Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, May 2, 2021

YEAR B 2021easter 5

Easter 5, 2021
Acts 8:26-40
1 John 4:7-21
John 15:1-8
Psalm 22:24-30

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

Have you ever heard the expression, “Hurt people hurt people?”  It’s a pithy summation of a concept well-known to therapists and counselors.  Essentially, it means that people who have been hurt or are hurting are apt to take it out on other people.  When we are in pain, we lash out.  Animals do it too, which is why if you try to rescue a dog who is stuck, you might find yourself getting bit.  Hurt people hurt people.  Just stock that away somewhere in your mind, because I’ll return to it later.

Most Tuesday afternoons during this pandemic, I gather online with a group of pastors from around the country to talk about the scripture readings for the coming Sunday.  These are mostly Lutheran clergy from somewhere around Milwaukee—for whatever reason.  This past Tuesday, I was telling them that I was not having an easy time with the last two readings, from 1st John and the Gospel of John.

Because, there’s a lot of law in those two readings, and not a lot of gospel.  There’s a lot of you should do this, and you better do that.  And there’s even some sense that if you don’t straighten up and fly right, you are going to burn in the fiery furnace.  I’m not a fan of those kinds of readings, because I know that I usually fall short of the lofty goals, and well . . . I am a sinner in need of a savior.  You might find that is true for you in your own life as well.  We are not perfect, and when we hear a message that we need to be perfect, well, it’s kind of scary, and depressing.  Which reminds me of this . . .

Many years ago, there was a resurgence of the acronym WWJD, which stands for What Would Jesus Do.  It comes from a book by Charles Sheldon called, “In His Steps,” published in 1896.  A hundred years later, there was a huge WWJD wristband movement in the 1990s.  This was very popular in youth groups around the country, and kids would wear little rubber wristbands with the letters WWJD on them, to remind themselves to pause and ask themselves that question, What would Jesus do?

The original novel, by Charles Sheldon was intended to get people to act in a way that would demonstrate the love of Jesus through their actions.  It was closely connected to the social gospel, where Christians shared the love of God in their daily life and work.  Caring for the poor, helping the homeless, and so forth.  By the time the wristbands spread across the country, however, it turned into an oppressive moralism.  You know, “Kids, before you kiss your boyfriend, ask yourself WWJD?  Before you light up that cigarette behind the church dumpster, ask yourself, WWJD?”  In 1896 the message was be kind; in 1996 the message was be good.

And this really bugged my musical partner and me.  Because we used to play songs at a lot of youth gatherings in the late 90s, and we heard this hijacking of Sheldon’s message for years on end.  Gather a bunch of kids in a basketball arena and tell them that what God really cares about more than anything else is that they don’t drink or smoke or have sex.  With not a mention of caring for the poor or feeding the hungry.  The worst one I ever heard was in Kentucky, where the speaker said to a group of middle school students, “Your grandmother probably thinks you’re a good kid, and thinks the world of you.  But God knows different!  God knows the real you.”  Seriously?  Yes, seriously.

So, yeah, in case it wasn’t obvious by now, I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder about the whole WWJD bracelet thing.  And, at our peak feistiness, my friend and I would work to undermine those speakers.  We’d ask, “What would Jesus do?”  Well, Jesus would be fully God and fully human.  Jesus would be born of a virgin, suffer death on a cross, and rise from the grave three days later.  I’m not sure it’s really possible for you to do what Jesus would do.  Sorry kids.

But, there’s an important follow up we had.  Because we would then suggest that a more helpful question to ask ourselves would be, What would I do if I really believed that God loves me?  Cares for me.  Wants what’s best for me?  How would I live my life if I knew that I was loved unconditionally by the one who created me?  How would that make a difference in my life?  Those are questions worth asking yourself every day.  Let Jesus be Jesus, and instead respond to what Jesus has already done.  Because only Jesus can be Jesus.

So, having said all that, let’s go back to a few sentences from that reading from 1st John:
-Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.
-So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.
-There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.
-The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

Can you see how all of those statements relate to those questions we would ask the kids?  What would I do if I really believed that God loves me?  Cares for me?  Wants what’s best for me?  How would I live my life if I knew that I was loved unconditionally by the one who created me?  How would that make a difference in my life?  

And that brings me back to the idea that I started with this morning.  Hurt people hurt people.  It’s true, and it’s kind of depressing right?  Hurt people hurt people, yes.  But the opposite is also true:  Loved people love people.  Loved people love people.

That’s the message to remember this morning.  Knowing we are loved, knowing we are cared for, knowing we are forgiven, moves us to love, and care for, and forgive.  But it still sounds a bit like law doesn’t it?  Like if I don’t get out there and concentrate on loving caring and forgiving, God might not love me anymore?

But here’s what I think.  People who have been hurt in life rarely decide to go out and hurt other people.  It’s not that hurt people choose to hurt people.  It just happens, because pain spreads from person to person, unless we somehow take steps to stop it.  And I firmly believe that love works the same way.  Loved people naturally love people.  Knowing you are loved causes you to love.  Knowing you are cared for makes you care.  Knowing you are forgiven leads you to forgive.  It’s just the way life works.  We love, because we are loved.

And there is the good news for us this morning.  We are loved, even more than we can possibly imagine.  And remembering that, we go out into the world today to spread that love to everyone we meet.  Loved people love people.  God loves us, and that makes everything different.  Loved people love people.

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