Bearing Fruit with Love: How We Conquer Fear and Divisiveness
Tony E Dillon-Hansen
29 April 2018
A reflection based upon Psalm 22 • 1 John 4:7-21 • John 15: 1-8
As someone of fitness, I would like to exercise your hearts and minds today. You may agree with me with things and you may not. Just remember that some things, like exercise, might make you uncomfortable. We know with Christ’s call to service, discomfort is part of the territory. Like Christ, exercise can help our hearts get stronger. So let us witness Christ together with whole heart and mind.
Will you pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our Rock, Our Redeemer. Amen.
The Issue: Fear and Divisiveness.
For our reflection, I am going to address a difficult issue that impact our everyday lives today and one that needs our attention. I want to talk about rampant fear-based spiritual abuse and divisiveness. We see this in a bunch of places all around us. We see it on the news, in the halls of government, during the coffee hour, at the ballpark, and we see it in church: yes from people like you and me.
Why is this issue important and why today? The Gospel of John likes to talk community and how people belong to the community. Our Gospel today invokes the imagery of the vine, as interconnectedness, and growing of the community. Further, the epistle from John provides a way to “cure” the ills of division and abuse. So let us address the problem, look at the cure, and understand a path to the cure. Ultimately, that is God’s vision for us, and so, the question is how do we get there?
First, in order to correct an injustice or cure a disease (and disease it is), we must be willing to name it. For centuries, people would treat mental illness by throwing people into asylums which was the same as a prison cell. Otherwise, creative relatives might lock up one of their own so as to hide the issue in the closet, the attic or remote room that was left alone. People were given cute names (e.g. funny farm, looney bin, crazy house or worse) and people were warned to stay away like the illness was contagious. Yet, what was contagious was the fear that people perpetuated. Instead of helping people, society preferred to simply not deal with the issue and hid behind their own fears. People watching others in treatment saw how horrible the conditions were, but did nothing. They were paralyzed by irrationality. Some of the fears were real but focused upon the symptoms instead of the cause.
Then one day, some people decided, these were real people with real issues. They called it “depression”, “anxiety” or if you were from battle, “shell-shocked” (which almost sounds as bad as the explosions themselves.) They gave it a name decided asylums were in fact not solving the issue but rather hiding an ugly truth. We have ways to go with mental illness, but we have come far.
Divisive and Fear spiritual abuse is another illness. Like depression affects a person, this illness affects our (the whole) community and is making our community very sick for far too long. We have locked it away behinds closed doors of secret societies and hypocritical oaths sworn to defend a “right” to discriminate. We used cute phrases in order to normalize the sickness like “that’s the way we’ve always done it,” “it’s tradition,” or “they don’t live like us”, or even better “they deserve God’s wrath.” (and why was it deserved, I ask?) For doing nothing more than trying to make a peaceful home in this community – in God’s community. What is important is that language is part of this because the use of “they and them” in opposition to “us or our” helps us articulate the illusions of division.
This is one reason why people have wondered about the Gospel truths when those that profess them want to demonize many around them. Even though people simply want an equal and fair part in the community of God, there have been people sitting in pews and standing in pulpits that say “not for you.” Where is the Gospel in such a message? How welcoming is that?
This is one reason why some people do not feel there is a church home for them. I mean why would anyone want to subject a spouse, let alone their beloved children, into a space that offers lofty words that all but hide a sign of hate in their work. Regardless of writings on the walls or what was read in scriptures, what people do matters. When people don’t feel welcomed or when they feel conflicted by what they have heard or experienced, that is spiritual abuse and builds fear of Church and God.
Our challenge should you choose to accept it. How do we bring these people back to God? How do we as a community heal? How do we pass onto our children a church that bears the good fruit today and tomorrow?
A Cure according to 1st John is love, specifically authentic love. How many of you knew I was going to say that? That means some of you were paying attention to the readings. This was meant for the times when it was written, and the cure is meant for our times today. A cure to divisiveness and spiritual abuse is love.
Yes, a cure to these ills, I submit, is love and caring. That is God tells us to be love, to be love authentically and with whole-heart – no matter where they are on life’s journey, whether they are believers, what they say, or how they live their lives. We are love now and always. From a pastoral care perspective, this makes sense because people often come to me with a list of issues and many of the issues are about what other people are doing --as in what they are doing or not doing – or at least what they think is happening. Just because you may not see someone pray might also mean they might be taking the Gospel of Matthew to heart about not praying in public or loud.
