The Law of Jesus Christ: Love
I want to begin today’s remarks with a heartfelt thank you from Gwen and I at the love we felt from this congregation at the passing of my sister, Michelle. The sudden death of a soon-to-be 44-year-old woman is truly shocking, and many will feel her loss for a long time. The Narcotics Anonymous communities on Cleveland’s West Side, the cry for an end to the opioid crisis, her family, husband, and daughter all have a hole in their hearts. I ask that you say a prayer for all of us today that God will hold her memory and her cause in our hearts for a long time, and help us to find a way to do what must be done. Again, thank you!
Over the course of the last two weeks, the weather has controlled the headlines on every news outlet that there is, and if it hasn’t been front and center on the news you watch, then you are not watching a news channel. Harvey and Irma have caused widespread devastation in Texas, Florida, and the islands of the Caribbean, and Irma is just getting started in these United States. My father and brother live in Florida, and were both well the last time we spoke. Again, please say a prayer for all those in the path of these two storms.
I am not standing in front of you today to discuss the weather. No, I am here today to bring awareness to two events that may have slipped under your radar. The first probably did not, President Trump’s suspension of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA in six months. On the one hand, DACA probably never should have been a presidential action of President Obama, but due to squabbling in Congress, there was no action. Our former president felt compelled to do something, and he did. And no, I am not here to debate the rule of law, but the rule of Jesus Christ.
DACA children, or dreamers, are the children of undocumented persons who were illegally brought into this country by their parents. They did not choose to come here on their own. DACA provisions require them to register every two years with a $500 fee. DACA provisions allow these children to come out of the shadows and obtain valid driver’s licenses, to enroll in college, and to legally secure jobs. There have been over 800,000 approvals. 91% are legally employed. DACA recipients paid $11.6 billion in taxes in 2016. Not a one of them has a criminal record. However, the program didn't give them a path to become US citizens or even legal permanent residents. Permanent citizenship limbo.
Are these children taking jobs from legal American citizens? It is very unlikely. First, the unemployment rate is at near historic lows, while the number of job openings is near an all-time high. In other words, we do not have enough people to fill all of the jobs we currently have. Second, many of the dreamers have college degrees, and are employed in technical professions, while many of the unemployed lack the skills necessary to fill the job openings that currently exist.
Congress must do something to make DACA legal for these children. So today, in the category of “something you can do to make a difference,” contact your congressperson and tell them how you feel. I am not going to tell you what to say, or even what side of this issue you should be on. Just do something! These children need to know what the end game is, even if it means they get sent to a country that they do not know. Just call somebody. I will point out that Jesus would probably take a side in this DACA drama, and we all know what side it would be.
Which brings me to the Nashville Statement. In the midst of hurricanes, and the Russia probe, and fake news, and gerrymandering messing with voting rights, and any one of the heightening crises in Washington, a group of about 150 evangelical Christian leaders, mostly white and male, issued a statement about same sex relationships. Yes: again. With all that is REALLY wrong in our world, they choose this topic, again. With that introduction, you all probably know where this one is going, but it goes even further than you can imagine.
With more words than are really necessary, this group told us what we already know about their view of Christianity. There is no room for evolution, men are superior to women, and same sex relationships are sinful. However, in Article 10 of said statement…well, let’s just look at what it says, shall we.
Article 10: WE AFFIRM that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness. WE DENY that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.
In plain English, not only is it a sin to engage in homosexual immorality or transgenderism, which is outlined in earlier articles of the statement, but it is sinful to approve of such practices. It is unclear if just turning the other cheek and minding our own business is OK, but I assume that doing that would be approval, because silence is consent. And if we remain silent, that is we do not call out such behavior, we have departed from Christian faithfulness and witness. In other words, we are no longer Christians.
I do not bring this matter to your attention in order to rile you up or make you angry. I bring this matter up today for two reasons. The first is to alert you to the fact that there are people in the world, Jesus might call them false prophets, or Pharisees, who have decided that you are not a Christian if you don’t agree with them on this issue, and probably a few more.
The problem with all of this is the teachings of Jesus Christ, who once said when asked which was the greatest commandment:
He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Matthew 22:37-40 (NRSV)
“Love your neighbor as yourself.” Is this not clear? When we erect barriers between people, love cannot exist, love cannot endure, and love cannot win. And Jesus was, by definition, love!
We are made in the image and likeness of God, but are different in many, many ways…different colors…different languages…yet we all bleed red from the same four blood types and the same two Rh factors. So, if we look different, and speak different, and have different customs and beliefs, and even chunks of DNA, how are we all made in the image and likeness of God? My friends, the image of God is written on the heart of true believers… You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all; and you show that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. 2 Corinthians 3:2-3 (NRSV)
Or maybe some of these people don’t love themselves very much because they are sinners, and they have a very unhealthy hatred of sin, and of sinners. Through Jesus Christ, we are redeemed, all of our sins forgiven by God, all of our sins forgotten by God…a loving God who is ready and waiting for us in our home of eternal rest. I believe this, and I am counting on this!
Now, do I always have the same amount of love for my neighbor as for myself? No, sometimes I have less and sometimes I have more. I am a sinner, but I am a disciple of Jesus Christ, and I pray that he make me a better person, a person more like the Jesus who soiled his feet with earthly dirt just like I do. Jesus came to bring all of us together in love…that is why he told the disciples to go to the ends of the earth to share the Good News! It is more than our calling, it is his order to us.
The second reason that I bring this up today is that these highly influential people chose this issue to write fourteen articles about, when the world is messed up in so many more important ways…ways that actually matter. We currently have two states under water. We have people starving around the world. We have genocide in many places. We have a dictator in North Korea playing nuclear chicken with the rest of the world. We have kids who cannot read…kids who are autistic for reasons we are unsure of…cancer still needs a cure…people of color are persecuted just for not being white…and so on and so on. They could have made a better choice for their laser focus.
Which brings me to us. Are we going to make a better choice? Are we going to do nothing? Because silence and stillness tells the world that we are cool with how things are. You know…like that time your child walked out the door with the bright blue hair and you didn’t stop them? Silence is consent…when your legislator votes against something that you believe to be critical for the next generation. Silence is like not voting because the choices are equally bad.
Make a better choice than this particular collection of people more famous than you. Famousness never made much of a difference, and it certainly will not matter on judgement day! It is what we do with what we are given that is going to matter. Don’t sit in silence. Don’t write fourteen articles that divide people. Be a disciple of the living Christ! Be the light of love that you are waiting for someone else to be! AMEN
Today’s video is not listed in the bulletin on purpose. Today’s video is not some snappy contemporary Christian song with a meaningful message. It is a clip that recently had its fifty fourth anniversary. It is a clip of a speech that was the end of a speech. The first part of the speech was written for the occasion. This part of the speech was spoken from the heart of its author. One of the speaker’s friends said, “Tell them about the dream.” So, the speaker told us about his dream, a dream that is still unfulfilled, some 54 years later.