Love ALWAYS Wins

We have been on a several week journey through scripture leading us to our John 15 text this morning, which you may have noticed during these last few weeks. It is a journey about LOVE, but what does this love look like?

I have been teaching that Jesus was (and is) a radical teacher and our Acts of the Apostles readings have the disciples discerning how to keep Jesus’ radical teaching in their ‘new’ world after Jesus has returned (ascended) to heaven.

It is a challenge. It is the theme of the Acts of the Apostles.

The disciples struggle with the question ‘what does it mean to follow Christ’s teachings?’.

Last week, our scripture was Philip and the Eunuch. The Eunuch asked ‘what would keep me from being baptized?’, which essentially asked ‘what would keep me from joining your community of faith?’. The law-abiding Jews would have easily answered “you’re an eunuch” and eunuchs were not permitted to worship God in the Temple. But, thankfully Philip said “NOTHING! Lets baptize you”.

The concern is in our Acts of the Apostles’ scripture again today. There is still a debate throughout the Acts of the Apostles about ‘how Jewish must a covert have to become in order to follow Christ’.

Our scripture has the circumcised believers (those who were raised within the Jewish tradition/culture and the law) visiting the Gentiles. The term ‘Gentile’ is used because it is shorter than saying the ‘uncircumcised, pork-eating pagans’ or those who were not raised within the Jewish tradition/culture and the law. As Peter is preaching and teaching about Jesus the Christ, the Holy Spirit breaks into the room (which the Holy Spirit likes to do) and is poured out onto these Gentiles.

The disciples do not simply think ‘that is odd but it makes sense’. The disciples were amazed. The disciples were confused because how can the Holy Spirit be poured out onto THOSE people. 

Again, last week I discussed fear because of the 1 John scripture that read “love casts out all fear”. I also asked us to ponder that during the week.

Fear creates our own comfort zones limiting us to what and WHO are familiar to us. Therefore, we set up boundaries. Boundaries divide and separate us. We let fear do that.

My cousin and his wife say and live by the motto: Do something everyday that scares you (because it is the only way to grow).

This motto is not necessarily to ‘do something’ that legitimately terrifies you or is dangerous, but it is to ‘do something’ that gets you out of your own comfort zone. It might me meeting a new person, trying new food, listening to different music, etc. It is something that shakes you up and gets you out of your comfort zone.


Here is the truth about fear and boundaries, these do not only separate us from one another BUT it leads to a dangerous spiral.

So, follow me. We are going through a few rabbit holes.

  • When we let fear and our desire for comfort control our lives we get separated from people.
  • When we separate ourselves from people, it becomes easier to keep them at a distance.
  • When we keep people at a distance, we create a soil that is fertile for hate and demonizing the “other”.
  • When we hate and demonize the “other”, we can easily discount them because they ‘do not matter’.

We see THIS too often in our world.

I was attending a meeting with a resource officer at a school presenting about the best practices, drills, and response procedures for emergency situations, particularly an active shooter situation. I raised my hand and questioned if the school utilized a ‘hybrid’ drill, such as I experienced in high school. These begun my freshman year when the fire alarm was sounded, we were all slowly walking to the designated locations, and then the inter-com system sounded with “Lock Down”. We were confused shifting from ‘get out of the building’ to ‘find a room, duck into it, hide, and lock the door’.

You may wonder why we did this. It was approximately 1-2 years after the Columbine shooting, whose active shooter (similarly, Parkland) had pulled the fire alarm prior to opening fire.

Another person attending the meeting shared “Boy, I sure am glad I graduated in the 70s”.

I have told people for years that I do not know how we have gotten onto this path but we are on a path where we, humans, have decided that if you do not agree with me then you can stay over there and I will “love” you from a distance, but that doesn’t work.

Loving people from a distance does not work.

You are in for a special treat because I have two Garth Brooks songs to share today.

The first is an excerpt “Thicker than Blood“:

And if blood is thicker than water
then what are we fighting for?
We’re all sons and daughters
of something that means so much more.

I see it on my TV but I can’t understand
Lord, its one big contradiction to me
how is God’s name we love thy neighbor with fists
in our hands and kill each other
when we just don’t agree.

Why can’t we see the walls we can’t see through?
And see what God’s been telling me and you
and that is blood is thicker than water
oh, but love LOVE is thicker than blood. 

We cannot love our neighbors as Christ (first) loved us, which is the commandment, if:

  • we cannot see the walls we cannot see through,
  • we love with our hands in fists, and/or
  • we have ill-wishes towards the “other” who does not agree with us.

