May 9, 2021

As I have loved you

Preacher:
Passage: Acts 10:44–48, 1 John 5:1–6, John 15:9–17

 

Several years ago, I frequently went to internet site called Sarahlaughed.net and read the lectionary musings of Sarah Dylan Breuer an Anglican Laywoman who had a Master of Philosophy in Biblical Studies from University of St. Andrew’s in Scotland, as well as other further studies. She is now retired I think and doesn’t post to that website anymore.

I liked her writings and musings and I remember one such lectionary post where she talked about Beancounter theology.

The idea behind Beancounter theology is that God is keeping record of every sin of every person and putting it all down in a big book, and that one day every one of those sins have to be paid off.
If they are not paid off, well then, you are in bad shape and might just pay that off by being tortured in fire for all eternity.
And for Christians, the idea is, that Jesus pays off our sins. And the currency for paying off our sins is his own blood.
Every single sin. I was just counting the sins of Joachim, Graham and myself and it didn’t take long to get into the hundreds.
I sometimes think of the times I have had bad thoughts, said the wrong thing, was selfish, uttered a bad word, lost patience, on and on it goes…
Let’s say from the age of four on I did ten sins a day. A very conservative estimate. That would mean like 3600 a year times 60 years, is over 20,000 sins

And then if you times that by the 108 billion people that ever lived you would have just over 2 quadrillion sins.
Don’t get too hung on the numbers. That would be a very big book and mean that the judgement day lineup could be pretty long.

But you see the thing about beancouter theology is the idea the God and Jesus are different. That God is pleased to send to hell and punish unbelievers. That it doesn’t bother God at all, because he is just a kind of heartless accountant, adding up sins, and unless someone pays for those sins, then you pay the piper.
And Jesus is the one who intercedes on our behalf trying to get stern, even mean old God, to be merciful and kind towards us sinners, and that Jesus does everything he can including giving his own life so that God can overlook our sins, that Jesus can pay for our sins, and God can forget we are just a bunch of miserable sinners.

Beancounter theology has a number of flaws and I to be fair I am kind of parodying the way some people think about God and Christian faith.
But I want to point out that in today’s gospel Jesus makes it very clear that he loves us the way God loves him. As the father loves me, so I have loved you.
And just earlier in the same speech Jesus said. If you have seen me, you have seen the father.
And earlier Jesus said: “I and the father are one.”

I want to make it very clear that I believe that God is love and in God there is no darkness at all. And that when Jesus loves us, it is because God and Jesus are one and that Jesus’ love is God’s love.

Since Easter the lectionary has been working through the farewell discourse of Jesus and we have been working through the same theme a lot: Love. God’s love and Jesus’ love and coming of the Spirit of love into our hearts and lives.

And God’s love and Jesus’ love are the same love. When we see Jesus acting, caring, forgiving, healing, including, embracing, sacrificing, practicing peace and non-violence. When we see Jesus reaching out to the poor, to prisoners, to enemies, to outcasts, to sinners, to foreigners, to women, to children, to the disabled etc…
…then we know this is what God is like, for when we look at Jesus, we see God.

God is not the mean stern righteous figure, with him keeping score ready to punish all the bad guys, while Jesus is the nice one interceding on our behalf, even though Jesus does intercede on our behalf.
The point is that Jesus and God are one, and that Jesus loves us the same way God loves us.

And for me, Jesus is supremely important. I look at life through the lens of Jesus. I look at scripture through the lens of Jesus. I understand theology through the lens of Jesus.
That Jesus loves us the way God loves him. That Jesus’ love and God’s love are one and the same.

Earlier in this same big farewell discourse Jesus says: I am the way, the truth and the life. Nobody comes to the father, except through me.

