- Rev. Sandra Larson
January 19, 2020
Genesis 11:1-9 & John 13:33-5
The story of Babel in Genesis occurs near the beginning of biblical history. The opening of the story explains, “Now the whole earth had one language and the same words.” Wanting to get to the dramatic action in the story, readers tend to gloss over the setting for the story: the whole earth had one language and the same words.
This parable recounts that these united people became arrogant and built a tower to their own glory. When the tower crashed like a house built on sand—the people were spread out and they lost their common language.
So much for world unity. Groups began to compete and fight. But God’s goal is world harmony. Yet God is waiting for the people to join together to work for peace on earth. God waits for people to embrace mutual respect and acceptance. The goal to love God and one another is the main theme of the whole Bible. With trust in God—love will ultimately win. God and good will overcome evil and hate.
Jesus inspired people to love God and love one another. According to John, after his last meal, as Jesus faced his own death, he even instructed his followers: Love one another as I have loved you. A huge ask--considering the scope of Jesus' love. Jesus used a specific Greek word for love: agape. This specific word refers to the highest form of love. Christians consider agape to be love that originates from God.
In the New Testament, agape also refers to the love of God for humans, and the response of love for God. Agape is unconditional love that persists regardless of circumstance. It seeks the best for others.Most likely, Jesus' followers interpreted "love one another" to mean that they were to care for each other within their group. If Jesus had directly told his first followers to love all other people, they would have been dumbfounded, like a deer frozen in the headlights of a car.
Eventually, some of his followers would begin to put his meaning into practice. Jesus had earlier used the metaphor "I have sheep in other pastures," to hint at the breadth of his love. 2000 years later, most Christians understand that Jesus sought worldwide love and acceptance. ML King would say: “No one is free until we are all free.” Native American Chief Phil Lane Jr. summarized: We are all indigenous to Mother Earth.
How can we more fully live out the ways that Jesus loved others? Jesus spoke to leaders of his time by baldly challenging them to stop their elitist, unloving attitudes and behavior towards others. I am convinced that Jesus confronted those leaders in order to help them become respectful and loving of others.
Despite generations of Christian experience, we still fall short of accepting all people. What steps can we take to accept others as Jesus did?
How could we better love one another? I could reach out to my cousin whom most of my family shuns because of her overbearing narcissism. I could offer more convivial eye contact to strangers. I could apologize more often. And I could avoid making quick judgments about others.
Labels divide and alienate people. I have a dream of eliminating all terms that label people. People can viewed for who they are--as complete persons. I have a dream of abolishing Protestant church denominations and each congregation simply stating who we are: Union Church cares for one another and welcomes others without restriction. Union shares wonderful music, offers a Food Pantry and uses representational democracy governance. And Union Church practices open communion and baptism of infants and adults.
On a national level, I have a dream of entirely abolishing political parties and purging all labels such conservative, liberal, right, and left. Instead, political candidates could stand on their actual plans and policies. Any candidate or campaign team leaders belittling another candidate could be penalized 10% of the votes they receive by an impartial Board of Election Ethics. Since candidates would only talk about issues and plans, campaign spending could be readily capped and those resources used for tangible needs. What are some of your dreams for world harmony? How can we work towards those dreams?
Our nation was built on the ideal of One Nation Under God. Yet divisive schisms thrive. Western culture conditions us to think in terms of "Me" and "them" —rather than living as "us." From whom do you distance yourself, thinking of them as different, inferior or just plain wrong-headed? The dualism of Western Society conditions us to build walls between us and those who do not share our ideas, lifestyle or cultural background. We often make prejudiced judgments, assuming that if people SEEM different, they likely oppose or compete with our interests.
Western civilization has been acting on a mindset of Us-Them for centuries. Christians launched Crusades that soon turned into violence towards non-Christians. Roman Catholic and Protestants and Anglicans fought viciously and lethally against one another. Nations of Europe competed with one another and conquered and colonized and enslaved others with a self-righteous sense of US in the name of Christ. Protestant denominations belittle and fight with one another over doctrine and winning members.
Martin Buber, a Jewish survivor of a Nazi concentration camp identified a helpful way of looking at relationships: In Buber's book I and Thou, Buber explains that relationships have different qualities. I-It relationships see the other person or group as serving MY needs. I-It relationships treat the other person as a thing to serve them. I-It relationships view checkers at the cash register, co-workers and even friends and fellow church members as things to carry out tasks for them. In contrast, I-Thou relationships are mutual, respectful and caring. I-Thou relationships can be found in the best friendships, marriages and teams of any sort. Loving one another as Jesus loved is reflected in I-Thou relationships. Yet, throughout the world, some people compete, denigrate or fight with one another. Across the globe we can see It-It or Us-Them orientations reflected in high divorce rates, gangs, politics and business competition. I-It relationships can even be found within religious groups. Many people are trying to promote harmony and goodwill and stop the epidemics of competition, hatred and fear of others. North Americans are beginning to ask anew, How big is God? Who does God exclude?
Martin Buber describes God as the Eternal Thou--always intimately available to partner with humankind. I am convinced that God's love is huge enough to embrace the whole world with love. That is the main message throughout the Bible. God's love is always available. May we be discerning enough to experience this infinite, indestructible love. May we discover that God's love is wider than we can imagine and infinitesimal enough to enter the dark fissures in our hearts. In and through our love, may we demonstrate that no matter how bad things may seem. God's love will ultimately win.
May God give us experiences of acceptance and love that inspire us to commit to radical justice, truth, and love.