The Power of Radical Love


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Calvary was honored to welcome Howard Lindsay as our speaker.

Howard’s ministerial focus is on the transformational force of love, abundance consciousness, and empowerment—evident in its fruit: justice.

By day, Howard works in the financial services industry as an equities capital markets professional. Howard is a minister on staff at Grace Tabernacle Community Church in Bayview Hunter’s Point where he concurrently serves as the inaugural head of Social Justice Ministries and as the Chairman of the Board of Trustees.

Sermon Video

This Week’s Sermon Was Drawn From the Following Scripture

1 Corinthians 13: 8-10, 13

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

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A PDF of the sermon as distributed at Calvary is available for download and printing.

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Full Text of Sermon

1 Corinthians 13 happens to be my favorite chapter in the Bible: Paul’s famous treatise on Love. For me the overarching theme of the text speaks to the eternal nature of love. While knowledge and special gifts are temporal, and though we surely have limited knowledge and foresight, the one constant that we can trust in and center our lives on is the creative, healing and redemptive power of love. Paul goes on to declare, now faith, hope and love abide and the greatest of these is love. Love is our air: essential.

Context

Based on recent electoral events in the United States and in the United Kingdom, Western Democracy appears to be looking backwards to an isolationist, idealized past; citizens in the US and in the UK are at a critical crossroad when looking forward to choose between governing in justice and with equal opportunity and protection under the law for all—including all racial, ethnic and religious minorities—versus supporting policies of a society of xenophobic, racist and sexist ideologies, favoring the rights of the powerful at the expense of the least of these.

Western Christianity—another expression of the body politic in crisis—is on a parallel track:

Will the Church be guided by its fearful, vocal and most strident voices on the side of marginalization and demonization of groups to preserve some notion of an idealized, homogenous past; or, will the Church make room for and stand up to be counted among those human institutions committed to an inclusive future that is worth fighting for and is based upon the dignity of all people, especially the marginalized?

Will the Church allow its spiritual and communal agenda to be co-opted by those who would invoke Christianity to rationalize the exclusion of our most vulnerable members of society for political and economic gain; or, will the Church embrace its prophetic calling and declare its commitment to the principles of social justice and equity for all people—notably “the least of these…”

As American society in particular is tempted to seemingly devolve further into an “us versus them” climate where groups with divergent views cannot find a common link in which to dialogue, and where facts are minimized and theology is colored by self-interest, the call of Scripture and the example of Jesus presents the Church with a clear choice: The church can fuel the fire of tribalism, fear and hatred under the guise of “religion,” or it can be a beacon-a collective “City on a Hill,” working for the greater good by modeling inclusion and standing for civil society known for justice, a Kingdom of God on earth.

I am of the opinion that much of the Evangelical Church’s agenda has been unduly influenced by social and political motives of a Conservative bent instead of by sound theology, resulting in a voice that is either contrary to Scripture and the example of Jesus, or is simply devoid of both letter and spirit. If the Church’s tone and collective action were instead driven by a theological thrust of Scripture and the example of Jesus, it would undoubtedly advocate for a society that is more inclusive and equitable. A pivot to core values in our diverse cultural context requires a refreshed commitment to principles of radical love, that is agape love. Love that is rooted in selflessness.

Social Justice is important to me because I believe that Scripture support the notion that God is a God of love and of justice and of mercy. Justice to me is also important because it is one of the beacons of our nation exemplified by the radical notions of justice for all, and all men and women being created equal. Being a student of history who is spiritually open to see and hear how the Spirit of God is moving in our culture, I feel that God is calling his church to step-up and lead the fight against bigotry, hatred, avarice, xenophobia, fear, isolationism, naked nationalism and intolerance of all kinds and to stand for faith, hope, love, and mercy.

Suffice it to say, the citizens and residents, both documented and undocumented, of the United States have undergone one of the most stressful and divisive electoral cycles in modern history. And now that the new President is in office, we have the pleasure of facing an administration determined to make good on a number of campaign promises that many previously deemed to be simple political posturing. With the passing of each day however, we see more and more that the dangers of this presidency are no longer theoretical, but real and happening now.

