Love in Action
Texts: Matthew 5: 43-48
“Love your enemies…”
Who originally said that? Some hippy from the 1960’s? Some socialist ethics professor at Berkeley or UCLA? It had to be some liberal snowflake. What? Say that again!
Jesus said that? Jesus, our Lord and Savior? Jesus the Son of God? Jesus told us, he invited us, he commanded us to “Love our enemies?” As they used to say back in the day: “That doesn’t preach! Leave that scripture passage alone!
“Love your enemy—pray for those who persecute you…” How do we spin ourselves out of that calling, that responsibility, that directive from Christ himself? We can’t--at least not if we want to have any integrity.
So what would have to happen in our lives for us to actually begin to love not just the people we like, not just the people who look like us, and talk like us, and love like us? I believe we would need to allow to completely reorient, refocus and redeem our view of the world—our view of humanity.
Interestingly, such a divinely inspired view of other human beings was powerfully expressed in an essay in a book by John Donne in the 17th century. 1624 to be exact. Yes, once upon a time, people got their wisdom, their view of the world, their inspiration not from Fox News, not for the National Enquirer, but from books. Well-searched books. Thus imagine reading or hearing the following words for the first time: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less… Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
“Any person’s death diminishes me—because I am involved in humankind.” John Donne suggests that not only should we feel bad when we hear of the suffering of the death of another human being, because of what happened to them—we too are diminished—which literally means: to be made smaller, less than.
Yes, we are diminished, our very being is lessened, by the suffering and death of people of any person on Earth: man, woman, or child—even by the death of strangers—and, according to Jesus and the Book of Proverbs, by the suffering and death of enemies.
You and I were diminished by the death of every person who died at the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks last week. Indeed, you and I were diminished by the death of the 11 Jews who died at the Tree of Life synagogue.
We are diminished personally, and as a nation, whether we are aware of it or not, by the suffering and death of any refugee fleeing violence or poverty for a better life. Call them invaders, murderers, gang members, whatever you like to try and dehumanize them—
According to Jesus our attitude toward all refugees is to be one of love and compassion.
People, today, would accuse Jesus of being such a snowflake—love your enemies? Really?
Or maybe he truly was the son of God—the eternal word become flesh. Maybe Jesus is the only person we should give our full allegiance to—get our marching orders from.
The Germans during World War II gave their allegiance to Hitler—that didn’t work out so well for the Jews or the Germans—the world was diminished—I’m still not sure we’ve recovered. People who suggest sometimes that I am too political need to read their New Testament again—because that’s where I get my marching orders. The universal and biblical principle, “No man is an island” is found in the teachings of Jesus who once said: “What you do to the least of these—you do to me.”
Psychologist Wayne Dyer commenting on the classic statement of John Donne that “No man is an island” writes: “In our individual lives, seeing ourselves as islands that are not part of the whole is the cause of our inability to find the highest, the fullest, and the richest experience of life. The orientation of oneness is a radical shift from the separateness we learn in the tribes, families, and countries we inhabit. [When we have achieved a spiritual sense of oneness, then] hatred is replaced with a desire to resolve anything that divides us…
[Yes, we will desire to build bridges not walls.] When we achieve a spirit of oneness we view ourselves as a “citizen of the world”--who “sees God in every…home, every synagogue, mosque and church, every creature, every person [and, yes, every nation.]”
Friends, Why do I bring up John Donne’s brilliant thought that “No man [or woman] is an island, entire of him [or herself?”] [i.e. no one is truly separate from others]
Because such a unifying view of other people enables us to be obedient to Jesus call for us to “Love our enemies.”
I’m sure you all would agree that people whose actions are driven by concern for others, by concern for justice--driven by compassion and forgiveness, are examples of “Love in action.”
With their words and deeds, in their hearts and minds, they embody the love of God. Yes the world is filled with hate and violence which must be dealt with-- but it is also filled with love in action. It’s just that “love in action” doesn’t usually make the 6 o’clock news or the cover of the Enquirer or the lead story on Fox News. Love isn’t good for ratings. That in itself is a sad commentary on the state of our humanity. Nevertheless, love in action, people embodying God’s justice and peace is a daily reality. One for us to hold up and celebrate.