We have not been called to love our neighbors from a distance. We have been called to be within the trenches of loving and caring for our neighbors… BUT we are not good at it.

We see it daily.

Yesterday, I was at Wernle. Wernle was holding an open house for individuals to see their work and the facilities used for their mission. If you do not know, Wernle is a home (residential treatment center) for minors who have found themselves on the wrong-side of the civil law. These minors have often had traumatic life experiences and the decisions or actions that led them to Wernle were not necessarily of their own choice.

A few months ago, someone shared with me an incident that occurred at Wernle to their loved one. This person was not satisfied with how Wernle addressed the incident and in a disgruntled tone said “AND it is supported by the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America)”.  I had responded “The ELCA does support the Wernle Home and my congregation supports it through donations and the such.”

We want “troubled” youth to have a place where they are able to learn how to make better decisions, to turn their lives around, and perhaps to heal from the trauma BUT we want it “over there”. We want it kept away from us at a distance.

Here is another example:
We, Americans, claim to love our military veterans BUT the United States has a long history of not doing right by our servicemen and women, especially Vietnam veterans. We say we support our veterans but what do we do when we see a veteran on the street (or any presumed homeless person)? Most will cross to the other side of the road because it challenges our comfort zone.

We are not called to love from a distance.
We are called to love from the trenches.

In THIS New Commandment, Jesus took away any loophole that we could imagine. We love the loophole in the Greatest Commandment to love God with all your mind, heart, and soul and love your neighbor as yourself BECAUSE since I do not always love myself I do not have to always love my neighbor. Jesus in John 15 says “Nope! as I have first loved you”.

Again, think back to 1 John with “perfect love casts out all fear”.

In our countdown video with Garth Brooks, I mentioned The Change which is probably my favorite Garth Brooks song although it was never a popular, mainstream hit. In my opinion, it has some of the most powerful lyrics especially when you know when and why he wrote the song. It was a response to the Oklahoma City Bombing (1995).

Garth Brooks hosts a conversation on Facebook Live each Monday evening, during which he responses to submitted questions. I had been stating for months that I needed to sit down, record my question, and submit it. The question was essentially ‘where do you turn in times of darkness or sensed hopelessness’. Finally! I sat down. I recorded it. I sent it… AND only hours later the Route 91 Music Festival Massacre happened.

Thus, I find my question and its timing to be eerie.

Route 91 was attended by two childhood friends and my cousin’s daughter. One childhood friend and my cousin’s daughter had previously left the event, but one childhood friend was running for his life and hiding in a shed.

I would be lying if I said there was not a lot of hate and fear in our world.

The Monday after Route 91, Garth Brooks on Facebook Live did not take questions but instead played The Change and signed off. The following week, my question was the first to be answered. {Thus, it was his first “Ask Garth” question after Route 91}.

Here was his response to these expressions of hate, The Change:

One hand reaches out
and pulls a lost soul from harm.
While a thousand more go unspoken for
they say what good have you done
by saving just this one.
Its like whispering a prayer
in the fury of a storm. 

And I hear them saying you’ll never change things
and no matter what you do its still the same thing
But its not the world that I am changing
I do this so this world will know
that it will not change me. 

This heart still believes
that love and mercy still exists
while all the hatred rage and so many say
that love is all but pointless in madness such as this
Its like trying to stop a fire
with the moisture from a kiss.

And I hear them saying you’ll never change things
and not matter what you do its still the same thing
but its not the world that I am changing
I do this so this world will know
that it will not change me. 

As long as one heart still holds on
then hope is never really gone.

I hear them saying you’ll never change things
and no matter what you do its still the same thing
but its not the world that I am changing
I do this so this world we know never changes me. 

What I do this for is so this world will know
that it will not change me.

Our offertory song will be “Dear Hate” (by Maren Morris featuring Vince Gill). It is a song that has grown in popularity since the Las Vegas Route 91 Massacre, but was wrote in response to the African Methodist Episcopalian (AME) Church Shooting in Charleston. Maren Morris, struggles with the same question of how do we live in a world that has so much fear, hate, and violence towards our neighbors.

The common theme that “Dear Hate“, “The Change“, and our scriptures hold is not denying that fear and hate exists, but rather let us be the one that holds on to hope, let us be the one that says “hate and fear, today and forever,  you will not change me” because ultimately like Garth Brooks said in the video: “Love will always win”.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Scriptures were Acts 10:44-48; 1 John 4; 1 John 5:1-6; and John 15: 9-17.
Originally preached on May 6, 2018 at Trinity Lutheran Church (Union City, IN)

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