“Love God. Love people.”
This is a common phrase heard a lot in church circles when asked what life is all about. But like usual, when something becomes cliche, we forget just how powerful that thing can really be.
This is actually a paraphrase of Jesus’ words in Matthew 22:36-40:
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
This is a big moment, you guys. This is Jesus saying the entire law can be summarized in those four words — Love God, love neighbor. What if this is actually the thing? The most important two principles in all of life? The key to living a life that is truly life?
And yet, it’s so hard to love others (or am I the only one?). Especially those who live with us, am I right? (oh Jesus help us in this quarantine!)
We have family, friends and acquaintances with whom we disagree deeply about all kinds of things. We are seeing disagreements about how the government is handling the response to the virus – what is appropriate and what is overreach. We know politics and particularly the President seem to be a favorite dividing line too. Within “christian” circles, disagreements abound – about matters both important and unimportant – sexuality, the Bible, abortion, authority, politics. It drives many away from the faith.
Maybe you’re one of those people who really loves Jesus, but can’t stand the “christians.” I get it. Yet if we’re trying to follow Jesus – in a “church” or not, we are called to what feels like an impossibly high standard in how we treat those with whom we disagree – even our enemies – we are called to love them. How?
Perhaps instead of demonizing, we could try something like this as a sort of declaration:
“I love you. There are a lot of things that we may never agree on. That’s ok. I pledge to you that I will do my best to lean into the ways we are alike, the things we share, the ways we can work together. I pledge that I will treat you with dignity and respect and not call you names or demean you.
I ask you to do the same.
I will fail at this. I will ask you to forgive me. I am a hypocrite in need of God’s grace every day. If we’re honest – we all are. Let’s not give up on trying.”
Real disagreement can fracture the deeper bonds of humanity that connect us. And once we’re disconnected from one another at the deepest level of our humanity – our Imago Dei – made in the image of God, a lot of really terrible things can happen. Let us, instead, find ways to work alongside one another for the good, wherever and however we can.
When emotions are raw, defenses are up and responses come quick, it’s then that Jesus calls us to be humble – quick to listen, slow to speak. To remember there is life and death in the tongue – and in the keyboard.
This doesn’t mean we don’t speak or bring strong, uncomfortable truth when it’s needed. But we are thoughtful in our speech. Careful with the truth. Humble in acknowledging it is possible we’re wrong.
Maybe we can’t simply “fix” the divisions in our communities or our nation. But we can season our relationships with the salt of patience to help preserve them, to be sure. We can shape and mold our interactions to align with goodness and truth as much as possible. And we can, I pray, root all of this in a place that says about any other person, especially our opponents, “you are made in God’s image, no matter who you are. And for that, I will love you and honor the innate dignity you possess.”
Lord help us in this time.
Grace and Peace,
Pastor Joel & Jeff