Sunday, February 20, 2011

Love Toward Perfection

Check out the gospel assigned for Sunday:

‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. --Matthew 5:43-48

So, in other words, don't go by the words of Anita from West Side Story when she sings in anger to her fellow Puerto Rican Maria: One of your own kind/Stick to your own kind! Anything but that! In fact, it seems Jesus would have been all for the inter-ethnic romance of Maria and Tony.
This portion of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount is another one of those challenges to get outside the comfort of "kinfolk" and get along with people who might not be the ones with whom you'd normally spend an afternoon drinking beer around the grill and swapping stories. In a way, returning to church was possibly one of my steps toward loving my enemy. I had written off Christianity, in general, and the Episcopal Church in Florida, specifically, as irrelevant and not a place or a group of people I wanted to be around. Two of the local churches had been actively speaking out against gays, and none of the other Episcopal groups were offering a counterpoint, so I wasn't exactly running to go attend services. Between the split that took most of the homophobes out of the Episcopal Church to start their own parishes, and the death of my father, I found my way into the pew again after a sixteen-year absence. It was odd coming back. But what was the strangest thing was how I was hearing all those prayers, hymns and Scripture with new ears. I was really hearing them. And I was gleaning from them something that I hadn't known was there; a love that was liberating for me and anyone else who cared to listen.

With my re-entry, I was aware that there were still some who looked at me with suspicion. I imagine that this may have been conditioning from the previous rector, who encouraged the homophobia in people. But, taking a cue off this lesson from Jesus, I persisted in being friendly and meeting their dour facial expressions with a smile and a "Good morning." Slowly, I noticed they changed, and were not nearly as cold toward me. It's hard to remain aloof when somebody smiles at you. And those who have not changed? Well, I just keep smiling. I would rather be happy than looking like I'd just sucked on a lemon.

"...for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous."

Friends or enemies: we're all going to enjoy the good and bad in this life. The sun will shine on the head of the homophobe, and I will be left standing out in the rain without an umbrella. And the reverse is true also. Friend or foe, we are still children of God. Rather than have a food fight with one another, we should be making room at the table so more guests can join us at the banquet. This is an idea that I see spreading in some quarters.

Sadly, there are still places and people who refuse to believe that God's Table has enough elbow room for all. Does that mean I might find myself sitting next to someone such as Archbishop Henry Orombi of Uganda? Well, in God's seating chart, I suppose anything and everything is possible. If that were to happen, I imagine it might be an Alka-Seltzer moment for both of us! And yet, if I understand God's commandment, we are to sit together, and perhaps not speak. Not at first. But learn to listen in silence and allow God to do the ice breaking. Might take a pick ax to get through the frozen tundra between us, but the only way to perfection would be for both of us to trust in God, and try to find some common denominator for a discussion. This effort does require both of us to try.
This is fantasy, of course. I am never likely to meet Archbishop Orombi... and I'm OK with that. But I may meet someone similar. So it is best for me to remember the better strategy is to deal with an enemy through love rather than to beat the person, screaming expletives. That wouldn't exactly be the thing Jesus would do.

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