Love everyone, even the person who voted for the other candidate: November 6, 2016

November 7, 2016

Year C, All Saints                                                                  
Luke 6:20-31                                                                          

            “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” This is the last sentence in our Gospel reading for today and probably one of the most familiar of the Bible.  It is sometimes referred to as the Golden Rule, possibly because it is the most important rule—or maybe because it is a rule that is consistent across most of the world religions.  Confucianism says, “Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you.”  According to Buddhist teaching one must, “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.”  Hinduism says, “Do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you.” [1]  While these are all very similar to Jesus’ statement, one thing that differentiates them is that they are negative statements.  Don’t hurt other people in ways that you would not want to be hurt.  Jesus turns it around.  He makes it positive, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

            Jesus was not the only person to make the Golden Rule positive. He was a Jew and was heavily influenced by the Jewish scriptures.  When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment, he answered “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind….and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”[2]This is essentially another version of the Golden Rule and comes directly from Leviticus and Deuteronomy which are both books of the Hebrew Scriptures.  What Jesus was saying when he said, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (while wise and profound) was not exactly ground breaking.  It had been said before.

            But there was more to it than this one statement. This was essentially a sound bite to a much larger lesson. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” Woh….that is taking the Golden Rule a few steps farther, maybe even too far for our comfort.  It is hard enough just to treat others the way we want to be treated.  Now Jesus is telling us that he wants us to treat people better than they are treating us??? That seems almost unreasonable.

            There are some people who have been able to follow Jesus’ example and treat others better than they were treated and not all of them have been Christians. Gandhi was a devout Hindu and is well known for his devotion to non-violence and passive resistance.  He lived out these words—loving his enemies and praying for those who abused him.  He respected and admired Jesus.  He followed many of the teachings of Jesus. When asked his views about Christianity he reportedly responded, “Oh it would be wonderful.”[3]  He was not critical of Christianity as much as he was of Christians ability to follow the teachings of Christ.  And who can blame him?  Loving people who hate us…that is some hard stuff.  Imagine a world where we could do that.  Imagine a world where we were willing to try to do that.  It would be wonderful.

            It is hard to imagine that right now, especially with this election coming up.  I know that every election divides people to some extent, but this one seems worse.       Perhaps it just seems that way because of social media.  It is a lot easier for people to air their grievances.  Don’t worry, I am not going to talk about the candidates and I am definitely not telling you who I am voting for.  I am sure we have people in this parish on both sides of the aisle. While we cannot all agree on who to vote for, I think we can all agree that the run up to this election has been crazy.  Many people have told me that they cannot look at their facebook feed…or anything on the internet for that matter because there is so much vitriol and hatred.  Even people who love one another, cannot talk about this election without getting angry. That was the rule at our recent family vacation.  No talking about politics! It was the only way to maintain the peace.  My concern is that it won’t be any better after the election.  One of these candidates has to win.  At the end of it all, most of us will all probably still stay in the country despite our threats to leave if our candidate doesn’t win.

            Whatever happens, we have to find a way not merely to live with one another, but to love one another…love the people who we cannot understand or agree with.  It is easy to see the divisiveness of this election and assume it is about the political candidates.  But the reality is that this polarization in our nation and our world has been growing for years.  Whatever we may be experiencing now is not the problem itself, it is merely a symptom of a greater problem.  I could try to articulate what that problem is, but I am not sure I know.  However, whatever the problem may be, the answer is not talking over one another until we grow so loud that we create a cacophony of hate and discord.  There has to be a better answer than that.

There are three different words for love in Biblical Greek, the language the Gospel of Luke was written in.  One word is for romantic love.  One is for love of family.  Then there is the word that refers to a love that is rooted in God’s love.  That is the word from today’s reading when Jesus tells us to love our enemies. Romantic love, family love, while those are certainly not easy loves, they are more natural, more convenient than godly love.  The kind of love that is required to love our enemy, or those who hurt us, or those who voted differently, or those whose opinions are vastly different than our own— that is a love that requires our will and our effort.   Yet even our will and our effort is not enough to produce that kind of love.  That kind of love also requires the grace of God. That is what gives us the strength to love our enemies and those who hurt us.  

It is easy to say that we should love our enemy.  Why?  Because generally, we don’t know our enemy.  In theory, sure we can love that enemy who we will never meet.  I am tempted to say that the hardest people to love are the people who are closest to us.  But that is not even right.  I think that the hardest people to love are the people who we know just enough about…just enough that we can say with certainty that we don’t like them and we certainly don’t trust them.  They might be the person who is posting super obnoxious things on facebook. It might be the co-worker who always disagrees with you, even when you are clearly right. It might be the person who lives next door to you who complains even when you are being super quiet.  It is the person who is not worth the trouble of knowing, because let’s face it, you know you are not going to like them.

That is why we are divided.  We don’t have to know one another anymore.  We can stay in our own little silos and interact with people who we know will agree with us, or at least have the good manners not to admit when they disagree.  While that is a convenient way to live, it’s not what God intended. That is why the church, the body of Christ is so very important.  It is one of the few places where we do not have to have anything in common with one another, except the love of God. That is all we have to know about one another… at least to start. If that is where we start, then imagine how far we can go.  We can go past the church.  We can look at every person and say, I know what I have in common with them. God loves them and God wants me to love them too.  In the end…that is all that matters.  God loves us. God loves them. We should love them too. And you know what…if just the Christians in this world could display that kind of love, that would be a wonderful thing.  The world would be transformed.  Let’s stop imagining and starting being that vision of the world.  

[1] These are just pieces of these major religions.  They do not represent everything this religion said regarding how to treat others. 
[2]Matthew 22:36-40
[3]  (I have not been able to find the source of this quote.  However, it aligns with other things that Gandhi said about Christianity.)