Sermon for Sept. 6, 2020 -- "Love Debt"

Love Debt


Sub Divide, a local real estate developer in my hometown, came to the city council one evening to tell them of his development plan for the town.

“You folk ever heard of homogeneous grouping?” Sub asked the council members.

“Of course,” replied Ed U. Cator. “That’s when you put people of similar backgrounds and values together. What about it?”

Sub then told the council about his plan to divide the entire town into subdivisions based upon the ethnicity, racial background, economic levels, religious choice, and political preferences. He explained that the White folk would live in the north end of town and the people of color in the south, the northwest section would be republicans and the southeast for Democrats, the poor folk would live on the east side and the rich folk on the west side, Protestants would live in the northeast and Catholics and others on the southwest sections.

Sub went on to explain how everybody would be happy living with their own kind and peace would ensue everywhere.

The council thanked Sub and said they would consider it. After Sub left, Rev Love said to the other members of the council. “That has to be the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard.” The others agreed and that was the end of Sub Divide’s great idea.

Are any of you here familiar with Tom Lehrer’s song, “National Brotherhood Week?” For those who are not familiar, Tom Lehrer was a math professor at MIT. He also wrote songs. He sang one of his songs, “Nation Brotherhood Week” on a TV program I just loved in the mid-1960s, That Was the Week that Was, or TW3. The program started in England and its anchor, David Frost, created the American version of it here. They took potshots at politics and anything else on the horizon.

Here are the lyrics of National Brotherhood Week:

Oh, the white folks hate the black folks,
And the black folks hate the white folks.
To hate all but the right folks
Is an old established rule.

But during National Brotherhood Week, National Brotherhood Week,
Lena Horne and Sheriff Clarke are dancing cheek to cheek.
It's fun to eulogize
The people you despise,
As long as you don't let 'em in your school.

Oh, the poor folks hate the rich folks,
And the rich folks hate the poor folks.
All of my folks hate all of your folks,
It's American as apple pie.

But during National Brotherhood Week, National Brotherhood Week,
New Yorkers love the Puerto Ricans 'cause it's very chic.
Step up and shake the hand
Of someone you can't stand.
You can tolerate him if you try.

Oh, the Protestants hate the Catholics,
And the Catholics hate the Protestants,
And the Hindus hate the Muslims,
And everybody hates the Jews.

But during National Brotherhood Week, National Brotherhood Week,
It's National Everyone-smile-at-one-another-hood Week.
Be nice to people who
Are inferior to you.
It's only for a week, so have no fear.
Be grateful that it doesn't last all year!

I think we have made great strides for inclusiveness in our country. Racial relations have improved greatly. We are more accepting of same sex relationships and homosexuality in general. More recently we have recognized transgendered folk and have been more accepting of them. Marriage between blacks and whites has become more common and accepted. The ecumenical movement among religious folk is strong. We have made significant and important changes in our society.

And yet Tom Lehrer’s song National Brotherhood Week is most relevant to the divisiveness we find ourselves in in today’s society. I don’t think those of us here have ever seen in our lifetimes a more bitter political battle than what is doing on right now. Though a relatively small number of folk in marches are violent, that gets reported the most and the violence appalls us.

And then we run into Paul’s instructions to his friends in Rome saying, “Let love be your only debt! If you love others, you have done all that the Law demands.” Wow! In today’s hateful rhetoric, we all seem to be swamped in debt.

So, with this huge deficit in human relationships, how do we go about healing of those relationships? How do we go about loving each other and God who has loved us?

Jesus directly deal the conflict in his teaching we found in today’s gospel lesson.

Jesus tells us simply if we have a problem with someone go straight to them and try and talk in out.

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard someone come to me and say, “People are upset about this or that.” My response was always the same. “What people?” If they told me, I would go that person or persons and talk about it. But generally folk would not say who “they” were, citing confidentiality. I have found that that just gives way to nasty rumors and causes more and more division.

Jesus then tells us, if you can’t be reconciled to someone, take others with you to help resolve the issue. If that doesn’t work, just end the relationship.

It seems pretty simple as Jesus describes it, and it is often hard to do. Reconciling yourself with your neighbor seems so small a thing compared to the great divisiveness we see dominating our lives.

Can we resolve the great issues that divide folk in our society? I don’t know. But we can work at it by doing what we can do to resolve and love-debts we may owe each other.

That is all that is required of us, Jesus says. Love others and you have fulfilled all the teachings of scripture and the demands of God.

If you love God and neighbors and enemies, then you won’t steal or murder others. You will be faithful in marriage and other relationships. You won’t be wanting the stuff other folk have, etc.

When you hear songs like National Brotherhood Week, we see how silly the things are the separate us. We can’t fix our sins with subdivisions. That’s silly too.

Just love one another as we have been loved.

  June 2021  
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