Friday, October 31, 2008

Proper 25 Year A 10/26/08
1 Thessalonians 2:1-8, Matthew 22:34-46
Love is Power
By Rich Gamble

I recently saw a short news story from 1968. It showed a group of children in Chicago. The kids were playing a new game called “cops and protesters.” In the game, one group of kids marched around saying things like “peace”, these were the protesters and then another group of kids playing the police would come out with pretend nightsticks and beat the protesters to the ground.

The children were re-enacting the police riots during the 1968 Democratic Party Convention in which many protesters did get beaten and kicked and arrested for the crime of demanding peace from a nation at war.

It is easy to see from the children’s point of view that it would be better to be the policeman than the protester in the game or in real life, better to be the man wielding the club than the one being beaten. And for the whole of our civilization that has been the primary perspective. It is better to be on the side of the ones victorious in violence than on the side of the ones bleeding in the dirt. On the whole we are drawn to identify with what we have come to call the winners.

So Jesus is asked about the greatest commandment and instead of giving the top one, he answers with two: Love God with your whole being and love your neighbor as yourself.

This question about the greatest commandment is not how we would phrase the question. We would say, what is the most important thing that a believer in God should do? Love God and love neighbor.

It is important that Jesus doesn’t just give the “love God” answer alone, because that leaves a big hole. We humans, given the opportunity can create for ourselves an image of God that will justify any action we are willing to take. Many of those policemen beating those Civil Rights or Peace protesters undoubtedly believed that they were being true to their God.

To say that our obligation is to love God is to say nothing. It needs the second part, the particular way in which one loves this particular God. And the God that Jesus is talking about is loved by loving ones neighbors as ourselves. It is especially important that we understand that the concept of “neighbor” was not a person in our group but rather a person outside of our group.

The first commandment and the second cannot be severed. The way we love God is by loving our neighbors as ourselves.

Ok, I think y’all get that.

So let’s go back to underlying understanding that goes with this, love is the heart of our calling. Love of God, love of neighbor these are more than the top things on a laundry list of activities. This is the power of God made manifest in the world.

Love is power real power, the power of God. And this love that is the real power of God is reflected in the way we relate to those around us.

We say this stuff all the time without really thinking about the world changing revolutionary nature of this belief.

Love is power.

Our civilization is built on the belief and practice that domination is power and behind domination are the tools of greed and violence.

Those policemen were doing their jobs, following orders, maintaining order. And to do that job, they are issued clubs and guns and the power to deny people their safety and freedom. This is what the world sees as power, the power to make laws, arrest and club people, and throw them into jail. Power is seen as the ability to force others to do our will.

Now imagine a system built on the power of love. Would we issue guns and clubs to people called on to establish a loving environment? What tools would the love police have at their disposal? Perhaps there would be tools to help protect people from those who are violent but clubs and guns would not be used by the love police.

Would we create systems to punish people for their crimes? We might have a place of segregation for those who would repeat incidents of violence. But such places would not be places of punishment. They would be places to help violent people overcome their particular form of mental illness.

Would we have a standing army? Perhaps but not an army of people trained to do violence. We might have a standing peace army of people trained to do conflict mediation and trained to help build schools and bridges. We might have a better funded version of the Peace Corps.

If we turned to the power of love, would we have an economy that was based on profit, which is a system of placing ourselves over our neighbors? What if we took profit out of the equation. Economists of the world cannot envision such a thing. But the authors of the Bible strove to guide us to such a world.

What would entertainment look like in a world powered by this love? Would we be entertained by seeing one person victorious over other people in some “reality” show or one team victorious over another in some sports contest?

Why would need to worry about guarding national borders if we strove to make sure that our nation had nothing more than other nations?

A love based economy may not so easily turn forests into cash, or mountains into cars. Instead there would be an effort to create a sustainable balance between all peoples and between humanity and nature. Americans would have less stuff. The third world would have enough stuff to sustain a healthy lifestyle.

One of the things that some folk complain about when talking about taxes is that it redistributes wealth. Well of course, taxes always redistribute wealth. When pure domination is working the distribution goes from vulnerable people to powerful people and corporations. When love is working it goes from people who have more than they need to people who have less than they need.

A movement based on the power of love will not look like one in a domination based society. Look at Paul in this letter from Thessalonians, Paul is speaking as a leader manifesting the power of love. Does Paul sound like the leader of a nation? He talks about being abused not of striking back. He talks of speaking the truth, without flattery, without appealing to greed, without striving to be popular. Does that sound like any politician these days? In our faith Paul is an image of leadership in the power of love. Jesus was even more such a model and no where more directly than when he hung on the cross.

Love is a power which undermines the foundations of our civilization. Those who prosper from domination will see it as a threat, as well they should, and they will strive to subdue it. Not just by clubs, that is the least effective way. The most effective way is make the love of God something that does not extend into political, social or economic systems. Let people love God as long as all that loving God entails is faith in certain dogmas and practicing certain rituals. Those things don’t get in the way of domination. If people strive to bring love into the center of how we live our lives then the proponents of power will first try to smear the promoters of love as being out of touch, dreamers, ivory tower dwellers, unable to proved security and order.

Since adults and children would often rather side with policemen than protesters; since many would rather be wealthy than just; we may not see the victory of love as the universal notion of power for some time yet. Since love moves from the bottom up, since it rarely owns things like publishing companies or television stations, since it is a threat to the Powers that Be, it moves in ways often unnoticed. It gathers in out of the way places like this.

It is important to understand what we are about here. We gather to know our power and practice using it. We gather to celebrate the example of those who bled in the dirt for peace and justice which are expressions of love. We gather to denounce those who stand victorious in a world of greed and power. We gather to soak up the love of God in a world which proclaims the love of domination.

The good news is, that since Love is the power that holds the universe together, that the power of love will never be defeated. Armies may shatter; nations may fall; economies may crash, but the power of love lives on in us and beyond us.