Love Takes All Sides

1  Corinthians 13          Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III

Luke 4: 21-30   February 3, 2109

“But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and here was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except a widow at Zarephath in Sidon.  There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”

Prayer:  O God of peace, God of justice, God of love, please enrich our hearts with your ever-present love, once again.  Amen.

The Super Bowl LIII (53) is today.  Really?  I officiated a wedding on Friday, and at the reception I asked a friend who he liked on Sunday.  And he said, “What’s happening Sunday?”  He admitted he doesn’t follow the NFL, and he really didn’t know it’s Super Bowl day until two days ago. 

It is, after all, America’s most religious day of the year.  I admit, I watch it religiously.  I watch for the game.  Love football.  I watch because I’m with friends.  Love friends.  I watch for the commercials.  Love the commercials.  I watch for the National anthem, the halftime show.  I religiously eat myself silly.  Love chicken wings and beer and snack food.

This year, as if we need more reasons to pay attention, there’s controversial side to the Super Bowl, just to spice it up a bit.   Singing superstar Rihanna and rapper superstar Jay-Z both declined to do “LIII’s” halftime show because both stand in support of  Colin Kaepernick. Colin Kaepernick 2016 peaceful protest against racism, oppression of people of color, and police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem has made him the most undesirable of all NFL quarterbacks.  He hasn’t been on  a team for three years. Comedienne Amy Schumer also said no to any Super Bowl commercials, all for the same reasons.   Now, Maroon 5, a band headlined by Adam Levine is the halftime entertainment, along with Travis Scott and Big Boi, and no surprise here, they’re getting flak for doing the show and not supporting Kaepernick’s cause against injustice and oppression in America.

 And, Gladys Knight, the so-called “Empress of Soul” is singing the national anthem.  Now this is an interesting side of the story because Gladys said she is excited to come back to her hometown of Atlanta to sing.  And, she believes that the anthem is separate from the struggle against injustice and prejudice.  She said, “I am here today and on Sunday, Feb. 3 to give the anthem back its voice, to stand for that historic choice of words, the way it unites us when we hear it, and to free it from the same prejudices and struggles I have fought long and hard for all my life…” (http://time.com/5505825/super-bowl-halftime-show-controversy-2019/, retrieved February 2, 2019).  It will be interesting to see what the reaction of the home crowd will be as Gladys takes the stage for the national anthem.

If the reaction is anything like the hometown crowd’s reaction to Jesus, Gladys better be on high alert.   Because Jesus’ hometown crowd loved the fact that their native son came back home.  Loved the fact he made a good name for himself out there healing people, preaching God’s word, gaining popularity.  And the leaders, no doubt, were thrilled to have him be front and center in worship, ready to read God’s word, maybe ready to do something spectacular, like perform a miracle like they heard he did in Capernaum.

 Well, he did read God’s word.  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because God has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  God has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  Then he said to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  And everyone was amazed and thrilled with him.

 But, I have a feeling that Jesus knew that their adulation of him was a misunderstanding of who he really is.   My guess is that he knew they were stuck in thinking that they were privileged because he was one of their own.  He knew they expected special favors from him.  He knew they missed the point—that he was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s words.  He was the implementer of those words.  He was God’s answer to anyone oppressed by society, anyone blinded by systemic injustice, anyone held captive by any debilitation, be it physical, emotional, spiritual, or otherwise.   He dashed their hopes for special favors and aligns himself with the ancient prophets Elijah and Elisha.  And, the hometown crowd turns against him because they know that God used those two prophets for God’s purposes, 1) Elijah, to feed a non-Jewish widow in Sidon, and 2) Elisha, to heal Naaman, the general of the Syrian army, again an outsider to their faith.

 The message to Jesus’ home crowd was clear—and aggravating to them—that God’s love through Jesus is for outsiders and insiders, to those left out, looked over, looked down upon, as well as those privileged to be in the in-crowd.  Jesus claimed that God’s grace is not bestowed because of nationality, tribal loyalty, political party, or hometown connections.  God’s love takes all sides.  It is universally available to all.  It is the basis of the “more excellent way” of living for us as Christian people.

Of all the gifts Paul identifies in chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians, love is the most excellent of all of them.  In chapter 13, Paul says to his reading audience that of all the ways of living they used to be before they knew Christ, love is the more excellent way.  The love God instills is central—any effort made without love is not worth it.

For us, does this mean that for any side of an issue, any decision to make, any next steps to take, love becomes our guide,  for God is love?  When you are unsure about anything, remember this: if the next step you take, if the next decision you make, if the next side you choose is done in love—God’s love of us, our love of God, neighbor, and self,—it will be the right decision.  It will be the right next steps.  It will be the right side to be on.

Perhaps our challenge as people of faith, even as a church, is to resist any embedded idea, or culturally accepted norm, or societal sentiment that goes against this law of love.  Might we align ourselves to the side of any issue with the universal availability of God’s love as the central part of that decision?   Maybe love is the ultimate form of resistance to the worst this world can throw at us?

It’s interesting to me to read the comments people make concerning the issues surrounding the national anthem.  You see what sides people take, how dug in they are on their own opinions etc.  But worse, most everyone seems bent on not listening to other sides to the issue while trying to convince every one else that their side is the only right side.  And wow, do some people get nasty in their comments!  Name calling, blame gaming, disrespectful accusations, and on and on.  As a society, I fear we are losing, if we haven’t lost it altogether already, the ability to listen well to each other.

 But, we as Christians, we are not to be like that.  Shouldn’t we, based on love for others, seek to understand each other’s side of a story? to learn from it? and accept the idea that we can agree to disagree?  Shouldn’t we engage in healthy dialogue, willingness to compromise on stalemates, insist on negotiations, especially when people’s lives are at stake?  To give up on the love that is patient and kind, that rejoices in the truth, the love that never ends, is to take us far away from the essence of who God calls us to be.

So, whether you are on Rihanna’s side in support of Colin Kaepernick’s statement on Gladys Knight’s side emphasizing that the national anthem should be separate from the fight for social justice, the important thing I think is to keep our hearts, and our inner spirit connected to God’s love.  To do this religiously.  This helps keep alive in us the promise that while faith and hope abide, God’s love is the greatest on all sides.  Amen.