Monday, May 11, 2009

Jesus called David Wilcox a hypocrite. What would he say about you and me?!

John 15:9-17 is part of the lectionary readings for this week. It's about loving people. But not just any people. It's about loving other Christians. In fact, John 15:12-14 says, "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you." Jesus commands us to love people in the Church. This sounds like an easy thing to do. But sometimes it's just not.

The history of the Church is filled with theological banter and fighting. Martin Luther fought with Pope Leo X. Karl Barth fought with Friedrich Schleiermacher. The Puritans fought with the Church of England. The list could go on and on. And the bickering continues today. We fight over things such as worship styles, practices of Communion, and napkin sizes. It's all too often easy to end up in one of these fights, claiming that your side if the only right side. Unfortunately all this fighting over sides leaves Jesus sidelined. The vision he gave us for the future of the Church was to love one another.

Loving each other can be tough. In fact, Gail O'Day says: "There are many circumstances in which it is easier to love one's enemies than it is to love those with whom one lives, works, and worships day after day." We're all passionate about our faith - and with that passion comes conviction. And sometimes the conviction of one person bumps up against the conviction of another person. This is why you're not supposed to talk about religion in polite conversation. It can get too personal and heated.

It's actually harder to talk with people who are similar, than with people who are different. A Jew can talk to a Christian about Torah without much controversy. In the same way, a Christian can talk to a Jew about Jesus without much controversy. But if two Christians are talking about two different understandings of Jesus, then it can get ugly. That is why the words of Jesus in John 15:12-14 are so important. They remind us of the importance of loving each other, even though it can be difficult.

In David Wilcox's new song "Beyond Belief," Wilcox explores what Jesus might say to us about our fighting with one another. The lyrics point out that when Jesus told us to love one another he meant it. Anything less than love is hypocrisy.

The first verse talks about all the exclusionary things we do when we think we're forming communities of correct doctrine. Jesus calls us away from exclusion and into love and mercy.

Jesus - called me hypocrite.
When I said that I believe
He said, how can you follow me
Without a willingness to leave
Leave the gates and the passwords,
Known by just your kind
Walk beyond the divisions that religions always finds
And be the mercy, my people need the peace
This fight over faith won't bring them relief
I love them beyond belief

The second verse talks about all the hurtful things we do to each other when we think we're teaching others about love. Jesus calls us away from fighting and into love and mercy.

Jesus - called me a hypocrite,
When I said I'd spread the word
He said, how can you teach of love
Unless you live what you have heard
Hear the hearts of the people, crying out in pain
Pain caused by dominion, and fighting in my name
So, be the mercy, my people need the peace
This fight over faith won't bring them relief
I love them beyond belief

The third verse talks about all of the self-righteousness we exude when we think we're being faithful. Jesus calls us away from self-righteousness and into love and mercy.

Jesus - called me a hypocrite,
When I said that I was saved
He said, how will your soul be judged
With all the judgments you have made
Faith can't be your fortress, arrogant with pride
Come walk here beside me with the humble ones outside
And be the mercy, all my people need the peace
This fight over faith won't bring them relief
I love them beyond belief

Wilcox's song reminds us of the importance of following Jesus' commandment. And that commandment is as simple as it is profound. In the words of our Savior: "love one another as I have loved you." This love is hard work. But God will strengthen us in our efforts to love each other. Then, like the early days of the Church, people will look at us with amazement and say, "These Christians, see how they love each other!" That is the kind of love that will bring all people "complete joy" (15:11). And that is the vision of Jesus for all of us. Share love. Have joy. Amen!

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