Below is my sermon from this past Sunday (7 November 2010). Text: Matt 5:43-48
Love, love, love. What can we say? What hasn’t already been said? Haddaway asked in his early 90’s techno “What is Love?” The Black Eyed Peas asked “Where is the Love?” while Aerosmith apparently found “Love in an Elevator” and The Embers loved beach music. The Darkness believed “in a thing called Love” but The Counting Crows were caught off guard and fell “Accidentally in Love.” Willie Nelson loves you a thousand ways, but U2 sings of just “One Love.” Diana Ross and Lionel Richie had an “Endless Love” while O.A.R. apparently just had “Love and Memories.” Queen sang about a “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” but Percy Sledge was a little more eloquent when he told us what happens “When a Man Loves a Woman.” Dean Martin told you you’re “Nobody ‘Til Somebody Loves You,” but fear not for Prince wants to be your lover, and Otis Redding reminds you that he’s a “Love Man.” But it isn’t all good, is it? Pat Benatar became solace for many a broken heart when she mused that “Love is a Battlefield” and Frank Sinatra knew better than most that love is a kick in the head. The musical Rent proclaimed that “Love Heals” while Leonard Cohen spoke truth when he said there “Ain’t No Cure For Love,” and so with all this talk of and about love I have to ask if the Beatles were right when they said “All you need is love”?
So, is love really as great as pop culture has proclaimed or should there be more to being a Christian than just this thing called love?
Let’s look at our passage for today.
Matthew 5:43-48: You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Now, Jesus says that they have heard others say “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” However, we don’t really know where he got this from. It’s not in the Old Testament or in the Mishnah, which is Jewish commentary on the Old Testament and where a lot of ideas that show up in the New Testament come from. So, either there are some people during Jesus’ time that are saying that, such as other Jews or Greeks or Romans, or that is how people are living and Jesus is just speaking to that part of their lives. Either way, he speaks to a core part of who people were then and a core part of who people are now. It’s usually pretty easy to love our neighbors. You know, those people with whom we’re close; our friends, our family, the people in our Sunday School class. But our enemies? No, thank you. Or maybe you think, “Well, I don’t have any enemies.” But I assure you that you do; we all do. Those people we speak down toward. Those people we judge that aren’t like us, who don’t look like us, who don’t talk like us, who don’t like the same things we like, who don’t have as much money as we do, who don’t smell as good as we do, who don’t have the newest cell phone like we do, who aren’t American, who aren’t white, who aren’t middle class, who aren’t straight, who aren’t republican, or who aren’t democrat. It isn’t true that everyone who isn’t like you is your enemy, but much more often than not our metaphorical neighbors are those with whom we have much in common and our metaphorical enemies are those with whom we have little in common, or at least think we have little in common with.
You see, when we pass judgment on someone because they’re black or because they’re white or because they’re Mexican, we’re not loving them. When we pass judgment on someone who’s homeless and teach those around us to feel nothing for them because they should just go out and get a job, we’re not loving them. When we think that we somehow have the right to disrespect others and to not keep our word, we’re not loving other people. When we have problems with how someone does something and we talk to everyone else about it except that person, we’re not loving them. When we are automatically suspicious of a Middle Easterner and we lump them in with people who are in groups like Al Qaeda, Hezbollah and Al Shabbab, we’re not loving them. When we ask God to bless America and conveniently leave out the rest of the world, we’re not loving the rest of the world. When we sit in church and talk about loving people so we can convert them, we’re loving them with an agenda and if we’re loving someone with an agenda it isn’t really love. And when we are so arrogant as to think that God would never work outside of the mainstream American Baptist Christianity that we’re familiar with, we aren’t practicing love.
It is as true of us today as it likely was of people 2,000 years ago that we live by the motto, “Love your friends and hate your enemies.” Please do not hear these words as irrelevant to our lives today because maybe we weren’t on some hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee 2,000 years ago actually listening to Jesus talk about this stuff. We can no longer sit in our pews and thank God that we aren’t like, and you fill in the blank: the Jews, the whites, the blacks, the gays, the Muslims, the poor, the rich.
