I have always strongly believed that in God there is only love, and that all believers of God should only love one another. I get reality too at the same time. It’s not easy to love some people. But I’m always amazed by the amount of hate that I see in our churches, and by the fact that those who are non-Christians or non-church-goers only see the hate we have.
Do we really have that much hate going around? It’s a horrible thought. One we don’t like think about or dwell in. It’s one that we struggle with. We are all raised with habits and beliefs. Our parents gave them to us, our families, our friends: whoever we were close with growing up we inherited some of their beliefs and traditions.
Not all of these are good. We know that intuitively, but it is darn hard to break those habits, to stop the bad things. But we need to break the cycle. A lot of us grew up with the understanding that someone of a different race was bad, was beneath us, that we were better than them.
Racism. The very basics of it began before you really even know what it was or how to comprehend what was going on. Our country is a melting pot. It has been for decades. It’s nothing new that there are people out there who look and act different than we do. They were raised with a different set of beliefs and traditions, a different set of habits they need to break in order to allow us into their hearts.
We’re in the exact same boat. Whether it’s racism, sexism, ageism, whatever. These are habits we need to break. And you’re not alone. I’m right in that boat with you. Each and every one of us was raised with some sort of hatred in our hearts, and it takes effort and time and patience and accountability to change the habits, to break the cycle.
This passage of scripture states, “Yet I am writing you a new commandment that is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.” This breaking the cycle, this changing our habits is NOT SOMETHING NEW! We’ve been told for two thousand years that we need to do this. It’s what Christianity did with Judaism, in some sense. We broke away from what we didn’t think was working, what we didn’t think was good, and we established new beliefs and traditions that worked better for us that were truer to who God was calling us to be.
The church in Corinth doesn’t exist anymore. But we do. We’ve changed. We don’t look like that church did, and I highly doubt the church in two-thousand years from now is going to look like this one. Change needs to happen. Cycles need to be broken. Habits that aren’t working anymore, that aren’t in God’s grace need to be stopped and changed and broken.
The scripture continues, “Whoever says, ‘I am in the light,’ while hating a brother or sister, is still in the darkness. Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light, and in such a person there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates another believer is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and does not know the way to go, because the darkness has brought on blindness.”
The darkness has brought on blindness. Did you get the full effect of that meaning? Our hatred, our dislike, our traditions and habits have gotten in the way of us seeing all those other people out there, all those who have been touched by God but who are different, all those who need to be touched by God but we can’t imagine them being a part of our community.
I recently started reading our General Minister and President Sharon Watkin’s new book Whole: A Call to Unity in our Fragmented World. My mom gave it to me while she was here. Sharon talks about how there was one church who decided to break it’s habit of isolation of hatred and open its doors to anyone who needed to be welcomed in. They started with people who are part of twelve-step programs.
They hosted the groups, they nurtured the people who attended, they allowed those people who were once outsiders to become insiders to change their cycle of exclusion and make it one of inclusion. It wasn’t much later when the Pastor was somewhere and he overheard a conversation about his church wherein the person was saying with disgust, “Well, that’s the church who accepts everyone.”
No joke! That was something to be proud of. It is something to be proud of. This pastor took the conversation he overhead back to his congregation and they made it their motto. They even changed the church sign out front to read it. They had officially broken the cycle.
Hatred is not something easy to break, and neither is exclusion. Sharon goes on to write, “Surprisingly, Hollywood has gotten this one right. In a movie entitled Places in the Heart, a woman’s husband is murdered. An unlikely array of individuals come together to bring in the cotton crop and save the widow’s farm.
“Toward the end of the movie, in a communion service, the bread and cup are passed from the blind man to the African American man to the white widow lady to…(and now comes the surprise) to her murdered husband who is somehow sitting on the row beside her. Now we know something unusual is happening here.
“Then the woman’s deceased husband passes the communion tray into the hands of the young many who was his murderer, and this is more than mere movie magic. The communion table has become a table open to all, a place for older brothers and younger brothers to meet, where enemies are reconciled. The table has bridged the gap of the violence that is between them. It calls out for reconciling love as they share the meal in the spirit of Christ still very much alive and present.
“Most who gather at the table each week do not come as murderers. Many come as weary travelers through life. Some come looking for an answer to loneliness. Others come still looking for forgiveness and renewal from deep brokenness. Still others simply need a respite from the daily strains of life. The longing may be as yet unarticulated….Yet we gather.
“There is something about being invited to the table, especially the communion table. That table is the center of spiritual renewal, of personal affirmation. It is the most welcoming place of all. At that table is the welcome of God.”
The fear, the hatred, the distrust of our community is a cycle we need to break. It’s a time when we have to change our habits, change our future so that we can be welcome to all, so we can love all to walk in the light like our commandment says. This is the time to break the cycle of hatred and allow unconditional love to be free in this world.