Several years ago, there were protests in our country that were evidence of the racial tensions that are still prominent in our country. During that time, there was a video shared on Facebook, which you might have seen. The video shows two little boys who see each other from a distance, and start running toward each other, huge smiles on their faces, and their arms spread out in order to give each other a hug. They can’t be more than two years old. And when they finally get to each other, they fall down in a puddle of joy, laughing and giggling.

It’s a heartwarming little video. It makes us smile, because their happiness at seeing each other is so infectious, so palpable that you can feel it pouring out of the screen while you’re watching it. 

What I haven’t told you about the video yet, is that one of the boys is white, and the other is black. But, of course, when you’re watching the video, the only thing you think of is how happy they are. We see that they are the best of friends, they are closer than family. There’s just pure joy at seeing each other, and we begin to feel that same joy because it just pours out of them, through the screen, right into our very core. It’s a feeling we all love to feel, and long to feel, and intrinsically, we understand the purity of their joy and love for each other. It really is a beautiful little video.

Some of you may have already learned this life-lesson, which is to NEVER READ THE COMMENT SECTION on Facebook posts if the post is from someone you don’t know. I, unfortunately, keep returning to the comment section like a vulture to a road-kill party.

The most heartbreaking comment that I found under this little video was this:

“Yeah, they’re happy now. But give them 10 to 15 years, and they will learn to fear and hate each other. That’s what this world will teach them. Our society is broken.”

You might be wondering why I started out with something like this today. After all, our Gospel is about the disciples, afraid, hiding from the authorities that might come to arrest them because of their association with Jesus. But Jesus shows up, shows them his scars, eats with them, and opens up the scriptures for them, so that they might understand everything they need to know about the Messiah.

Jesus has shared these things with them so that they understand that “repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”

“To All Nations.”

This phrase in the Bible has more meaning than just “other countries.” In fact, it routinely is used in both the Old and New Testament to mean, “people of different races and ethnicities.” In short, you are to preach the gospel to strangers, those you don’t understand, those whom you might fear, those unlike you in many ways.

The disciples were given the task of proclaiming the Gospel to all the world, to all nations, to everyone, to strangers – no exceptions. And that is what the disciples in that room did, eventually. 

And thanks to them, you and I stand here today, disciples of that same Jesus. And so, by extension, we are called to proclaim that very same Gospel to all people, of all nations, of all races and ethnicities, to strangers – no exceptions.

Several years ago, while still in seminary – so actually, quite a lot of years ago – I went to a workshop that proclaimed that it would help you to live life to the fullest, to help you break through those things that were holding you back from being your best you. You know the type, I’m sure you’ve all seen one of these workshops advertised before. Because it had been recommended to me, and out of curiosity, I went.

At one point, those leading the workshop had the entire crowd do a thought exercise, in which we were told to envision ourselves walking down an empty street, as the day is coming to an end, and the light is beginning to dim. On that street, we see a stranger approaching us, and then we are guided through several questions, like “What are they wearing?” “Where are they looking?” “Where do you think they are going?” “Why do you think they are out this time of night?” You know, all the questions that you would ask yourself if you were walking down a street and came across a stranger. What we discovered is that everyone’s mind came to the conclusion that the other person could not be trusted, and that we had to protect ourselves from the possible evil they might wish to do to us. In short, everyone realized that the image we had created in our minds expressed our deepest fears

And then the instructors asked us to put ourselves into the shoes of the other person. To imagine seeing ourselves through their eyes, and what they might be thinking. It took a while, but slowly people started having an aha moment, because we realized that the stranger was asking the same exact questions, and coming to the same conclusion about us: that we are people who might do evil, and we are people who could not be trusted. To them, we were the construct of their fear.

We fear what we do not understand. We fear what we do not seek to understand. We fear what we refuse to understand. And we will never be able to love what we fear.

The question the instructors asked afterward was this: “What would it change if you approached each stranger on the street by trying to understand them and view their life through their eyes and experience, rather than a person to be mistrusted and feared? What would your life look like then? How might your life be shaped for the better?” 

The lesson learned was straightforward: we need to be able to separate fact from fiction, because most of our fear is learned behavior. Learned through our families, our friends, our neighborhoods, our communities, our cultures.

That understanding of learned behavior can easily be summed up in the phrase, “Like Father, Like Son,” “Like Mother, Like Daughter,” or “Like parent, like child.”

