January 12, 2020
The Rev. Dr. John Judson
Leviticus 19:17-18; 1 John 3:11-17
It looked like a great idea. In fact, I had always wanted to be able to do it but had no idea how or where to begin. But there it was, right in front of me, in black and white, in the latest edition of Sport’s Illustrated. It was a plan about how to learn to run a marathon. I am not sure why it appealed to be, but there was just something about the open road, the solitude of running, and running that far that made it sound wonderful. So, I began. I did a mile, then two miles, then three. I began to lower my time on three miles. Then one day, it dawned on me. This is ridiculous. My knees hurt. My back hurt. I was sucking wind. Why, I asked myself, would anyone want to do this? And so, it was back to basketball, where the longest run was down the court. I wonder how many of us have had something we have always wanted to do…maybe an exercise regime, perhaps a new diet, a new hobby…got started and then somewhere along the way decided, this is ridiculous. I am never going to be able to do this? Any of you? With that in mind, I wonder how many of us here this morning have gone through this with the desire to be a more loving person, to love our neighbor as ourselves, or as the sermon title puts it love radically, then come to the conclusion that to do so was ridiculous because it was too hard.
I ask this because loving others, especially loving others who may not love us, who may not think like us, believe like us, look like us or act like us is probably one of the hardest things human beings can be asked to do. In fact, in many ways it works against millions of years of evolutionary behavior that has caused animals and our human ancestors to protect themselves by being part of smaller, triable units and putting up walls to keep “the other” out. It goes against human traditions that encourage certain people groups to conquer other people groups in order to make “the other” be like us, to enslave them or perhaps even exterminate them. And yet this is what we are called to do, not only by Jesus, but by the Torah, the Law of Moses. In fact, the passage we read out of Leviticus this morning, has been called the heart and center of the Torah by countless rabbis and rabbinical scholars. They point out that it sums up all the love that God’s people are to have for the poor, the alien, the neighbor, the laborer, the deaf, the blind, fellow citizens, windows and orphans. Jesus will add to this list with our enemies and those who are considered ritually or socially unclean or unacceptable. It ma be then, that once upon a time we decided that loving radically was the thing to do, but then life intervened and we decided it was not doable. If that is the case for you, then I want to invite you to try again, because loving radically, loving neighbor is at the heart of following Jesus. And like Sports Illustrated, I will lay out for you a twostep plan for working toward this goal.
The first step is to treat no one as an enemy. The language scripture uses, rather than referring to someone as an enemy, is that we are not to hate another. Leviticus puts it this way. “You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin…you shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge” which is another way of saying treat no one as an enemy. And we are not to do this because when we hate, when we treat someone as an enemy, it breaks the sacred bond between ourselves and God, cutting us off from God, who is the very source of our life and our love. How this works is that in God’s relational ecology, every human being is a child of God, made in God’s image and part of God’s one human family. I cannot stress this enough, that in God’s relational ecology every human being is a child of God, made in God’s image and part of God’s one human family. And so when we hate another human being, it means we hate that persons family and we hate the one who created that family, meaning God. And in so doing, as I said, we separate ourselves from God by believing that people God wants to redeem because they are part of God’s family, are people that ought to be destroyed. The second thing about hatred, about making someone our enemy, is that it is a virus. When we hate others, it does not remain within us. It spreads. It spreads to our families, our friends, our community and our country. And in so doing we divided God’s one human community, rather than bringing them together. Step one, treat no one as an enemy.
Step two is to treat everyone as a friend. This is what love between family members is all about. Last week we talked about God’s love for us, is parent to child love. The love we are to have as neighbors, is to treat everyone as a friend. Treating people as friends consists of two parts. The first part is presence. It is that friends are present for their friends in times of need. 1 John puts it this way. “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help?” And if you want to see what this looks like just go back to the “Did You Know” in the bulletin and look at the ways, you were present for people in this community. This is how we are to treat all people, to be present as best as we can, even if they are not in our immediate friendship circle. The second part of being a friend is to speak the truth in love. We hear this in Leviticus. “You shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt.” What this means is that we are to be God’s agents, as best we can, to stop people from harming us, themselves or others. I want to pause here for a moment to speak a word. One of the great sins of Christianity is that over the centuries we have taught that radical love means allowing others to do to us whatever they want to do. This is especially true for women who were told that loving their spouses or others in positions of power meant to allow those people to abuse them. This is not love. This is not being a friend. Being a friend is speaking the truth that such actions are not what God intends. Being a friend then often means standing up for the vulnerable and speaking truth to power to protect them. Step two, treat everyone as a friend.
Loving radically, loving our neighbors as ourselves, is perhaps one of the most difficult things Jesus’ followers are called to do. Yet, we can do it. We can do it because Jesus did it. I know that Jesus was fully divine, yet I also know that Jesus was fully human. Jesus got angry. Jesus cried. Jesus was tempted. Yet Jesus never treated anyone as the enemy. He treated all persons as deserving of being redeemed. Jesus treated everyone as a friend. He was there for the rich and poor, insiders and outsiders, sick and healthy. He was there for the world. He showed us how to radically love. First John puts it this way. “We know love by this, that he, Jesus, laid down his life for us…and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. So this morning as we try again to love radically I want to offer you a spiritual practice that can help. When you arise each morning, take a moment in silence. Slowly breathe in and then out. Sense your breath. Then as you breathe in say silently, “God loves the world.” Then as you breathe out, say silently, “I love the world.” And as you do, allow God’s love to fill you and cast out all hate and anger, so that you can breathe love into the world as you follow Jesus by loving radically.