As Coptic Christians gathered in Egypt this morning to celebrate Palm Sunday, bombs rocked their sanctuaries. Thirty-six people were killed in the blasts.
This week has seen horrific chemical attacks upon the Syrian people, but what is more horrific is that these kinds of atrocities are happening all the time, but only occasionally make it to our headlines.
In the Des Moines area, this week has seen a slew of gun violence, with five people shot last Sunday morning and three deaths in Bondurant this week.
When we gather in this sanctuary and wave our palms in the air, we cry out Hosanna!
And that very word has a double meaning that is meaningful in our world context.
We typically think of the Hosanna as a call of praise and glory, welcoming the coming King.
But Hosanna also is a cry for salvation. “Save us!” the people call out.
“Save us” we cry out.
Save us from our striving for power.
Save us from unending violence.
Save us from the walls that threaten to divide.
Save us from social forces that stomp on the sick, the poor, and the outcast.
In the Jewish tradition, the laws were given to the people as a guide for how to live as a saved people. The Israelites had been rescued from the Pharoah’s grip and in the wilderness they were formed as a people. And the laws were given as a means to help them live in community and to prevent the kinds of personal and social evils that could destroy them.
613 different commandments are given in the Torah to try to accomplish this purpose.
And when Jesus was asked about which was the most important, he referred to only two.
The Shema from Deuteronomy 6: Love the Lord
Leviticis 19 – love others.
When Jesus summarized all of the law and the prophets, he basically took the ten commandments and boiled them down to five words:
Love God. Love your neighbor.
These laws are all about the relationships we have been talking about these past few weeks.
Love is the fence that guards us from harmful activity. Love is the standard for how we are to behave. Love defines who we are.
Throughout this series, we have been touching on the surface of some of the conflict that threatens to divide us as a church. We are not all the same. Across this great wide world we worship in different languages and sing different types of songs. We live in various political and social and economic realities.
And I believe that is a good and a holy thing. But it is also a really difficult reality to live in the midst of.
All of our differences, all of our separate gifts and hopes and desires, all of the nonessentials that can tear us apart, they can only be put into perspective if we take the time to truly be in relationship with one another.
This body only works if at the core of who we are and how we live is love.
When the Apostle Paul hears about the mess that the Corinthians have made of their church by squabbling over non-essentials, he writes to them. He wants to encourage them to be their best selves. And if you remember from last week, he tells them that they are the body of Christ and that each of them has an important role to play in the church. He tells them that each of them is gifted and that they should pay attention to and rely upon the gifts of others. He tells them they need to give and accept help and to treat all members with respect.
And then he launches into a beautiful part of his letter that is very familiar to us.
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing
All of this stuff that you think is so important – Paul writes – all of this stuff that you are arguing about, it means absolutely diddly squat if there isn’t love in the midst of your community.
You could have the most money or be the most talented or live in the most beautiful house, or even have the most elegant prayers or know the scripture backwards and forwards…. But all of it is for nothing if there is not love in your life.
Paul’s not just talking about the romantic love between two people. He’s talking about deep, sustaining love. He’s talking about the love that knits people and communities together. He’s talking about the love that only comes from God.
Love that is patient and kind.
That that is not envious or boastful.
Love that doesn’t seek its own advantage and doesn’t keep a record of complaints.
Love that isn’t satisfied with injustice.
Love that endures all things.
As the people of God and followers of Jesus Christ, and as the people called United Methodist, we are all have the same calling: to love.
The primary thing that unites us is the love of Jesus Christ.
The love of Christ reminds us we are all sinners in need of God’s grace.
The love of Christ shows us what grace and mercy are all about.
The love of Christ is sacrificial and bends down in service to others.
The love of Christ gives life to others.
Love seeks the good of others, no matter who they are, even if it is at our own expense.
Love is not a feeling… love is a verb.
It is a daily decision to choose to love and be in relationship with others.
In our prayer of confession this morning, we asked that God might turn us, cleanse us, and forgive us our transgressions.
We asked that God might set us again into the procession of love that makes all things new.
When we leave this place today, we are going into a world that praises all of the wrong things and that desperately needs to experience the saving power of God.
We are going into a world where children are hungry and parents are frustrated. Where the mentally ill don’t have access to care and where innocent people are trapped in the midst of countries at war. If we took the time to list all of the problems and concerns of our nation and world we might never leave this sanctuary.
And yet, God has called us to be his hands and feet in the world.
God has called us to be the Body of Christ.
And that means that God wants us to be the answer to the world’s cries for salvation and healing. God wants us to carry these palms into the world as a procession, a parade of love and healing and salvation.
God wants us to bind up the brokenhearted and feed the hungry.
God wants us to welcome the refugees and the strangers.
God wants us to seek peace and pursue it.
God wants us to visit the sick and imprisoned.
And through it all, God wants us to love.
You know, we are ending this series with the call to love, but in reality, this is only the beginning of the life that we are called to. As Bishop Bickerton writes, love is “the source of our being, the fuel for the journey, and the goal for which we live.”
Love your neighbors.