Just Love Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins (Feb. 19) One of my favorite religious stories is about the time Rabbi Hillel was once challenged to teach the entire Torah while standing on one foot. He took the challenge, and standing on one foot he said, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. […]
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins (Feb. 19)
One of my favorite religious stories is about the time Rabbi Hillel was once challenged to teach the entire Torah while standing on one foot. He took the challenge, and standing on one foot he said, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. This is the entire Torah. All the rest is just commentary.” Isn’t that what Jesus taught?
In Matthew 22 Jesus said the most important commandment is love. He quoted Deuteronomy, “Love God with all that you are” and then he said the number two commandment was like the first, at which point he quoted today’s text from Leviticus, saying, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
We show love for God by loving one another. Love, just love. That’s the Torah. That’s the gospel.
Even the Apostle Paul wrote, “whoever loves fulfills God’s law.” Scripture is all about love, and if we missed the love we missed the point. Maybe that is why another New Testament writer said, “God is love, and WHOEVER lives in love lives in God and God lives in them.”
With this in mind, I want to share with you the entire Sermon on the Mount – well, The Durrell Notes Version of it anyway:
Bless you who feel empty, who grieve, who feel invisible, who ache for justice, who show kindness and mercy, who dare to love, who work for peace and who stand up for justice…Bless you who hurt and who care about the pain of others. Bless you.
What are those beatitudes? Aren’t they loving wishes that every person will find true happiness and peace of mind? They are blessings of love.
The sermon continues: Matt 5.13-16
You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.
What is that? Isn’t an affirmation of our sacred value? Isn’t it an expression of love?
Don’t murder, obviously. But also don’t nurse and rehearse hatred and resentments. Settle disputes quickly and peacefully when possible.
In other words, try love.
Matt. 5.27-28, 31-32
Keep your promises. Value your integrity. And if your promise is to keep someone safe, then especially try to keep that one.
The language of the text discourages divorce, but why? In Jesus’ day, women had no status apart from a man. A woman had few legal rights; she couldn’t even sue for divorce in most cases. So, if a man married a woman, he had promised to keep her safe. If he divorced her, she might not be safe. She might have to resort to begging or worse just to survive. Divorce wasn’t discouraged because people should be trapped in unhealthy or miserable relationships, but because it could destroy a woman’s life in a patriarchal culture. If you ever loved someone, you wouldn’t want to destroy them. Even Jesus’ ethics are about love. Today, rather than making divorce illegal, we lift up the agency of women. Same ethic.
Don’t make grand oaths to try to seem reliable; just be reliable. Say what you mean; mean what you say. Love yourself enough to live with integrity; love others enough to be honest with them.
Avoid violence. Be generous, compassionate, and even forgiving. You know, just love.
Pray for people, even and maybe especially people you think are bad people.
To wish healing for those who seem mean-spirited or cruel, that is the loving use of prayer.
Be mature enough to strive toward love…God is love, and God’s love is infinite. Try to be completely loving as God is.
Some translations say, “be perfect as God is perfect” – but the word “perfect” would be better translated as “complete”…be completely loving. Jesus is telling us to make the effort. He doesn’t say we’ll succeed. It’s worth it to try anyway.
Give to good causes, and give for goodness’ sake, not for recognition. Give as an act of love.
Now, Jesus has spent all this time discussing human relationships; how we are to ethically and lovingly treat one another. Finally, he gets around to prayer. But prayer can be simple navel gazing if we aren’t going to practice our values in relationship. So, before he even teaches about prayer, he makes sure we are thinking about love.
Then in Matt. 6.5-15 he says,
Prayer isn’t performance art. Let it be an intimate experience of the divine Presence.
When you pray become aware of God’s presence, and in that presence be mindful of people’s needs, let the power of that presence help you forgive yourself and others, feel the peace of that presence and wish for that peace to rule over human hearts, trust the power of that presence to help you outlast hardships.
In other words, prayer isn’t about impressing people, or groveling before God, or making a point at ball games or taking up class time in public schools, or even about making certain things happen: prayer is an intimate experience of omnipresent, divine love and allowing ourselves to be a conduit through which that love may flow.
He circles back around to generosity – Matt. 6.24
Use your money to make a positive difference. Don’t be controlled by money, but use money to help others, to honor God, to build up the community, to ease suffering. Use money to show love rather than being in love with money.
Try to worry less. Love yourself enough to give yourself a break. Worry robs our joy and doesn’t do much good; so, let it go.
