Worship ~ 5 May

John 15:9-17 continues the reading from last week. Jesus is consoling his disciples, promising that – even in death – he will be with them, like a vine is connected to the branches.

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 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. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.

12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing, but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”

I am actively avoiding political news because I just don’t need all that crazy, but the world news is hard to avoid, hard to ignore, even though I have no influence or ability to help, and even though it hurts my heart to know there is such hatred and arrogance and dehumanizing, debilitating, overflowing venom within the collective human being. It is evident in so many realms – environmental, cultural, global militarization, politics, civil wars, border wars. We almost get used to it, expect it, normalize it – which is a terrible realization. The current campus protests are giving a new dimension to the ‘forever war’ that is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and bringing a distant conflict a bit closer.

It might seem there’s no clear side to champion in the Israel/Hamas tension. How far back in history does one go to find the instigating event? It began, I suppose, with Moses, with God telling Moses and Joshua to clear the Canaanites out Canaan so it could be their land of milk and honey. 

But, in that case, it began with Abraham being led from his homeland in Iraq to start a new people and populate a new land. That went well enough, sort of, until there was a famine and they had to leave and got waylaid in Egypt and lost their placeholder in the intervening generations. The Jewish people survived and thrived, even landless, forming communities maintaining a religiously based culture in whatever land they found themselves. Until WWII. And then the British government ‘gave’ them (already occupied) Palestine, in a reboot of God giving the land to Moses. It’s a lot more complicated than that, obviously, but that religious backstory is still mixed up in the current heartbreak. 

Today, the situation is too enmeshed in wrongful actions, and intermingled religious politics, and money, and strategic military interests to take a righteous stand on either side. Except, as Christians we have a calling and the example of Jesus to stand with the suffering. That’s what is clear. And there is suffering on both sides, and both sides have caused the suffering. So, the sides don’t matter so much, the need is what matters, the need is what we are to address – to clothe the naked and feed the hungry and shelter the homeless and comfort the suffering. To invite them to the table and serve ‘skivers and medisterpolse. To love as Jesus loved – beyond all borders and boundaries, to draw the outside, straggling, struggling in to the center of love and care on those long, reaching tendrils of the vine. To ignore their religion and operate out of the values and mandates of our religion. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Just that. But how? 

It’s easy to be against the terrorist actions of Hamas. And it’s easy to be against the over-the top retaliation of the Israeli leadership and military forces. Destroying Hamas by killing the Palestinian people won’t provide the security Israel seeks. And they do deserve safety, as do the Palestinians. And so in the end, we’re left feeling compassion for the people, for all the suffering, and being angry with the rulers and religions that create the “sides” in the first place.  Which for some reason makes me think about the way Jesus loved. Not the part about laying down his life, but about all the stories in the gospels of how he continually crossed borders and boundaries. That was how he loved. It wasn’t just “his own”, there was always some separation that needed to be bridged, some obstacle that needed to be set aside. Gender, morality, class, purity, illness, ethnicity, culture, faith, doubt – those are the stories recounted by the gospel writers. Every one of those characters had a reason (according to the rules) for being excluded. Everyone with whom Jesus had an encounter, an intervention, was in the “against” column. “Love your enemies,” Jesus says in Luke’s telling, “do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you…Do to others as you would have them do to you…and you will be children of the Most High; for God is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.    Be merciful, just as your Father in heaven is merciful.”   (Luke 6:27 ff)

“God is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.” Isn’t that in interesting line? ” Love one another as I have loved you.”

I wanted, intended, to write a sermon about Æbleskiver and how great it is to have a community event that we work so hard at, and how everyone comes to chip in, and how enjoyable it seems to be for the diners, many who come every year and who stay around well past their meal taking in the vibe and the buzz. I thought I would be weaving in the baptism of this precious little child for whom we have prayed as a tiny premie, and for Caitlin and Kyle in their anguish and fear and joy all twisted together.  Those things, too, are expressions of love that are valid and real and very worth celebrating.  

But, I worry about being so siloed, insulated, self-contained as we are in this little community of faith — and of preaching the commandment to love one another after a successful Æbleskiver dinner, when we are seriously feeling the love of community. It’s not that we should feel guilty, or not celebrate the fun and camaraderie because the world is suffering,— but, we probably shouldn’t conflate an Æbleskiver high with God’s love, or our exhaustion with Jesus’ commandment to love as he has loved. I think we are to be filled, to have our inner resources topped off with the fun stuff, the communal warmth, so that we have ourselves to offer in the hard work of living active, engaged lives in the world away from West Denmark.

Loving your enemies (if you have them), loving your neighbors in ways that show, in ways that they might recognize and benefit from, loving beyond your borders — that is more to the point and more costly. Praying for the other side. Going out of your way. Offering help where it’s needed, not necessarily where you want to give it. Crossing boundaries of comfort. Taking risks. Stirring up a bit of holy trouble. If these things sound more exhausting and threatening than pulling off another Æbleskiver Dinner, then we might be on the right track. I’m not pushing hardship or misery as holy orders — Jesus did mention to love in this way so that our joy might be complete – but we all know that actual love is costly, it takes work and takes something from us as much as it gives and fills. God is love — and is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. I mean, looking a human history, that’s an impressive understatement.

Abiding in Jesus’ love, dwelling in the mystery, aligning ourselves, somehow, with the vision that all people — all of creation — is on equal terms of importance and value with our own livelihoods and wishes and rights  — that might be enough of a challenge for today. What is the height and depth and breadth of love as Jesus loved? Hold yourself in that tension, and don’t let it go, don’t let it resolve. Stay in the tug and see what happens.