First Friends Quaker Meeting
Pastor Bob Henry
Originally for January 20, 2019, but Meeting for Worship was cancelled due to bad weather. Sermon given January 27, 2019.
34 “A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Today, as we pause to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr., I want to not just once again remember the man, but more the legacy that he has left us. As I have studied and allowed Martin Luther King’s writings, speeches, and life to influence me, and have an impact on my ministry and activism, I have found one overly-consistent theme – that being LOVE.
Now, it seems almost too simplistic to just pronounce “love” as a major theme for Martin Luther King Jr. For some, claiming love may seem a way to water-down King’s words and action to rudimentary and feel-good aspects, so we don’t have to deal with the more difficult things he taught and lived.
Yet, like many of us, King didn’t have love all figured out. For King, love and how we experienced, shared, and utilized it were an evolving process.
It actually took Mahatma Gandhi to open King’s eyes to a deeper understanding of love – an understanding that would ignite and give even greater weight to his teachings and the Civil Rights Movement in America.
In The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr., King says,
“Like most people, I had heard of Gandhi, but I had never studied him seriously. As I read I became deeply fascinated by his campaigns of nonviolent resistance…The whole concept of Satyagraha (satya is truth which equals love, and agrahah is force; Satyagraha, therefore, means truth force or love force) was profoundly significant to me. As I delved deeper into the philosophy of Gandhi, my skepticism concerning the power of love gradually diminished, and I came to see for the first time its potency in the area of social reform. Prior to reading Gandhi, I had about concluded that the ethics of Jesus were only effective in individual relationships. The “turn the other cheek” philosophy and the “love your enemies” philosophy, were only valid, I felt, when individuals were in conflict with other individuals; when racial groups and nations were in conflict a more realistic-approach seemed necessary. But after reading Gandhi, I saw how utterly mistaken I was.”
See, what Gandhi did for King and, I believe, for us, today, was to lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force on a larger scale.
Love became an effective instrument for social change
and collective transformation.
Let’s take a moment and go back and look at this.
Jesus had summarized the ten commandments and the teaching of the law down to two phrases – and both were about LOVE. Love God, and then he said, love your Neighbor as you love yourself.
Jesus taught that the act of love comes from the core of our being. For Jesus’ audience that meant it came from the soul (thus love is a soul force). Jesus’ more Jewish audience would have used a metaphor of this love “extending from one’s heart” – where the Jewish faith centers life and considers love for our neighbors and world to spring forth.
To Jesus, love was the most important habit of the heart or soul – it was what would define, shape, and grow one’s life, experience, social interaction, even some would say it would define his way of engaging the politics and societal issues of his day. It seems simple and rudimentary, but it was the essential element - the foundation block.
Much like King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, When the Apostle Paul writes from jail to the people of Ephesis, he continues to translate what it takes to create “one new humanity” and again he focuses on that essential element – love. Paul says the following in his letter to the Ephesians (this is from chapter 4:1-7 MSG):
1 In light of all this, here's what I want you to do. While I'm locked up here, a prisoner for the Master, I want you to get out there and walk - better yet, run! - on the road God called you to travel. I don't want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don't want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. 2 And mark that you do this with humility and discipline - not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, 3 alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences. 4 You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly. 5 You have one Master, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who rules over all, works through all, and is present in all. Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness. 7 But that doesn't mean you should all look and speak and act the same. Out of the generosity of Christ, each of us is given his own gift.
Paul takes Jesus’ command to love and he puts it into action, and in much more palpable words. Just notice the “action words” that Eugene Peterson translated in the Message version of this text to make it come alive.
Do, walk, run, travel, steady, pour out, acts of love, alert, quick at mending fences, together, outwardly and inwardly…oneness!
What I believe Paul is trying to convey is that, everything we ARE and THINK, and DO should be done in love for the benefit of our neighbors. Yet it is going to look different for each of us. We’re a diverse people. We all have a completely different set of gifts, talents, qualities, abilities, and even unique personalities.
And that means we all give and receive love differently. Maybe this is what complicates love and how we put it into action. In this room alone, we all love and receive love differently. Maybe you have read the book, “The Five Love Languages” and know all about this, but I would say over my years in ministry, I to have evolved to understand that there are more than just five love languages – those were just a primer that help define our different ways of love.
Our unique life circumstances, our unique friendships and relationships, our unique environments, our unique abilities…All create unique beings who are called to love and follow the example of Christ.
