Der Vasken's Sermon on November 1, 2020

Nov 9, 2020

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

What we have been talking about for over two years is now less than forty-eight hours away.  Tuesday is Election Day and on that day we will cast a vote and some of us already have.  Over the last many months, we all heard the tone of the words leading up to this election.  We watched as candidates argued against candidates, candidates argued against reporters and reporters argued back.  We heard shouting from people holding campaign signs along the streets and corners of our towns.  We all heard differences of opinions being shouted at one another.  It was, we can say, free speech at its "freest" but, also, free speech stretched very thin.

I think we will all agree that we are living in very politically divided times and that this week we will participate in a hotly contested election.  I chose the Gospel reading that Sona read for us this morning because it reminds us of our most important task as Christians--to love God and to love our neighbor.  This reading reminds us to make our world a better place and we do that by loving God and loving our neighbor.  It is not one or the other.  It is both wound together.  If we want to know how to love God, then we should practice by loving our neighbor.  If we want to know how to love our neighbor, then we should practice loving God.

Love in this passage is about commitment.  When we love God, we are committed to care about what God cares about in this world.  That means that we refuse to accept the way things are and that we would rather work for the way things could be.  When we love our neighbor, we are committed to their well-being just as we are committed to our own well-being.  

What does it mean to love our neighbor?  What does loving our neighbor look like?  The best answer I know comes from St. Paul in his famous passage in Corinthians that is often read at weddings.  Here, St. Paul gives us a checklist for loving one's neighbor--a checklist for love in action.  "Love is patient and kind," he says.  "Love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way.  It is not irritable or resentful.  It doesn't rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things."  St. Paul wants us to know that this is what love as a commitment looks like.

In order to love God, we must try to be kind and patient and generous and unassuming and humble and polite to everyone we meet.  It means to be willing to listen to our neighbor rather than lecturing them about what we think.  It means striving to be pleasant and always to speak the truth no matter what our neighbor says or does.  It means doing all these things for the people we like the least as well as for the people we like the most.  How different would this country look if we lived this way even once in a while?  How much better off we would be if we learned to lead with love.

I heard about an article in the Wall Street Journal about a week ago.  It was about two families--the Mitchell Family and the Gates Family. These two families are next-door neighbors in a suburb of Pittsburgh, but they are not only neighbors, they are good friends as well.  The Mitchells are life-long Democrats with a Biden / Harris sign proudly displayed in their front yard.  The Gates are staunch Republicans with a Trump / Pence sign proudly displayed in their front yard.  These two families disagree politically on just about everything but their friendship is bigger than their politics, which means they don't define each other by their politics or reduce each other to their political opinions.

Sadly, both families were so disturbed by the amount of anger and bitterness and hatred, that they witnessed over the months between people of different political beliefs, that they felt it was necessary to put up a second sign in their yards.  This second sign, placed right next to their Biden sign and their Trump sign, simply said these three words:  "We love them" with a big yellow arrow pointing to their neighbor's home.  Mark Gates, the father of one of these families, said in the article: "Our main job as parents is to be good role models for our children.  We don't see them as Democrats.  They are the Mitchells.  We know that we live next door to good people."

For these two families, this was their small way of loving their neighbor and their small way of saying that people can strongly disagree yet still honor and respect and even love one another. I say this is sad because when did we forget this basic fact?  How did we get to the place where the only thing we feel for people, who think politically differently than we do, is disrespect?  Now here is the thing.  If we consider ourselves Christians, then this cannot be the way we live in our world.

So let's ask ourselves, what can we do in our own small way to love God and love our neighbor?  Let me end with this thought.  Planting seeds of love into our world one seed at a time is what God is calling us to do.  It is what our world needs.  Love is the key that will help the world find its way out of the hole it has dug itself into.

Remember St. Paul's words that without love, we gain nothing and without love, we are nothing.  Something for every one of us to think about.