(This is the end of a sermon preached at Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church of Millersville. The text was John 3:16, and the first part emphasized God’s infinite and inclusive love for each of us and for the world, the kosmos in the Greek in which John wrote. You can listen to the full sermon here.)
Yesterday in Charlottesville, Virginia, white supremacists gathered to spew their vile hatred of those who are not white, not Christian, and not what they would consider the right kind of American.
But others were there, living out their call to love as God loved. Ministers of the Gospel enacted God’s love by praying and ministering to the the injured and standing in witness to God’s inclusive love – God’s love without boundaries or limits.
I saw a photo on Facebook this morning. On one side are angry people with hateful signs and faces twisted by hatred. Some of them carried clubs and others firearms. On the other side of the photo there is a line of clergy, men and women from across denominations united in the love of Christ.
They stood in silent witness of that love in the face of all that hate.
Our Bishop, Bill Gohl, was there in Charlottesville yesterday.
He has shared that he was especially saddened to see white supremacists wearing and carrying symbols of Christian faith.
Sisters and brothers, the cross is desecrated when it is associated with symbols of white superiority, Nazi Germany, and American slavery.
Jesus died on the cross to defeat sin, including the sin of racism.
The so-called Christianity shouted and displayed by white supremacists in Charlottesville is the opposite of the Gospel.
White supremacy is anti-Christian.
It is anti-Christ.
It is anti-love.
I want you to know, if you are at all confused, that God loves everyone.
Let’s make this clear.
They marched against people of color.
If you are a person of color, God loves you.
They marched against immigrants.
If you are an immigrant, God loves you.
It doesn’t matter where you are from, whether you are documented or not.
No person is “illegal” in God’s kingdom.
God does not love America or Americans more than God loves the rest of the world.
They marched against LGBT folks.
If your are LGBTQIA, God loves you.
God’s love is not determined or defined by the letter designating your sexual preference or gender.
They marched against Jews. A sign I saw on television read, “Jews are children of Satan.”
If you are a Jew, God loves you.
It is a testament to the ignorance of the racists that they somehow do not know that Jesus was Jewish, as were most of his disciples and earliest followers.
They marched against Muslims.
If you are Muslim, like the gentleman I met a couple evenings ago walking my dogs, God loves you.
And if you are like most of the people who marched – if you are like me – white, Christian, straight, American – God loves you.
And this is the hardest thing for me to say this morning.
If you marched, or agree with those who did, God loves you.
I believe that if those who marched really knew and experienced the unconditional and infinite love God has for each of them, and the wideness of God’s love for the kosmos, they would not need to hate.
God does not love every action or belief that we hold. Actions and beliefs that are contrary to God’s desire and commands are sin. We are called to look at our own sin – as Jesus put it in the Sermon on the Mount, to take care of the logs in our own eyes, not the specks in the eyes of others.
If our response to being confronted with, or realizing, our own sin is to say, “But what about him or her or them,” then we are missing the point. We are missing God’s point.
Our Bishop was interviewed on Fox News yesterday afternoon. He said the church is – we are – complicit because we have failed to stand up and call racism a sin. He said we are complicit because we want to be “nice” even in the face of such horrific things.
As a church that is predominantly white, we must confess and repudiate the sin of white supremacy.
If you don’t believe racism or sexism or any other “-isms” lurk somewhere inside you, you are a better person than I am. I believe you are deluding yourself. “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”
I believe that’s in the Bible somewhere. It’s in the words of our confession.
God calls us to confession not because God needs our permission or our action to forgive us. Forgiveness happened on the cross. Forgiveness became ours in baptism.
God calls us to confession because sin – especially the sin of hate – thrives in the darkness. When our sin is brought into the light of God’s love and forgiveness, it no longer has any power over us.
When I got to this point in writing my sermon Saturday evening, I felt the need to pray. I invite you to join me in prayer:
God, I confess my complicity in systems that divide and discriminate. I ask your forgiveness. Look into my heart and reveal to me anywhere I hold onto stereotypes and prideful attitudes. Bring them into your light and destroy them with your forgiveness. AMEN
Some say we should ignore the hatemongers in Charlottesville and others like them. But when the church is silent, the world assumes such evil is just fine with us.
Too much of the church has been too quiet for too long about the sin of racism.
The Fox News interviewer asked Bishop Bill what he would preach about on Sunday.
The Bishop said he would preach about how the church is called to turn the world upside down.
Yes! We are called to turn the world upside down with God’s love.
Each church is called to be an outpost of Gospel love in a world infused with fear and hatred.
We are not called to gather in our churches and stay there, safe and patting each other on the back for how holy we are.
Each of us is called to be an instrument of God’s love, an instrument of God’s peace.
That doesn’t mean everyone is called to stand witness at marches or preach sermons about the evil of racism.
Our actions can be simple, yet profoundly proclaim God’s love and peace.
We are instruments of God’s love and peace when someone makes a racist remark and we call them out.
When someone tells a supposed joke that perpetuates stereotypes, we are instruments of God’s love and peace when we say, “That’s not funny.”
At school or at work, we are an instrument of God’s love and peace in the lunchroom when we choose to sit with someone who is alone because of who they are.
We are called to act with love the face of hate, with peace in the face of violence.
The church is called to be an example to the world. Diversity is a gift of God to the church. Diversity is central to what church is meant to be.
Perhaps those who marched in Charlottesville haven’t read Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
All of this starts with God’s love for us; with God’s love for the world.
“For God so loved the WORLD!”
God loves you.
It is God’s love that empowers us to love.
Karl Barth was a 20th century Swiss theologian. He wrote books with thousands of pages and millions of words. Once when he toured the United States a student asked him if he could sum up his theology in a single sentence.
Barth thought for a moment, then answered, “I can sum it up in the words of a song I learned from my mother.
“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
(I then began to sing, “Jesus Loves Me.” The congregation joined in.)