I think it has been understood by many to think that to get to heaven, people have to believe in Jesus….and when I say believe, I mean they believe certain facts about him, like he was born of a virgin, that he is the son of God, that he rose from the dead.
But as I have said before, Jesus teaching is not primarily about making it to a place after you die, but about us, dying to selfishness and sin and being born again, or resurrected, or transformed to a life of love.
And Jesus way is the way, because it is the way of sacrificial and unconditional love. It is the way of outrageous and abundant grace. It is the way of radical forgiveness and universal embrace.

So, I invite you to in a certain way to give up your belief systems and your doctrines and dogmas or words you must pray. Give up the list of things to do and the things you shouldn’t do, as ways to get to heaven….
And instead live the way of Jesus… Love.

And not just love. But as Jesus puts it. …the way that I have loved you.

And Jesus goes on to spell that out a little bit, when he talks about the greatest love one can have is to lay down one’s life for friends.
And as we all know Jesus lays down his life for all of us, and thinks of all his human family as friends.
Wow.
Jesus wasn’t trying to set up a separate us and them system of the good and the bad, the Christian and the non-Christian, the in and the out, the heaven bound and those damned to hell.
Jesus was trying to create one human world family of love, recognizing that everyone is born in the image of God, and that God and Jesus love the whole world.

And in our scripture lesson from Acts we have that love for the whole world described in a few verses that end chapter ten.
While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The Jewish believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles.

They were astounded that God loved the Gentiles, that God poured his Holy Spirit on them.

So, we are talking about Jews who believed in Jesus like Peter himself. They were astounded because they had no clue about the depth and breadth of God’s love. As if God can only reach people by the approved method by the right group of humans.
That is the problem when Jesus says that he is the way. We humans claim to know what that is and woe to anyone who doesn’t follow what we think is the approved way.
But God doesn’t care about our ways. God’s way is love and is goes out to all people, and people you wouldn’t let darken the door.

Remember the back story to these verses.
Peter has been praying and three times he has a vision to kill and eat unclean animals, and he says no. But in the vision God tells him not to call unclean what God calls clean.
Then three man appear at the door asking Peter to come with them to Cornelius house.
And Peter goes to the house of a Gentile. To the house of one who is considered unclean.
But he is more than just an unclean Gentile.
He is one of the enemy. He is a Roman and the Romans are the occupying force in Judea.
But he is more than just one of the enemy, he is a centurion, a soldier and a leader of other soldiers. Men who used force and killed Jews. He is a violent enemy.

I know some people who lived in occupied Holland during World War Two. They were just children, but they remember the horrors.
I can’t imagine them at the time going for tea to the house of the German General for tea and a religious chat.
To go to the house of a Roman soldier was unthinkable. And so, Peter has the sense to say that God has showed him not to think of other people as unclean.
But even he is astounded that grace, mercy, love and forgiveness should descend on these enemies, these violent people, these afore-to-said unclean people.

I don’t know how much it had dawned on Peter and the others, that God loved everybody, and not because people deserved it or merited it. It is possible Peter thought that God favoured some over others. Peter was a Jew and a male and was healthy and religious. I guess he thought God loved him because he was special.
What Peter and the others didn’t realize was that God thinks everyone is special and worthy of love, not because they earned it but because they are human and are part of God’s creation.

We are God’s treasure. We are special in God’s eyes. But not because others are not special, and not because others are junk, but because we are all special.

And that probably will always blow our minds to think that God loves everyone.
…that Cornelius the enemy, the violent and the unclean, is just as loved by God, as the so-called chosen are.
That Cornelius the enemy, the violent and the unclean is just as chosen as Jews or Christians or you and me.

Last year I got a book. It is written by Father Gregory Boyle who is an ordained Jesuit priest and in 1988 started Homeboy industries, which is now the largest gang rehabilitation and re-entry program in the world. They provide training and support to formerly gang-involved and/or previously incarcerated men and women, allowing them to redirect their lives and become contributing members of their community.

