult that I would be angry with someone who had offered a nurturing hand only to withdraw it later. A pastor who offered a kind word but didn’t want an extended conversation, a friend who would listen in depth and at length to the pain of my divorce but wanted that conversation to end before I was ready. No one is able to be the mother, the parent, we all long for and if we are not careful of our expectations, if we really expect these people to fill this need we may end up with the anger of a frustrated child. We are created to abide in relationship with one another but we are also created with a deep need of God’s healing and it is this relationship our hearts most long for.

 

It takes a long time to grow up. It was only after my divorce and my growing up that I began to look back at my childhood expectations of my mother and my friends and see how out of line they were. Truth is, no one could have loved me as much as I wanted. Life hurts. It is rough and tumble. It is hard knocks, for everyone. Everyone has their own story of grief, loss, and pain. There is no one who does not have a story. We learn to be gentle with one another because we all bear wounds, often unseen. We learn to be gentle with one another because these wounds continue to cry out for healing and sometimes those cries are angry, hurt ones, but we understand the loss and pain and so we are gentle anyway.

 

Somehow as a child I had expected to be sheltered from the pain of life. I had expected strong arms around me, mothering me, caring for me, loving me even when I wasn’t very loveable. When those arms were not so strong or when they were absent, the pain of that was all the greater because I expected it to be otherwise. My expectations of my mother were so high and perhaps they were higher even because she was so amazing. But no one could have lived up to those expectations. It takes a long time to grow up! It takes time to let go of our expectations of one another so that we an appreciate the people we have in our lives as they are, rather than resent them for not being what we feel they “should” be.

 

It took a long time to appreciate the gift of her vitality, her strength, her joy, her laughter, the gracious home we lived in, the bountiful meals we shared. It took a long time because I was so focused on the things I wasn’t getting. It took a long time to be grateful for the kind word my pastor offered instead of being resentful that I couldn’t have more. It took a long time to learn that my friends need to move away from my pain and loss were not rejection but rather an invitation for me to honor them, to care for them.

 

Today as we gather together I invite you to remember the gifts you have been given, perhaps by your mother, perhaps by someone who mothered you. I invite you to remember the gifts of a safe place to be, the gifts of laughter, the gifts of guidance, the gifts of abiding presence, the gifts of joy and love. Today in response to our scripture which tells us we ought to abide in the love of one another as Jesus abides in the love of the Creator, I invite you to come forward and name those who have mothered you, those who have nurtured and sustained you and light a candle for them as we call the roll of those past and present who have mothered us.

 

 

 

Good Fruit, Bad Fruit, Strange Fruit; How can we not lament?

I suppose that the safe thing to do today would be to carry on church as if this week were no different than any other; as if the news were no different or certainly did not pertain to us. Certainly the town of Jasper has been very quiet in regards to the black lives matter campaign. It is as if this topic is just too sensitive, too painful and the risk of opening old wounds is too great. But a wound that is not properly cleansed becomes infected, can become septic. As Presbyterians we believe that we are called to be a prophetic witness in this community. Prophetic means that we speak on behalf of the kingdom of God, that we speak for the oppressed and the disempowered, that we speak for the marginalized and those who suffer under systemic racism and oppression. Still, it is tempting to play it safe, to avoid hot topics but I cannot today. The wounds of oppression and violence are too painful today. The relentless, systematic oppression calls out for cleansing.

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How can I speak about bearing good fruit today when bad fruit and strange fruit are ripening? How can I speak about the good fruit when the bad is rotting and the strange is bleeding? How can I talk about good fruit when otherwise good fruit is becoming bitter with resentment and hopelessness? How can we be good fruit, how can we help others to be good fruit?

 

Some of you have probably harvested fruit as I have. You know what it is, to go out into the orchards with your bags, to climb the ladders and fill those bags with the most tender and delicious of ripe fruit. How some of this fruit would stain your hands and lips before the day was over. You know how the kitchen would be hot as women stirred large pots over the stove and the canning, the jamming, the applesauce making began. Before nightfall there would be a nice, flaky crusted piece of pie with vanilla ice cream, a reward for a good day’s work in the orchard. This is good fruit. The sweetness of a reward earned with a little sweat and labor. At times like those we feel content; life is as it should be and all is right with the world.

 

This is how it is supposed to be. That if you work hard and you do things right good things will come, the harvest will come and it will be good and it will be sweet. But for many among us, this is not true. For many of those around us to work hard and earn good things simply means having to watch others take it.

 

Gary Haugen is a lawyer who became involved in working to end poverty and hunger world wide. He is the founder of the International Justice Mission. In a TED talk given just last month he talks about his moment of insight into the hidden cause of poverty. He was in Africa and doing interviews to help learn about the causes of poverty and hunger and how mission organizations could better address them. One of his interviewees was a woman named Venus, a widowed mother of three, who walked 12 miles that day to sit with him and speak. Imagine that. Walking 12 miles across rough country in order that your voice, your words might matter, that you might give witness to that which eats away at your life and your hope. It must have been a burning desire in her to motivate her to walk that distance just to speak to the wealthy white american who didn’t know, who didn’t get it, who offered to listen. Can you feel that? How much it meant for her to be heard? How important it was to bear witness? As she shared her story of grinding poverty with this man, who is the vision of health and wealth, she shared that her poverty had cost the life of her youngest son. She shared how she had watched as he whithered away, his legs bowing from malnutrition, his eyes growing cloudy and dim, his body growing cold in death, and her inability, her powerlessness, to do anything about it.