Many don’t know this, but Gandhi spent a great deal of time reading the Bible – especially the Gospels and teachings of Jesus. Gandhi considered himself a follower of Christ. It was after reading the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus’ teachings on loving one’s enemies, he developed the concept of Satyagraha or Soul/Love Force. He was so influenced that his first point to emphasize was Loving one’s enemies. He outlined what that looked liked:
· Harbor no anger towards your enemies.
· Suffer the anger of the opponent.
· Do not insult the opponent.
· Do not trivialize the beliefs of intelligence of opponents.
· Forgive as you wish to be forgiven.
· Opponents are God’s children, made in His image and likeness.
· Defend your opponent against insult or assault.
· Look for God’s face in the face of others.
Now, adding those things to love makes it much harder to swallow. It is so much easier just saying Love God and Love your Neighbor. That’s because this love goes beyond relationships, this is the love that, I believe, has the potential and power to change our world.
This is how Martin Luther King could see the wealth and depth of Jesus’s teaching, Paul’s call to go forth, and Gandhi’s soul force to transform the world in such a powerful new way.
King would explain his evolving view of love in an article titled, Nonviolence and Racial Justice, in Christian Century, February 1957. He said,
“In speaking of love we are not referring to some sentimental emotion. It would be nonsense to urge men to love their oppressors in an affectionate sense[…] When we speak of loving those who oppose us […] we speak of a love which is expressed in the Greek word Agape. Agape means nothing sentimental or basically affectionate; it means understanding, redeeming goodwill for all [sic] men, an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return.” (repeat that final line)
In Quaker Parker Palmer’s latest book, “On the Brink of Everything” he describes King’s love as “Revolutionary Love” instead of being romantic or emotional, it is embodied, courageous, and demanding. Palmer says,
“Choosing to practice the love ethic can birth new possibilities. But to be revolutionary, love must be poured in three directions: toward others, toward our opponents, and toward ourselves.”
Let’s be honest, today, you and I are living in a time where instead of love, fear and anger are driving our world. We are seeing on a daily basis many of the same atrocities of Jim Crow, Slavery, discrimination, and injustice that King and Gandhi fought, alive and well in our world.
That essential element – love – of redeeming goodwill for all, that seeks nothing in return, and is poured in three directions – others, opponents, selves - has almost been replaced completely by fear mongering, cynical views, and extremely selfish and angered people.
Just look around at the road rage, cyber bullying, trash-talking, Jerry Springer-like brawls and antics in public forums, degradation of women, minorities, other cultures, and all the lying taking place. It makes one ask – where is the love?
What if we would choose to approach our neighbors, families, friends, and enemies with more grace, more care, more understanding, and more love?
We just might prevent ourselves and those around us from getting swept away by the tide of anger and fear all around us. But folks, like a couple of weeks ago when I shared about rest, the choice is ours. We can fluff it over or we can really seek to love in a transformational way.
Parker Palmer summarized what I believe King and Gandhi and even Jesus and Paul were seeking for us to do. Palmer broke it down to 5 habits of our heart that if we choose to discipline ourselves with, may just help change what is in and extending from our hearts.
Habit One: Develop an understanding that we are all in this together. We are dependent and accountable to one another, and yes, that includes the “alien” other.
Habit Two: Develop an appreciation of the values of “otherness.” This is a call to begin with hospitality before limiting ourselves with “us vs. them” catagories.
Habit Three: Develop an ability to hold tension in life-giving ways. If we fail to hold these tensions creatively, the contradictions of life will shut us down and take us out of the action, but the possibilities for the heart to extend love with energy and new life are limiteless.
Habit Four: Develop a sense of personal voice and agency. It is possible for us, no matter young or old, to find our voices, and speak truth/love to power. This is soul force (Satyagraha) at its best. When we don’t speak up out of love and in truth, we can be hurting our neighbors and world.
Habit Five: Develop a capacity to create community. King called this creating the “Beloved Community.” He said,
“Our Goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.”
So it is clear, that love is not as simple as we may want it to be. Its not just a gushy feeling, a romantic moment, but it is what can actually change our world. And I believe whether that call comes from Jesus, Paul, Gandhi, King, or Palmer, it is again being heralded in our world today.
Let me close with these words of Martin Luther King Jr. before we enter our time of waiting worship. This is from a sermon King gave at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama titled, “Loving Your Enemies.” He concludes:
“Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, "Love your enemies." It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies.”
Let us now enter into a time of waiting worship.