Harrowing Of Hell
July 15, 2018

The power of Love: Small Change Disrupts Large Systems

Preacher:  The Rev. Ruth Anne Garcia

Good morning Christians, seekers and friends

If I have learned anything in life it is that little things matter a lot. It is not that I am opposed to the idea that we should not “sweat the small stuff” but rather that this small stuff absolutely makes a difference.

Want an example of this? Well, try making a change to your order in a restaurant or a coffee shop. At Starbucks, for example, I have ordered the same summertime drink for years—an iced decaf (sometimes half/caf) quad expresso in a venti cup –ice first. So, it is simply four shots of expresso over ice and– in comparison to the very elaborate drinks that the baristas make every day—it seems rather easy but it is almost impossible to get my coffee correctly made. Supposedly the whole iced decaf thing is what you have to say instead of four shots over ice…but it still has limited success. If I were to make this same drink with water (an iced Americano for example)—no problem. Put the ice in after melting the plastic cup with all its toxic goodness – done. But putting the ice in first is a challenge I seek to communicate each and every time. So on coffee runs with friends or family – no one wants to order my “complicated” drink. It is simple: A large cup of ice. 4 shots of expresso. Why is that so hard?

It is the way that our minds work. There are ways that we assume things should be. We have ideas about how things should look or how things should be. And even if the world, if other human beings, don’t fit into our neat categories we somehow believe that they should. We have different “races” of human beings and all sorts of ideas about them and about what they are like. We have conceptions, too, about people and gender and sexual orientation. We have ideas about what kind of work qualifies as a “good job” and what success looks like, and while we may do so unconsciously, we constantly evaluate things, and sadly people, on the basis of our elaborate personal and culturally specific classifications. But as much as our minds might crave the simplicity of categories and “a place for everything and everything in its place,” we don’t seem to be comfortable with the simplicity of Paul’s message to the Ephesians which states that all human beings were chosen by God before the foundation of the world and are destined for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ. Said another way – all human beings are beloved of God. And as Matthew reminded us, whether or not we think it should be so, God bestows blessings on everyone. The sun shines on us all – the rain rains on us all—good and bad alike because we are all God’s children.

This is a concept that we struggle with and probably always have. Jesus addresses this in his words to his followers – calling it right out saying: You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the IRS agents do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even those you think poorly of do the same?”

Because as Christians we are not asked to be like everyone else. We are not asked to conform to the “usual ways of doing things.” We are asked to aspire to being better – aspire to be, as Jesus says, “perfect like our Father in Heaven.” Now I want to spend a little time with this last statement because it is important, and because the way it is stated makes it a little difficult for folks to get their minds around. Up here I spend a lot of time talking about how God loves us all the time – and I have just said that God has destined us all to be the children of God – so saying that we are to be perfect like our Father in Heaven seems to be strange doesn’t it? Because that is the good news. You don’t have to be perfect for God to love you. God loves each and every one of us all the time – AND—God wants us to be better—to strive to be our best selves and to really live into all the promises we have been given. As Christians we are asked to be different—to be and do better than those around us – to serve as beacons of hope and light in the world. To be the peacemakers. To be the helpers and the teachers and those that love others enough to speak the truth in love about what we see in the world. One of my favorite quotes and something that shaped my thinking as a teenager is from Syndey J. Harris who wrote: “The three hardest tasks in the world are neither physical feats nor intellectual achievements, but moral acts: to return love for hate, to include the excluded, and to say, ‘I was wrong.” And as Christians we are called to these hardest tasks and others too– not because God won’t love us if we don’t but because God loves us, so we can.

While some of us here may have some Jewish heritage, many of us do not – and yet, Jesus Christ came to remind those of us who are not numbered among God’s ‘chosen people’ that we are also beloved of God. Jesus died so that we and every other human being might become, not just one of God’s chosen people but – be adopted as God’s own sons and daughters. The way of love expands and includes, and we must never forget that we are recipients of that inclusion. So, we have to be ever vigilant against assumptions that God’s love is for our group alone, or that God’s love conforms to our society’s, or our own ways of thinking, or our ways of classification. We are asked to be more expansive in our thinking and to fight against lazy assumptions. We are asked to be perfect like our Father in heaven is perfect—and while in this life this might not ever be achievable – it is our ultimate goal – proclaiming the resurrected Jesus in our words, in our actions, and in our lives is our goal. We are being asked to do nothing less than be the peacemakers, changemakers –the hope of the world; not because God won’t love us if we don’t but because God loves us so we can.

Now, what might that look like? That is where we often struggle because, I believe, we make it too difficult or we have assumptions about what good actions look like. We look at fantastic folks like Martin Luther King Jr., like Rosa Parks, like Ghandi, like Desmond Tutu, and we think, okay but what do I have to bring to the table? And I say – bring yourself and do the next right thing whatever that might be. While being a peacemaker sounds overwhelming, you don’t start as a Nobel laureate, you just start making peace. It can be rather simple — as Mother Teresa said, “Peace begins with a smile.” And if you want to change the world, love your neighbor. And that needn’t be difficult either because you don’t need to waste time trying to figure out who you are supposed to love. During the recent General Convention of the Episcopal Church, Episcopalians gathered in prayer at the Hutto Detention Center, a facility where women detained by ICE are kept, and Bishop Curry reminded us how we as Christians are to understand our neighbors and how we are called to action on their behalf. He said:  “We do not come in hatred. We do not come in bigotry. We do not come to put anybody down. We come to lift everybody up. We come in love. We come in love because we follow Jesus. And Jesus taught us love. Love the Lord your (God). And love your (neighbor). Love your liberal neighbor.  Love your conservative neighbor. Love your Democratic neighbor. Love your Republican neighbor. Love your Independent neighbor. Love your neighbor who you don’t like. Love the neighbor you disagree with. Love your Christian neighbor. Love your Muslim neighbor. Love your Jewish neighbor. Love your Palestinian neighbor. Love your Israeli neighbor. Love your refugee neighbor. Love your immigrant neighbor. Love the prison guard neighbor. Love your neighbor!”

Because that is how Jesus defines our neighbor and while we might not like them all – we are called to love them all. So, we preach our gospel of love and inclusion any way we can. We never give up on the important ways that love calls us to act where ever we are. We stand resolute in what we believe and we face down de-humanizing forces in our communities with the immense power of love and the grace of kindness.

Small changes disrupt large systems. A question raised or an action taken – they matter. Every barista knows how to make an iced Americano – and their till is programmed with how to communicate the order—but there isn’t a button for 4 shots of expresso with ice first— the only way for them to communicate this seemingly bizarre request is to enter “ask me.” I would say that this is probably the way God has found to best communicate with us, too. If you want to know how to be a Christian in this world. If you want to know how to change this world. Jesus says: “Ask me.” Believe me, if we are willing to listen, Jesus will let us know just where to start.