Love One Another

The last few weeks, we’ve focussed on the 5th chapter in the Gospel of Matthew, the introduction and opening passages of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  We’re going to conclude our discussions of it today (but I encourage you to continue reading the next few chapters of Matthew to discover how Jesus describes prayer, life’s worries, and what it means to live in community).

Jesus’ words have not been easy.  In redefining what it means to live in community, Jesus explains that our communities require the collective energy of all people to bring about the good (for all people).  We need to care for those suffering and in mourning, guard our own hearts as the origin of both hatred and fear, and lastly this week, love our enemies as powerfully as we love our friends, our family.

After a long sermon, a minister asks her parishioners if they are ready to love their enemies. About half of the people in the congregation timidly raise their hands.  Not happy with the result, the sermon goes on for another 20 minutes and then pause, the same question. This time, 80 percent of the parishioners raise their hands. Still not satisfied, the sermon resumes, and for 15 more minutes with passion and fervour the minister preaches, afterwards asking the same question, are you ready to love your enemies?. This time everyone raises their hands, except for a quiet woman in the back.

“Mrs. Johnson, are you not ready to love your enemies?” asks the minister.

“I don’t have any” says Mrs. Johnson.

“Love?” the minister asked, to which the woman replied, “No…enemies, I don’t have any.”

“That is amazing. How old are you?”

“I’m 93.”

“Will you please go to the front and explain to all of us how anybody could make it to 93 years old without having any enemies?” Mrs. Johnson gets up and goes to makes her way to the pulpit. Upon facing the congregation, she quietly clears her throat and says, “It’s quite simple…I outlived all those jerks!”

And we hear the words of Jesus say…

Sung Response:  Love one another, as I have loved you.

Jesus says that it’s easy enough to do Valentine’s Day.  To love those who love us, to love our neighbours, even to greet our brothers and sisters.  We get something back in that relationship.  We’re paid back by the effort it takes.  We’re returned patience for our faults, and grace for our doubts, and love even when we don’t deserve it.  We’re given that because our family, our friends, even our community members will write off one bad day.  Or a few.  Or just overlook all of it because love accepts without requiring perfection.

Cultivating this love takes time. It’s not all chocolates and flowers.

As Paul reminds us in 1st Corinthians 13, love is measured by patience, kindness, bearing with one another, hoping for the best, enduring that which wounds, working towards a love that will never end.  Whenever I sit down with new couples, excited to declare their love before God and the world, I try to get at what challenges their love has been through.  It’s easy enough to love one another if there have never been problems in their relationship.  But when your loved one does something once to irk you (that can be easily forgiven)…when they’ve done it for the thousandth time just because that’s who they are (even though you’ve reminded them that it bugs you) that’s another.  Still, we love.

For we hear the words of Jesus say…

Sung Response:  Love one another, as I have loved you.

But now think about someone with whom you disagree.
Or someone you might call an enemy.  Loving in spite of how we’ve been treated is difficult, if not impossible.  That person you call an enemy just has to look at you the wrong way, and your blood boils.

There are very few people we’d hold for that term.  It seems so rigid, so unchangeable.  Enemy.  It’s so harsh, bearing a story and baggage.  Using that word cuts that person out of your life – you don’t allow them the ability to hurt you, because you believe that’s all they’re capable of.  You don’t give them the chance for redemption because you’ve determined (even before God) that they cannot be redeemed/changed.  Donald Trump’s enemies,[1] (according to his most recent statements) are the press, and anyone else that challenges his authority, or questions his government.   He throws around that word so easily.  Enemy.  In response to Donald Trump’s inauguration, the moderator of the United Church of Canada issued a powerful statement entitled I Love Donald Trump.  (I’ve printed a few copies of it for those interested, or you can check out the United Church website…) but in addition to her statement she released this Youtube clip:

[1] http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/donald-trump-and-the-enemies-of-the-american-people

I have seen a very worrying trend…in our culture and communities…even within our own church, a trend toward division, divisiveness, and a kind of divisiveness that gives folks permission (where folks feel like it’s acceptable) to not just disagree with one another, but actually despise one another…to cut people down who think differently than us.  I believe that the Christian message…the central tenant of our faith is love…love is incredibly risky, difficult…Jesus said it’s really easy to love the people that love you, and the people with whom you agree, and the people in your family and your neighbours…it’s much much harder and therefore critically important that we learn to love those who we want to see as enemies, those who we profoundly disagree with…those who hate us.   When we can actually respond in love which is not the same thing as tolerating behaviours but loving people as children of God, recognizing their human dignity even as we stand against that which is intolerable in their words and actions.  Then I believe we are responding to the Christian call of discipleship.[1]

She goes onto say that,

Choosing to love even those whose words and actions are filled with hate and division does not mean accepting their behaviour or tolerating injustice. Love does not turn a blind eye to injustice or a deaf ear to the cries of the oppressed. The love that we are called to embody as followers of Christ demands that we defend the dignity and worth, the well-being and integrity of everyone—including the oppressors.[2]

This is the challenge of our time – the challenge of our faith…to love everyone as Jesus would, as we hear Jesus say…

Sung Response:  Love one another, as I have loved you.

It’s no magic trick how this happens.  Love isn’t going to multiply just because we want it to.  It isn’t going to spill out from our hearts the minute we come to church, or hear these scriptures.  Love is something that takes deliberate action, and persistent hope.  The secret is that you don’t even have to like the person to love them.  You don’t have to agree with what they do, or how they treat others, or what they believe.  You don’t have to buy them chocolates on Valentines (not even the discount chocolate on sale the very next day).  But you must…you must…look at them with the same kindness and compassion that Jesus would.

For the whole of Jesus’ ministry was filled with moments of love – as he noticed those that had been cut out of people’s lives because of illness, judgment, religious disagreements, and he loves them back into community:

The woman at the well is loved, regardless of her past (John 4).  As too the woman about to be stoned (John 7:53–8:11).  And those in the garden who were to lead Jesus to death, they too were healed (Matthew 26).  Even Peter himself who denies knowing Jesus (all four Gospels) and being one of his followers, he too experiences a resurrection moment bringing him back to the flock (John 21).

For Jesus looks at each one of us, flaws and all, and declares that we are loved.  And we are to love others, to be patient with them, and be kind to them, no matter what we get in return.  It’s not about being a doormat, to allow others to walk all over you, but to cancel out hatred with love.  You have to turn you cheek, and return the suffering they’ve inflicted upon you with kindness.  This yoke isn’t easy, and the burden isn’t small[3].  To love someone in the face of suffering is one of the most difficult things we’re called to do.

We need to do this because the minute we give up our hope for another’s redemption, the hope of our belief in resurrection…when we see another as less than a child of God…when we fail to see the dignity and worth of all people…is the time that we have declared ourselves more powerful than God, more omniscient (all-seeing) than Jesus, and more future-knowing than the Holy Spirit.  At that point we need to start worshipping you.

Until that point however, as we had on the sign as few months ago…
let us love everyone and let God sort it out.  For we hear Jesus say…

[1] Video – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LrrO4Yme138

[2] Text – http://www.united-church.ca/news/moderator-i-love-donald-trump

 

[3] Voices United #395 – Come In, Come In and Sit Down

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