This past Sunday, on Father’s Day, I was asked to preach at First Baptist Statesville where I currently serve as Minister to Students. I get this opportunity every few months and am thankful for the chance to share a “word from God” with those in the congregation. My sermon had already been written, that is to say, I thought it was complete.
And then Jeff Sessions said what he said and I was left to do a bit of revising.
The focus of my sermon dealt with love. I know, I know...pretty safe topic for sure. However, I felt that a focus on love is what the world is needing at this moment (really, it needs love at every moment). The reaction Bishop Michael Curry Royal Wedding sermon received is proof that people want to hear more about love. Most people I would argue believe they have love figured out. They have experienced it in some form and fashion, and love has been categorized as the “old dog with no new tricks.” I'm telling you we shouldn’t write love off so easily.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus has been traveling with his disciples for a length of time. These 12 individuals and the others who are not so easily counted, followed this young, enigmatic, mystical carpenter had certainly experienced love before. They had grown up in a faith that taught them that the God of the universe was for them. They were God’s people, they were chosen. There’s an aspect of love in that sort of relationship, and then that same love becomes incarnate and walks among them. Not only does this God-man, Christ, appear and call them, but he enters into a deeper relationship of love with them. Biblical scholars have debated on the length of Jesus’ ministry, but I surmise that whatever the time, in the 14th Chapter of John’s Gospel these disciples probably thought they knew what love was. Then Christ tells them that love is going to get a lot bigger. That this “advocate” that this “counselor” that this “Spirit of love” which is God is going to come and live within their hearts and change the way they understand love.
I’ve had a moment like that where love got bigger. Lauren and I have been married now for 5 years, and we’ve known each other just shy of a decade. Through her I have experienced love in a way I had not before, and just about the time I thought I was getting a handle on that sort of love...here comes Violet.
And love simply got bigger.
This past week I was at a conference that had me away in the mountains of western NC. Cell phone service was a bit iffy in my location, but Wifi was available and so on Wednesday night I decided to FaceTime Lauren to talk with her and to check up on Violet. When she answered the call I saw the two of them and as Lauren focused her screen on to Violet’s face my eyes began to produce Niagara Falls type tears.
I knew at that moment I was leaving. I drove the two hours home to eat dinner with my family and sleep beside them. No not with Lauren and I in a nice cozy bed (we bought a new mattress right after Violet was born and have YET to sleep on it) and Violet in a crib beside us. I sleep on a past it’s prime IKEA couch while Lauren and the babe co-sleep in a large Lazy Boy recliner beside me. Then waking up at 6am, I drove back to the mountains in order to make it to the first session of the day at the conference. That’s a new kind of love I didn’t have before. Being separated from my family physically hurt me, and that’s why I had to include in my sermon that the same spirit of love Christ spoke of was the same spirit that calls his people now to stand against any policy, legislation, law which would separate children from their parents. People can debate immigration reform, but trying to justify this with a bastardized rendition of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome displays nothing of a spirit of love. Instead, it shows a hermeneutic where compassion for fellow humans is disregarded for the betterment of the State. According to the Roman State, Jesus the deity Christians claim to worship, was considered a criminal.
Jesus became a criminal and prisoner of society and was executed for us. All! Everyone! When we call him Lord! Lord! we are therefore calling upon a Lord who was and is a prisoner after the same manner of those eleven prisoners who speak to us in the pages of this book (Bible). It is for them, as for the criminals who were executed with Him, that Jesus died and was raised to life. We cannot take refuge in our law-abidingness, our good citizenship and economics, for our Lord was Himself executed as a criminal and this brings freedom, resurrection, to them.
If, as we believe, the first Christian community was those three criminals and prisoners at their execution at Calvary, then we who call Him Lord! Lord! Must bear witness to his promise to the criminals and prisoners: “I tell you this: today you will be with me in paradise.”
The good news from God in Jesus is freedom to the prisoners.*
So let the State do what the State does. Let them try and justify their actions with literal interpretations of scripture. Let them try and separate and detain families (and no, this was not something established 20 years ago). AND when and while this happens, maybe we who claim to follow this criminal Jesus, we who claim to hold this spirit of love within our hearts, should head out to our tool sheds and grab a literal pick axe and head over to the county jail and “proclaim freedom to the captives and release them from the darkness of prison.” (Isaiah 61)
* Will Campbell & James Halloway