Kyle and Nancy Larson were members of the last congregation that I served. They are fantastic people. At the time, Kyle served as a police officer in the Maple Grove Police Department, and Nancy as a trauma nurse at North Memorial Medical Center. Since I left, they moved out to Spicer and live there now.
23 years ago, Nancy volunteered to serve as a part of a medical relief team to the African nation of Rwanda, which had experienced years of civil war, and a genocide that killed close to a million people.
One day, the medical team which Nancy was a part of was driving down the road, moving from one medical camp to another. As they drove, they spotted something on the side of the road. As they approached, they realized that it was a small child, lying there. You see, a family of refugees had been trying to get from Rwanda to Berundi to escape the violence, but that border had been closed and the refugees turned away. The family, along with other refugees, made their way back towards the hills to hide when they were separated from each other by intense mortar shelling.
This 5-year-old spent a month on his own, wandering around the area, trying to find his family. As he was walking down this road by himself, a truck with soldiers drove past him, and as it did, one of the soldiers reached out and struck the little boy in the head with a machete, and he collapsed to the ground, unconscious. The truck didn’t even slow down.
When the American medical team found him, they instantly went into action and worked to save the child, transporting them back to their field hospital for emergency surgery, and critical medical care. As a trauma nurse, Nancy spent the most time caring for him. And the two of them bonded.
The story of this boy, who they found out later was named “Taka,” was picked up by an NBC news team and soon the whole nation was following the story.
Taka was transported to the United States…to New York City, for more surgery and treatment, and Nancy and the medical team returned home.
He had a beautiful smile, and eyes that would just light up. He loved being held…and he loved attention. Everyone he encountered fell in love with the child. But they really weren’t sure what would happen to Taka in the long-term. The assumption was that Taka’s family had perished in the shelling, and there really was no home in Rwanda for Taka to return to.
So, Nancy, and her husband Kyle, began the process of adopting him. And this young boy, moved to Minnesota. And Taka Larson grew up in Maple Grove. He went to Totino Grace High School. He played football…he played hockey…when I got to know Taka, he had a great, gregarious personality, and a hilarious sense of humor.
Today, Taka is a 28-year-old young man, working for a tech company and living in Nashville, Tennessee. And while life has had its moments of challenge for him, like it does for all of us, he is doing well. He is a good man, and I’m still proud of him, and I’m grateful for his parents. When I think of Taka, I smile, and I am reminded of a simple truth: Love always wins. Against hatred…against anger…against fear…love always wins.
You see, love cannot be denied. Yes, there is hate, fear and anger in the world. But these things cannot defeat love. Just like light always defeats shadow, love is always greater than hate.
So, you can imagine my surprise when about 10 days ago, Lori and I were sitting at the coffee shop on my day off (as is our habit), and I received an e-mail from a reporter asking about my reaction to Westboro Baptist Church’s announcement that they would be protesting at Trinity?
Excuse me? Who? Our Trinity? The one in Owatonna? Yeah.
Now I’m not actually going to spend a lot of time talking about these protestors. Frankly, I don’t want to give them that kind of time and attention. But I will say this:
There are people in the world who do not know love. The ones who attacked Taka on that road side did not know love. The ones who travel full-time protesting at the funerals of fallen soldiers…protesting large events, like the Super Bowl…protesting at schools…and protesting at churches, yelling hateful, hurtful words? They do not know love.
Those who exclude others. Those who focus on separation rather than community, because of gender, or race, or economics, or what nation they came here from, or religion, or human sexuality? They do not know love.
These are people whose own pains and hurts have cause an anger and even a hatred that boils over inside of them until it begins to consume their spirits. Their anger is like a poison they’ve ingested that eats away at their hearts. And they lash out in a misdirected attempt to make themselves feel better…and they aim their fury at anyone who does not fit into their narrow box.
