Sermons

"All You Need is Love" - Sermon for the 14th Sunday after Pentecost, Year A

"All You Need is Love" - Sermon for the 14th Sunday after Pentecost, Year A

Sep 06, 2020

Passage:Romans 13:8-14

Preacher: The Rev. Mildred Rugger

Series: Season After Pentecost

Category: Love, Discipleship, Outreach, Servanthood

Keywords: justice, listening, dignity, paying attention, beloved community,   baptismal covenant

Summary:

In a world that sometimes seems to lack love, God’s love is at work through God’s people as we move toward the dream of Beloved Community.

Detail:

September 6, 2020

Passage: Romans 13:8-14 (with the context of Romans 12)

Preacher: Deacon Mildred S. Rugger

 

 

 

The Apostle Paul will probably thank me. I’m going to help him market his message a bit. I’ve chosen a theme song to go with this last section of his letter to the Roman Christians. I bet this Beatles’ song will keep playing in your head all day: All You Need Is Love.

In Romans chapters 12 and 13, Paul uses that word love seven times in phrases such as “love one another with mutual affection” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” In and around these repetitions of love – love – love, Paul encourages the Romans—and us—to be humble, to recognize that each person is gifted by God’s grace, to show honor to one another, to contribute to the needs of others, to be hospitable to strangers, to live in harmony, to live as peaceably with others as they will allow, and to do no wrong to a neighbor. One possible summary is this: to love means to pay attention to the needs of others and treat them with justice and dignity.

Unfortunately, it seems like these days I’m seeing little love—in the news, on my Facebook feed, in public interactions. I find it distressing. One incident shook me because it involved one of my nephews. I have William’s permission to share this.

In early June of this year, William flew from El Paso to Indianapolis and rented a car. The next day he was going to head to the funeral of one of his Army brothers. As he was driving from the airport to the downtown hotel, a man pulled up alongside him and started yelling obscenities. William heatedly tried to get the man to back off, but he stuck by William for about 6 miles, continuing this same behavior and even threatening to kill him.

Now, William can handle himself. He’s a tall, muscular man with a lot of training in the Army. He served as a paratrooper in both Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2019 he retired as a Master Sergeant. William also can sit down and talk to people he disagrees with, but this man didn’t seem in the mood for that. After his initial heated reaction, William calmly called 911, explained why he was in town and what was happening, and arranged for a patrol car to meet him at the hotel. When the man saw the patrol car, he drove off.

I have another nephew, and he lives in that same city, Indianapolis. David has given me permission to talk about him, too. David has never had trouble like this, even there during that same time period. He’s quite confident that if he had been the one in that car instead of William, he would not have heard obscenities or been threatened. So, what went on with William?

Well, early June 2020 was when there were a lot of protests after the death of George Floyd. People driving near William and the other man would have seen a White man and a Black man in some sort of heated exchange. Some nearby drivers might have been surprised to learn that it was the White man who started the incident and threatened to kill the Black man. It was the Black man who calmly enlisted the aid of the police.

Ethnically, William is actually a combination of Native American on the side of his mother (my sister), Black on the side of his father, and White. Most Whites seem to consider him Black. On the other hand, David’s skin color is about like mine. Like me, he’s never experienced this type of incident. As I’ve heard from William since early June, he has experienced discrimination many times in his life. Why hadn’t I been hearing about this? 

I have other nephews, two siblings, and in-laws who are people of color. I’ve had hints that they’ve experienced discrimination. But I haven’t heard about specific incidents happening to them. Maybe I’ve been too uneasy to open myself to hearing about their reality and entering into their pain. I haven’t been paying attention to their need. So I’ve missed opportunities to get to know them and support them. To love them.

You might wonder how my nephews and their experiences in Indianapolis relate to Paul’s theme of love – love – love in Romans 12 and 13. Isn’t Paul just writing about how that group of Christians should treat one another? How does something like discrimination enter into it? Well, the Christian believers in Rome live in a society in which two groups are pitted against one another: Jews and Gentiles. Paul knows that “anti-Judaism [is] already established among Roman aristocrats and [is] beginning to emerge among Gentile believers as well.” So his letter is a long argument to the Roman Christians that God’s love extends to Jews as well as Gentiles. And the final section of his letter is meant “to shape a life of respectful mutuality between Jews and Gentiles in Rome.” They should pay attention to one another’s needs. They should treat one another with justice and dignity. They should love one another.

So, back to 2020 in the United States. When I realized that I have not been paying attention to the difficult experiences of people of color in my life, I decided it’s time to change. The foundational change I’m making is to start listening, to start paying attention to people of color with an attitude of humility and of openness to their experiences. Happily for me, other people at St. Andrew’s have also felt that need. The July adult formation classes were wonderful ways to listen to Black leaders in Amarillo. They talked about their work (both paid and volunteer), their faith, and their hopes for the future. Those brothers and sisters in Christ taught me and inspired me by their dedication.

For six weeks starting in July, there was also a St. Andrew’s Beloved Community Book Club that read White Fragility. That may be a book that most White people would find hard to read on their own, but the discussions we had were very productive. We discussed some options for how St. Andrew’s can partner with the Black community in Amarillo. For instance, 

  • by providing positive books featuring children of color for children in the North Heights community and in our church
  • by cooperating with predominantly Black churches in musical events and service projects
  • by supporting important cultural events within the Black community with an official St. Andrew’s presence

Our focus was on the Black community because of the pain surrounding Blacks in our nation. We also began to discuss expanding these same suggestions to the Hispanic and refugee communities.

In those two adult formation opportunities, other sources were suggested to help us pay attention to how we can become more supportive of people of color, to help us treat them with justice and dignity. I found the book Waking Up White a good introduction with a great list of resources for continued exploration. I also was impressed by the wonderful resources on the section of The Episcopal Church website called Becoming Beloved Community. 

By joining in those adult formation opportunities in July and August, I felt supported in this journey in my early stages. Several people at St. Andrew’s have clearly been on this journey much longer and served as guides for me. I’m so thankful for them. I don’t know exactly where my journey will lead. I don’t know exactly where others at St. Andrew’s will end up, but our journeys already feel transformative and loving. And that’s good news: In a world that sometimes seems to lack love, God’s love is at work through God’s people as we move toward the dream of Beloved Community.

Paul’s call to love – love – love in this last section of his letter to the Roman Christians is about paying attention to all people that we impact, knowingly and unknowingly. It’s about paying attention to groups who have often been denied justice and dignity in our society. Our Baptismal Covenant addresses these same matters. Let’s remind ourselves of our promises. Please respond with me to the last two questions of our Baptismal Covenant, saying “I will, with God’s help”:

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? I will, with God’s help.

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? I will, with God’s help.

Love is all you need.