I’m having some difficulties with these texts this week. It’s the third anniversary of my mother’s death and my grief is complicated. And the things happening in the world that displace such callous indifference to human lives brings the angry cynic out in me. I’m working to contain these feelings as I read these texts that are all about loving as God loves. From where I sit in this moment, this commandment, this invitation, this expectation, clashes loudly with events in the world. The writer of 1 John puts it so clearly, “Beloved, let us love one another because love is of God…” I want to ask when the church will start loving everyone as fiercely as God loves us, but I don’t want to invite the response to such a question.
I think of the Eunich who spoke with Philip and Philip’s apparently reluctance to include such a one in the Body of Christ. It took the Eunich asking, “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” before Philip baptized him. It makes me wonder who would we be reluctant to baptize even though there is water to hand? Who is it that we, as church, see as “other”?
The psalmist sings of God’s dominion over all of Creation, reminding us that the whole of the world belongs to God. I’m not sure humans have ever lived as though they believe this. We take what we want, use what we want, and throw away anything that is no longer of use. An island of plastic in the Pacific the size of Texas is easy to ignore when it’s not floating off our shores. Microfibers of plastics from our laundry consumed by fish aren’t relevant if we’re not sick. Poisoned waters are forgotten when it is not in our community. How does any of this and so much more show that we respect and praise God’s dominion over all of Creation? How would we feel if our sanctuaries were filled with trash, our baptismal fonts full of leaded water, or our communion bread laced with microscopic bits of plastic?
As already mentioned, 1 John contains the imperative to love one another because God loves us. We, as church, have placed so many limits on God’s love over the generations. God’s love can’t be communicated through an ordained woman. God’s love can’t possibly include LGBTQ+ people. God’s love doesn’t reach through divorce. God’s love isn’t for people with physical disabilities. God can’t possibly love people with mental illness. God’s love does not include all those “others.” Yet, there are so many people out there, desperate to be known, loved, and valued. Someday maybe the whole church will realize that we cannot love God and hate our friends and neighbors who are also God’s beloved…
By the time I reach the Gospel reading, I’m begging God to give me the pruning shears; I see so many branches that are bearing poison fruit. Can’t I just cut them off? Well, no, I can’t because that would violate the very spirit of this short parabolic story. “Abide in me as I abide in you,” says Jesus. Act with love and leave judgment to God. Don’t we all want to abide in Christ as Christ abides in us? What can we do to help transform the church into the Body of Christ that loves without prerequisites? Is there a way to bring more freedom to love and praise God while honoring our traditions? What would God’s love embodied in today’s church look like? What does perfect (whole or complete) love look like as it casts out all our fears?
Perhaps you are having less struggles than I am with these texts. What is calling to you to preach from these readings? Where is the Spirit guiding you? Please share your thoughts (struggles and triumphs welcome) as we journey together toward our pulpits.
Rev. Dr. Rachael Keefe is an author and the pastor of Living Table United Church of Christ in Minneapolis, MN. You can find links to her blog, video series, and books at Beachtheology.com.
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