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Demands of Liberating Love

Last week we read John 13 in which Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another just as I loved you.”

What is love? Love is an action. Love is choosing to act in such a way as to nurture someone’s soul, or life force. Love is what love does.

What does love demand? I think 1 Corinthians 13 lays that out pretty clearly: Love is patient; love is kind. Love is not jealous, it does not put on airs, and it is not snobbish; it is never rude or self-seeking; it is not prone to anger, nor does it brood over injuries. Love doesn’t rejoice in what is wrong, but rejoices in the truth. There is no limit to love’s forbearance, to its trust, its hope, its power to endure. (Inclusive Bible)

I keep hearing that people want this to be a Christian nation. If so, where’s the love? Where’s the patience? Where’s the kindness? When did it become ok to be rude and self-seeking? When did it become ok to rejoice in what is wrong, in lies and corruption? When did it become ok to spew anger and hatred? When did it become ok to be snobbish, to approve of only certain types of people?

Right now, it looks more like someone rewrote scripture changing the story so Jesus sells out to the devil in the wilderness, gleefully taking power and greed over love.

I know we all worry about our investments, our economic stability and security, but who is going to worry about the poor? Who is going to care for the immigrants and refugees running for their lives? Who is going to care about innocent people being killed in hatred and power-fueled wars? Who is going to care about pregnant women, and trans people, and gay/lesbian folks? Who is going to care about the black and brown children who have fewer opportunities and more to fear? Who is going to care about our earth, our resources, our future?

Do we really want to live in a world governed by fear and violence, by bullying and manipulation instead of love?

Love is the commandment we are given. And love demands that we think about the least of these. Remember, Jesus said, “Whatever you did to the least of these, you did to me.” Since we’re all connected at a spiritual level, what is done to the least of these is also done to you and me. We forget that.

Author, speaker, advocate for racial justice, and Black woman Austin Channing Brown wrote, “I am confused by people who say they love us but are never upset when we are treated unjustly. The two simply cannot co-exist. A love that’s aloof isn’t a love I have any use for. I need a love that is troubled by injustice.”

And injustice is all over the place right now. Everywhere we look.

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”

I understand that against the big picture we sometimes feel powerless. But if we stop for a moment, we have more power than we think. Many of us have the power of white privilege, or better yet, white, straight, male privilege. We may have economic power, class power, the power of belonging to a community, the power of our values. And then there is the power of our voice and our vote.

Liberating love demands that we combine these powers with love to make the world better for all people. For example, there are people who go out into the deserts of Arizona and California offering water, shoes, blankets and aid to migrants to help lower the death toll. There are folks who walk with inmates on death row, offering them love and support, discovering the person beneath the crime. And there are people who work tirelessly for the rights of LGBTQIA+ peoples so that they can hold jobs without fear, receive health care without fear, adopt children. Others who work to end racism or fight for for the rights of foster children or stand with and fight for women who have been sexually abused and harassed, and more.

But all of us can spontaneously do what is right in love. Here’s an old story, but it still sends a strong message.

Howard Thurman, minister, philosopher and mentor to civil rights leaders including Martin Luther King, Jr. tells this story in his memoir.

Howard grew up in segregated Florida where there were separate schools for black children and white children. “Public education for Black children in Daytona ended with 7th grade. Without an eighth grade, there could be no demand for a Black high school; and if by chance a demand were made, it could be denied on the ground that no Black children could qualify.”

After Howard completed 7th grade, his principal volunteered to teach him 8th grade on his own time. He finished 8th grade and took the completion test (administered by the Superintendent himself). He passed and shortly afterwards, 8th grade was added to the Black middle school.

There were only three black high schools in the entire state of Florida, but there were a few private church-supported schools. Howard’s cousin in Jacksonville offered to let him live with them if Howard went to school there, in exchange for doing some household chores.

When it came time to leave for Jacksonville, he packed a borrowed old trunk with no handle and no lock, held it together with rope and went to the train station. When he bought his ticket, the agent refused to check his trunk because regulations said that the ticket had to be attached to the trunk handle. The trunk would have to be sent express, but he had no money to do that. He sat down on the steps of the station and cried his heart out.

Soon a large Black man dressed in overalls and a denim cap stood above him asking “what the hell are you crying about?” And Howard told him.

The man said, “If you’re trying to get out of this damn town to get an education, the least I can do is to help you. Come with me.” And he took the boy back to the agent, paid to have his trunk shipped, handed Howard the receipt and left without another word.

When Howard wrote his autobiography much, much later in life, he dedicated it “to the stranger in the railroad station in Daytona Beach who restored my broken dream sixty-five years ago.”

Sometimes love demands more than comfort. Love demands justice. The systems were stacked against young Howard. But a complete stranger saw the worth in getting out of town to get an education. He saw Howard as the bearer of a brighter future for Blacks. And instead of simply patting him on the shoulder, offering sympathy, and wishing him better luck next time, he stepped up in power, love and justice, and righted a wrong.

Love is not a Christian word. It is a human word. But is should be our defining word, one that is owned and lived. It demands integrity and commitment to a higher law where all have worth. It will drag us out of our comfort zones, insist that we step up and speak out. But when we do, it has the power to change lives… including our own.

Love & Light!