Matt. 7. 1-5
Most judgments are really self-judgments that we project onto others. Stop with the finger wagging and name calling.
Jesus isn’t telling us to ignore injustice or to ignore cruelty (as loving people, we could never ignore the pain and suffering in the world); but we can’t effectively deal with those issues if we’re majoring in minors and arguing over who gets to use which restroom or whose love gets to be recognized by marriage ceremonies or how much water it takes to make baptism work…we’ll be too tired from petty squabbles to tackle the big issues. Cruelty, injustice, poverty, war, refugees seeking safety, the environment…there are things that need our attention, so maybe lighten up about the things that aren’t quite as weighty. Less personal insults; more justice work.
Matt. 7. 7-8
Be seekers…ask questions…be open…try to find hope and courage and peace within yourself. If you will diligently seek, you will make life-changing discoveries and breakthroughs. That’s the love of God at work in your life.
Treat others the way you’d like to be treated.
Isn’t that love in a nutshell?
Stay focused on what is good (like love).
Good trees bear good fruit. Don’t sow seeds of hatred, suspicion, bigotry, fear, revenge…you’ll only grow those horrible crops in abundance. We are meant to be good trees, bearing the fruit of peace, hope, joy, compassion, love…
Matt. 7. 28-29
When Jesus finished saying these things, people were amazed, because he wasn’t legalistic. He had the moral authority that comes from living a life of love.
That’s the sermon on the mount. Jesus’ most comprehensive sermon. It is so much easier to venerate Jesus than it is to try to follow his teaching in this sermon. It has very little theology. In it Jesus never points toward himself. And it’s only rule, really, is to live in love and demonstrate that love consistently, by resisting violence, by being generous, by being willing to forgive, by recognizing the sacred value of all people, by being honest, by treating others the way we would wish to be treated. Like Hillel, Jesus could have preached this sermon while standing on one foot. He would have simply said, “Just love.” And this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2017
I give thanks for God’s all-inclusive & unconditional love. May my fears be transformed by love.
May God’s love flow through me to bless my world. Amen.
Full Contact Bible Study Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Feb 12, 2017 I want to tell you a story. It’s difficult. It’s ugly. It’s also 100% biblical. Judges 19: A man traveling with his concubine (a “lesser” wife) stops in Gibeah to spend the night. He waits in the town square for someone to offer him […]
Full Contact Bible Study
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Feb 12, 2017
I want to tell you a story. It’s difficult. It’s ugly. It’s also 100% biblical.
Judges 19: A man traveling with his concubine (a “lesser” wife) stops in Gibeah to spend the night. He waits in the town square for someone to offer him hospitality, but no one does. Finally, an elderly man notices the couple and offers them a room for the night. The gentleman gives refreshments and a bed to the couple.
However, before too long, some horrible men descend on the old man’s house. They call out, “Send your guest out so that we may have our way with him!” The old man went outside to try to reason with the diabolical gang. He said, “Please, friends, do not be so wicked. This man is my guest and I am honor bound to protect him. Instead of hurting him, let me give you my daughter and his concubine. Ravish them, but do not hurt the man.” What??!!
The gang of evil doers was having none of the old man’s protestations, so the traveler comes out with his concubine in hand and tosses her out to the gang. He and the old man then go inside, bolt the door and go to bed for the night.
The gang did to the concubine what they had wanted to do to her husband…and they did it all night long. At dawn, the woman crawled to the door of the house and collapsed and there she lay until her husband opened the door. He looked down at her dirty, bruised, limp body and said, “Get up, let’s go.” And she neither moved nor answered. So, he placed her on his donkey, traveled the rest of the way home, took her body inside his house, grabbed a knife, cut her body into 12 parts…by the way, the story does not at this point say that the woman is dead.
He then sends her body parts throughout the territory, saying to the leaders of the various tribes, “Look what has been done to me! Now, what are you going to do about it?” That ends chapter 19. As you might imagine, more violence follows.
What do we do with such a blood curdling tale of horror? Most churches ignore it.
It is eerily similar to a story in Genesis 19 where two travelers come to Sodom, accept hospitality in Lot’s home, a gang of terrible men show up, pound on the door and demand that Lot’s guests be released to them so they can sexually assault them. Lot, the presumed protagonist of the story, comes to his guests’ defense and offers the gang his daughters instead. The gang isn’t interested, and so the guests who apparently have magic powers blind the would-be assailants and lead Lot and his family out of town. Shortly thereafter , the town is destroyed by some mysterious means, Mrs. Lot is zapped into oblivion for looking over her shoulder…looking back was unforgiveable but being willing to sacrifice your daughters didn’t even get stern finger wag in the story, and eventually Lot winds up drunk in a cave where he has incest with both of his daughters.