And so I celebrate today that 77 year-old son, who regularly visits and reads to his 101-year-old mother because her eyesight has dimmed over the years. Well done, Chet Cash.
That’s love in action.
I celebrate those two Morro Bay Eel fishermen, Nicholas and Sam who risked life and limb to save a humpback whale which was in distress. Did you see the video online? The whale had gotten entangled in rope attached to a buoy. According to an article on the SLO Tribune website: Nicholas and Sam “initially reported the distressed whale to the U.S. Coast Guard, but they said they wouldn’t be able to respond for hours…That’s when the two men took action.
“In video posted to the Instagram…Sam appears on the bow of the boat and jumps into the water near the whale. [Then, amazingly,] He climbed onto the back of the creature as it struggled, spouting and slamming its tail against the boat. “Sam struggled momentarily before sliding off the whale and raising his hands triumphantly after cutting the rope. [His buddy, Nicholas, then lets out a [shout] of excitement from aboard the vessel as the rescued whale swims away. “It took the pair three attempts to free the whale.” On the video, the world did indeed see: Love in action.
This past Thursday, in Thousand Oaks, Sheriff’s Sergeant Ron Helus, heard a report that a shooter had entered the Borderline Bar and Grill and was killing people. Sgt. Helus knew that this establishment was popular with college kids.] He was the first Ventura County Sheriff’s Deputy on the scene. A 29 year veteran of the force, Sgt. Helus, a husband and father, 54 years old, was due to retire in a year or two. With people’s lives in the balance Sgt. Helus didn’t wait for backup. For he knew every second that passed lives were being lost.
According to Ventura County Sheriff, Geoff Dean: “Sgt. Helus was among the first officers through the door at the Borderline Bar and Grill. He was shot several times as he tried to stop the rampaging gunman, who killed 12 others in the attack… Sgt. Helus and others went into harm’s way to save lives, to save other people…”
Said Sheriff Dean: “Sgt Helus was totally committed, he gave his all…he died a hero."
Friends, Sgt. Helus, was a dramatic example of
“Love in action.”
Finally, as we have considered this morning Jesus challenge to us to demonstrate love in action, by also loving our enemies, I close with the true story of a person whose recent actions showed that such rare love is indeed possible. It’s a great story for Caregiver Sunday.
Now, imagine for a moment that you are a nurse in the emergency room of a hospital and a person has been brought in who brutally murdered people merely because of their religion--because they were Jews. And you, who are assigned to be the shooter’s nurse, are a Jew yourself. No, this particular incident didn’t just happen decades ago in Nazi Germany—it happened as we all know in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, just two weeks ago.
The suspected gunman had killed 11 people as they prayed and worship in the Tree of Life Synagogue. If you were that Jewish nurse—what would you have done? Surely there are many gentile nurses who could relieve you. Everyone would understand. No one would judge you. The Jewish ER nurse, Ari Mahler, chose to give the suspected killer the best care he was able to give. His actions in the ER that day were “Love in action.” Surely a Rabbi named Jesus, who lived 2000 years earlier, would have been proud of the courage and compassion of his Jewish brother, Ari.
Later, in a Facebook post, Ari Mahler wrote that he was sure that the gunman had no idea that he was Jewish. Said Mahler: "I didn't say a word to him about my religion…I chose not to say anything to him the entire time. I wanted him [as I do all my patients] to feel compassion. I chose to show him empathy. “I felt that the best way to honor his victims was for a Jew to prove him wrong."
Friends later, when Nurse Mahler was asked why he did it—why he helped a person who had brought so much grief to his fellow Jews, Ari Mahler replied: "Love. That's why I did it… Love as an action is more powerful than words, and love in the face of evil gives others hope.” [Love] demonstrates humanity. It reaffirms why we're all here…” https://nyti.ms/2yQhpn0
Friends, I truly believe that if you receive this Lord’s Supper as offered to you, as offered to us all, by Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth--receive it in gratitude, hope, trust and faith, You too, will ultimately discover within you, the courage to love—even your enemies. Remember, you are not called to like your enemies—but to love them—and love is “understanding, creative, redemptive goodwill, for all people.”
Receive this bread and cup in faith, and your life will be an example of “love in action.”
And when your time on earth is done I believe you will likely hear, as you come into the presence of God, “Well done, my friend, well done.”