Whenever I write a sermon, I spend a good part of the week thinking about the text. This week's gospel seems like a slam dunk. I mean, the sermon could supposedly write itself: love God. Love others. Let's have communion and go home.
But as I thought about the text yesterday while sitting on the dental chair getting work done, I really thought that this is a hard text. In fact, it could be downright impossible.
We pastors don't really present it that way. We love to use this passage to show the folks on the religious right that this is what religion or faith is all about. There is a certain amount of smugness as we show off this text and pat ourselves on the back. We tend to think that while they are busy trying to expel gay people from churches, we are who don't follow their exclusive ways are the good and faithful ones, fulfilling the call to love God and love others.
But it isn't that easy. Life isn't that easy. We live in a world where there is sin and evil and that can make it hard to love our neighbor, especially if he is a power mad dictator.
This week the trial of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein began. What was interesting was the reaction of those who suffered under his harsh rule. Many were calling for his head-literally.
The whole thing left me with mixed feelings. I was bothered by the calls for death, but then I also know that if I were in their place and had either been tortured by Saddams thugs or had one my relatives killed in his prisons, I might be demanding vengance as well.
Then I thought about other acts of human rights abuses. I thought about those who suffered during the aparthied era in South Africa. I thought about how those who know the three civil rights workers who were murdered in Mississippi so long ago felt about Edgar Ray Killen, the man who was convicted for the crime. You didn't hear much love or forgiveness coming from the victims.
The truth is, it is hard to love our neighbors when they mean us harm. It's easy to talk about loving others when its in the abstract, but when they are flesh and blood and might mean to hurt you or your loved ones, it becomes a lot harder.
Pastor Dan , a Lutheran pastor in Alaska notes that loving others isn't about feeling as much as it is about action. He notes:
In the Christian sense, love is not primarily an emotion, but an act of the will. When Jesus tells us to love our neighbors, he is not telling us to love them in the sense of responding to them with a cozy emotional feeling. You can as easily produce a cozy emotional feeling on demand as you can a yawn or a sneeze. On the contrary, he is telling us to love our neighbors in the sense of being willing to work for their well-being even if it means sacrificing our own well-being to that end, even if it means sometimes just leaving them alone. Thus in Jesus’ terms, we can love our neighbors without necessarily liking hem. In fact liking them may stand in the way of loving them by making us overprotective sentimentalists instead of reasonable honest friends.
Loving others doesn't mean liking them but looking out for their well being. No one can expect to have warm, fuzzy feelings for someone who harmed a loved one. But as Christians we are to treat them with respect as a child of God.
I think back to the trial of Saddam. The judges involved seemed to have treated him with fairly, something he didn't do when he ruled the Iraq. Maybe that's a clue of what it means to love others.
There is still a lot more to mine from this sermon and well, I still have to write it. More to come....