What do we do with such a horrific story?
Somehow that nauseating story has been used not to condemn incest or rape or mob violence, and not to condemn those who would abuse, ignore, target, or harm foreigners, travelers, or refugees. Instead, many churches chose to use that story of inhuman violence to condemn same-gender love and attraction. Somehow, people saw a story about gang violence and thought it was meant to keep gay folks from ever having a date.
That story has been used to demonize and dehumanize same-gender loving people for centuries. A story about violence has been used to do spiritual and psychological violence against gay and lesbian people.
PS, if we read further we’d realize the story isn’t homophobic but racist…it is an origin story about the Moabites and Ammonites…you see, they were said to be the communities that were started by the children of incest between Lot and his daughters. It was a slur against enemies, not an attack on love. It was still mean, but just not mean to gays.
The prophet Ezekiel called out the sin of Sodom, and he didn’t pride parades or dance mixes. Ezekiel said the sin of Sodom was, “…they were unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” By Ezekiel’s definition, it’s haters, not lovers, who are the true Sodomites.
What are we to do with these graphic, dehumanizing stories in our sacred book? What are we to do with what feminist scholar Phyllis Trible called, “Texts of Terror”? I’m glad you asked!
These stories are examples of how cruel people can be, but they are not prescriptions of how we ought to behave or how we might honor God.
Jesus shows us what to do with these stories. We should do what he did in the sermon on the mount – we should declare, “You have heard that, but I say this.”
You have heard that Genesis 19 condemns same-gender love and attraction, but I say, that’s a damn lie!
You have heard that God loves you but, and I say, God loves you period!
Jesus isn’t disrespecting the sacred texts, and neither am I…I appreciate that the ancient writers and editors left in stories that show humanity at its worst, to show us how ugly that is. These stories aren’t in there for us to emulate! The late night horror flick that the Sodom and Gomorrah story is, or that that the story of the traveler and is concubine in the book of Judges is, aren’t meant to be used to justify our being cruel to gays or travels or refugees or anyone else. They are there to show us how utterly against our divine nature such myopic cruelty is. These stories aren’t a how to guide, they are a warning sign…DON’T BE LIKE THESE MONSTERS! Try compassion and peace and justice and community…value relationship more than rules, peace more than power, hope more than hate.
Jesus is saying, Instead of using the old stories thoughtlessly, let’s engage them, wrestle with them, argue with them, redeem them, and find hope and healing in them rather than using them to cause more pain.
So far in the sermon on the mount, Jesus blesses those who grieve and cry and feel like they’re running on empty. He tells them they are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Then he says, “you’ve heard scripture used like rules; now let’s focus more on relationships, on kindness, on generosity, on building community, on treating one another as if all people were the children of God.” That’s what all the anger management and don’t resort to name-calling stuff was about in today’s gospel passage. Jesus knows the scriptures, he just offers new and more liberating ways of engaging them.
We’ve heard some terrible things from religion, but now we choose to present religion as progressive, positive, and practical. And this is the good news! Amen.
©Durrell Watkins 2017
Heal us from religion misused.
Let faith bring us peace and joy.
Bless us to be a blessing to others.
Salt & Light (Compassion & Hope) Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins (Feb. 5) “You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world…Live so that people will see the good things you do and will praise your God…” Jesus (Matthew 5.13a, 14a, 16b) Now, Jesus isn’t telling us to show off so we […]
Salt & Light (Compassion & Hope)
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins (Feb. 5)
“You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world…Live so that people will see the good things you do and will praise your God…” Jesus (Matthew 5.13a, 14a, 16b)
Now, Jesus isn’t telling us to show off so we can get some accolades; it’s grittier than that. Jesus is saying religion isn’t just stale creeds and pretty objects and rousing songs and a collection of traditions. Religion is meant to be active.
Jesus is basically saying what Theodore Roosevelt would say centuries later, “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Religion isn’t about who you are against or what’s on your list of no-no’s or 101 reasons to feel guilt, shame and fear. Religion is meant to be service, action, making a positive difference. If people don’t see religion making a difference, why would they care at all about what we claim to believe about things that can never be proven? If belief in God doesn’t motivate you to care for God’s children, then what good is your belief to anyone other than yourself?
