Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Unlovables - Leviticus 19:1-2, 15:19 and Matthew 22:34-46

Leviticus 19 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying:
Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. 
15 You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. 16 You shall not go around as a slanderer[a] among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood[b] of your neighbor: I am the Lord.
17 You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. 18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

Matthew 22:34-46

34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 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.”

            I love my wife. 

            That is probably not news to anyone who knows me.  I am blessed with a great marriage to a great woman.  We’ve been married for 39 years.  We met 41 years ago.

            I love my son.  I loved my father.  I’ve always been thankful that I was in the middle of three generations of men who loved each other and got along together so well. 

            I love my grandson.  Baptizing him today will be (was) a great moment in my life.

            I love my daughter in law, my nephew, my best friend from high school.  I love my church members.  I love my professors from college and seminary.

            I love these folks because it is easy to love them – and because it is the command of Christ to love them.  Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

            It is one of the easier commandments we are given.

            Well – most of the time.

            Actually – SOME of the time. 

            I had trouble loving a kid named Tommy.  I don’t remember his last name, but he lived down the street from me and he used to beat me up and bully me.  I never took it personally, because he beat up and bullied everyone in the neighborhood.  Nobody loved Tommy.  Why should we?

            I never liked Algebra, and I always thought my teacher was mean.  She was really mean.  No love for her!

            In college I worked for a seafood restaurant as a cook.  My boss would pay me below the minimum wage and would tamper with my time cards.  I had no love for her at all. 

            It’s not like loving my grandson.

            Some people are easy to love.

Others – they are the unloveable.

In fact it is easier to love a total stranger than some of the people we know.

Every person here has at least one unlovable person in his or her life.  Probably more than one – a lot more than one.

These unlovable may be someone who picked on you or called you names or disrespected you in some way – and I’m not just talking about childhood experiences.  This happens to all children, but it also happens to us as adults.  A child can be called “fatso” by a classmate, and an adult can be called “idiot” by a co-worker.  We never out grow the pain such experiences can cause us.

These unlovable may be people who are members of your own family.  Maybe there was a big family fight.  Or maybe it was just an insult that seemed to take on a life of its own.

And so when Jesus tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves, he is not giving us an easy mandate.  He is giving us one of the most difficult challenges of our lives. 

When Jesus gives us this mandate, he is not saying anything new.  He is quoting a passage from the Old Testament book of Leviticus.

17 You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin … You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

            There is nothing easy here.

            Many of us have to work with people we despise.  Outwardly, we show kindness and respect.  We don’t insult them or degrade them.  It is close to love.  We might think, “close enough.”

            But no – this is not good enough.  The Old Testament lesson says we are not to hate in our heart.  It goes onto say that we are not to hold a grudge against them.

            These are secret and private thoughts that no one would know – except for us – and for God.

            And yet we are told not to hold a grudge or to have hate in our heart.

            But wait a minute.  What’s the big deal.  No one would know that we hate that unlovable person.  No one would know that we hold a grudge.  These things do not even hurt the unlovable person.  So what is the big deal?

            The person who is hurt is the person who holds the grudge.  The one who hates in his or her heart is the person who is damaged.  The unlovable person?  They are not hurt by your grudge.  They don’t care.  In fact, if they do care at all, they probably like the fact that you have become bitter.  That’s the way those unlovable people are.

            Meanwhile, we are left with the corrosive bitterness that eats away at our soul.

But how?

How can we love the unlovable?

Maybe if we could get them to change?  No – it doesn’t work that way.  The reason the unlovable are so very, very unlovable is because they never change.

Maybe if we ignore them – just stay out their way?  Well, that works sometimes.  There are some toxic people you just need to avoid.  Violent people, bullies, you name it.  But for the most part, however, that’s not the way the world works. 

You can’t avoid all of the unlovable people in your life.  You find them at school, work, places you need to be. 

So what do you do with these unlovable people?

Let’s take a moment here.

Close your eyes for a moment.

Now I know that a few of you close your eyes at the beginning of every sermon – but the rest of you, feel free to close your eyes right now.

And when I say close your eyes I mean it – don’t make me come down there with a blindfold.

I want you to picture in your mind the person in your life who is unlovable.

It may be a family member.

It may be a neighbor,

An elder in the church,

A teacher, boss or coworker.

Now while your eyes are still closed picture in your mind what it is that makes that person unlovable.

It may be that this person intentionally hurt you.

It may be that this person has no moral compass and is just as despicable as can be.

            Got that image?

            Keep you eyes closed - You have this person in your mind and you have a clear thought as to why this person is unlovable.

            Now picture one more thing in your mind.

            That unlovable person – was created in the image of God.  That person you find unlovable for good reason, is – for good reason - loved by God.

Open your eyes – not just physically, but spiritually open eyes to the fact that God loves the very people you find to be so difficult to love.

What are we to do with these unlovable people? 
The only thing you can do – as Christians – is to love them, because God loves them.

And if you truly love God, we should be able to love all of his children.