“Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” –Romans 13:8
How do you respond to personal attacks? Write a nasty e-mail? Unfriend them from Facebook? Attacks them by telling others what they have done, and of course adding a few extras. Perhaps you could gather support by finding many other people who agree that the person is unkind unfair and plain nasty.
Perhaps you go to the person directly and talk to them about the attack as you perceived it. Or perhaps you could just ignore it and go on with your life as if it never happened!
Many churches seem decimated by disagreements, finances, and by declining numbers who attend. Tim Freke and Peter Gandy in their book “The Jesus Mysteries,” write; “From the beginning of its history up to the present day, Christianity has been a religion of schism and conflict.” They argue Christianity has been one of the most contentious religions in history!
Church consultant Tom Bandy portrays the church as acting more like a political convention center than a religious center. It continually has conflicts over issues where people line up in support on one side against the other side and then take an emotional vote to see who wins, who is on God’s side!
Why do we act this way? One could answer this is a polarized world of right and wrong, of good and bad, of just and unjust. It is a bipolarized world of ups and downs of love and hate, of feeling good and of feeling bad.
Into this picture of a world and church we read from St. Paul in Romans 13; “You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.” What is he talking about? He’s talking about awakening to a spiritual world, a non-dualistic world in which we live in the presence of the Christ. It is a world as the song of Daniel Nahmod goes, “There is no wrong, there is no right, but all is in all!”
Of course in this world of duality, there are the opposites of good and bad, of love and hate. But if God is love and the only true reality and everything else is ephemeral, then only love is real. When we awaken to this, and that we are part of this eternal reality called God or love, we are as the Bible says, “in the world but not of the world.”
It is hard to awaken, however, because we are so attached to our egos and our bodies. We are attached to the forms around us and we feel sad and hatred when the forms are threatened or disappear. When we attack another, however, we are only projecting our anger and disappointment along with the guilt of being in these forms. We would like to think these forms are immortal but they are not. We as Spirit are one with God, but it is so hard to remember and so hard to stay awake to.
And so we divide the world out between the good and the bad, projecting our anger and guilt on the bad and trying to remember who the good are. So often it comes down to the old phrase, “I just can’t trust anyone in the world except you, and sometimes I wonder about you!”
For years in our country we could easily project our hate upon minorities such as Native Americans and the African immigrants. With the brave work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1950’s and 60’s, African-Americans have been less accepting of our scapegoating. Native Americans in our time are also fighting back to claim their own dignity and self-worth. We hated Russian communists until the Iron Curtain fell. And then the Muslims became again our objects of hate and scapegoat. Some scapegoat on the poor calling them lazy and welfare cheats. Others scapegoat on the rich calling them greedy, dishonest and mean.
St. Paul simply says, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” Then he sums up all the law by saying, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” So what difference does it make that we all have imperfections? That is just the way it is in this world on this level. When we wake up, we learn to see the difference.
Each day and week we have opportunities to test this wakefulness. We can catch ourselves attacking others with our words, and ask for forgiveness. “Oops, attached again!”
We might spend time each week or day seeing ourselves as sitting in a theater with Jesus beside us. Looking upon the stage we see our self! We observe our actions and words during the day. We notice acts of love along with acts of judgment or hatred. When seeing acts of hatred we turn toward Jesus and feel his hand touch ours with assurance of forgiveness. We think of Shakespeare, “Life is but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and is heard no more, a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing!” Yet we remember over and over again that God forgives our sleepfulness, our illusions. Yes, God wants us to awaken to true life that we may experience the deepest joy and peace possible.
Last Tuesday I took my grandson golfing at the Hamburg course. My 12-year-old grandson is just beginning but hits a pretty good ball! On the first tee after a few practice swings, he took a mighty swing at the ball as it sat on the tee. Up and up went the ball swinging to the left and out over the fence onto the road where in one bounce it landed on the hood of a Mercedes-Benz! We saw the driver brake and then come to a stop opposite our tee. He and his son got out and motioned for us to come! So my grandson and I began to walk slowly over to the fence as the father and son looked scrupulously over the fairly new Mercedes. Finally when the traffic cleared and we were about to walk over, the father motioned us to stay where we were, that they could find no marks and damage, telling us to go on with our game. (I also recognized the man as the husband of one of the Wayside members and who knows, that might have granted us some slack!)
Each of our days fills with tests and temptations to give love or return to hate. And each time we have the choice to make; do we respond with hatred or with love? So many of our words and actions are like hitting golf balls into cars along the road of life and we make decisions of forgiveness or attack, of confessing or running.
Some of my friends back at Wayside have heard I am in difficulty here as supply preacher in West Seneca! They have been told I am in “deep trouble!” People ask, “What have you done? How can you stand it?” I try to reply pretty much the same way; “I’m doing fine and feeling free. And every time there’s been a vote, I continue to stay! But whether I stay or leave I will always be free. I will always feel love and forgiveness for myself and toward anyone who says anything about me!”
Yes, as the apostle Paul wrote; “Now is the moment for you to awake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers. The night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then live honorably as in the date, not in reveling or drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling or jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (Romans 13:11-14)
We can have peace with a simple change of our mind. There is nothing here that you and I really want to hang on to except love. And love is kind, love is patient, love is eternal!” Everything else is simply “dust in the wind!”
Talk shared at the 1st Presbyterian Church of West Seneca, September 4, 2011