Friday, September 12, 2014

For the Love of God

While I know many believe the task of life is finding the right answers, I have found that asking the right questions has made all the difference.

In yesterday's post, I asked the questions, 'Where is God?' and 'Can I still myself enough to find God in all things?'

These are no small questions, especially for those who are living in all-consuming fear and ever-present violence.

After I completing yesterday's post, I left my desk and went about my business. As I often do, I listened to the Pray As You Go daily devotion, a very helpful resource for prayer and reflection.

The text was Luke 6:27-38, situated within the Sermon on the Plain (on the Mount in Matthew).

"But I say to you that listen, 'Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you." (vv. 27-8)

The Word of God presented me another question:  Do you love your enemies?

And I believe these two questions, 'Where is God?' and 'Do I love my enemies?' are inextricable from one another.

It is no small thing to trust that God is present and moving in our world and in our own selves. It may be too great of a leap for some.

But for those of us who trust just enough and devote ourselves to finding God in all things, can we include our enemies in this list? That within our enemies God is to be found, alive and present?

As soon as I allowed myself to ask this question yesterday, I was stopped dead in my tracks.
Of course, I've read these words of Jesus before. I could even recite them, along with most of the Sermon of the Mount, from memory.
But this--stopping my mind and body enough to ask honestly of my deepest self whether I have love for my enemies--was different.

"But I say to you that listen," Jesus begins his teaching.
Perhaps I wasn't really listening before, when I had read these words or spouted them off myself.

As I've shared before, I am learning what it means to be contemplative--to sit with something, someone for a long amount; to sit my mind and let go of thoughts and feelings while holding the gaze of another; to become absorbed, if you will, in whatever may be in front of me.

So, I contemplated this question of loving my enemy.

How dare Jesus suggest this!
No, not suggest.
Expect me to love.
Instruct me to love.
Command me to love.

How I wish this were simply a suggestion, or that this question found its hypothetical origin with me.

But no such luck. Jesus himself tells those of us who will listen to love and forgive and pray for and bless and show kindness to our enemies.

Jesus had many enemies--those who pitted themselves against him, those Jesus called out for their hypocrisy and greed, those who were fearful of Jesus' power and answered with brute force, those in Jesus' hometown who did not accept or trust him, cast him out, and ridiculed him for being merely a carpenter's son.

These were enemies of Jesus' own state. What about those outside enemies of his day? Rome and all its governors and soldiers?

We can all quickly name our national enemies, such as Isis and Al Qaeda. Love for these people may be too impossible for us to wrap our heads and hearts around right now. To imagine, to believe that God is within each of them tastes sour in our mouths, smacks of heresy.

So, perhaps we should return a bit closer to home, to our relationships, to where we live and work and play.

Who is my enemy?
Whose enemy am I?

There are those people who stand in opposition to me, my beliefs, my place and my rights in society. And perhaps I stand in opposition to another.
There are those with whom I set up competition--unwittingly to them, and sometimes even to me. I pit myself against other people when I buy into the idea that life is a contest, a game to win over and against another.

My critics are my enemies. And since I am most often my greatest critic, sometimes my enemy is me. I pit myself against myself with competing thoughts and tendencies, a divided spirit.

When I feel so divided, ungrounded, unproductive, troubled within my own being, do I show myself patience and gentleness? Do I love that enemy I find inside of me?

Do I hate, curse, and abuse my enemy--whether that enemy is myself or someone else--with negative thoughts or feelings or words?
Or do I, in the words of Jesus, offer my enemy love, goodness, blessing, and prayer?

"Even sinners" love those who love them and are kind to those who are kind to them, Jesus says.
But we "that listen," that let the Word of God sink deeply and touch our very core, will and must respond differently.  

Hatred and cursing and abuse eats at us, from the inside out.
A house divided cannot stand, Jesus tells those of us who will listen.

If we answered the question, 'Where is God?' with the answer, 'In all things,' we are included in that list. If God is in all things, God is in me.

And where God is, love is.
Where God is present, forgiveness must be present.

We must be ready to love and forgive and bless and show kindness to those who would do us wrong, who hurt us intentionally or not.

And just why should I do that? Jesus tells his listeners, "Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High" (v. 35). I don't think Jesus was only referring to some reward after death, to heaven as an eternal resting place.

I think Jesus recognized more than anyone else ever has that the love and forgiveness you show your enemies is itself the reward. Not to buy into the warfare and competition of society, that "us versus them" mentality that pervades every aspect of our lives, is itself the reward.

My refusal to hate my enemy, as I am told to do, means my freedom.
My willingness to love and forgive my enemy brings about a fuller sense of God's presence, within my own heart and spirit.

My love for my enemies is the result of having myself been loved. My finding God is the result of God having found me and having made home within me.

It is because of and for the love of God!

For the love of God, I listen to and am challenged by the Word of God.
For the love of God, I contemplate these questions that require of me my whole life.

For the love of God is the love of my neighbor.
For the love of God is the love of my enemy--foreign and domestic; within myself and without.

For the love of God is the reason for my existence.
For the love of God causes me to live in love and unity with my enemy.

May it be so. Amen.

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