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.