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All Request Summer Hymn Sing
Love Them Like Jesus
June 3, 2018

Text: John 13:34-35

Song: Love Them Like Jesus by Mark Hall & Bernie Herms

 

Just love.  Love them like Jesus.  Its that easy.  Its that hard.

Mark Hall, the lead singer and principle song writer of Casting Crowns, is a youth minister at a Baptist church in Georgia.  I sense he was there with the family losing their father; he was there with the couple suffering a miscarriage.  You want to do something.  You want to say something.  But its not the time for that long-winded sermon on theodicy – the eternal question of why a good God permits suffering.  Its not the time for much – for little can be said, little can be done, to ease the hurt, the pain, the loss. 

Just love them, pastor Mark says.  Love them like Jesus.

Through our love we can carry them to him.

And in Christ they can find relief.  They can find rest.  For Christ’s yoke is easy.  His burden is light.

So just love them.  Love them like Jesus.  So easy – but oh so hard.

The ancient rabbis told a story about a guy named Jonah, a prophet called by God to preach God’s love to Israel’s mortal enemies at the time – the Assyrians.  After delays caused by his stubbornness and some encouragement by a big fish, Jonah leads a successful revival in Ninevah, the Assyrian capital.  The Ninevites repent of their raping, pillaging and genocide inducing ways.  God relents and spares them his wrath.  Jonah goes out to a hill above the city and fumes.

“Why are you angry?”  God askes Jonah.  “O Lord,” Jonah answers, “This is why I fled in the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and ready to relent from punishing.”

The early church told another story, about Jesus, being approached by a non-Jewish woman, a Canaanite – one of Israel’s historic enemies.  She begs him to heal her daughter, but he refuses.  “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” Jesus responds.  But the woman persists.  “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.”  Finally, praising her faith, Jesus relents and heals her daughter.

Who is in?  Who is out? Who is lovable?  Who are we free to hate?  Or perhaps ignore?  Who deserves the angry words, the cold consolations.  Who is exiled from God’s love?

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” Jesus told a scribe inquiring about the greatest of the commandments. 

But who is our neighbor?  Jesus quotes Leviticus 19
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. 

Kin.  My people.  As long as I get to define who my people are, I can do that.  I can love them.

But then Leviticus goes on. 
When an alien resides in your land, you shall not oppress the alien.  The alien who resides with you shall be as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself.

Not just my neighbor but the alien too?  The outsider.  The one who’s different, the one I don’t want near me, the one who might be my enemy?  Or my ex-spouse? Or my never once picking up the dog poop neighbor?  When “them” includes “all of them” this loving like Jesus thing starts getting hard.  So hard.  So hard the same theologians who invented the word “theodicy” have written zillions of pages trying to wiggle out of Christ’s command to “love our enemies.”

“Beloved,” the writer of 1 John reminds us, “let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.

“God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only son into the world so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Beloved, since God loves us so much, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.”

Just love them like Jesus.  Even when the “them” is your mortal enemy.  Even when the “them” wishes you dead.  So easy to say.  So difficult to do.  So essential if we’re to call ourselves followers of a God whose very being is love, of a savior who made God’s love visible in our world.

Amen.