This coming weekend, we’ll be celebrating All Saints’ Day. Every year, All Saint’s is a moveable feast (we can celebrate it the Sunday that follows its actual day) so we won’t be hearing the planned gospel of Mark. It’s a shame, really, because this weekend we would have heard about the two great commandments: Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength; Love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus actually says the following words, “There is no other commandment greater than these.” But some folks—well, actually, quite a few folks—have a difficult time putting this into practice.
I know that it may seem like I talk about this a lot. Well, that’s because I do. Of all the commandments given to us, all the instructions left by the disciples and Christ himself, God desires for us to love him and then to love each other. But what does that mean, in practice? Do these two rules mean that we are supposed to make peace with our enemies and then go out for coffee? Does loving God with all our being entail never being frustrated, hurt or confused by that relationship?
In a word: No.
If any of you (I imagine all of you) have experienced love in your lives, then you know that it’s not always sunshine and rainbows. Love requires commitment, work, dedication, and no small amount of compromise. To be able to love is an inborn trait—humanity is created with the ABILITY to love, not necessarily the desire. Put quite simply, to love someone and to love God is a choice; unfortunately we make those choices predicated upon that which has been done for us by the other. That’s not love, that’s a transaction of two beings mutually benefitting one another ALL THE TIME.
That’s also not possible. Well, at least on our part.
What if God said, “You know what, Sean? You didn’t pray this morning, you didn’t thank me for yesterday’s good weather, and you mailed-in last week’s sermon. Since you didn’t do that, I don’t love you.” I’m fairly certain if God had that outlook on our relationship, we’d all be in deep trouble…and we’d all have one less being that loved us. Thankfully, God is perfect. God’s love for us isn’t transactional, it’s eternal. God’s love comes without strings, and with a grace that is abundant and free. Also, there’s that thing about God becoming incarnate in the form of Jesus Christ, only to be crucified painfully, mocked openly and punished endlessly by those with whom He tried to engage.
Then there’s us. We are over-the-top transactional with our love to God, AND to one another. Instead of asking, “How can I pray for you, pray with you today, or (to God) how can I thank you and be with you today?”, we find ourselves asking, “What have you done for me, lately?” But God can take that, because God is…well…GOD. It doesn’t make it okay, but God loves us anyway.
Unfortunately, we lack the perfection to love unconditionally. When someone hurts us, we don’t want to love anyway—we want to grab the nearest stick and bash them over the head with it, or the nearest harsh word and fling it in their direction. That’s the human condition. And it’s sad. We don’t have to be this way. We don’t have to react in order to interact. Sometimes, if we were to take a page out of God’s book (pun intended), perhaps love could prevail and hurt could be dismissed. But don’t mistake me—love does NOT equal like. That’s where we get in the most trouble. We think that to always love someone is to always like them.
Sometimes we just don’t like each other. And that’s okay, folks. It’s not what the ideal situation is, but again, we’re not perfect. This doesn’t give us license to take advantage of grace; we still owe it to our neighbors to TRY. Try and see their hurt through their words—even if those words hurt us. Most of the time the actions people take against us aren’t out of desire to inflict pain, they’re out of a place of pain, itself. (Note: This is not always the case; tragically, some people have refused to engage their inner created love, choosing instead to inflict senseless pain and violence on others. I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about US).
Loving your neighbor, loving God—these are the actions of Christians. Always liking each other and always understanding God? These are impossibilities that require us to have faith to see us through. I will never stop talking about the love God asks of us; it is the entire reason for our creation. Ever asked, “Why are we here? Why did God create us?” To love. We have to be better. We have to stop seeing the Jew, the Muslim, the businessman, the poor person, the homeless, the loud child, the grumpy elder; and we need to start seeing the created, beloved, fallible, and wonderful person created in the image of God.
This week, love well, and like whenever is humanly possible. In most cases, the first will lead to the second. But remember: To love is not always to like. So love God, love your neighbor, hang out with your friends, and pray for your enemies. The rest will fall into place.