Let’s just be honest for a moment: There is darkness in the world. And this week, I’ve received lots of phone calls and e-mails of support and concern. They ask me “are you worried?” The truth is, I’m not. Annoyed? Yes. Worried? No. I’ve been annoyed at the hassle…annoyed that these things distract us, and take our eyes off of our goals and our mission…annoyed that we’ve had to spend time dealing with this; but I’m not worried about it. Why? Because love is greater than hate, anger and fear. Because love is always greater.
Karl Barth wrote a 10-volume theological work titled “Ethics” that is considered one of the greatest pieces of theological writing…ever. When traveling and lecturing throughout the United States at all the important universities and theological schools, it is reported that one young man asked him, “Dr. Barth, you have written multiple volumes on theology. But, if you had to boil down all your theological knowledge into just a sentence or two, what would you say is the essence of your theological understanding?”
Dr. Barth didn’t hesitate. He replied, “It is really quite simple. ‘Jesus loves me, this I know – for the Bible tells me so.'”
Yes, it is simple: Jesus loves me. Jesus loves you. It is not a conditional statement…it doesn’t say “Jesus loves you…unless…it is not dependent on economic status…or skin color…or sexuality…or anything…it is just a simple, beautiful statement. Jesus loves me. This I know, for the Bible tells me so.
Both of our scripture texts this morning remind us that love is a gift, and that this gift has a source. First John tells us that “For love is of God, and everyone that knows love, knows God.” And John’s Gospel reminds us that there is a vine that is the source of all things good…and that we are branches, attached to that vine. You separate us from that vine and we become…well, merely compost. But connected to the source of love, we live, thrive, bear fruit and become disciples. We bear fruit.
Remember that fruit is a visible sign. You walk past a plant, and you can see fruit…it’s a visible sign of the health of the plant.
My question for us today is, what can people see within us that shows Jesus’ love? What is the evidence? Because those people out there who stand on street corners and yell hateful things…there is at least no doubt what they believe. Just read their signs. No…wait…on second thought…don’t read their signs…really…. But what do we believe? How do we show it? What are our signs?
In our baptism, we are all given a sign…the sign of the cross, marked on our foreheads, and with that the words of promise… ”you have been sealed with the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.” And with that, we know who we are. But the way we love…the way we care…the way we welcome…that is our visible sign of what God does within us.
Today, we’d like to give you another sign. A small one…admittedly a temporary one…but still a visible sign. I’m going to ask the ushers to come forward at this point, and distribute these small buttons. The button has the word “Love” on it. And in the center of the “O” of the word love is a small cross, surrounded by the Luther Rose. And next to the word love is the mathematical “greater than” sign. As in “Love is greater.” Because love…is greater.
- Love is greater than hate.
- Love is greater than anger.
- Love is greater than fear.
- Love is greater than prejudice.
- Love is greater than soldiers…and machetes
- Love is greater than racism.
- Love is greater than greed.
- Love is greater than homophobia.
- Love is greater than anything that separates us from each other.
Love is always greater…and love comes from God.
Wear this sign. Wear it today as you walk out of church, so that they…so that all we encounter, can see it. It is a public witness that love is greater than any anger or hate that is spewed from any street corner.
Wear this sign this week. Let it be a reminder to all we see that there is something greater than the darkness that can sometimes feel like it’s closing in. And when you’re done wearing it, don’t let it drop into that junk drawer that we all have, which is where, at least in our house, little objects like this go to die…no, set it somewhere where it will be visible…and where occasionally you will notice it. Put it on a bulletin board, or on a shelf. Let it remind you always that love comes from God, and that this love is greater than hatred, anger, divisiveness and even death.
Let it remind us that while love is always greater, God’s love is greatest of all. That Jesus went to the cross because of that love, and he did it…for you.
Author and pastor, Michael Yaconelli once wrote that: “The grace of God is dangerous. It’s lavish, excessive, outrageous, and scandalous. God’s grace is ridiculously inclusive. Apparently God doesn’t care who He loves. He is not very careful about the people He calls His friends or the people He calls His church.”
My friends, let’s love with that kind of love. Let’s love boldly…on purpose…out loud… It is our public witness, it is the public sharing of our love, that will remind everyone we encounter that God is the source of love, and that love is always greater…
Thanks be to God!