The new student was asked by the school secretary for some basic information. “What is your father’s occupation?” “He’s a magician, Ma’am.” “Oh, that’s interesting,” the secretary responded. “What’s his favorite trick?” “He saws people in half,” the boy responded. “Goodness,” said the secretary. “Okay, moving on to the next question. Any brothers or sisters?” “Yes,” the boy replied, “one half brother and two half sisters.”
I suspect that the ability to saw a sibling in two has been wished for by more than a few people. Maybe some of you and me as well.
“Brothers and sisters are supposed to love each other,” my mom would say. I always wanted to ask, “Why?” but wisely kept that question to myself.
In today’s text from the first chapter of First Peter, Peter addresses the question of why we should love our brothers and sisters, though he is referring to brothers and sisters in the faith, not biological siblings.
His letter is written to a congregation feeling out of sorts with regard to the culture about them. In converting to Christianity, many had ostracized themselves from friends and family. To an extent we can’t fully realize, because Christianity is the norm in our society, and most of us don’t really appreciate the idea of being ostracized for being Christian, many of these early Christians came to find their family of faith to be their family.
Alas, it didn’t always prove to be heaven on earth. Think about groups that you are part of: family, church, groups of friends, clubs, workplace, neighbors. There are people who annoy you, who just don’t know when to stop preaching, people who are mean-spirited, people who can’t get over the past, people who love to gossip, people who seem to be willing to get ahead by climbing all over you.
It is possible to imagine that the early church was somehow above such pettiness. But we know better. The early churches were full of people like us… imperfect at best.
Nevertheless, Peter insists that the folks love each other anyway. “Love one another deeply from the heart,” is how he puts it.
This might seem impossible (like my mother insisting I love my sisters) until we remember that love is not a feeling but an action. As followers of Jesus we are not required to feel love… but we are required to act lovingly.
At weddings I often remind the bride and groom that they’ll never be asked during the service, “Sam, do you love Sally?” and “Sally, do you love Sam?” Instead they will be asked the questions, “Sam, will you love Sally?” and “Sally, will you love Sam?” Love in marriage is understood as a commitment of the will.
The church is really no different. By being a member here, you are making a promise of the will. You may not like everybody, but you are promising to treat them with love. And when the church become such a place of loving acts by people who are responding to God’s love, the spirit is contagious. It becomes a very attractive place. There is no better advertising. I know it’s hard to believe, but it even beats having the best sausage dinner around.
We don’t really have a choice about loving each other. Just as we didn’t get to choose our family of origin, we also don’t get to choose who is a member of the church of Jesus. So when we come to worship in this place, we ought to remember that none of us is here because we started the ball rolling by being the first to love. We are only here because we have seen God’s love in action. We feel drawn in by that. The Lutheran Magazine relates an incident from the concentration camps of World War II involving Victor Frankl, a survivor. At one point he felt like he was at the end of his rope. When he had lost every possession and had every value destroyed, someone gave him a piece of bread. Frankl wrote, “I remember how a foreman secretly gave me a piece of bread which I knew he must have saved from his breakfast ration. It was far more than the small piece of bread which moved me to tears. It was the human ‘something’ this man also gave me – the word and the look which accompanied the gift.”
When we do communion later in the service, we are doing walk-up communion, but I am going to ask that we do something a little different. I will offer the wafer to the first person, but then I am going to request that that person take the plate of wafers and offer it to the next person in line. Look the person in the eye and say, “The body of Christ for you.” The exact words don’t matter. If you just say “A gift for you,” that will be fine. In fact, it might be better. And then we will continue on through the line like that. After you receive your wafer and have offered one to the next person and have given them the plate, you can dip your wafer into the chalice I or Denise, depending on which line you are in, will be holding.
We have done nothing to earn the gift of grace. That’s the first hard lesson to learn. And the second is like it. The ones we might be tempted to keep out, the ones we might not like. Well, they don’t have to earn it either. Amen.