Sure, it’s much easier to look at how other people treat their enemies than how we treat our own, but that’s not the message that Jesus spoke. Jesus didn’t ask for more people to tattle on others, he asked for people to begin to implement what some have termed the Upside Down Kingdom, that is the kingdom that is unlike any other kingdom. A kingdom that isn’t made up of powerful men, but is rather made up of men, women and children; of the weak, the frail, the dropouts, the losers, the sinners, the failures and the fools.
No, it doesn’t fit into our logical lives as we have them now. That’s the point. It doesn’t make sense to love our enemies, but Jesus tells us that God has already given us the example. He says that God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” God blesses all people, no matter their religion, skin color, gender, sexual preference or actions. God isn’t showing any favoritism. God loves each and every one of us just the way we are. Hear that again, God loves everyone. God loves those who don’t love him. The people who don’t think God exists, God loves them. The people who think they’re right and everyone else is wrong, God loves them. The people who only love themselves, God loves them too.
Here’s how Rob Bell puts it:
A Christian is somebody who understands….that people with different perspectives and different religious beliefs and convictions, they’re to be loved and respected, because they’re made by God, and they’re sacred and they’re valuable and they matter. God loves the world, so a Christian does too. (Bullhorn Nooma video)
Remember what the book of John records for us that Jesus said to his disciples:
John 13:34-35: I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
So, when we ask the question of what it means to be a Christian, if our answer doesn’t include loving God and loving others, then it’s inadequate and we need to go back to the drawing board to figure out what it really means to be a Christian.
It really is sad how a message could be so clear and yet never really be understood or acted out. Our salvation has been adulterated and cheapened and we have sat by and watched it happen. I drove by a church recently and its sign outside read: “Eternal fire insurance available here – free.” Is that really all we think our salvation is? Fire insurance? I tell you, that is not what my salvation is. That is a cheap and perverted view of the gospel. The gospel is not about not going to hell. The gospel is not about what we are saved from, but what we are saved FOR. Jesus said that we are saved for love.
Remember elsewhere where Jesus was questioned:
Matthew 22:35-40: and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Many of us think that we’re doing good because we love God, or at least we think we do. We come to church most Sundays and maybe even most Wednesdays. Hey, we even helped out with vacation Bible school; surely we love God. We think we’re doing good if we love God, even if we don’t love other people like Jesus said to, but Jesus doesn’t separate loving God and loving others. For Jesus, everything hangs on these two. (Rob Bell, Bullhorn)
Hear also what the letter of 1 John says:
1 John 4:7-8, 11-12, 16, 20-21 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. . . . 11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. . . . 16 So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. . . . 20 Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21 The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.
How we love other people is how we love God. Christians have been so concerned with saying how we’re not like Jews that we’ve missed something that Jews have always known. We think, thanks to Martin Luther, that all we need is faith and nothing else. Martin Luther said “faith alone” so we say “faith alone.” However, what most of us don’t know is that Luther added in that little word “alone.” We do have to have faith, to be sure, but we have to have works coupled with it. What you may also not have realized is that Martin Luther wanted to take the book of James out of the Bible. Why? Because it is too Jewish and because it says that faith is not enough by itself; it must be coupled with works. You see, James says:
James 2:14-26: What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe– and shudder. 20 Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren? 21 Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works. 23 Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 Likewise, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another road? 26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.
In the early Jewish mindset, you could not separate faith and works; they necessarily go together. You can’t have one without the other. Love is work. I know it takes work and that it isn’t easy, but I don’t apologize for that. If you’re looking for easy, you’re looking in the wrong place.
This is a tough message for you and it’s a tough message for me. We’re supposed to love not only our neighbors, but also our enemies. As crazy as it seems, we’re actually supposed to love EVERYONE. God loves good people and bad people; Mother Teresa and Osama bin Laden; philanthropists and human rights activists; and murderers and child molesters; John McCain, Barack Obama, Sarah Palin, and Nancy Pelosi. God loves everyone, so we should too.
May we see today that everything else that we think is essential to our faith comes as a byproduct of loving God and loving others. So, were the Beatles right when they said, “all you need is love”?
Matthew 22:35-39: and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
Let us pray: God, help us to focus on that which is to be the foundation of our relationship with you, loving you and loving others. Amen.