This Week's Sermon
“The best four-letter word: LOVE”
Sermon on Reformation
Sunday, October 25, 2020
Dear members, friends, visitors,
There are many four-letter words tossed around in the English language all the time. Many of them are not quite appropriate for church and probably shouldn’t be used in other places either. But there is one beautiful four-letter word in our language, and it occupies a special place in the writings of the New Testament. In the gospel lesson for today, Jesus confirms his belief that love is the greatest commandment, in a two-fold way. First, love of God, which leads us to pursue noble values, goodness, truth, virtues, - divine inspired humanity in us. It’s impossible to love God and not want to become a better, more wholesome person. And love of our neighbors: yes, that includes all of your neighbors who have signs on their lawn right now that don’t express your political opinion. Seriously, loving our neighbors is often the more challenging part of this commandment because people are human and have their flaws just like we are human and have our own flaws. I wonder, do we sometimes expect more of our neighbors and friends than we expect of ourselves?
For this morning I would like to center my meditation on the beautiful song that our Music Director recorded with St. Peter’s Choir and guest performers in many hours of editing work. It’s called “Love has broken down the wall.” I am going to assume that the title of this piece was inspired by Ephesians 2:24 where Paul writes about Christ: “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…” I love that passage because there have always been invisible walls between people, sometimes based on different beliefs and religions, sometimes based on class or race and often based on fears. Those walls can be so ingrained and subconscious that we don’t even notice them as such. In this year 2020 many of our African American neighbors have reminded us again and again that disadvantages persist for people based on color and race. It is not something that I notice much but I am not walking in their shoes. I am listening, trying to learn, trying to see with their eyes. In this year 2020, you will hear rhetoric that reminds us that we are a deeply divided country, sadly. There is a wall, a divide between our people that has been building for some time and has only deepened with every election over the last 20 plus years. We are still called the United States, but often we are not so united. How do we break down that wall? And can we afford anymore to be so divided?
As I look at it, my first raw instinct is to take down the wall – smash it, destroy it, sort of like the people of East and Western Germany who took down the Berlin wall 30 years ago, that wall which kept people apart and was a visible eyesore in the heart of their old capital. When that wall was taken down in October of 1989, people on both sides were hooting and hollering, singing, and celebrating, having a party on top of it. If it only were so easy with the invisible walls that divide us! The problem is: they are running through our own hearts and can only be overcome from within. And so we come back to this word from Paul in Ephesians and we come back to this beautiful song and we come back to all the things Jesus said about love and we must acknowledge that disagreeing in love, respecting one another in love, is an art we have yet to master. “Love has broken down the wall.” Perhaps we should all listen to this song again on November 3 and in the days that will follow this year’s election.
I have always had a great appreciation for the work of the Apostle Paul as he brought together several groups within the church: Jews and Gentiles, slave owners and those who were enslaved, men and women. Between all of those groups existed very rigid boundaries and divisions, enforced by widely shared cultural norms. But Paul was able to bring those different groups together under one God, one Faith, one Baptism, one Lord. He was able to bring them together in the love of Christ “poured out into or hearts,” as he wrote one of his letters. Paul was not changing society or cultural norms. But he was able to establish a culture in church that made room for all those groups, people honoring one other, people breaking down the walls that existed between them through the love of Christ. Not a small accomplishment! And it was never perfect of course, but it provides us with a model for our times. We don’t need to have the same opinions; we don’t need to agree on everything. But we need to love God and love one another. It’s not only the greatest commandment. It’s a recipe for our unity in Christ. Love has broken down the wall!