How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. – Saint John
My brother Jay is one year younger than me. Growing up we loved each other and, of course, hated each other. One time my mother sent me to the chicken coop to gather eggs when I was about 6 years old. It was summertime and I took my shirt off to use to cradle the eggs. As I was gathering the eggs, my brother had secretly captured one of the hens, snuck behind me and through the hen on my bare back. The frightened hen began to climb up my back, flap her wings in such a way that they slapped me in the face and made a noise from the nether world in my ears.
I wheeled around and there was my red-headed brother laughing. I chased him into the barn picked up a short-handled hoe and began to pound the blade into the ground, all the while threatening him with it. Suddenly the well-worn and smooth handle slipped out of my hand and flew across the barn with the blade landing just above his left eye. Sliced open his skin…the arterial spray of blood squirting all over the barn was spectacular …we were in a bad Stephen King novel. Not “Children of the Corn,” but “Children of the Chicken Coop.”
To this day when I see my brother carrying a live chicken, I get a little jumpy.
God intended brotherhood to be a great blessing and a place for a loving embrace. Instead, it can become a battleground. What is true in our family of origin is often true in our families of faith.
Henri Nouwen reminds us,
Community is the place where the person I least want to be there is always there.
One of the striking things about Jesus is that He didn’t work really hard to make sure He put together a small group of people who were naturally compatible with each other. One of them was a man named Simon the Zealot. Zealots were an extremist nationalist political party, committed to the overthrow of the Roman government by any means possible, violence if necessary, and sometimes assassinations. They hated the Romans.
The only people they hated more than the Romans were the people who collaborated with the Romans, like tax collectors who were Jewish people willing to collaborate with the Romans for corrupt financial gain. Zealots were freedom fighters or terrorists, depending upon your political point of view.
When Jesus formed his little congregation of misfits He said, Simon, you’re a Zealot. You despise Romans and collaborators like tax collectors. I’ll take you. And then He said to Matthew, you’re a collaborator and a despised tax collector–+I’ll take you. You can room with Simon. You guys should have some interesting talks with each other.
Can you imagine what it was like?
Jesus was teaching by word and deed:
Embrace the geeks.
Embrace the nerds.
Embrace the wimps.
Embrace those who have dandruff and blemishes and all manner of bad breath.
Embrace those who have no fashion sense.
Embrace the uncoordinated.
Embrace the middle-managers.
Embrace the wrinkled.
Embrace the anxious.
Embrace the unemployed.
Embrace the “river rats.”
Embrace the homeless.
Embrace the “deplorables.”
Embrace the refugees at the border.
Embrace the chronically angry.
Embrace the liberals.
Embrace the sexually addicted and the sexually frustrated.
Embrace the mentally ill.
Embrace the HIV positive.
Embrace the parents who failed.
Embrace the children who ran away.
Embrace the divorced.
Embrace the barren.
Embrace the pregnant out of wedlock.
Embrace the failures.
Embrace, embrace, embrace, embrace…
We are to be a community who embraces and includes each other, not a body that is filled with hatred and exclusion. This is why John emphasizes that we know we love God—when we love each other. This is the in-breaking of God’s new community. John says this is proof that we have moved from death to life.
Maybe we should write a new hymn melody that includes these words from an old T.V. show in the 80’s:
Making your way in the world today
Takes everything you got
Taking a break from all your worries
It sure would help a lot
Wouldn’t you like to get away?
Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name
And they’re always glad you came
You want to be where you can see
The troubles are all the same
You want to be where everybody knows your name
And so, my friends, may we continue on our journey to be more and more welcoming to those that don’t look like us and continue to be a giving community of gathered sinners who are becoming saints.
Jay is one of my best friends, by the way.