We have a President that has directed our government to:

Construct a wall on our southern border
Punish sanctuary cities
Facilitate the repeal of the Affordable Care Act
Construct a pipeline despite the protests of indigenous people,
Closed our borders to refugees for 120 days,
Banned all immigrants from select Muslim-majority countries for a period of time — a de facto Muslim ban.

Policies that target people for who they are and not anything they’ve done.

He has rolled back environmental protections for streams and forests.

He has made statements to roll back voting rights and police brutality protections.

This administration:

Traffics in alternative facts, unsubstantiated stories, hyperbole and innuendo.
Threatens the free press and has called the press the enemy of the people.
Welcomed members of the alt-right movement into his administration, thereby giving white nationalists a seat at the table and ushering in an environment that normalizes hate speech and sentiment.

We now see an unprecedented rise in the number of hate groups, hate rhetoric and hostile activity, not seen among the citizenry in decades. Jewish cemeteries being desecrated. Jewish Community Centers being threatened. Men who look Middle-Eastern, getting shot and killed, seemingly because they appear to be Muslim or other. Black bodies still dying disproportionately at the hands of violence.

For what was supposed to be a post-racial society, things sure have bubbled to the surface quickly, telling me that we, as the church, need to help focus our nation on committing to the ethic of radical love.  That requires us moving beyond cultural Christianity to instead being followers of Christ by incarnating that love ethic in everything we do.

One Body, Two Examples of Divergent Approaches

Is the Church a silent partner in this deteriorating discourse, or the “house” in which we can begin to bring the underground to the foreground for healing?

Needless to say, there has been much debate as to how best to respond to the level of angst that has recently gripped the nation on multiple-levels. The divergent messages of two contemporary Christian ministers, Rev. Donnie Swaggart and Rev. William J. Barber, encapsulate two different approaches taken by the Church in the midst of this period of heightened racial, social, political and economic tension. One is emblematic of a “religious right” stand that has come to connote hatred, fear and blame; a voice seeking to alienate and separate rather than unite and fight for justice, equity and opportunity for all. The other is an example of a prophetic response driven by a theology rooted in a more inclusive thrust of Scripture. Despite my disagreement with the Swaggart example, I believe both voices have to find a way to listen. To hear. To find a Way…forward.

I had the pleasure of sitting down and listening to a sermon by Donnie Swaggart on a recent trip to the barber shop in the Bronx, my old New York City neighborhood. Rev. Swaggart focused on the following points: 1. The need to overturn the Affordable Care Act because it is “un-American.” 2. Global warming was a massive unscientific hoax created for the sake of justifying governmental over-reach. 3. Government should minimize taxes instead of diverting income from productive citizens to those who do not have a desire to work and simply want to live off the state: “Why should the government take the money that he’s earned for himself and his family to help those who are too lazy to earn money for themselves?” It was as if this man’s gospel message was taken from the talking points and narratives of a political “right-wing” website. There was no critical thinking. No informed self-reflection. No mention of love of neighbor, feeding the hungry, helping the poor or healing the sick. It was a clear example of social, economic, political considerations driving one’s theological perspective instead of the other way around, where the voice of the Church embraces a conservative political narrative of protecting the rights and interests of the privileged “wealth creators” over those of the alleged “taker class.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum, William J. Barber delivered the following message at last summer’s Democratic National Convention.  (I feel it is important to mention that is not an endorsement of any political party, as fault can be found in both dominant parties.) Barber expressed

“Concern about those that say so much about what God says so little and say so little about what God says so much…and worried about how faith is cynically used by some to serve hate, fear, racism and greed (Referencing Luke 4) Jesus called us to preach good news to the poor, the broken and the bruised and all those who feel unaccepted…Some issues are not left vs. right or liberal vs. conservative, but instead right vs. wrong. We need to embrace our deepest moral values and push for a revival of the heart of our democracy…We are being called to be the moral defibrillators of our time. We must shock this nation with the power of love, the power of mercy and fight for justice for all, especially the poor and the vulnerable.”[1]

In my eyes, Barber’s message was spot on—anchored in and focused on love, redemption and the example of Jesus, as his theological conviction and prophetic voice inform a social and political response.

