Misc. Wednesday: Love Your Enemies

Placeholder ImageThis past Sunday’s Scripture text was about loving your enemies, about turning your cheek and to not retaliate with vengeance, from Matthew 5.

And once again Jesus goes there: “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven…” (Matthew 5: 44-45a)

I love Jesus. He’s so bold. (And I often wonder what some of our government officials would say if Jesus confronted them with the Gospel message.)

Anywho…Since what our children do in Sunday School is the same text that’s the main Scripture reading, I talked to the children about loving your enemies during the children’s moment, a sort of precursor intro to what they would do upstairs.

I cut a heart out of some red paper, held it up and asked the children what they think of when they see a heart: “Love,” they said. I asked who do they love: “Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, teachers, your pastors, friends, etc…” Then I asked if they have ever dealt with a bully or someone who isn’t so nice. “Yes,” they said. And I asked if they loved that person. I got a lot of darting of eyes, no one really wanting to fess up.

I went on to explain that God and Jesus ask us to love everyone, which can be hard. It’s easy to love our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, people at church. But the person who isn’t nice to us or others, that can be a bit harder to like, let alone love. It’s hard and sometimes really difficult to do but that’s what Jesus’ teaches us to do – Love our enemies, love those people who wrong us, who aren’t so nice, who have hurt us. It might not happen overnight or right away but the point is to try and love our enemies as we love others too.

And then I sent them away to Sunday School.

And worship continued.

And then worship was over.

As I stood in the back, ready to greet people, a gentlemen came over and proceeded to tell me this:

“I’m not angry or upset or anything but I don’t agree with what you said to the children this morning. I’m a science and math guy and what you told them hasn’t worked for 5,000 years and I don’t think it will work.”

Me: Ok (smiling nicely and nodding my head)

“If you have a different answer, I’d be happy to hear it but I just don’t believe in that because it hasn’t worked for 5,000 years. Again, not upset or angry or anything, I just don’t agree because it hasn’t worked.”

Me: Ok, thank you for sharing.

My head: Grrr…And what the fork?

I went about the rest of my Sunday as normal and thought about his remarks. It hasn’t bugged me, ok, perhaps it has but not to the point of annoyance or anything.

After much thought, this is what I’ve come up with:

First, did you listen to the sermon? I wasn’t the only one preaching about loving your enemy that morning. In fact, my colleague did a nice job at explaining this.

Second, what part of “love your neighbor” don’t you understand? It’s Jesus’ main message. And neighbor could mean your enemy too. Jesus doesn’t define “neighbor.” If you heard my sermon from last week you’d know that Jesus calls us into relationship with everyone, which means this whole loving others thing isn’t limited to only neighbors and enemies. It’s the whole human planet.

Third, ok, so maybe loving your enemy hasn’t worked. But shouldn’t we Christians at least try? Shouldn’t we be the ones to spread God’s message of love and peace to the best of our abilities? And yes, you’re right, it’s possible that the world Jesus was envisioning will never be a reality but I’d much rather fight for that and live a life in which I love everyone than not trying. Plus, I’d rather plant a seed of hope in our chaotic, messy, violent world.

Fourthly, well obviously it upset you because you’ve told me twice that it hasn’t upset you. Plus, you wouldn’t be standing here telling me this if it didn’t upset you.

Fifthly, ok, so…how do you interpret the Gospel message? How does math and science coincide with your faith? Because I think they fit nicely together.

Sixthly, what part of “love your neighbor as yourself” do you not understand?

As I thought about this over the last few days, I kept thinking of the Facebook meme that was going around awhile back. The picture has Jesus teaching his disciples and he says, “Love your enemies.” A disciple asks, “But what if they are Muslim.” Jesus: “Ok, I’m going to start over. Let me know where I lost you.” No idea who came up with that but so good! You can substitute Muslim for person to betrayed or person who lied or bullies or etc… In the end Jesus is going to still say, “Ok, I’m going to start over. Let me know where I lost you.”

At this point, I’m not going to seek this person out to talk to him about this. They made their opinion known and I’m leaving it at that. Maybe one day he and I will talk.

But it pains me to hear someone say this, especially in our world today. I mean, we’re Christians, called to live the life Christ laid out for us as best as we are able. We’re also human, which means we’re messy and not perfect. So loving our neighbors/enemies can be tricky at times. I find it hard to like someone who bullies people and yet I’m called to love them. There have been people in my own life who have harmed me in some way. Forgiveness doesn’t come easy. However, I love them to the best of my ability because that’s what God says I should do, that’s what my faith teaches me. It may be an on-the-surface sort of love, you know, fake smiles and such but I’m trying, right?

God and Jesus know that being human is tough. And that doing some of the things Jesus teaches us can be downright difficult and painful. However, I think that if all we’re able to do is try, Jesus would be happy. And isn’t that faith? To try and understand, to try and live out the Gospel message to the best of our abilities?

Perhaps loving our neighbor/enemy is more about planting a seed of love. Perhaps if we try to show others God’s love, they’ll know God’s love. And perhaps that will lead to something greater.

Perhaps not but…

Shouldn’t we at least try?

 

Sabbath Monday: Love Thy Neighbor

0206171649-1.jpgOk, so I’ve been really absent in the blog-sphere. Life has gotten in the way. And writer’s block.