In that list of who and what, their focus is upon someone else and how those people irritate or offended them. To clarify, there are legitimate and real pains because of damage done. Jesus tells us that judgment coming, but that is not our call. We take care to correct our own paths and our response to injustice. Do we enact pain upon someone else because we are in pain? No. Do we allow people to continue injustice upon us? No.
Do we look with faith for the love of Jesus? Are we love?
The letter from John teaches us not just to be love but why it is so important. In the words of 1st John, love casts out fear and punishment. That is precisely because there is no reason to fear when you walk with love.
Isn’t that really the crux of the issue with spiritual abuse and divisiveness is fear? Instead of trying to understand another person or how they come to God, fear is used to mask and to avoid the opportunity to transform each of us. Essentially, we have allowed fear to paralyze our society into this sickness.
That fear is for us to prune away and toss away as withered and rejected branches because that will not bear the fruit our community needs.
Beloved: be love and love all brothers and sisters. Don’t let fear win.
We have called it by name and we have a cure.
Like any great journey, there is a path to the cure.
A path is the challenge for us. As a gardener, I especially resonate with a Gospel story that talks about growing fruits and vines. Partially, I can enjoy the results as a snack or meal, but I know that growing a garden of flowers, herbs and fruit is hard work. It takes some discipline. Some days the discipline is great and some days, I am flat lazy. In those days, I have to pay more attention and really pull together the effort to keep going.
So yes, when the Gospel mentions growing gardens and vines, I am there! Hopefully, I can learn a tip or two along the way (like soil depths or proper shading). The tips from Jesus are kind of like the nuts and bolts of gardening, and that we have to tend all parts of the garden or the vine or else we risk losing parts of it. That is figuratively speaking how we have to tend to all parts of the community to be His Church.
(Even Paul’s letters to Corinth reminds us too that our Church requires all parts of the Body or the Church.) From my experience, it is nearly impossible to grow a fruit that is detached from its root or vine. Unlike the vine or grape, people can be reconnected and help the whole community grow together. Together, we help the whole grow because we know that poor conditions can impact the wider connectedness. How can we help those? We raise the conditions and give them attention. The answer is love!
Thus, despite the spiritual abuse from social media, news, or certain misguided ones, we have an opportunity to repair damage and grow our community again. As I said before (and in the Gospels, we do this through action, sharing and engaging our community with that cure.
The cure and path can be tricky because this does not come with instant gratification or allow for easy judgments. Our path may not seem easy to market or sell because it requires dedication to love, discipline to open ourselves, and willingness to invite people into our lives that we may not normally invite.
Yes, we invite them with all of their brokenness so that we can learn from each other. As difficult as that may sound, the payoff can be immense and shines. When we show our love by engaging our community and supporting all of God’s Beloved children, we will see a community that rises, takes care of each other, shakes hands with each other, has coffee together, and sings praises together.
We don’t need division and hurt. We don’t need fear. We know what is making us sick, we know the cure and is our Church’s mission from Jesus to our community and our posterity that we pursue this path.
You don’t get to the cure by pointing fingers and trying to look superior. No one is perfect and no one is exempt from God’s love. We cannot start being the cure by being that which we are trying to cure. There is enough division in our world without us reinforcing our own.
We know the name, we have a cure and it is up to us to do the therapy to get better. So our path is to start today in the fellowship hall after worship because we are not just here for words; we are here for action as an action-oriented, mission-based Church. There are a couple action plans in mind, but let’s hear your action plan. A discussion series is being offered to discuss the issue in depth along with reviewing a book to initiate a healthy dialogue for those that want to study the issue more. If you want to help in our community outreach efforts, you wont want to miss these chances.
There is so much that we can do and so much that we must do. It is up to us to live out the example we have been given by Jesus and teach the world (our community) as God’s community. Our community needs this and God wants this. We teach them what love looks like by being love and by welcoming all Beloved of God.
It won’t be easy because good fruit on the vine does not just happen because we say it does. That takes time, work, attention, and loving care. We do our part and be a great example. Remind ourselves to leave room for people to join us, for ideas and for God’s big love to embrace us all. We are going to do some wonderful work.
We do that by being the best UCC can be.
That is how we bear fruit for generations and stay connected to our community.
We are love in thoughts, words and action because love wins.
Thanks Be to God.