There is a battle going on right now. A battle for the soul of Christianity and for the soul of our beloved country. I in no way seek to conflate the two concepts, but both our faith and our country are examples of belief systems steeped in exceptionalism. An exceptionalism that draws and inspires men and women, boys and girls, from all over the world. The problem is that exceptionalism can at times lead to arrogance and a lost sense of purpose. For instance, there is a prevalent form of Christian exceptionalism that is shrouded in nationalism, and aligned with centers of power, embracing military might, pride, fear of others and the unknown, and commitment to our own interest first and foremost. America First. Christians First. My tribe first. I call this cultural Christianity – it is based on a convenient adherence to Christian principles and trust in self.

The other version of exceptionalism that is not worn as a source of pride, but instead as a guiding light. A code of honor that says we stand for certain virtues, and a certain ethic. One where freedom, equality, justice, and democracy draw us into the future and guide our actions as a country. Similarly, we as followers of Christ ought to be guided by the virtues of radical love which are characterized by selflessness, faith, hope, justice and mercy instead of anger, fear, greed, hatred, and selfishness. I call this the Kingdom ethic based on being followers of Jesus and trusting in God instead of self.

The Clear Choice – Radical Love and why is it the solution?

For me it all comes down to leading a life that is driven by love. And by Love, I mean a radical love. Not a toothless, powerless puppy-type of love, but a love that invigorates, activates, inspires, challenges and brings out the best in all that it touches. A love that is ferocious and goes hand in hand with justice and transformation. A love that is at once personal, communal and global.

We see that concept of radical love best exemplified by the life of our Lord.

The type of love that compelled Jesus to substitute himself on our behalf by sacrificing his own life to pay the debt that was owed for the sins of humanity. The type of love that compelled him to stop in the midst of all that he was doing to tend to the needs and desires of those who were suffering. i.e. The woman with the issue of blood, Blind Bartemeus, the Lepers, the demon-possessed. The kind of love that compelled our Lord to heal the sick, raise the dead, restore sight to the blind, set the captive free. The kind of radical love that forgave people of their sins, and compelled him to defend the defenseless, even those who were deemed to be worthy of death by those in power. He sought justice and defended what it means to love when he challenged the motives, inconsistencies and hypocrisy of those in power, especially the religious establishment in their convenient application of the law.

In Called: The Crisis and Promise of Following Jesus Today, Mark Labberton writes, “In the life of the church, this kind of Jesus-following life and love is often forgotten or demoted. This essential vocation seems to get lost. Living and practicing who and why we are Jesus followers is our Christian vocation. This means remembering our identity and living it out.”

Radical love is not selfishly motivated, but instead compels one to put the needs of others above or at the very least, equal to that of yours.  It is a love that sees the image of God in all people, regardless of “race,” creed, ethnicity, or any other difference, recognizing that God created all people in his image. A love that is concerned with the well-being of all people, including our supposed enemies. A love that compels one to action when it sees a neighbor suffering. A love that seeks to right wrongs and correct injustice. A love that motivates and inspires it adherents to make a difference in the world, by seeking to enhance the lives of others by partnering with the Holy Spirit to advance the Kingdom of God.

Martin Luther King describes Love as “the only creative, redemptive, transformative power in the universe.”

King also said “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”

Just as the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice so too does the arc of faith bend towards love and justice. Justice is not just political. Justice and love represent the church’s prophetic call. Love and justice are moral and spiritual imperatives that require action be it political, civil, personal.