 

Suddenly it makes sense doesn’t it? That she would walk a mere 12 miles that others might know, that they might also bear witness, that her son’s all too brief life would be mourned. Her passion, her need to speak out and be heard was a passion fueled by love, that we can all understand can’t we? It tears at our hearts to hear this story and we too want to cry out!

 

So what did she say that caused Gary Haugen, civil rights lawyer, international peace worker, to have this epiphany? She said to him, “After the death of my husband we did all right for a little while, that is until my neighbor Brutus broke into my home and threw us out. Until he stole our home, our land, all that we had, and threw us onto the streets.” She was, after all, a competent capable woman, strong and healthy. She knew how to work hard, how to till the land, how to grow her own food and she did just that and Brutus watched. When the harvest was ripe he came and he reaped it. Venus was left with bitter fruit. Suddenly Gary knew that giving to the poor would do nothing as long as predators waited to steal the hard won harvest of the poor.

 

For those of us who know we can call the police and they will come and they will help us and they will restore to us that which has been stolen we can look to our efforts and say that we will have earned the good fruits of our labor. Yes, we earned this! But for so many this is not the case.

 

It might be easier to see this injustice in foreign countries, to say that it happens over there but surely this sort of thing can’t happen here, right? But it does and how can we not lament? How can we not cry out? When one mother must watch her child whither away, another buries a son who played with a toy gun in the park, when another must bury a son illegally arrested and murdered, when another must bury a son shot during a traffic stop for which there was no valid reason. How can we not lament? Rachel weeps for her children and will not be consoled! How long can we refuse to see?

 

So many of us want to go to denial, to complacency, to victim blaming when this happens. It wasn’t me. We want to cry out. I didn’t do it. But the bad fruit and the strange fruit continue to ripen. My heart is heavy today. It is heavy not just with Freddy Gray but with so many, many others. Too many to name.

 

As much as I fear being overly political I fear being silent so much more. I fear the fruit my silence would bear. If Rachel weeps for her lost children the least I can do, the least we can do, is to weep with her. If Venus cries out for her lost son, if all of Baltimore and Ferguson and so many other places cry out, how can we not be moved? How can we not cry out with them?

 

Jesus calls us to pick up our cross and follow him so we’d better look closely at where he went, what he did. We are called to cry with those who have experienced loss far too soon. We are called to bring healing and hope to those who have none. We are called to mix with the untouchables and the unfit-for-polite-society people and call them brothers and sisters. We are called to provide food for the hungry. We are called to go into the wilderness and face our fears that they will no longer control us. We are not called to blame those who suffer for their own victimization. We are not called to sit in judgment or fix people; we are called to forgive the past and love and love and love. We are called to let our hearts break in compassion for those who suffer and we are called to let that compassion inform our choices and move us to action. This is the way of Jesus. It is not an easy path but it is a good path.

Our text today says, remain in me as I remain in him, remain in my love, if you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love. It’s easy to see that as a condition, if you do this then you will receive that, but perhaps it is more descriptive than conditional. Perhaps the need is simply to remain in Jesus’ love, to move, act, and love one another in Jesus’ love. To keep the commandments is to remain in the love of Jesus, it is to abide in him, it is to dwell in that love, to see the world from the position of that love, to move, act, decide from within that love. To let your heart break in compassion from that love. Romans 13:10 tells us that love is the fulfillment of the laws for love does no wrong.

 

If we still don’t get it, Jesus goes on to say, this is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you. No one can have greater love than to lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends. Yes, you and you and you, are my friends. Can we look at those we meet on the streets, in the grocery store, in the news and say the same? We bear good fruit only when we abide in love. Abide in anger and resentment, abide in power structures and the fruit will go bad. Abide in our own craftyness and resourcefulness, our desire to say every man for himself and the fruit will go bad. Abide in anything less than love and we will bear bitter fruit. If we are bearing bitter fruit today it is because yesterday we planted in fear and anger, in resentment and self protection. It isn’t fair that we must harvest the bitter fruit that others have planted in their fear and self righteousness, their need for power and security but we cannot afford to plant today’s seeds in the same manner.

 

We must abide in love and we must plant in love. We must not become bitter or lose hope, we must not become angry or withdraw. We are called to love one another, really, truly love one another, no exceptions, no saying, ‘I love everyone but you because you piss me off,” but to love wholy and completely as Jesus taught us. This is the bearing of good fruit, the tangy, bittersweet fruit of compassion and love. This is the good fruit that will change everything. We must refuse to let the ground we grow in become infected with indifference, despair, anger, or fear. We must grow only in the holy ground, the sacred ground that is God’s love for all people. May it be so.