Love Groups vs. Hate Groups, Part I
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
United Church of Strafford, Vermont
May 2, 2021 Fifth Sunday of Easter
Selected verses from Psalm 22:26-31,
1 John 4:7-21 and John 15:1-7
You can read or download the scriptures here: 5-2-21 Service Readings
Call to Worship:
Welcome to the United Church of Strafford, Vermont, on this Fifth Sunday of Easter. The Easter season celebrates the triumph of life over death or over any inner or outer obstacles that threaten to deaden us. Easter proclaims a love that overcomes fear or greed or hate or any form of narrow self-interest.
Jesus was constantly trying to get people to expand their vision of the circle embraced by the love of God. He brought in all those his society shut out. Eternal, unconditional, life-giving love for all rose from his tomb.
Our world today is caught up in the struggle between forces of life and death, as threats to survival speed toward us, and racial, economic and environmental injustice deaden the lives of a large percentage of the world.
We know that a revolution of love must happen now, in our generation, yet many of us are not as youthful and energetic as we once were, many of us are languishing or depressed, many of us have family members in crisis, many of us feel burned out or overwhelmed by global or local problems.
We need Easter’s power of resurrected life and love. Easter is about the hope and joy we feel in the healing light of God that can overcome the dark shadows that threaten us. Easter is about the tomb becoming a womb, finding a way where there was no way. So let us worship together, opening our hearts and minds wide to fill with the light…
the sermon begins below
Love Groups vs. Hate Groups, Part I
The wisdom of our spiritual tradition says that all stories on earth are part of one story that unites us all.
The 22nd Psalm says, “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to you; and all the families of the nations shall worship before you, for all realms belong to you, and you rule over the nations.” Genesis describes one Spirit of the universe creating the heavens and the earth and all that lives.
All humans are made from one blood in that story, and science has confirmed it. We have traced back a hundred and fifty thousand years to a common female ancestor of all humanity. She had dark African skin, but no matter what our skin color or nationality, humans are genetically 99.9% the same all over the world.
We are all part of the same story, the same earth, the same family of life descended from the first living cells.
Jesus taught us to extend our love to all, and so does Valerie Kaur, a member of the Sikh religion whose people came to California from India over a hundred years ago. Kaur has been a leading civil rights activist since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, when the first American hate crime of revenge was the murder of a close friend of her family, a Sikh who was standing outside his gas station in Arizona.
Valerie Kaur founded the Revolutionary Love Project which follows in the same line as Gandhi, Mandela and especially the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. who was talking about a revolution of values toward the end of his life, striving nonviolently to create the beloved community of God’s realm on earth. Kaur’s Revolutionary Love Project embodies the Sikh saying, “I see no stranger. I see no enemy.”
Jesus calls us to have that same vision of universal oneness, yet part of our oneness divides us, because we all go through adolescence. At that developmental stage our brains naturally see the world in terms of who is like me and who is different, who is inside my circle of love and who is out.
James Fowler was a Methodist minister and professor at Harvard and Emory Universities who researched the developmental stages of faith. The faith that evolves as we approach adolescence is characterized by the rigid rules and judgments of fundamentalism. It could be a progressive faith or conservative, but the structure will be fundamentalist.
Ideally, the church would help adults progress beyond fundamentalism to the rational, pluralistic and finally Christ-like stage of faith where we see no stranger and recognize our true oneness. Yet tragically, many churches get stuck in fundamentalism.
Today millions reject the church because they see it represented by the white supremacist Christian nationalists who stormed the United States Capitol waving Confederate and neo-Nazi flags. Millions see churches as hate groups that extend Christ’s love only to those who believe and look like them.
This is a huge problem for the future of the church and the future of the world. We need more people practicing the revolutionary love for all of Christ and Sikhism and all religions that have the Golden Rule at their core. That love is our greatest hope to save life on earth and build a global civilization founded on justice, freedom and equality.
We need churches to be love groups, and we need churches that are love groups to overcome hate groups, as Civil Rights churches overcame segregationist churches with their love. We need to help society overcome whatever blocks our love of all humans and all the earth.
Valerie Kaur has learned much about this in her work against hate crimes, hate groups and systemic hate. She has gained insights into what it means to love our enemy. She sees how tending an opponent’s wounds like the Good Samaritan can open a door to healing and reconciliation.
I will talk more next week about how love groups can overcome hate groups, but today we have a more immediate problem to address, which is how we as individuals in this difficult time can become more effective instruments of God’s love.
One obstacle that many of us share is the psychological effect of a pandemic that has tripled the number of people experiencing anxiety and depression. (CDCHousehold Pulse Survey)
Elizabeth Abend is a human resources director at a chain of fitness boutiques. Her company has faced challenges similar to our church, including “navigating uncertainty over when, and how, to reopen [and] pivoting to new digital services.” Abend has also suffered personally, as some of us have, including “loneliness, the death of her beloved dog…and the need…[in her words] ‘to be an adult human and pay bills and eat meals and all of that amid the exhaustion of having our entire world turned on its head.’” She says, “So many things seem like so much more work than my brain can possibly manage.” (New York Times 4/3/21)
“Languishing” is the buzzword for the pandemic’s psychological effect on us—a lack of enthusiasm or energy that can lead to more serious depression. A New York Times article (4/19/21) says that one of the best ways to break out of languishing is to attain the condition called “flow” where you are fully absorbed and immersed in something that brings you joy to do. In spiritual terms, flow means mindfulness as we use our gifts in loving service.
But we need to be honest about how hard it is to overcome what blocks us. Valerie Kaur has found that we need to extend love to our hurting selves before we can effectively love others who are hurting, including our enemies. She points out that Gandhi, King and Mandela did not talk much about loving ourselves. It is an insight that comes from her experience as a mother and perspective as a woman.
Kaur does not mean narcissistic self-love, she means self-acceptance and self-care as we struggle to fulfill our calling.
The self-love we need is to abide in the universal power of love that surrounds us and flows through us.
Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit.”
This is the Spirit of the Universe talking, the flow of creation that brought the earth into being. We have this Spirit within us, and by opening to it we heal and renew ourselves and allow the greatest force in the universe to flow through us.
The First Letter of John defines that force this way: “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”
This is how we become instruments of love who can join together to form love groups. We need to choose to be branches of the vine that is love, we need to choose moment by moment to abide in that love and let it abide in us and bear its fruit.
Then we will be brave. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” Then we will serve the cause of justice. “Those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.” That is how love groups overcome hate groups. The Spirit of the universe that sees no stranger or enemy does it through us.
Prayer is how Jesus abided in God and love, and it is still the best way. I invite you to listen to your heart in silent prayer and open to the Spirit within you to guide and empower your love and the fruit you are being called to bear in your life now. Let us pray…
Here is the video: