“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you”
Not just a request or a plea, but a commandment.
What does it really mean to love one another as Christ has loved us?
And when did we as a church and as a society stop loving one another?
Did we ever?
To find the answer, I want to tell you a story.
When I was in junior high there was a bully named Mike who picked on me
For almost two years, Mike and his friend (I call him lackey) Todd seem to always be laughing at me.
One day when school ended, my dad picked me up, and I got into his car, slammed the door, and said, “I hate him. I hate him. I hate him!”
I shared all the things I wanted to do to get back at Mike and Todd.
I wanted to hurt them.
Not just with witty comebacks, but true hurt. Pain.
I had convinced myself that there was going to be a day when I would have to make my final stand, you know, like the movies.
And my dad urged…no he pleaded…with me to calm down and not strike back.
He said to me, “You have to turn the other cheek.”
And I responded, “Dad, I’m running out of cheeks.”
I always think about that conversation whenever I hear Jesus teaching about “loving one another.”
Because I find his words so frustrating!
If Jesus had gone through what I had gone through,
there is no way he would say turn the other cheek or love one another.
He would say, “It’s payback time!”
But Jesus has another way.
I remember when God opened my eyes and heart to this other way.
It was back in 2002.
I was on my internship.
Ascension Lutheran Church in Jackson, MS.
I would go into the sanctuary to pray and study.
One day I was reading the Passion story and then I looked up and pictured Jesus on the cross.
It was then I finally noticed our Gospel lessons were not just words on a page.
Jesus was beaten, flogged, and ridiculed.
He is left practically alone to suffer and die.
And yet, as he is dying, he prays to God, his Father, to forgive them.
“Father, forgive them. For they know not what they do.”
Jesus turns the other cheek.
Rather than praying to take their lives, Jesus prayed God to preserve them.
Rather than revenge, Jesus chooses redemption.
And then I remembered the rest of the story with Mike.
It was my freshmen year in high school, and I was walking to my trailer for my first day of calculus when lo and behold Mike is sitting at the steps into the classroom.
But there is no Todd.
Todd had moved.
Now on the inside of was like “Yes!”
But I remember how weary Mike looked.
How sad he was that his best friend had moved away.
And I actually felt bad for him.
I would love to tell you that he and I became best friends but no.
We became acquaintances, knowing the same people, hanging out with the same people.
But at least there was a relationship. A new relationship.
Because I stopped hating him.
Jesus would say, “that’s when I started loving him.”
Over the years, I have started to love more people.
And I have stopped hating people.
Now I am not perfect.
When I first met you,
I told you that I hate stupid people, racists, bigots, abusers,
So I know God is still working on my heart with that.
Because God cares about how we treat one another.
And not just the people we get along with, or the people we have pity for, but those we do not love, those we do not like, those we hate.
God cares because we, his people, are the evidence of God’s presence and love in the world.
God’s holiness is reflected in how you treat your neighbor, the poor, the alien, the laborer, the blind.
And even our enemy.
And I believe we need to follow Jesus’ teaching his COMMANDMENT when it comes to love.
Let me share with you another story of hate.
It immediately precedes the first lesson printed for today.
By the time we get to Acts Chapter 10, Peter has become a leader among the disciples and followers of Jesus.
And then he meets a Gentile named Cornelius.
Cornelius was an Italian centurion, a Gentile who feared God.
Back then there was a group called the God Fearers, who were non-Jeiwsh people who followed Jewish teachings and laws.
But even though Cornelius was a God-Fearer, to people like Peter he was still a Gentile.
But even though people like Peter wanted nothing to do with Gentiles, the Lord had other plans.
One day Peter is up on a roof and prays.
While he prays, God comes to him and lays out a table with creatures, and God says, get up, kill, and eat.
Well, Peter being Peter, says, “Nope!”
“I have never eaten anything profane or unclean.”
Let me remind you that cleanliness was a major ritual for a Jewish man.
And we get one of my favorite responses by God: “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”
God puts Peter in his place.
This happens three times.
And then Peter receives Cornelius’ invitation.
So Peter invites the people in and gives them lodging.
JUST BY DOING THIS: Peter has broken the kosher laws.
And then Peter heads to Caesarea and meets Cornelius.
And Peter says, “it’s against the law for a Jew to associate or visit a Gentile, BUT God changed my mind.
God shows NO partiality.
And Peter begins to teach Cornelius and the people.
He teaches them the Good News, connecting Jesus with God and introducing these people to Jesus Christ.
And in the middle of his speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word.
This is where the lesson for today takes up.
Now, think for a moment what this looked liked to the circumcised followers who came with Peter.
Suddenly the exclusive club they were in no longer seemed exclusive.
And Peter brings into question baptism, like the Ethiopian Eunuch did with Philip last week.
What is to keep them from being baptized?
And a new community begins, one filled with Jews AND Gentiles.
Peter is changed.
Cornelius is changed.
The Church is changed.
And they are all the better for it.
What steps did Peter go through to effect the change from hate to love?
It didn’t happen immediately or automatically when he was praying.
He went through a process.
He had to “get over himself.” I have never eaten anything profane!
Next he had to pay attention to what God is trying to tell him.
It took 3 times but God is persistent.
He welcomed people,
even “unclean” people into his home.
He listens to them and to God.
He leaves the comfort of his home and goes into something unknown and takes his friends with him.
He follows Jesus’ lead
And Jesus says…commands us to follow his lead as well.
And to love.
Love the Holy Spirit.
Love our family
And our enemies.
And that last command is really hard
But it is necessary if we are to be true Christians.
I love what Paul says in Romans about loving our enemies:
Paul writes in Romans;
12:14- do not curse your persecutors
12:18- Live peaceable with all
12:20: Repay your enemies with love and care (This was my dad’s favorite)
“if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.”
13:16: Love does no wrong to a neighbor
The stories I have shared with you started as Stories of Hate::
But they turned into stories of love
They turned into good stories.