02_23_14 - Love Anyways and Always

February 23, 2014
Matthew 5:38-48 and Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18

Love Anyways and Always

    Both of our scripture readings this morning contain a series of high ethical rules that we are suppose to follow and carry out in our day to day lives. 
     Leviticus instructs us to look after the needy, the poor and the migrant.  We are instructed not to steal, cheat or lie....not to rob our neighbor or make fun of the deaf 
    We are also instructed to not judge others or gossip...we are not to harbor hatred in our hearts or bear a grudge.....but instead we are to love our neighbor as ourself. So far these laws of Leviticus don’t seem like particularly odd or too lofty of demands. 
    However, Jesus’ words from Matthew takes it a step further and stretches beyond the instructions from Leviticus.  Jesus’ instructions place harsher demands on how we live our day to day lives. 
    In Jesus’ world, if we are struck on the cheek then we are to turn and present the other cheek also.  
    Jesus instructs us to give our coat to those who are suing us, to offer to walk a second mile to those who are actually forcing us to walk in the first place.  We are suppose to to give to everyone who begs, and to love our neighbor which includes our enemies...even loving them to the point that we hold them in prayer.
    And after we have mastered all those ethical rules then we are to work on being perfect because after all our Heavenly Father is Perfect. 
    The laws in our Leviticus passage don’t seem too hard to follow especially when we juxtapose them with Jesus’ instructions in Matthew.  
    If we were to follow all of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew we would end up coatless, broke, exhausted from walking, with two sore cheeks. 
     Jesus’ instructions beg the question...is this really even possible? It sounds more like a fairytale world.
    I distinctly recall a childhood memory that speaks to the difficulty of following Jesus’ instructions.  
    Now, let me just preface this story by telling you I was an ornery child...always goofing off, having fun and I enjoyed making other people laugh.  
    And this particular day was no different....I was probably 7 or 8 and I was walking into the hospital with my mom and my older sister.  My great grandmother had just fallen and was in ICU.  Now, I was far to young to understand the severity of the situation, so I was behaving like I normally did.  
    I  was cracking jokes and goofing off, but on this particular day I had the attention of my older sister, for once, so of course I was going to do everything in my power to keep her attention.  Despite the numerous and frequent warnings from my mother to settle down.  
    Well as we exited the elevator and rounded the corner for the hospital room my mother reached her breaking point.  She reached her breaking point with the stress of the situation but, more so she reached her breaking point with my silly antics. 
    Her final frustrated warning to settle down was followed by an abrupt pop to my cheek.  
    And that time she got my attention.  I immediately became quiet and settled down.  
    Now I don’t know if you all have ever been popped on the mouth before or slapped across the face, but it is startling and it is a jarring experience.  It immediately grabs your attention and brings all your previous thoughts and behaviors to a screeching halt.  
    But I can promise you, there is never a thought that goes through your mind to turn your cheek so you can have the other side slapped as well.   
    Now Jesus’ instructions from Matthew tell us that is exactly what we are suppose to do, but that notion cuts against the grain of our natural human tendencies.  It cuts against the grain of our natural emotional response. 
     We would never get slapped across the face and say, thank you may I please have another. 
    Clearly the kingdom of heaven does not operate like the kingdom of this world.
    These instructions from Jesus are perhaps not intended to be taken in their most literal sense, but neither should they be reduced to “merely figurative language” either.  They are meant to shock the imagination and instill a profounder insight into God’s vision for this world and God’s intention for our human lives. 
    An intention that is grounded in love instead of retaliation.  God’s intention for humankind is to love as God loves, unconditionally.  God’s intention for our lives is to always express that love regardless of the behaviors or responses from others, even in situations when we are popped on the cheek for causing mischief in the local hospital.   
    Just as a side, I would like to point out that this is not a passage which condones nor encourages abusive relationships but rather it is a passage that pushes us to retire our defensive behaviors.  It is a passage which pushes us to retire our retaliating mentalities.  
    As human’s our tendency is to return love for love or hate for hate.  But our instructions from Matthew this morning, push us beyond the confines of minds where it’s an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. 
    These instructions teach us about the essence of genuine Godly love.  
    With this model of divine love that Jesus presents to us, our old ways of retaliation and self-protection are to give way to a gentler, more magnanimous approach to others. 
    Both passages from Leviticus and Matthew teach us how to be in relationship with others.  They teach us about life in God’s realm where God’s community is filled with people who think of others first.  A realm where every decision and action is carried out for the common good. A realm where each person is a sister or brother to the other and acts out of agape love towards one another.  
