“The Hardest to Learn was the Least Complicated”
May 10, 2015 | All Saints Pasadena | Susan Russell
Easter 6B: John 15:9-17
"This is my commandment; that you love one another as I have loved you."
Jesus was running out of time when he spoke these words to his disciples. We find them in the 15th Chapter of John – part of the last great series of teachings Jesus offered to those who had followed him – up and down the hills of Galilee and Judea – as he proclaimed the Good News of the Kingdom of God – the Reign of God -- already begun in their midst. He speaks these words as the clouds of the impending crucifixion gathered over Jerusalem ... as the leaders of the establishment threatened by his words plotted his arrest, trial and conviction.
They'd heard it all before -- those disciples gathered to listen to Jesus teach. It was the same message he gave the lawyer who tried to trap him in a game of stump the rabbi in the temple
with his “which is the greatest commandment” question. Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Next question?
It was the same message he not only taught but demonstrated in the upper room when during their last supper together he told them he was giving them a new commandment – love one another – and then washed their feet to make the point.
And now here he is again: Same crowd. Same message. It’s almost as if he didn’t trust that they’d gotten it yet. Because – of course – they hadn’t.
Not really.Oh, they’d been there for all the teaching, the preaching and the miracles.They’d heard over and over and over again all the things the Kingdom of God was like: a mustard seed, a shepherd, a hen brooding over her chicks, a persistent widow who wouldn’t give up on justice. And when Jesus finished teaching and did whatever the first century version of pass the microphones in the Rector’s Forum was, the questions he got from his disciples were ones like: “So when we get to heaven can I sit on your right hand?”
I was driving to work a week or so ago thinking about where this sermon was going to go when a song cycled around on my playlist. It was an old "Indigo Girls" tune ... one of those ones you've heard so many times you don't even realize you've memorized the words until you find yourself singing along. And suddenly I heard myself singing these words "The hardest to learn was the least complicated."
"The hardest to learn was the least complicated."
Sometimes the stunning simplicity of an idea is what makes it the hardest to learn. And so we have to hear it again -- and again -- and AGAIN ... until we can finally "get it." We're asked to trust that God loves us so much that we can risk loving in return. Not very complicated ... but hard, hard, HARD to learn – and harder to do!
And yet, if we listen, we can hear that call to love again and again -- and again ... as if God is saying, "Let me try this again ..." "Let me put it to you THIS way ..." "PSST ... over here!"
Not "this is my commandment; that you agree about everything." Not "this is my commandment; that you understand everything.” And certainly not “this is my commandment; that you write a bunch of creeds and doctrines and then adopt some canons that keep anyone who disagrees with you at arm’s length.” Nope. This is my commandment -- that you love one another.
Least complicated. Hardest to learn.
It might be tempting to say “of course we love one another ... we're Christians, aren't we? Doesn't it go without saying?” Again, I'm reminded of a song ... his one from "My Fair Lady"
where Eliza Doolittle sings in frustration "Don't talk of love ... SHOW ME!" There's a world full of Eliza Doolittles out there just waiting for the Church to BE the Church – to "show them" that we mean what we say – that we practice what we preach – that love one another isn’t just a Bible verse we commit to memory but a value we commit to live.
And this week I was blessed to by being “schooled” by three people living out that value in the world: an activist in our Rector’s Forum, a new dad in the Diocese of Central Florida and a leader in our national church.
Last Sunday we had the honor of welcoming Patrisse Cullors – one of the founders of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement – to All Saints Church. She spoke movingly in the Rector’s Forum of her lived reality that “If all lives matter we wouldn’t need the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter – and if you really believe all lives matter then you’re going to fight like hell for black lives.”
She described the #BlackLivesMatter Movement as “a call to action and a response to the virulent anti-Black racism that permeates our society – offering a unique contribution that goes beyond extrajudicial killings of Black people by police and vigilantes to the fight for housing, the fight for food, the fight for education.”
She spoke of the commitment to creating a new politic that leaves absolutely no one behind: "Black Lives Matter affirms the lives of queer and trans folks, disabled folks, black undocumented folks, folks with records, women and all black lives along the gender spectrum."
And she challenged us to dare to dream of a country – a world – where a #BlackLivesMatter Movement was not necessary because all lives truly did matter.
“Abolition,” she said, “is not the just ending of a system; it is also the act of reimagining what kind of world we want to be living in. A world rooted in the truth that ALL our lives deserve the full spectrum of living.”
And then Patrisse Cullors ended her presentation in the Rector’s Forum (up on our YouTube Channel in case you missed it!) with this 1970’s call to action that she has claimed as her own:
It is our duty to fight for freedom; It is our duty to win.