So, Jesus says you are light and light must shine. Love of God must translate into building communities of optimism, comforting those who grieve, sharing and celebrating joys, caring about those who are deprived of necessary resources; love of God should translate into offering hope to the hurting, welcoming the stranger, reaching out to the marginalized, and confronting injustice.
So, the light metaphor is easy to work with; it’s obvious, it’s clear. But what about that salt business? You are the salt of the earth? What even does that mean?
Actually, it pairs nicely with light. People of faith are to be people of action. We are to be salty.
When you work hard, you sweat, and sweat is salty.
When you put your whole heart into something, your heart might get wounded or even broken. Heartbreak brings tears, and tears are salty.
To be light in the world, we’re going have to sweat a bit, and probably even cry a bit. There is sweetness in our ministry, but there is also saltiness if we are honest, and if we are following the example of Jesus.
When Jesus learned of Lazarus’ death, he cried. When Jesus ached for Jerusalem, he cried. When Mary watched her son being tortured to death, she cried. When Jesus breathed his last saying, “God, into your hands I commend my spirit,“ God surely cried.
Last week we heard Jesus saying, “Bless you who mourn, who are persecuted, who are vilified, who long for justice…” In other words, bless you who know the taste of the salt of tears.
The work Jesus calls us to, the work for peace and justice and healing, will bring us times of tears. Bless you who cry. The salt of your tears will help heal our world.
There is also a bit of encouragement in saying, “you are salt.” Slavery was a time of sorrow, of tears, but eventually came the Passover, the Exodus, and liberation. Salty tears give way to brighter tomorrows; the tears of bondage reflect the light of hope that there is a land of promise flowing with milk and honey.
The message of light and salt is seen in the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. During World War 2, a young, German, Lutheran, handsome Dietrich Bonhoeffer left his fiancé and his position at my alma mater, Union Theological Seminary in New York, to return to Germany to be part of the resistance against racist, xenophobic, fascist nationalism. He returned to his homeland at a very dangerous and scary time.
Bonhoeffer was eventually arrested and spent two years in a prison camp. He was charged with plotting to overthrow Hitler. Members of his family were executed, and finally, Bonhoeffer was, too…less than a month before his camp was liberated by the allies.
Bonhoeffer believed in grace, unmerited favor, but for him grace wasn’t about what he could get from God; he believed grace could actually cost something (he even called it “costly grace”). He said, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil…Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” The grace he received freely caused him to act, so while free, it still cost him something.
Believing in and depending on the all-inclusive grace of God, Bonhoeffer had to stand up for it, speak out for it, defend those who were being dehumanized. The grace that affirmed him would not allow him to be silent when other children of God were being unjustly oppressed. And so, the grace that he lived for, he also died for. But he didn’t regret it; on the day he was executed he told a fellow prisoner, “This is the end, but for me, it is also the beginning.” The good we do cannot be destroyed. Isn’t that the message of the resurrection?
Bonhoeffer was light at a dark time, and salt when decency demanded that tears be shed for the evil humans can do to other humans.
We are God’s light; let us shine brightly. We are God’s salt, those who sweat and cry to share the love of God with others. Our job is to build communities of kindness, cultures of caring, ministries of mercy.
There are people who are terrified because religion and state, family and commerce conspire against them…be light to them; be salt for them.
There are people fleeing famine and war, oppression and destitution…be light to them; be salt for them.
There are people who have been repeatedly dehumanized because of their sexual orientation or their gender identity…be light to them; be salt for them.
There are people battling life-threatening diseases, some of them without access to medical care…be light to them; be salt for them.
There are people who are lonely, hungry, afraid…be light to them; be salt for them.
There are people who have had to overcome unfair obstacles because of who they love or because of the color of their skin or because of where they were born or because of how they were taught to pray…be light to them; be salt for them.
Let the light of hope shine from you into their lives; let your salty tears flow for their pain, and make sure the sweat of your labor for peace and healing and justice falls like the dew of God’s own mercy onto our world. It’s not enough to say we believe something if that belief doesn’t motivate us to offer hope and compassion.
The spiritually of Jesus is an engaged spirituality that seeks to be light and salt, hope and healing to the hurting, the wounded, the marginalized and the oppressed.
Light and salt…they Jesus’ are marching orders to get to work and make a difference in a hurting world. We start by supporting our progressive, positive, and practical faith community, and then as a faith community, we encourage one another to work for peace, justice and healing. Good religion can help us feel good, and it should also motivate us to do good. This, according to Jesus, is what will be our greatest witness. And this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2017
Let us serve you by caring for others.
And give us joy in our service.
Let us be receivers and workers of miracles.