Where is the love? Where is the love y'all. People killin', people dyin' Children hurt and you hear them cryin' Where is the love?
Today is our food bank Sunday. The first Sunday of every month we ask folks to bring non-perishable food items that we can donate to the food bank. A lot of people depend on food banks. In the past I’ve volunteered at a food bank and you don’t get a lot of food and the food that you get isn’t the greatest. There are almost no fruits and vegetables. And if you are homeless and living in a shelter and don't have a stove or a refrigerator then a lot of the food doesn't help you anyway. This is no indictment on the people who run food banks, which I know, feed a lot of people, but there are still a lot of hungry people right here in Regina. And we have to respond to this situation.
Regardless of the current situation we must respond. God calls us to respond to people's suffering with compassion and love. This call requires us a change in our attitudes and the way we structure our society. We have to respond to our neighbours' suffering whatever the cause of that suffering, no matter what their own participation in that suffering is. We have to respond to suffering in compassion in love.
Responding to other’s suffering in love is a requirement for Christians. It is the basis of our faith. Being Christian isn’t subscribing to a set of beliefs. Being Christian is responding to suffering in compassion and love. We have to respond in love because love is the greatest commandment of all. That's what Jesus said. Today's gospel story occurs just a few days after Jesus had entered Jerusalem for the Passover festival, the day we mark as Palm Sunday. It is the last week of his life and in a few days he will be arrested and nailed to a cross for protesting a system where an elite class is constantly grinding the masses deeper and deeper into poverty and despair. Jesus wasn’t murdered by the government to atone for our sins. He was murdered because he resisted a cruel and oppressive regime.
So the religious leaders and those collaborating with the Roman Empire were looking for reasons to arrest him. They were looking for heresy on Jesus' part and so they asked him, “What is the greatest commandment?” Jesus responds that there are two. The first one is to love God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. And the second is to love your neighbour as yourself. All the laws, all the proclamations of the prophets, everything is based on these two commandments. Love God and love your neighbour. That's it. Everything else comes out of those two things. If God is love and God loves us so much then our only appropriate response is love.
But where is the love, y'all. Where is the love? People killin', people dyin' Children hurt and you hear them cryin' Where is the love? This is an important question. Where is God's love in the face of injustice? Where is the love for those living in poverty? Where is the love when we encounter hungry children?
At my home church in Toronto we served a free dinner every Sunday. Before the free dinner was an optional worship service, people didn't have to worship to eat. It was a big church, seating maybe 700 people, although in those Sunday evening services we usually had around twenty to thirty dispersed through the pews. It was big stone church built around 1925 in an older style with intricately carved dark wood and many stained glass windows. It is a really beautiful building.
And every Sunday evening we had a free dinner. There was a family that came sometimes. A mother with two children: a boy, and a girl. They were beautiful children, blonde like their mother. I know all children are beautiful. The girl was maybe 8 and the little boy about 4 years old. They were typical children just really poor. The girl was friendly but serious and the little boy was energetic and squirmy. He got shushed a lot in church. One Sunday the little boy went up for communion. We served communion every Sunday in those services. So the little boy went up for communion, took his piece of bread, dipped in the grape juice and ate it. Then went to the back of the line and came up again. He did this several times going back up again and again. Taking the bread and dipping it in the juice and then eating it. At first I thought, “Oh how cute, he's enjoying the ritual.” But that wasn't it. He wasn’t enjoying a ritual. I finally realized that he was going up for more bread because he was hungry. He hadn't eaten since breakfast and when there was a little bit of bread offered he kept going back for more. It wasn't the ritual that was drawing him in. It was his hunger. I don't know where this boy is now, but what chance does he have? A little hungry boy whose family probably walked passed dozens of million dollar homes on their way to a free meal. Where is the love? Where is the love in that? People killin', people dyin' Children hurt and you hear them cryin' Where is the love? Where is the justice? How can we live in such a world? A world where children go hungry in the shadows of million dollar homes?
Because like the Black Eyed Peas sang we only got one world:
world, (That's all we got)
And what can we do? I'm not saying it's your fault. I'm not. Because it's not your fault. It's not my fault. It’s not your fault. It’s not our fault. It's not. It's not our fault. It's not. It's not. But...but...it is our problem. And we have to respond. But how? How are we to respond to this massive, complicated problem that began before any of us were born and is a tangled web through our neighborhood, our city, our country our world. We've only got one world and something's wrong with it. Where is the love? Where is the love, the love the love?
