Where is the Love?

A sermon for the Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost, Year A.

(Watch entire sermon on Zoom, here.)

There are days when I stand in this pulpit
And I don’t quite know what to say;
Days when I am feeling down and hopeless;
Days when I feel like I don’t have the words to speak to you.
Days when I question,
“Where is the love?”
Where is the love in our local community?
Where is the love in our faith tradition?
Where is the love in this country we all care about?

It doesn’t take much these days
To be inundated by toxicity—
Whether via social media,
Or our constant news cycle,
Or even altercations with local community members,
Or beloved family and friends.
And let’s be real,
When these messages bombard us from every angle
It is difficult to find the love through all the hate.

So where is the love?

It is a question that springs up in pop culture
Time and time again.
I remember first hearing the song,
“Where is the Love?”
By the Black Eyed Peas
Back in 2003
While I was just beginning high school.
It was a time of of intense fear post 9/11;
A time when we were at war in the Middle East;
A time when racial injustice was prevalent,
As it is today.

Almost 20 years later,
I find myself again asking,
“Where is the love?”
As this hip hop music group
Creates a new rendition of their popular song:

Yet perhaps this question,
“Where is the love,”
Is not meant to stir up hopelessness because we have been unable
To succeed at loving up unto this point.
For as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said,
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
We are bending towards justice,
Our world is bending towards justice.

Instead of feeling depressed, or exacerbated, or angry when we ask,
“Where is the love?…”
Perhaps it should entice us to dive deeper,
To look closer,
To discern where we have fallen short of loving our God,
And loving our neighbor as ourselves.

I mean,
Don’t we pretty much repeat that exact sentiment
In our confession every Sunday?

I know I personally have fallen short.
I know this straight, upper-middle class, white girl
From Huntsville, Alabama,
Back in 2003,
Had no idea just how privileged she was.
Yet I also truly believe that I have been afforded God’s grace
During this tumultuous time.

The last seven months have given me the opportunity,
To discern just how much the cards are staked in my favor.
I have a stable job,
With the blessing of a roof over my head
(Thanks in so much to all of you).
I live in a rural, largely upper class town,
That is sheltered from much of the discomfort
That the present protests have created in our society.
I vote in a community where I could walk right into the Incline library
To take part in my civic duty and Christian responsibility.
When people in Texas and Georgia
Literally will wait over 10 hours in line
To exercise the same right that I was entitled to in 3 minutes time.
That’s privilege.

So in today’s Gospel
When Jesus reminds us yet again to “love our neighbor,”
He is also asking us to consider the ways we as individuals and as a society
Have fallen short of doing so.
The way the cards have been staked in our favor and not others.
The way our privilege allows us to turn a blind eye
To the intense suffering of those around us.
Although we as human beings are holy
(Because we are made in God’s image and likeness),
We also know we are imperfect as well…
Because we have fallen short of recognizing the holy in all of our neighbors.

Yet, this is not meant to deter us in our pursuit of holiness—
Far from it!
Instead, the way we affirm the Divine holiness in ourselves
Is by continuing to examine ourselves,
By following in the way of the all the saints—
Whom we will celebrate in one week’s time.
Holy men and women,
Siblings in Christ,
Who modeled a life of humility,
Of repentance,
And divine forgiveness.
Who put their well-being on the line
For the sake of another beloved child of God.

As the Body of Christ
Our holiness requires us to ask:
Who have we excluded instead of included?
Who have we ignored instead of embraced?
Who have we ostracized
Instead of recognizing God right before our very eyes?
This is the work of the Gospel:
To push ourselves,
To ask ourselves,
To test ourselves,
“Where is the love?”

We must deeply discern
Just how much we have lived into the commandment
That is at the heart of our Scripture as Christians,
And also at the heart of Jesus’ tradition as an ancient Jew.

In Leviticus,
The test case for how the people of Israel
Were loving their neighbor,
Was to consider
Who is the resident alien in their midst?
Who is the outsider far from security and comfort?
The law and the prophets,
Upon which the two great commandments hang,
Ask us to reconsider:
Does our community respect and display proper care
For the marginalized and the powerless in our midst?
And would we be willing to trade places with the least of these?
With the homeless and the impoverished?
With the victims of war and violence?
With people of color and those imprisoned?
Do we as Christians love our neighbor so much
That we would be willing to sacrifice our own safety and security,
Just as Jesus Christ modeled for us upon his death on the cross?

If we hesitate—
Which is a natural human inclination—,
Then perhaps we are not loving our neighbor
To the best of our God-giving ability.

Yet we are pilgrims on a journey, and the work is not over.
We as Christians are called to model for others,
For our community,
And for our country,
And admit to ourselves that we are still growing,
And transforming,
And evolving
Into loving others as God intends for us to love them.

We’ve haven’t gotten it completely right,
But we are afforded the opportunity to do it better.
And right here,
Right now,
We have that opportunity
To repent of our lack of love
And to commit to seeing the holy in all others.

We can put ourself in the shoes of the least of these,
And choose something different for God’s creation.
We can recognize the intense grief and trauma
Of children separated from their parents at our southern border,
Housed in horrific conditions,
And now unable to be reunited with their families.
And in the process,
We can commit
To never treating another beloved child of God like that ever again.
We can recognize the difficulties for lower class individuals
To find affordable housing in this community,
And partner with the Emergency Warming Center
As they create a transitional housing complex
At the former Seven Pines Motel
Right next door in King’s Beach.
We can earnestly recall the legacy of woman suffragettes,
And civil rights activists,
And know that sometimes our Christian responsibility
Will require us to step outside of our own comfort zone
In order to meet our neighbor in his own discomfort.

So my friends,
“Where is the love?”

It is right here:
In how we respond to this present moment in history;
In how we encourage one another
To give of our time, talent, and treasure for love;
In how we remind each other to vote faithfully for love;
In how we dismantle broken systems and stand up for love.

The work will be difficult
But I promise it will be well worth it
When we come out on the other side
And every one of our neighbors,
And fully,
And actually experiences
All of this abundant love.

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