We must love and support one another; We have nothing to lose but our chains.
The hardest to learn was the least complicated. The hardest to learn is that love your neighbor as yourself means all of your neighbors all of the time. #Period.
And then there was the story of Baby Jack – which I know some of you know because you either posted it or commented on it on my Facebook page. It seems that down in Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida Baby Jack was all set to be baptized on April 19th with the other babies whose parents had gone through the baptism preparation class at St. Mark’s Cathedral.
A few days before the big day, one of his daddies got a call from the cathedral that “there were members of the Cathedral who opposed Jack’s baptism and although the Dean hoped to resolve the conflict he was not yet able to” – so the baptism was off. Because Baby Jack happened to have two daddies.
Here’s how Jack's dad Rich began their account of the experience: "My hope in sharing our story is to raise awareness to our community, and to offer perspective to a reticent institution."
And by telling their story, he did both. He wrote:
“Jack’s baptism turned out to be the very opposite of what it should have been. It became about Jack having two dads, rather than a community opening its arms to a joyful little soul,
one of God’s children. Ironically, tenets of the baptism covenant call upon Christians to “serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself” and “Strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.”
Is this how the church loves its neighbors and respects the dignity of human beings?
This is not an attempt to force the Cathedral’s hand to baptize Jack, but rather a moment to change the conversation – to make the conversation an honest one focused on what the church wants to be known for. And to discover if it indeed can fulfill the purpose it is called upon to perform — to reveal timeless truth to a changing world.
For my son Jack, this is a teachable moment —
• Do not be fearful of what you don’t know. Keep your heart and mind open to diversity among people, thoughts and experiences.
• Have patience, take time to learn and to teach others, realizing in the end we are more alike than different.
• Practice what you believe to be true even when it is difficult and you may need to stand alone.
• Demonstrate compassion and love.
• Resist judging others or applying your experience with one person unilaterally.
• Just because an individual has wronged you does not mean all associated with the person/organization are of the same mind.
The family did meet with the bishop. The content of that meeting is not public but the result is. Baby Jack will be baptized – at the Cathedral – early this summer. In the words of Jack’s dad Rich “after the dust has settled.”
And there was one more thing Jack’s dad had to say – one more thing to add to his “teachable moment list.” And that was:
• Aspire to live your life with grace and forgiveness. You will be better for it.
The hardest to learn may be the least complicated – but in this case Baby Jack’s dad gets an A+/go to the head of the class for not only learning it but living it.
And in being willing to share his story – to speak his truth – has taught others as well what Christian Family Values actually look like.
And finally, the third voice reiterating that “hardest to learn/least complicated lesson” this week was Gay Jennings – the President of the Episcopal Church’s House of Deputies – in her open letter to the Supreme Court regarding the marriage equality cases they are deliberating.
"No religion's belief or practice should be allowed to restrict the rights of people to marry and receive equal protection under the law. It is long past time to end any kind of discrimination against God’s children in this country.”
Any of God’s children. And not just in this country, but in this human family. That’s the radical vision of “a world redeemed by Christ-like love; all life in Christ made new” we sing about here at All Saints Church nearly every Sunday. It is the reason we put our faith into action at the table-on-the-lawn every week. It is a core value of All Saints Church rooted deep in the DNA of a congregation whose rector protested the deportation of Japanese Americans to Manzanar in the 1940’s; which stood against the Viet Nam War in the 70’s, for a woman’s right to choose in the 80’s and for equality for LGBT people in the 90’s.
The list goes on and on. We can and should take heart in the movements toward equality in our church and in our nation – and we rightfully take pride in the part All Saints Church
has played in that struggle.
But we know that marriage equality will not fix homophobia any more than women’s suffrage fixed sexism or integration fixed racism.
And if we forget that then we have people like Patrisse Cullors and Baby Jack’s daddy to remind us that the hardest to learn is the least complicated and that we will not be done learning
until there are no strangers at the gate; until there are no babies in this church denied baptism because of the orientation of their parents and until there are no citizens in this nation denied dignity because of the color of their skin.
And yes that work demands that we continue to learn and relearn the commandment Jesus taught and re-taught his disciples – and us: "This is my commandment; that you love one another as I have loved you." Because the hardest to learn IS the least complicated.
And as the arc of the moral universe continues to bend toward justice our job is to continue to be vigilant in discerning how and where we can best use our individual and collective
voices and resources to be benders of that arc. Day in and day out. Year in and year out. Rector in and rector out. Making God’s love tangible as we go about the work of turning the human race into the human family.
Thanks be to God. Alleluia. Amen.