February 12, 2017 6th Sunday in Epiphany
Deuteronomy 30:15-20 I Corinthians 3:1-9 Matthew 5:21-37
Happy Valentine’s Day – a few days early! I know that Valentine’s day isn’t one of the high holy days in the Christian calendar, and that St. Valentine is kind of a disputed saint, since there are actually eleven of them in the catholic list of saints; and the one who died on February 14, might not have died on that day; but it is nice that we take sometime in the middle of winter to celebrate the idea of human love.
You know love is what Christianity is all about. We believe that God created us out of love. We believe that God loves us because we are His creation. We believe that the two first commandments that God gave to us: To love God with all our being, and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves: are the basis of all our laws and life-practices. We believe that God incarnated and came to us as Christ because He loved us so much that he wanted to teach us how we could love better and understand His own love for us better. We believe that Christ sacrificed himself because God loved us so much that He needed to show us that we are redeemed. And one of the promises of that sacrifice is that we can live in God’s love for eternity. God loves us so much that He has a place for each of us in His eternal kingdom, and we have the assurance, through Christ, of eternal life.
That’s a lot of love. Sometimes it’s hard to grasp, it’s so big. But it can move out of a concept into reality when we give, and receive, actions of love to and for each other.
But there is a problem with all that love. We are not perfect people. And sometimes we mess up and don’t show the love we need to, or end up hurting people by our actions. And then we don’t have love. We have anger, resentment, hurt, and fear, which can sometimes lead to hate, pride, jealousy, and revenge. And, when those emotions start to control you, love gets shoved out the door and sometimes it can’t even come back in through a window.
Moses, as the speaker of Deuteronomy, describes very clearly what it is to live in love, or to live on the other side in hate.
He says: See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. Those are the two different ways that you can approach life and living. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the LORD your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. Notice that to obey the commandments you must act with love.
But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. Now my first thought of what “other gods” might be are gods from Egypt, or Greece, or Philistine, but then I thought that allowing hateful emotions to take over your life is even worse that worshipping a foreign god.
Some foreign gods, like Buddha, want you to have compassion for your fellow humans, but hateful emotions don’t. They demand all your attention and all your time to keep them going. They demand that you focus on the negative in your life, never on the positive. They demand that you put yourself at the center of the universe – because that’s how they are maintained. And anyone that puts themselves and their needs at the center of the universe develops into a narcissistic egotist, who has no love for anyone else.
It’s easy for us to be hurt, and then find ourselves living in the hurt, and then worshiping all the hate and rage that comes out of the hurt.
Now I’m not saying that some things aren’t hurtful. Some things are very hurtful. Some things that happen in our lives are down right unacceptable, inexcusable, and you don’t walk away from them unshaken and untouched. But it’s not good to keep living there in that hurt and pain, because it keeps you from joy and love.
Jesus never said that we weren’t going to live without pain. But what he tried to do was to give us a coping mechanism that would get us back to love. And he outlines it in the Sermon on the Mount.
The first element is that no matter what our condition is – no matter what pain we are going through God loves us and we are blessed. Even if we don’t feel blessed, as all those people who were hungry and oppressed can attest to, we are still blessed and loved by God. The second element is that, even though we might not feel ourselves to be, we are sacred beings. We have souls that are beloved by God, we are God’s creation, and that makes us treasured by God as people who are worthwhile. The third element is that we all have a very special power. We have the power to forgive and to reconcile.
Hateful emotions do not like forgiveness and reconciliation. I think we all know what forgiveness means but what does to reconcile mean? It’s from Latin meaning to bring back or bring together but it has evolved in our language to mean different levels of bringing back or bringing together.
The first level is to accept something that has happened. I have reconciled myself to the fact that my daughter is going to college overseas and not in America. This is the point that we accept that something has happened even though we might not like it. We are not in denial and we are facing the situation.
The second level is to make one account consistent with another, as in: I have reconciled Mary’s story with Sarah’s. I’ve heard person A’s story and person B’s story, about what happened, and now I think I see as truthfully as I can the middle point of what actually happened.
The third level is to work toward coexisting in harmony. That takes compromise. That takes both sides willing to give and acknowledge that mistakes were made; and now how can we fix things?
The fourth level is to restore friendly or loving relationships between people. And in order to do that you have to forgive the mistakes that were made and figure out how you are going to move forward with the person you are in conflict with.
Now you can still go through the first two points and still not be moving toward forgiveness and reconciliation. You can be at the first level and can accept the fact that something has happened but say, “Do you believe this stupid situation? Do you know what that person did? Do you know how angry I feel? Well, if they think that I’m going to apologize to them or accept their apology – forget it!” That’s when you find yourself worshiping at the temple of pride, anger, and hate. Look, I’ve got nothing against blowing off steam and acknowledging hurt if you gets you to level one that something happened and something has to be done. But if you set up an altar to it and light that fire everyday on your anger and hate then you are going to be worshiping before that god.
Instead give it to Christ. Say, “Jesus, I am so hurting. I am so angry and hateful. I just have to pour out to you all this anger and hate – show me how to get past this, to solve it.” Yell your hurt at Christ if you have to – He died on the cross for you to prove to you that he can take it.
A lot of people don’t get past the second level, because they won’t listen to the other side. We have all been there when we’ve tried to explain our hurt and anger and what have we gotten? God, you’re just too sensitive. Really, what are you so bothered about? Or they deny that the situation never really happened. Okay, they might be stuck in denial and unable to reconcile – but that doesn’t mean that you can’t. You can say, “Okay, Jesus, this person isn’t going to help me work this out. I need you to show me how I can get some harmony back in my life, and figure out how I am going to work with this person in the future,”
We’ve also done the denying that it happened because we’re too ashamed to admit that we might have done something wrong. When you find yourself defending your involvement in a bad situation that is when you need to take a deep breath – and ask Jesus for the strength to admit that you were at least involved in the situation or wrong somewhere.
Maybe the two of you won’t find that middle ground of workable truth – but at least you will know where you stand and you’ll be able to see a way forward into the third level, which is establishing some sort of harmony. It is at this point that forgiveness comes in.
Now a lot of people think that forgiveness comes with an apology. And I agree that this is the best way to do something. But you also need to forgive yourself. What happens if you apologize and don’t get forgiveness – well that’s the other person’s problem – you at least made the effort and made things right with yourself, and that is all that God asks you to do.
But what if you had something really terrible happen to you and the person doesn’t acknowledge or apologize? Is it possible to forgive even if you don’t have the other half of the dialogue? Yes it is. Give the apology through Christ. Go ahead and have a dialogue with Him. Say: Jesus, this person did this terrible thing to me. I really got hurt. They are never going to acknowledge or apologize for it. But I don’t want to be stuck in the temple of anger, shame, and hurt. I want to live my life in your love and joy. So I need your help to know that even if THEY don’t acknowledge or apologize that YOU acknowledge and give me the apology of love that I need to heal. I need you to take away my anger, shame, and hurt and heal me. Please give me your Holy Spirit of healing so that I can be whole again in your love. Amen.
This is not mystic mumbo-jumbo. This is acting on the promise of God’s love that you are blessed no matter what your condition is. This is you walking out of the Temple of Hate into the Temple of God’s Love. This is you finding the sacredness in your heart and soul. This is you being reconciled to God’s love and restoring your relationships with Him and the world.
This is all of us living the true spirit of Valentine’s Day. So on this Valentine’s Day I urge you to accept the invitation to God’s Love and to reconcile and forgive the hurts in your life. What can you give to God and let go that will make you a person of wholeness and love? Give it all to God and Jesus and see what the Holy Spirit does for you.