Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Love Has No Limits; At Least for God

Matthew 5,38-48
Chatfield United Methodist Church
February 19, 2017
Rev. Debra Jene Collum

Our words of preparation this morning begin: God whose love knows no limits and whose embrace extends to all, God whose love knows no limits and whose embrace extends to all.

What exactly does that mean? Do we believe it?

What does it mean that God’s love knows no limits?

This week in confirmation we were preparing for the Ash Wednesday service. Besides burning last year’s palm leaves and going over the liturgy for the service; we also talk about what it means to be people who sin. Using the 10 commandments we discussed the ways we fall short of doing what God wants us to do.  But here is the thing. When I start talking about what sin means I usually end up talking about love. Or more specifically, the lack of love.
I usually don’t talk about what we do that causes us to sin but what we don’t do: We don’t love God and self and neighbor.
You see, I don’t think the bible teaches us that sin is a list of don’ts. Don’t swear, don’t drink, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t cheat. When I think of sin, I think it is about a lack of love.

For example, taking the Lord’s name in vain. Or using the Lord’s name for false purposes. I don’t think this is really about swearing. Not even at all. I think it is about attributing God’s name to our hatred. In other words: saying “I don’t believe God loves....Muslims, or gay people, or black people who do bad things, or white people who do bad things, or people who kill other people, or drunks, or ...whoever it is that we really have a problem with.
I don’t believe God loves or I believe God teaches that we should not love or approve of...
THAT is taking the Lord’s name in vain. Attributing to God hatred.

And we do this all the time.
One of the things the kids do is write down on pieces of paper what it is they want God to help them with in relationship to sin. What sin do they think they need God’s help in overcoming.
We put these papers in with the palm branches when we burn them. Saying that we hope God will help burn away whatever it is that keeps us from being fully people of God.

My slip of paper almost always says something like: God help me to love people I don’t agree with. Or God help me to love my enemies, like Jesus did.

I need to write that every year, if not everyday because this is so hard.
And it seems as if it can be harder lately.
Because it seems as if we are being encouraged to hate our enemy in order to declare ourselves good American patriots.

It is times like this that we have to turn to our sacred texts and the words of our Savior to re-center ourselves on the truth.
Jesus taught: You have heard it said: an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you: that you must not oppose those who want to hurt you...
When we are confronted with those words we have to say over and over and over again: God’s love knows no limits and God’s grace extends to all.
And we need stories to help us remember that it is possible. This seemingly impossible command and the one that comes next: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you. Is possible IF we give ourselves over to love of God.
There was an obituary in the Star Tribune this week which began with these words: “There was no bitterness in Helen Tsuchiya’s voice...There was no bitterness in Helen Tsuchiya’s voice.
Helen Tsuchiya was a teenager when her family was uprooted from their vineyard in central California. She and her family were relocated to a Japanese-American internment camp in Arizona during World War II. Yet, there was no bitterness in Helen’s voice as she recounted those three years during which her family lost everything because they could not keep up with the mortgage payment on the 40-acre farm.
Her son, Todd, a dentist in Golden Valley recalls: “As horrible as it was for her and her family, she did not come out angry. She told us to be kind and compassionate.”
Helen was born in America. She was a citizen of America. Yet, she and her family were imprisoned by her own government.

When she was 80 she told a fourth grade class about her story. The children heard her speak her motto: Be Kind to All That Live. With the support of folk singer Larry Long the children composed a song honouring her and her motto: Be Kind to All Who Live. The children, after hearing Helen’s story, went home and told their parents: we can’t believe it, she told her story about losing everything and she had a smile on her face. 

Larry Long says of Helen Tsuchiya: “She reflected the highest principles of traditional Japanese Buddhist culture.” A smile on her face, no bitterness in her voice, and the will to “be kind to all that live”.

Helen sounds like someone Jesus would like. Love your enemy and do good to those who hate you.

I love how Jesus tells us why we should love even our enemy: Because God allows the sun to rise on the evil and the good every day. God sends the rain on the just and the unjust. There isn’t a rain stopper in the sky. Today you haven’t been good so you don’t get rain. Today you were evil so you can’t have the sun for a little while. It is another one of those silly yet profound statements of Jesus. God doesn’t allow the evil ones to live in darkness and God doesn’t condemn the unjust to live in drought.

God’s love knows no limits. God’s grace has no measure.

But I can hear you saying: BUT God is like that, be we are not God. We cannot live such a life. Helen and others like her are special individuals. But we are human and finite.

This is why I have to write what I do on my paper every year. Help me God to learn to love like Jesus taught me to love, to love even those who are opposed to what I hold dear. Because it is hard.
We are not God.

But we can’t use that as an excuse. Not those of us who have decided to follow Jesus. Not those of us who call ourselves Christian.
Because that is what we are to be first and foremost: Christian. Not in name only but in word and deed.

It seems beyond expectation that Jesus leaves us with these words: Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.
I like that idea of being complete in love.

As Methodist Christians we say that we are going on to perfection. That we are striving towards sanctification. What this teaches us is that God’s un-limiting and unlimited grace and love can penetrate the limits we place on ourselves.
God’s un-limiting and unlimited grace and love can infiltrate the core of our lives and open us up to loving in ways we never thought possible. Even reconciling with our enemies. Even not bristling when someone says something that is so against our own sense of what is right and good. Even praying for those who are evil and unjust.

Eric Paul a Methodist missionary writes: Too often, we allow our humanness to keep us from growing into the nature and likeness of Christ. We make a mistake, and we blame it on our humanity. When we sin, we explain it away: “We are only human,” we tell ourselves.

But Methodist Christian folk do not define our humanness by way of our fallen-ness. We do not sin because we are human. We sin because we are not yet human enough. Because we have not yet learned to love as Jesus loved. Jesus is what it means to be human.[1]

To turn the other cheek, to love our enemies, to forgive even the worst of betrayals.

Remember his words from the cross: Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they are doing.
These words always strike me in a deep part of my being. Forgive them. All of them. The ones who beat me, the ones who called out Crucify Him, the ones who betrayed me, the ones who fled from the cross, the ones who will not believe. Forgive them. All of them.

God’s love has no limits. God’s grace has no measure.

So this week when we click on social media and you read something from a friend who disagrees with you and you find yourself clenching your jaw and wanting to write something scathing, remember Jesus.
And be complete in love as God is complete in love. Write only words in love. Which may mean correcting an unjust or untrue fact; but do it because God wants everyone to know love. To know how to love. Do it to be lead others to be complete in love.

When you are sitting in the restaurant having coffee and a friend says something that is so unjust and wrong headed and you just want to storm out, remember Jesus. And be complete in love as God is complete in love. Speak only words of love. Which may mean correcting an unjust or untrue fact; but do it because God wants everyone to know love. To know how to love. Do it to be lead others to be complete in love.

Because Love goes beyond, love disarms. Love enables us to live remarkable lives. And because God’s love has no limits. And Because most of all, God loves even us.

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