Sunday, September 12, 2010

Love WHO?

Matthew 5:43-48
43 "You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

The Holy Qur’an Chapter 49 Verse 11 & 13
11. O YOU who have attained faith! No men shall deride [other] men: it may well be that those [whom they deride] are better that themselves; and no women [shall deride other] women: it may well be that those [whom they deride] are better than themselves. And neither shall you defame one another, nor insult one another by [opprobrious] epithets; evil is all imputation of iniquity after [one has to] faith; and they who [become guilty thereof and] do not repent - it is they, they who are evildoers!
13. O mankind! We created You from a single (pair) Of a male and a female, And made you into Nations and tribes, that You may know each other (Not that you may despise Each other.) Verily, The most honoured of you In the sight of Allah Is (he who is) the most Righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge And is well-acquainted (with all things).

At the grocery market the other day I heard one employee say to another, “I’ll NEVER go to New Jersey. Those people are all crazy!” The other was defending the people of New Jersey because she has relatives there who aren’t crazy. Turns out the one had watched Jersey Shore and thought the folks on that “reality” show are typical. NOT!

But that’s how we look at all kinds of groups, right? We are quick to assume that the most visible and audible are typical of the whole group. All Muslims are terrorists. All Christians are against equal rites. We know this isn’t true. This weekend in particular we will focus on the words of the song the choir just sang,
In peace may all earth’s people draw together, and hearts united learn to live as one.
O hear my prayer, o God of all the nations. Myself I give thee, let thy will be done.

It has been an emotional week. On the early show Wednesday morning anchorman Harry Smith interviewed Pastor Terry Jones of Dove World Outreach Center. After listening to Pastor Jones speaking about Islam as the enemy who must be kept from succeeding at world domination he asked whether the plan to burn 100 Korans on 9/11 was in keeping with Jesus’ instructions to love your enemies. He had to ask twice, even naming the two gospels the commandment is found in, before Pastor Jones would admit that, no, this is not a loving action and it did not obey Jesus’ direction.

Just the threat of burning Korans led to international furor. There were anti-American demonstrations in Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran – pretty much all countries with significant Islamic populations. The State Department issued travel warnings. Everyone from the Pope to the President, the leaders of the National Evangelical Association and the National Council of Churches, even General Petraeus begged him to cancel the event. He said he would only change his mind if he got a sign from God. And apparently he did. There’s a bit of a mystery around what really changed his mind, whether it was the conversation with the State Department or with a local Imam. The important thing is that he did change his mind and no books were burned in Gainesville.

Over and over again the Gospel words that were quoted to him in an effort to change his mind were these words from Matthew. Even though it is not true that all of Islam is the enemy, that is what this pastor and so many other people believe, so these were the words chosen by Christians and Muslims alike that seemed most likely to change his mind.

Whether they did or not and despite the fact that he didn’t burn any books, a lot of good actually came out of his threat. All over the country interfaith groups made plans to come together to pray for peace and read from the Qur’an and the Bible. Many Christian preachers, like me, chose a verse or two from the Qur’an to share with our congregations, words that sound a lot like the words we are accustomed to hearing. Most of us, again like me, had to turn to a Muslim friend for help in finding appropriate verses because we simply aren’t familiar enough with their Holy Book to choose well. I turned to Sherrel Johnson, who works for the Center for American Islamic Relations in Los Angeles and serves with me on Chapman University’s Interfaith Center Advisory Council. She responded to my request with a lovely long letter that tells Christians things she wished we knew about Islam. For those who are interested, that letter is on the Awareness Table and will be one of the things we look at in our 2nd Tuesday supper discussion this week.

I think perhaps my favorite of those verses she suggested I might use is this one, knowing that throughout the Qur’an Jews and Christians are called the People of the Book. It seems to describe the differences in the way we follow our respective religious traditions perfectly.

The Holy Qur’an Chapter 5, Verse 48 “We have given the Book as an inheritance to those of Our servants whom We have chosen. Among them there are some who wrong their own souls, some (who) follow a middle course and some, by God’s leave, (who) excel in good deeds; which is the supreme virtue.”

The danger, of course, in choosing a verse or two to share from the Qur’an is exactly the same as the danger of doing the same thing with the Bible. We all know that the Bible has been used over and over to justify the worst kind of behavior by people who consider themselves to be good Christians. The Bible has been used to justify slavery, the subjugation of women, the denial of equal rights to gay and lesbian couples. The Qur’an has been used in just the same way. Likewise, the enemies of Islam are quick to choose the most inflammatory passages and say “This is what Islam is all about,” just as the enemies of Christianity use selected verses from the Bible.

It has been a war of words this week, a war in which both sides were using the Bible to make their points. In response to being told to love his enemy Pastor Jones likened his actions to Jesus turning over the tables in the temple courtyard – righteous anger against evil. The problem with that comparison is that Jesus’ anger was directed at those who were messing with HIS faith, with the right worship of God and leading followers away from the path of love and forgiveness – NOT against the followers of another religion altogether. In fact, those who are standing against Pastor Jones could much more easily see themselves following the tradition of Jesus in the Temple courtyard.

These words from Matthew are so much more pointed than the commandment to love the neighbor. It’s easy to pick and choose who are neighbors are, after all., no matter how many times the example of the Good Samaritan is quoted. But here Jesus says, “If you love those who love you, what reward do you have? If you only greet your brothers and sisters what more are you doing than others?” Harsh words! We pointed them at Pastor Jones like a gun. And I stood there with them, saying “Yeah, Pastor Jones. Read this!”

Then I read a quote by Soren Kierkegaard. “When you read God's Word, you must constantly be saying to yourself, ''It is talking to me, and about me.''


It’s easy for me to stand here and say that in my opinion Pastor Jones is as much a terrorist as Timothy McVeigh or Osama Bin Laden. What’s hard for me to do is love him. And yet that’s exactly what I am called to do. Love him as I love myself. Recognize that his sins are forgivable, just as mine and yours are. Recognize that he is a beloved child of God and whether or not I believe him to be misguided, I am required to give him the same respect that I wish to be given.

I have spent the better part of the week angry that a person who called himself Christian would behave in such a hateful manner. This isn’t new, of course. I get angry every time I see Christians using Jesus, the Prince of Peace, the Lord of Love, to justify being hateful. There are times when I think of these as the enemy and feel justified in my anger, just as Jesus was justified in the Temple courtyard. I have to tell you, it stung when Pastor Jones used that same passage to justify his actions. Because I realized that in my enmity for those who use my religion to oppress I was doing exactly the same thing he was. And of course that made me even more angry. But now I was angry less at him than at myself, because now I had to look at my behavior and my lack of love.

We allow our fear of things that are different to keep us from getting to know the stranger. We use skin color, nationality, religious differences and language barriers to keep us apart. We allow our fear of things that are different to fuel our hatred of the other. But Jesus calls us to come together, regardless of our differences. Jesus calls on us to love not just the neighbor, but also the enemy, the stranger. Jesus calls on us to sit as he did and eat with the persons we previously considered to be beneath us. To forgive all others, as God forgives us, because God forgives us. The true enemy is not the other, but that sinfulness dwelling within us causing us to fear and hate that which is different.

Let us Pray, using Paul’s words from 1 Timothy 1:12-17
12 I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, 13 even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost. 16 But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life. 17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

When we go from this place today let us go remembering that all of us are God’s children. Let us go out remembering that we are all loved by our Creator, who calls upon us to love each other as brothers and sisters, regardless of religion, culture, nation, or race.

hymn Diverse in Culture Nation Race 485

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