Valarie Kaur, Sikh Activists and Founder of Radical Love, says that we are trapped by stereotypes – Black as criminal, Latino as illegal, Muslim and Sikh as terrorist, Jew as conspirator, Indigenous as savage, LGBTQ as deviant, and women as property. Once a person is reduced to a stereotype, it becomes easier to abuse them, demonize them, rape them, imprison them, and kill them. But relationships based on Kingdom Ethic of revolutionary love can destroy stereotypes and break down barriers.

Love of God, Love of Neighbor, Love of the Stranger should be the driving forces behind everything we do as followers of Christ. In seeking to please God, the prophet Micah says we are commanded to “…do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.” Those essential themes along with the example of Jesus’s redemptive message and acts of love are the over-arching and driving forces in Scripture. Just as God is love and Jesus is the perfect exemplar of what it means to love, we must not only ask what would Jesus do, but what would Love do, as well.

Radical Love would stand up for the disenfranchised and the marginalized. Desmond Tutu once said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Valarie Kaur says “Love calls us to look upon the faces of those different from us as brothers and sisters. Love calls us to weep when their bodies are outcast, broken or destroyed. Love calls us to speak even when our voice trembles, stand even when hate spins out of control, and stay even when the blood is fresh on the ground. Love makes us brave. The world needs your love: the only social, political and moral force that can dismantle injustice to remake the world around us – and within us.”

Therefore, it is the church’s prophetic duty to stand for love and justice. We, the body of Christ, cannot see injustices taking place in the world and not do something about. We cannot see religion and Christianity used as a tool of hatred and bondage instead of liberation and love and not provide a countercultural response and witness that says the opposite. We cannot see the oppression of people based on race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation, and not do or say something. We cannot see the poor get blamed for their poverty and not do something about it. We cannot continue to watch as educational, health and achievement outcomes are much more dependent upon zip codes and parental wealth than aptitude, character and attitude, and not do something about it. We cannot sit back and watch as government by the people and for people seeks to deny people who can’t afford healthcare, the basic human right to receive medical care, and not do something about it. We cannot see the continued repression of voting rights and not do or say anything about it? In the face of these challenges, I ask what would love do?

Radical Love seeks to be a counter-cultural force in society, questioning our society’s preoccupation with materialism, consumerism, militarism and imperialism. Love would seek to bring people of divergent world-views together in order to foster greater understanding, growth and unity, not in a superficial and reductive way, but in a committed and thoughtful way. Love would not seek to force its way on another, but it would seek to listen and find commonality, and in turn, identify points upon which to bond. Valarie Kaur, declares: “The way we make change is just as important as the change we make.”

The Kingdom of God and its ideals are our guiding light: 1. Love of God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind; 2. Loving of our neighbor as we love ourselves; 3. Love of the stranger; and 4. The recognition that all human beings were created in God’s image. These values continue to advance steadily but not without conscious fight, resistance and resilience. Yet we are ever-moving forward in a perpetual state of almost, but not quite yet. Why? Fear? Inertia? Similarly, the American promise of: “All men are created equal’ and “one nation under God with liberty and justice for all” steadily advances in our idealized ethos, incompletely, in a state of almost but not quite yet. It is up to us, the Church to fight for the principles of the Kingdom of God as well as the lofty ideals of our nation. The Church must be at the forefront of racial reconciliation and justice and healing in this country. It is nothing less than our calling. We who are called to be co-creators, must take it upon ourselves to help advance a more just, verdant and loving society. Despite the recent setbacks, we must pivot, press-on and keep the faith. We must stand for and incarnate the radical love of Christ.

I close with a quote from Ghandi: “Whether mankind will consciously follow the Law of Love, I do not know. But that need not perturb us. The Law will work, just as the Law of Gravitation will work, whether we accept it or not. And just as a scientist will work wonders out of various applications of the Laws of Nature, even so a man who applies the Law of Love with scientific precision can work greater wonders. For, the force of nonviolence is infinitely more wonderful and subtle than the forces of Nature, like, for instance, electricity.”

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=phC2MbVHBks

 

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