Core Values-- Loving

Sermon based on Luke 6:27-36

In 10 Things I Hate About You, a movie that my high school friends and I watched more times than we should admit, the character Bianca declares to her friend Chastity, “See there’s a difference between like and love, because I like my Sketchers but I love my Prada backpack.” To which Chastity replies, “But I love my Sketchers,” and Bianca explains, “That’s because you don’t have a Prada backpack.”

This word “love,” we sure use it in a lot of ways, don’t we? I love pizza. I love The Voice, that song, my kids, my parents, my friends. I love God. Man, the Greeks knew what they were doing when they had three different words for love. In English, we use the same word for our love of mediocre television as we do for our love of the Almighty Creator of the world. Even so, we can take this word seriously at times. In relationships, people tend to wait to use “the L word.” They wait until they really know, and then they tell that person, “I love you.” I have close friends who I often say “I love you” to. When parents tell their children, “I love you,” it matters. Love, in the real and meaningful sense of the word, matters.

We could all probably make out a pretty good list of people we love this morning. But our gospel teaching is incredibly difficult. Jesus says, “Love your enemies. Who cares if you love those who love you. Everyone loves people who love them. Love your enemies and you will be acting as children of the Most High.”

When I saw that our church was making “Loving” one of our core values, I have to admit, I rolled my eyes a little bit. Please don’t mishear me, I think being loving is vitally important, but OF COURSE we want to say we’re loving. EVERY church says that they’re loving. But most of us, when we say we’re loving, what we really mean is that we absolutely LOVE the people who love us. Those who are in our nuclear family, those who are our close friends, the people we hold dear. But, in our explanation of what we mean when we say our church is loving, we did something important. Our church says that we are loving--that we embrace and serve the image of God inherent in all people. WOW. No that is something. This is a value of our church. Not to love those who love us, but to recognize that each and every person is a child of God and to love people as children of God.

And here’s the thing, I say, “you have to love EVERYONE” and you probably do what I do. You think, “sure! Of course I love everyone.” I don’t know about you, but I tend to think of myself as a pretty loving person. I like to imagine that given the choice between kindness and cruelty, I’d choose kindness. We’d all like to think that we are, in general, loving people. But I don’t know. Jesus says if you only love those who love you, what good is it? How often do we love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, bless those who curse us, and pray for those who mistreat us? There’s not a lot of ambiguity in this passage. Jesus is flat out saying, “love your enemies.”

Who are your enemies? Don’t say them out loud, especially if they’re sitting next to you. But really think about your enemies. Think about the people in this church, city, state, country and world that you consider enemies. They probably go from big to small. Perhaps it makes you think of members of ISIS, members of a political party, a coworker, someone who has been cruel to you.

What does it look like to love those folks? Because that’s what Jesus is calling us to do. Everyone who popped into your mind when we thought through our enemies—that’s who we’ve got to love. How do we do that?

Corrie Ten Boom was a prisoner in a concentration camp and she tells this story:

“It was 1947 and I had come from Holland to defeated Germany with the message that God forgives. It was the truth they needed most to hear in that bitter, bombed-out land, and I gave them my favorite mental picture. Maybe because the sea is never far from a Hollander’s mind, I liked to think that that’s where forgiven sins were thrown. ‘When we confess our sins,’ I said, ‘God casts them into the deepest ocean, gone forever. …’

The solemn faces stared back at me, not quite daring to believe. There were never questions after a talk in Germany in 1947. People stood up in silence, in silence collected their wraps, in silence left the room. And that’s when I saw him, working his way forward against the others. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones. It came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights; the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor; the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister’s frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. Betsie, how thin you were!

[Betsie and I had been arrested for concealing Jews in our home during the Nazi occupation of Holland; this man had been a guard at Ravensbruck concentration camp where we were sent.]

Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: ‘A fine message, Fräulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!’ And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand.

‘You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk,’ he was saying, ‘I was a guard there. But since that time I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fräulein,’ again the hand came out—’will you forgive me?’

And I stood there—I whose sins had again and again to be forgiven—and could not forgive. Betsie had died in that place—could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?

It could not have been many seconds that he stood there—hand held out—but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do. For I had to do it—I knew that. And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion—I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. ‘… Help!’ I prayed silently. ‘I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.’

And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.

‘I forgive you, brother!’ I cried. ‘With all my heart!’

For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely, as I did then.

Perhaps we do not always have what it takes to embrace and serve the image of God inherent in all people. But God has what it takes and we are a church willing to turn it all over to God. We are a church willing to love all people because God loves all people and when we cannot find a way to love someone we must ask for grace, that God might give us the means to love.

This is a hard word this morning… to love your enemies. My tendency is to leave you with that, challenge you to make a change, take action that follows God’s call for you to love. REALLY LOVE. I do want you to do that. It is vitally important that you make a change and begin loving people that are hard for you to love. If you take no action, make no change, then I really don’t know why we’re here. God’s grace has been freely given with the power to transform us into the image of God. Take action, make a change, but also hear this:

We have stated as a church that we show our love by recognizing the image of God inherent in all people. This says a lot about how we are to love all people. It also says a lot about each and every one of you here. You probably don’t hear this enough—you are God’s child. The image of God resides in you. No matter who you are, no matter where you’re from or what you’ve done, God loves you.

It’s easy to recognize that God loves those who we love, it’s harder to recognize that God loves those who are hard for us to love. But, perhaps the hardest love to accept is the love that is for us.

God loves you beyond anything you can imagine. Love with that same love and learn to accept the love offered to you.

-- Rev. Samantha Lewis Associate Pastor First United Methodist Church Crestview, FL