I wish I could have made sure that that little boy had enough to eat. That he never showed up hungry. That he had healthy food to eat every day. I wish I could have saved him but I couldn't. The past events of history had created a world where I could not solve his problem. And even if I was able to help this one child, this one lovely little boy, there are over a million children living in poverty in Canada and I can't save them all. There's only one world and there's something wrong with it. The events of history, both good and bad, that have occurred until now prevent any simple solution. If we are not trapped by the past, we are at least constrained by the past.
And where is God in this? This is an important question. Where is God's love in the face of injustice? Part of the problem is that we want to believe in a God that’s in control. We think that God is all-powerful. But if God is all-powerful why is there such suffering in the world? Why are children going hungry in a wealthy country like Canada? Where is God in our suffering? Why doesn't God do something? How can evil exist in a world created by a perfect, all powerful, all loving God?
Traditionally, the response to the problem of evil has been the doctrine of Original Sin. This is the thinking that all sin and evil are traced back to Adam and Eve. When they ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil against God's instruction. in their disobedience they corrupted the paradise that was the Garden of Eden not just for themselves but for all their descendents as well.
I just don't find this a satisfactory answer. First of all, I believe that the earth is much older than 6,000 years. Secondly, I believe that human nature is at least in part the result of millions of years of evolution not the action of some alleged first human couple. But more than that, even if we believe that the existence of evil is the result of the human action of Adam and Eve, or ourselves, or some person out there it still begs the question of where is God when evil occurs. Why doesn't God intervene? We are left with a God who could intervene but chooses not to. We are left with a remote and distant God who watches us suffer and refuses to come to our aid. Even if it is our actions that create the injustice, which it often is, why doesn't God do anything? Why doesn't God help the little boy who repeatedly takes communion because he hasn't eaten all day?
If God is so powerful then how is God good? My thinking is that God is not all-powerful. Our world is not micromanaged by God. I'm not making this up. This is the branch of theology known as Process Theology, proposed by such theologians such as John Cobb Jr and Marjorie Suchoki. The thinking is that God is persuasive but not coercive. God cannot micromanage the world. Rather, God pours a persuasive love over us that offers us transformation, a way of becoming. Earlier I spoke of a past that constrains us in this present but God's persuasive love can open up a new future. Our past influences us, but God's persuasive love gives us a way of overcoming that past. God's persuasive love provides us the opportunity to break the chains of the past that constrain us. God's persuasive love gives us hope for a more just future.
In fact that is, I believe, what is happening in the resurrection. Whether you understand the resurrection literally, spiritually or poetically the resurrection is, as Tripp Fuller says, “the in-breaking of new creation. It is the event that tells us that Jesus has a future but it also tells us that all of creation has a future. The resurrection is God’s promise to transform the world into something new. It’s God’s testimony to the world as it will be. We assume the world is what is and that’s all it can be but in the resurrection God promises that there is newness we can’t even dream yet.”
So we are influenced by our past and can be transformed by God's persuasive love but there is a third creative power and that’s us. As Marjorie Suchoki says, “we decide what we will become. We are responsible for dealing with the actual past received from the world and the possible future received from God.” Suchoki says that we have actual creative power in this world. Perhaps it is the weakest of the three creative powers that I have outlined but it is a real creative power. And the responsibility we have is how to use our creative power wisely. How do we use our creative powers as Christians? How do we follow Jesus the Christ?
And the answer is love. Love is the most important thing we can do; the most important commandment is to love. To love God with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind. And to love our neighbours as ourselves. To love God, to purse an intimate relationship with God so that we can better commune with God's persuasive, creative love. To steep ourselves in the love of God so that we can be transformed. To love our neighbour so that all our decisions are imbued with neighbourly love. To make our decisions based on how they affect our neighbour, how they affect the hungry child, so that every action is soaked through with love of God and the love of neighbour. Maybe that's where the love is.
And maybe that's the Promised Land: a world where God's persuasive love is fully realized in us and in our neighbour. A world where that squirmy, little blond boy has enough to eat, a world where there are no children in poverty, a world there is no need for food banks or homeless shelters. Maybe that’s the Promised Land. I know we're not going to get there in our lifetime. But maybe, just maybe like Moses we can see it. Maybe we too can see the Promised Land. Maybe that's where the love is. Amen
Black Eyed Peas, Where Is the Love?, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FI2tceUD3os
Marjorie Suchocki, What is Process Theology, http://processandfaith.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/What_Is_Process_Theology.pdf