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The Power of Love

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1 John 4:7-21

Some scholars believe that part of our scripture for today was originally a poem.[1]

Inspired by that poem, I have decided to preach this morning in the form of spoken word poetry.

 

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God.

God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God,

and God abides in them.

Love. Love. Love.

Twenty-five times

the word “love” appears in this passage.

It passes through our ears and hearts and starts

to warm our spirits for we know this love,

we know this promise,

we know this power

called love.

 

Years ago, back in the olden not-golden days before we were free,

when voters could decide if my life was a lie

and states could legislate hate against love,

 

I wrote these words:

I believe in the power of love.

Not the flower-power peace-love that once claimed our psychedelic imaginations.

Not the power of “our love” that proclaimed our romantic idealizations.

Love for everyone like us doesn’t change us

any more than love can own us or name us.

I believe in the power of love, capital L love like capital T truth

which is rare but foundational, relational.

I believe in the power of love.

 

I believe in it, though I don’t always see it.

Sometimes it seems that hate has the upper hand.

After all, you can legislate hate

institutionalize it

constitutionalize it

claim hate is love in the name of God and country.

But wrapping it in the flag doesn’t make it American

and sprinkling it with holy water doesn’t make it Christian.

Wrappings and trappings cannot disguise it

for long

for love will out.

Love will come out and proudly declare its intentions

not with clenched hands on bended knee

but clasped hands on battle-worn feet

with hearts made strong through waiting.

 

You can legislate hate

but only because hate is small, fragile, insubstantial.

It needs laws to reinforce it against love’s flood

which will not be dammed

or we’d all be damned to a hell of hate’s making.

 

Love says no. Love says no way.

Loves says there’s no way to change the tide.

Love will win. Love always wins.

 

I believe in the power of love.

I still believe.

I still try to believe.

Try to believe. (Cindy, just try.)

25 times the word “love” is used in this passage,

but 20 first graders were murdered and nothing has changed.

Twenty-eight people have died in mass shootings in the last 14 days.

25 times the word “love” is used in this passage,

but police kill black Americans at 2-1/2 times the white rate

and hate groups number 9 hundred and counting

always adding, not subtracting,

but definitely dividing.

I believe in the power of . . .

I hate

to say it.

I hate

to think it

I think life tries to teach us

to believe in the wrong things.

I was wrong

when I said hate was small

for it is tall

as tall as Denali.

Formerly known as Mount McKinley

after a president who refused to denounce the killing of black people.

Our racism is as tall as Denali and as stubborn as denial

Denali. Far away in Alaska.

(or Ferguson, Minneapolis, Florida, or New York).

Not our mountain.

Not our problem.

We point to hate’s height, breadth, depth,

and we know that nothing shall separate us from the . . .

 

the love seems hard to find,

hard to mind

hard to make mine

when the hate is so strong

and tall

and deep

and still easy to ignore unless you live with it

or die with it upon your neck.

 

Beloved, let us love one another.

But we cannot love one another if we hate the other,

if we make someone other

if we blame another for our own sin.

We have to own our sin.

 

I can’t say that I’m not racist.

I can say I don’t want to be,

trying not to be,

don’t mean to be,

but my intention does not change another’s reality.

The reality is I was raised in a racist culture,

raised on the racist tropes and stereotypes

of the angry black woman

the criminal black man

the articulate black (a credit to his race)

I was raised on the racist tropes and stereotypes of our society:

the Indian alcoholic

the Latino gangbanger

the Asian disease-spreader

the welfare mom who has more babies to get more money

and the successful minority business owner

who pulled himself up by his own bootstraps and you should, too.

I was raised in a racist society and you were, too.

 

We cannot afford to keep denying it.

We cannot afford to keep belying our claims

to keep lying our love.

 

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God;

everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.

Whoever does not love does not know God.

I want to know God.

I want to know love.

I want to be love.

I want to know when I’m not.

I think I want to know when I’m not.

I think I want to know that I can.

 

But some days I can barely love

my family

as fully as they deserve.

Some days I can barely love

myself—

I hold that in reserve

to make sure I deserve it,

have earned it

(I’m concerned that I learn my lesson.)

 

But what I deny to myself I will ultimately deny to others,

and I am afraid of the denial.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.

My love is not perfect and I have so many fears.

I fear my love will never be perfect.

I will always fail, always fall short,

always resort to facsimiles

of sympathy for empathy

of kindness for compassion

of charity for change.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.

Then cast me out, God, for I am afraid.

I am afraid for my Latino child

and I am afraid for every black mother’s child calling for his mama

and I am afraid that we will never change

enough

never love

enough

never be

enough

of a catalyst for change.

And I’m already tired and it’s not nearly enough.

 

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.

God is love, and . . .

And I suddenly remember it’s not my love that is supposed to be perfect—

God knows it never will be.

It is God’s love that is perfect.

God’s love that is complete and whole,

holy and wholly ours.

 

God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.

The original word means abide, live, dwell, remain.

We abide in God. We live in God. We dwell in God. We remain in God.

And we are not alone.

We abide

live

dwell

remain

with all God’s children

of every color

every race

every ethnicity

orientation

ability

in sickness and in health

as long as we ALL shall live

we abide, live, dwell, remain

in God

in Love.

 

And if we live in love,

in the nest, the breast, the best of love,

then how can we not love our neighbor?

How can we not seek their flourishing?

We abide, live, dwell, remain

together

always together

in love.

 

I almost said earlier that I believe in hate,

but I do not.

I believe that hate.

I believe that hate is tall and strong and undeniable.

I believe that hate is huge and great

but we must NOT cooperate

abdicate

denigrate

devastate

or desecrate God’s holy creation.

Beloved, let us love one another

Let us come out and proudly declare our intentions

not with clenched hands on bended knee

but clasped hands on battle-worn feet

with hearts made strong through waiting

and wanting and working.

 

Beloved, let us love one another

We believe in the power of Love.

[1] Alicia D. Myers https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/fifth-sunday-of-easter-2/commentary-on-1-john-47-21-5

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