Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. Let your good spirit lead me on a level path. -- from Psalm 143
Last week, in a Bible study, we were asked to: Think about your current community. Are there people you find difficult to love because of their lifestyle, their values, and/or their customs? Who are they? What does the Bible say about your relationship with them? (from "Unity in the Midst of Diversity," published by The Women of the ELCA, March, pg. 29).
I answered, "I have the hardest time with people who exclude other people based upon their theology. But I realize that this puts me in a bind. For, if I don't think we should exclude people, then I cannot exclude the excluders. I need to look past their beliefs to see the goodness in them and to see the love of God behind their theology."
Now, as I begin to put myself "out there" in order to get the message of God's love to as many people as possible, I see that I am going to encounter more of the people whom I find so difficult. God has a very ironical sense of humor. The very thing that I say I find difficult, or can't do, he puts in front of me, and says, "Oh yeah?" Clearly, I have something to learn here. Perhaps, it is: Practice what you preach.
Jesus said, "Love your enemies, and pray for those that persecute you.... For if you love only those who agree with you, what more do you do than others?" (Matt. 5:46-47). So, how do I love the people who exclude others from God's Kingdom?
What exactly does love entail? Do I ignore them, let them go their way and me go mine? Is that loving? Do I initiate a debate over theology? That never works to bring people together -- rather, just the opposite happens. Jesus came across many people who excluded others from God's kingdom. How did he respond to them?
Well, he either told a parable or he asked a question. In either case, he wanted them to think about what God's kingdom is really like. The Parable of the Prodigal Son comes to mind (Luke 15:11-32). And so does a question.
The question that comes to mind was not asked by Jesus, but by a child. Kate Braestrup tells of a conversation she had with her 12-year-old son, Zach, in "Here if You Need Me" (published by Little, Brown, 2007). Kate began talking to Zach about Jesus’ radical, sacrificial, life-changing love. After a while, her son says, “So, Mom… Let’s say I decide to become a devoted follower of Jesus Christ. … If I die, and because I am Christian, I get to go to heaven instead of going to hell…. If I really take Jesus seriously, if I really am willing to give up everything I am and everything I have in the service of love, if I am really a Christian … it seems to me I would have to give my place in heaven to someone else, someone who otherwise wouldn’t get to go. I’ll have to go to hell, so this other person could be in heaven. Right, Mom?” (pg.206) As Jesus said, "The Kingdom of God was made for such as these."
Dear God, Compassionate Lord, may the spirit of Christ come upon me, so that I may look with compassion upon everyone. Grant me a right spirit towards all those who see things differently than I do. Love always, Pam