Our New Testament reading today begins with the words, “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.” Through our baptism, we have been made a part of a heavenly family: we have been adopted into the family of God. And, as Children of God, we have now inherited all the benefits that are due to those who look to God as a parent, and Christ as a brother. We are no longer just Americans, or Chinese, Brazilian or Latvian, German or Canadian. We are first, and foremost, citizens of the New Jerusalem, citizens of heaven, the Holy City of God. We are children of a family that transcends time and space, race and ethnicity, boundaries and borders.

The ideal, of course, is that the phrase, “Like parent, like child” would apply to each of us. That we would look to the example of Christ, and become like our brother, who is one with the Father. That in all of our actions, the humility, the grace, the passion, and, of course, the Love of Jesus would be evident in each of us.

That is the ideal. 

That is what we hope for. 

Mahatma Gandhi, whom I’m sure you’ve all heard about, led a successful campaign for India’s independence from England, by employing non-violent protests as a form of resistance to British rule. He was born into a Hindu family, but at some point found himself reading the Gospels, and he wanted to know more about Jesus, whom he found intriguing. So, one Sunday morning he set out to go to a Christian Church in Calcutta, but was turned away at the door, because, he was told, the church was only open to Whites and Indians born into the High Castes. Since he was of a lower caste, he could not enter, and was sent away. He never pursued Christianity again, and told people that “If it weren’t for Christians, I would be a Christian.”

“See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.”

The Church in Calcutta lost an opportunity to share the Good News of Love with a man that later went on to gain freedom for not only his own people, but inspired work among people throughout the world in similar situations. Think of the amazing witness that was lost through Gandhi’s work in the world, only because that church’s learned behaviors caused them to express their fear and pride at allowing a commoner to enter into their community and worship the God of Love with them.

If Jesus gave his dsiciples the commandment to preach the Good News of repentance and forgiveness to all nations, then by extension, that includes us. So the next question is “How do we do that?” Not all of us are preachers, or writers, or have the opportunity to express our beliefs to people through some form of mass media. 

St. Francis of Assissi is known for this saying: “Preach the gospel at all times. … And when necessary, use words.”

When necessary. Use words.

What St. Francis knew, is that the language of Love is the loudest form of communication that the world has ever seen. From the beginning of written history, we have stories of greed, selfishness, war, hate, anger all growing out of the fear of the unknown. The need to keep ourselves safe, to acquire more, to put ourselves and our own above everyone else has been written into our cultural DNA. To fear the outsider, to be selfish, and to look out for one’s own interests – those things are culturally accepted behaviors. And fear plays itself out in the form of anger and hate.

But Love, and peace, and understanding – those behaviors are countercultural. Which is why we enjoy videos like the two best friends running toward each other that I mentioned earlier. Those videos remind us of the humanity that we long for, yet overlook for the sake of securing for ourselves those things which make us feel less afraid, make us feel more in control, and feel like we have some power. 

When we behave like the world expects us to behave, no one ever asks us: What makes you so different? And, How can I find what you have found?

People ask that question when they see us behaving in a way that expresses the what John was declaring in the New Testament passage:

“See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God.”

What makes us different?

What makes us different from the culture around us?

When we find the answer to that question, when the answer to that question takes root in our hearts and minds, that is when we begin to live into the commandment Jesus gave us to share the good news of repentance and forgiveness to all nations.

And that is when we begin to preach the Gospel without words.

When we find the answer to that question, that is when we might see a fearful stranger on a dark road not as someone to be feared and hated, but as a potential Child of God, to whom we can run toward with open arms, and fall into a puddle of joy, laughing and giggling.

[This sermon was delivered at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Wickenburg, AZ on April 14, 2024.]

About Michael

Mike was called to be the Vicar of St. Alban's Episcopal Church in Wickenburg, AZ, and started this call on February 1, 2024. Before taking a call as clergy, Mike worked in IT for almost 25 years, variously working as a back- and front-end web developer, database developer and manager, and as a business analyst. If he's not engaged in the work of the church, you can find him on a motorcycle, enjoying the ride, or training for an upcoming BikeMS ride. Mike holds a Bachelor of Arts in Classical History from Seattle Pacific University, and a Masters of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary. He attended Sewanee School of Theology for a year of Anglican Studies in the Fall of 2022, and graduated in May of 2023. Mike was ordained as a Transitional Deacon in the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona on January 20th, 2024, and will be ordained to the priesthood on July 27, 2024.

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