Father Boyle has seen a lot and heard a lot of stories, but he loves working with his homies and says there is no bad person.
One time Father Boyle was invited to be on Doctor Phil and Doctor Phil had a bunch of gang people on his show. Father Boyle said that Dr. Phil was trying to scare the men.
He had on one side of the studio a coffin and on the other side a jail cell, and he was trying to burn into the gang-members brains that what they are doing will end them up in jail or in a coffin.

Father Boyle took issue with Dr. Phil. He told Dr. Phil that they all know that. That what they don’t need is information. Father Boyle said that they know where they will end up. The problem is that they don’t care because they lost hope.
Yeah, they say that they joined the gang for family, or for protection, or for wine, women and song, but the truth is, they say this because it is easier than explaining how you dad held cigarettes against your skin and burned you many times, or how your mom held your head down a toilet until you thought you were going to drown.
Gangs are the place you go when you are in pain and misery and have no hope.
And for Father Doyle there are no bad guys. In thirty years, he has not met one bad guy.

Father Doyle says he has never killed a person. And he says it is not because he is better than others.
He says there are three great fortunes in his life.

First, he has never been in terrible despair. He grew up with love and hope and a future.
Second, he cannot identify any defining trauma that would lead him to such a place of rage. Sure, he has had struggles, but defining trauma. No
And third, he has not struggled with mental illness. He didn’t have to navigate schizophrenia, psychopathy or bipolarity.
Every homie he knows that killed someone -everyone- has carried a load a hundred times heavier than he ever carried. Those homies were weighed down by torture, violence, abuse, neglect, abandonment or mental illness. Most of us have not borne that weight. He writes that we are free not to like that truth, but we are not free to deny it.

One of my former yoga teachers worked in rehabilitation for inmates from the local correctional institutions. One of the staggering statistics she gave me was this: of all the inmates she had to deal with in the support programs she led, one hundred percent had been abused in some way as children. One hundred percent. Everyone.

Sometimes Father Boyle is invited to testify and has done so at the sentencing phase where death penalty is in play.
He is asked by the prosecutor: “Wasn’t the defendant free to choose whether or not to kill?”
“I suppose” Father Boyle replies, “but not all choices are created equal. My decision not to join a gang when I grew up in a Los Angeles cannot be compared to the decision a kid growing up in the public housing projects in LA faces. That choice was made for me. It was more geography than morality.”
Then the prosecutor gets to the question of “good” and “bad.”
The prosecutor begins, “What would you say Father Boyle about a man who….?” And here begins an unspeakable act presented in grisly detail.
“Well,” Father Boyle replies, “imagine how bleak and dark one’s despair would have to be to do such a thing. Imagine how damaged and traumatized you’d have to be to do something so awful. I can’t even fathom how mentally damaged a person would have to be to do such a thing.”
“You can’t say evil can you?’ The prosecutor asks.
Father Boyle replies: “If I said ‘evil’ I’d have to deny everything I know to be true about how complex human beings are. I have to embrace the least sophisticated understanding of crime and its roots to say that. So, I can’t.”
The prosecutor in disgust asks: “You preach on Sundays?”
“Yes.”
“If you don’t preach on the dangers of evil, what do you preach on?”
“Love.”

The prosecutor has been going for moral outrage. Moral outrage is the opposite of God, because it divides us into the good guys and the bad guys, and as we all know we all have sinned.
Instead, what God wants for us is not separation but reconciliation. And that means moving towards those who have done wrong, moving towards sinners, moving towards criminals, moving towards enemies, moving towards those with whom we are estranged, and seeing them as members of our family no matter what they have done.
That is love. That is what Jesus did. Moved towards us in love.
Father Gregory Boyle has seen thousands of lives changed by the power of what he calls radical kinship. The reason most people end up in jail is that they were not loved and they lost hope.
There salvation is to be treated as family, to be seen not as, the hopeless, but as a brother or a sister who needs love.
Maybe we all have our own version of who or what person is a monster, but the truth is, that we belong to each other and to this spacious God of ours, who thinks there are no bad guys, but all are beloved children. Amen.