Ah, well…Moving on…

Valentine’s Day is tomorrow. Though I sent some pretty adorable valentines to my nephews and nieces, I’ve also been thinking about what Jesus said about loving your neighbor. It’s an idea that has been missed lately, which is sad really.

Yesterday I ascended the steps to the pulpit and preached on a difficult Scripture: Part of the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5 (verses 21-37), where Jesus expounds on divorce, adultery, anger and murder, and taking oaths. Bleh.

BUT…I made it work.

The Sermon on the Mount is all about calling the disciples out, making them think about what it means to follow him and God, what it means to be called a disciple, a bearer of God’s kingdom or KIN-dom.

And because I’m not going to retype a whole sermon, here’s part of what I said.

And yes, I did go there.

Portion of a Sermon by Rev. Amanda. Preached on February 12, 2017:

“Jesus was the counter-cultural guy. He taught a new way of interpreting the law and what it means to be a disciple and what it means to be in relationship to God and to one another. Jesus stood up to a society that brought fear and hate, war, oppression and more. Jesus made it alright to welcome the stranger, to welcome the other – whomever they may be. Jesus broke down humanness and looked beyond race and gender.

Because at the heart of life is humanity and relationship. That’s Jesus’ point. He told us “to love one another as I have loved you.” He taught us that relationships should not be taken lightly. And we’re not talking only the relationships we are in with family and friends, or our UPS deliverer.

What Jesus is teaching and what God wants for us as bearers of God’s KIN-dom is a mutuality and respect, to honor our neighbors, the strangers, the down-trodden, those who are not like us, as ourselves. Plus, how we conduct ourselves in life reflects onto others. How we show forth God’s love connects us to the rest of humanity. It’s a domino effect because at the heart of all this humanness is a connection to each other – strangers, friends, any person we encounter. Karoline Lewis says, “Nothing we do as disciples, as believers, is an autonomous action” (commentary, workingpreacher.org). Meaning, nothing we do in our day-to-day lives is done on its own. Our actions effect everyone around us.

It takes one person to ruin an image in a heartbeat. It takes one person to instill fear. It takes one action to change history.

So we build walls – any sort of walls – to keep people out, and the effects are felt globally. Love is lost.

I’ve been a fan of the X-men comic book series for years. The X-men comics present this idea that humanity has evolved to have other DNA genes that create mutations, allowing for special “powers” to heal or read thoughts or control metal or walk through walls. So if you’re Professor X and you can read minds, you are forever stamped a mutant. The X-men is fiction and fantasy and yet the same time so incredibly real as basic humanness is revealed and this idea about welcoming the other.

The other night I caught the latest X-men movie on TV. The bad guy (because there’s always a bad guy in the comics) is creating a robot to take out the mutants. Like many of the X-men movies or comics, mutants are not equal; they are not, well human. And so the government does some extreme vetting in way of allowing this guy to create such robots because mutants are seen as dangerous.

Anyhow, my epiphany moment came when I realized that though this was all fiction was that – that’s today. Instead of mutants it’s immigrants or refugees. Instead of mutants it’s Muslims and gays, transgender people. Instead of mutants it’s women or African Americans who are still standing up for equality. They are all deemed dangerous because they don’t fit into a certain box of what it means to be human.

I hope there’s not some guy in a lab creating a robot to take out any one who is deemed a threat or different in the eyes of those in power. Then again, maybe guns and other weapons are the same thing. I mean, it’s happened once before right? Gas chambers, work camps and furnaces that murdered thousands of humans from a single religion, all because they were condemned different by one person, all because they didn’t fit into some ideal box of what it means to be human. Or one person opening fire inside a nightclub because the people inside were not equal as humans.

At the end of the X-men movie, one of the mutants is given a choice – be angry and murder the bad guy or be the better person, walk away and fight for equality in other ways. With the world watching, she walked away.

As disciples, Jesus calls us to stand up against hate and fear. He calls us to be the better person and fight for what’s good and right in the world, to love those whom society has deemed different. Basic humanness goes beyond skin color, sexual orientation, or what religion we practice. Because the other side of this humanness, the dark side of being human is hate, it’s fear, and it’s shunning those people who at the heart of it all share the same human nature that we all do.

So what kind of relationship and connectedness as disciples are we going to show the world? Are we going to allow hate and fear to take over or will we stand up for justice and equality? Will we break down walls and barriers, welcome the other and stranger as God and Jesus taught us to do? Or will bigotry, racism, anger, lack of understanding and hospitality take over? Frankly, I’m not sure that’s a world I want to live in.

I’m not sure I can live in a world where my Indian and Afghanistan neighbors divert their eyes at me in the hallway because I’m a white American. I’m not sure I can live in a world that doesn’t allow for justice and equality of my African American neighbors. Or a world that doesn’t allow women to speak their mind. Or a world where children are raised to live in fear of violence with lack of food or clean or water, no place to go because the world has turned its back on their war-torn country. I’m not sure I can live in a world where my LGBTQ friends are shunned and told they are ill and not welcome. I’m not sure I can live in a world filled with so much hate.

That’s not the gospel message, that’s not what Jesus was teaching. Having fear and hate in our hearts is not what it means to be bearers of God’s kingdom or KIN-dom, to be disciples. That’s not the message of our loving, creating God. That’s not what it means to be in relationship with one another.

Maya Angelou said, “Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in the world, but has not solved one yet.” Amen sister.

At the heart of it, will love prevail? Amen.”