    In these passages we find a plan of action that teaches us how to become the children of our Father in Heaven who loves without boundaries, who forgives without hesitation, and who gives generously without wavering.  
    The essence of this passage focuses on how to enact the will of God and extend love to our neighbors at all times, even when they are our worst enemy. 
     As I was reflecting on this notion in preparation for this weeks sermon, I found myself in conversation with a dear friend of mine that touched on this exact topic. 
    Earlier this week while I was in Roanoke being ordained......did I mention I was ordained this past Sunday Smile Well while I was in town,  I was having a conversation with a parishioner from a previous church I served.  As I spent time with this woman I listened to her lament, and express frustration, and anger regarding her sister. 
    She began the story by telling me how close of a relationship she has always had with her sister.  They never went through the typical stages of sibling rivalry but rather they have been best friends and inseparable their entire life.  
    She went on to tell me there was a series of events that was causing a wedge in their relationship and that she felt like she was the one always giving in the relationship.  She went on to describe how self-absorbed and inwardly focused her sister had become over the past year.  She went on to say how these behaviors were severing their relationship.
     As I listened to this woman’s story unfold I could literally see the anguish it was causing her and the anger that was stirring from within as a result from her sisters behaviors.
    This shift in their relationship was causing deep pain for this woman not only because it was enraging and frustrating to deal with the hollow, self-absorbed behaviors, but she was also grieving the loss of their relationship.  
    And as she finished explaining the situation to me, she looked up with tears in her eyes and anger in her heart and asked, “what am I suppose to do”?  
    Now she didn’t wait for me to answer or offer any suggestion or advice but instead began to run through a long list of spiteful, vindictive behaviors to retaliate with.
    And her final suggestion was to just let go of the relationship forever.  To write her off and never look back
    And when she concluded with that final suggestion you could see the despair settle in as she saw no other way to mend the relationship. 
    Many of us struggle with this same thing.  We get frustrated or angry with what a person says or how they behave, so in response we stiff arm them, we start distancing ourselves from them and eventually write them off and let go of the relationship.
    As this women was wrestling with what to do I interjected a thought for this woman to reflect on.  I said perhaps you should try to Love her anyways.
    And she sat there with a blank face...staring at me....so I explained it a bit further.
    I told her, that as humans we find it very easy to love those who love us, and to show love towards those who are showing us love the way we want them to.  
    And in the same way, we find it just as easy to dislike those who dislike us and to write off those who aren’t meeting our needs or our expectations. 
    But that really isn’t how we are suppose to interact with others at all.  That isn’t how we are suppose to be in relationship with people. If we were to embody God’s vision for human relationships then we would love other’s regardless of their actions and behaviors.  
    We would love despite people’s short failings and selfish behaviors.  We would love with God’s agape love that looks beyond the frustrations in our mind and the anger stirring in hearts and we would actively choose to love them anyways. 
    Jesus’ instructions from Matthew begs us to Rise Up and Choose to Love Anyways and Always. 
    It challenges us to show the same unconditional, merciful and grace-filled love that God showers us with each and every day.  To simply love others, even our enemies, and regardless of the other persons behaviors.  
    Our scripture readings from Leviticus and Matthew this morning contain a strong invitation to participate in God’s vision for humankind by imitating the divine behavior.  They are presented to us as laws in Leviticus, reiterated to us as ethical rules in Matthew but they are demonstrated for us through the life of Christ.  
    The instructions from these passages are how we imitate God’s character. It’s how we live out God’s generous and unrestricted grace, and love in our relationships with those around us.  It’s how we translate “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” into a way of life.
    With the words of this text, Jesus speaks neither to set impossible goals or paint a fairytale world, but instead he simply sets forth God’s vision.......... of God’s world.....where genuine agape love reigns!
    A vision where we love the world and all that is in it with the same full, rich, and abundant love that God lavishes upon us each and every day of our lives!  
    We are kingdom people....blessed and loved by God.....and even during those times when we are challenged....when we are struck on the cheek...may we find the inner fortitude and love that lives within us to bear the other cheek also.  When we are frustrated and angry by the actions of others may we remain instruments of God’s love in this world and actively choose to love anyways and always. 

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