Call To Action

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Here’s the thing.  I simply don’t know if I can sustain an attitude of love towards my enemies.  And I would have a hard time telling little Magdalena to love those who took her parents away from her.  And so I am grateful for the words of Martin Luther King who declares that “love is so much more than emotional bosh.”  If it were all about our emotions, I would despair of ever claiming to love my enemies.  

But I am inspired by the words of liberation theologian Gustavo Gutierrez who says God expects us to love everyone.  But we love them differently. We love the oppressed by offering our mercy. We love the oppressor by confronting his sin.  We are called to love our enemies by confronting their sins of racism, white supremacy and violence.  

Now this is not easy work.  Confrontation is easier for some than others.  Advocacy comes naturally to some but not all. And praying for those who persecute you takes effort and I’m preaching to myself here.  But here is what is at stake. We do the hard work of confronting violence not only because we are called to love our enemies, but because in doing so we are being most fully ourselves as children of God, as siblings of Christ.

 

Read The Full Sermon Text:

The National Cathedral in Washington DC published a statement called Have We No Decency?  The statement laments the steady stream of dehumanizing language we have heard from “the highest office in the land.”  The authors claim that “we have come to accept” this hateful rhetoric “as normal.” They write that “the president’s words are more than a ‘dog-whistle.’ They are a clarion call…to white supremacists who consider people of color a sub-human ‘infestation’ in America. They serve as a call to action…to keep America great by ridding it of such infestation. Violent words lead to violent actions.” 

This prophetic statement was written four days before the shootings in El Paso, a hate crime that claimed the lives of 22 persons specifically because they were people with brown skin.  The thought of blatantly racist rhetoric being a clarion call to action has haunted with me all week.  It seems to me that the line has clearly been drawn from the ideology of white supremacy to hate speech, and then to violence and death.  And it’s not the first time. Presidential biographer Jon Meacham was interviewed this week and he said that “we have this argument sometimes that, this is not who we are.”  That’s not true.  This is who we are. “It’s who we are on our worst day,” he says. And on our worst day, when the sin of racism is revealed and acted upon, people die. 

We have to do better.  We have to be better.  We can be better.  As people of faith our clarion call to action is the call to love.  And as Martin Luther King said, “love is so much more than emotional bosh.” I think what he meant is that love is emotion and love is also action.  It is our clarion call to action.  

I don’t think there is anyone here that will have trouble loving our neighbors.  Our neighbors most certainly include those who live in fear because of rhetoric and policy decisions that are inhumane.  Magdalena Gomez Gregorio is one such person.  At eleven years old she was left alone after her first day of school.  Both her parents were swept up in the ICE raids in Mississippi. The video that has gone viral is painful to watch.  She is absolutely distraught as she begs for her father’s release. Through her tears she says, "Government please show some heart, let my parent be free … please … my dad didn't do nothing. He's not a criminal."  

There is no way to calculate the psychological damage done to these children who are traumatized as they experience the perceived abandonment by their parents or as they are put in cages at the border.  Have we no decency?  The question posed by the National Cathedral is for us to answer.  We cannot be silent about this. We must act through every means we have. 

As a church we will continue to love our neighbors by partnering with organizations like Dallas Responds, the respite center at Oak Lawn, and RAICES which provides legal support for immigrants.  

This week I spoke with Amy Spaur, pastor at Christ Foundry, a Methodist church primarily made up of immigrants.  She says the fear is palpable in her community. People are staying home, afraid to come to church. How can we stand in solidarity with them?  How will we use our voices to stand up against the voices of hatred and exclusion?

 Today you are invited to love your neighbor who is fearful, who feels unwelcome, your neighbor who has been separated from family.  In the atrium you will find a table set up with note cards and pens to write notes to our neighbors at Christ Foundry. It’s a small act of kindness and love for our neighbors.  But it is a crucial act of hospitality for those who feel under siege right here in our community.  

But here’s the hard part.  It’s not just our neighbors we are called to love.  It’s also our enemies. Jesus says, 

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…’”

These words are from the Sermon on the Mount, contained in chapters 5 to 7 of the gospel of Matthew.  Around the year 80 CE, Matthew’s community was in the process of separating itself from the Jewish synagogue.  So Matthew was concerned with how this new entity, the church, would function. How would it behave?  

The Sermon on the Mount is something akin to an Inaugural Address.  Jesus is telling the disciples, (and Matthew is telling his community and us) what it looks like to participate in the Kin-dom of God that Jesus inaugurates and in fact, that Jesus embodies.  Most of it is written in the imperative form, as an exhortation or a commandment. These are not suggestions.

You have heard You shall not murder,

But I say do not even insult your brother or sister or be angry with them.  

You have heard, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,

But I say, if someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn your other cheek also.

Do not judge so that you will not be judged.

You have heard Love your neighbor and hate your enemy,

But I say, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. 

Here’s the thing.  I simply don’t know if I can sustain an attitude of love towards my enemies.  And I would have a hard time telling little Magdalena to love those who took her parents away from her.  And so I am grateful for the words of Martin Luther King who declares that “love is so much more than emotional bosh.”  If it were all about our emotions, I would despair of ever claiming to love my enemies.  

But I am inspired by the words of liberation theologian Gustavo Gutierrez who says God expects us to love everyone.  But we love them differently. We love the oppressed by offering our mercy. We love the oppressor by confronting his sin.  We are called to love our enemies by confronting their sins of racism, white supremacy and violence.  

Now this is not easy work.  Confrontation is easier for some than others.  Advocacy comes naturally to some but not all. And praying for those who persecute you takes effort and I’m preaching to myself here.  But here is what is at stake. We do the hard work of confronting violence not only because we are called to love our enemies, but because in doing so we are being most fully ourselves as children of God, as siblings of Christ.

“…Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 

 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous…”

Howard Thurman refers to fear, hate and hypocrisy as the three hounds of hell that track the disinherited who are exploited by the powerful.  But we are not disinherited. We are children of God. We are siblings of the Christ. Jesus gives us the example of what it looks like to dismiss the hounds of hell from our lives.  As a church, insofar as we are influenced by the Christ within us, we will not fear. We will not hate. We will not be hypocritical. We will seek to embody the kin-dom of God by the behaviors outlined in the Sermon on the Mount, including loving our enemies.

There are many practical ways you may choose to love your enemies.  Heavy on my heart is the question of what we can do to confront those who would commit mass shootings.

Every day, 100 Americans are shot and killed and hundreds more are wounded. This year alone there have been 251 mass shootings in only 216 days. There have been a total of over 8760 deaths by gun violence in the USA in just this year alone. 

Friends, how can we love our enemies?  This morning I hope you will consider sending a letter to lawmakers asking them to use their influence to pass the bill now in the senate for universal background checks.  As you leave church today, I invite you to stop by the table in the atrium where there are letters prepared for you and instructions on how to do this online. That is one of many things that can be done.  Another is advocating for a ban on assault weapons. Our call to action is love.  And loving our enemies is not optional. 

I acknowledge that it’s hard to imagine that we can move the needle on this.  It’s hard to imagine that we have power to confront this evil. It’s hard to imagine that loving our enemies is actually a doable thing.  But imagine it we will because until we can imagine it, we cannot make it so.  

So it is that we turn our attention to the prayer from Ephesians.  It’s a prayer asking that we become aware of the power of God within us so that we are rooted and grounded in love.  It is Christ that moves us beyond what we think is doable. It is Christ who works within us enabling us to accomplish far more than we can ask or imagine.  May it be so. Amen.