Love one another
The Rev. Leonard Oakes
“Let love be genuine. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Today’s Second reading was written by the Apostle Paul to the young church at Rome. The letter is full of advice, as Paul gives guidance in the early days of the church to a young community that is already experiencing some problems, some conflict and challenges, as they learn to live together, rooted in love, not a warm, fuzzy, soft-focus love, but a clear, “community,” interdependent kind of love.
Today, we are surrounded by a world that puts its faith more in striking back than in discovering beauty in every single one of God’s children. In Rome long ago, and in the world today, the sweet irony of loving our enemy, of giving our hungry enemy food instead of bombing them, of giving our thirsty enemy a drink instead of striking them down, might confuse and confound them, and perhaps even participate in their transformation as well. We are too conformed to the ways of this world rather than to the ways of the gospel, it seems, and unwilling to short-circuit evil with good. We find ourselves fueling the evil rather than doing the entirely unexpected thing of responding with love. It is the effect of sin disfiguring the essential goodness of our creation in the image of God.
This good creation by God is the reason we should consider our “natural tendencies” to be good and beautiful. Our truest nature lies buried beneath the distortions of sin and self-centeredness, of fear and failure to trust. And yet we are transformed by God, and the actions we choose have a hand in shaping us not in the form and image of a broken world, but in the shape of God’s own dream for us, good and lovely, gracious and giving and kind. Perhaps there have been moments that you can think of when you, or others in your life, in this church, have loved from the center of who they are, times when you have discovered beauty in everyone.
The beauty I am trying to paint here is not like this 54 year old woman who had a heart attack and was taken to the hospital. While on the operating table she had a near death experience. Seeing God she asked “Is my time up?” God said, “No, you have another 43 years, 2 months and 8 days to live.”
Upon recovery, the woman decided to stay in the hospital and have a face-lift, liposuction, breast implants and a tummy tuck. She even had someone come in and …change her hair color and brighten her teeth! Since she had so much more time to live, she figured she might as well make the most of it.
After her last operation, she was released from the hospital. While crossing the street on her way home, she was killed by an ambulance.
Arriving in front of God, she demanded, “I thought you said I had another 43 years? Why didn’t you pull me from out of the path of the ambulance?”
God replied, “I didn’t recognize you”.
That’s not the beauty we all want to discover, but rather the beauty of our compassion to each other when we committed ourselves to follow Christ. The beauty where God can easily recognize us as we are, His own children, a genuine beauty of love shared in our unity as one family of God.
We easily forget that we are ever walking in the sight of God. We are easily being overcome by evil rather than trying our best to overcome evil with good.
Life is short, and we do not have so much time to gladden the hearts of those who travel the journey with us. So let us be quick to love, swift to be kind and always ready to forgive. One person put it this way, “I live through this world only once and so whatever good I can do, whatever kindness I can give, whatever compassion I can extend, I must do it now for I may not have a chance to do it again.” Another person puts it this way, “we can live our short life with anxiety and fear, with anger and resentment, with bitterness and strife or we can live our life with peace and courage, with love and forgiveness, with peace and reconciliation.”
A story is told of a person who had terminal cancer and that the doctor told him he had only a few months to live. Analyzing his chances and mindful of imminent death, he prayed to God what he must do. In a flash, God showed him those people who have something against him, those whom he had hurt over the years. God also showed him those who hurt him, who caused him anger and resentment. He decided to call them one by one or write them emails, asking them to forgive him or telling them he had forgiven them. Every time he forgives a person, one tumor in his body fades away; and every time someone forgives him, another tumor fades away—until all the tumors and cancer cells are gone. In that amazing act, he had gained healing and new life for himself.
Love, forgiveness, kindness, respect, all the good fruit of the spirit bring healing to our souls because they nourish the wholeness in our hearts. Holiness is the absence of ruptured relationship.
It was said, to love a friend is natural; to love an enemy is supernatural. To love a friend is ordinary; to love an enemy is extraordinary. To love a friend is human; to love an enemy is divine.
There is a sense of mystery from Jesus’ teaching on perfect love but his explanation was clear and vivid: “If you love only those who love you, what difference does it make? Even the evil people do the same. And if you welcome only your brothers and sisters, how different are you from the others in the world? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
According to the mystics, the fullness of human life is when we have embodied God in our own being. The purpose of life is not for self-preservation but for self-transformation. Life in all its fullness is the freedom to love without limits, the willingness to offer one’s life in the service of the others and the commitment to transcend the boundaries of human consciousness and self-limitation. “Those who save their life will lose it, and those who lost their life will save it” the Master said. As Francis of Assisi prayed, “It is in giving that we receive; it is in forgiving that we are forgiven, it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”
A newlywed couple would always argue about every little thing that comes their way. The man is always busy at work, comes home drunk going straight to bed. The woman doesn’t have time to take care of herself. There was never a time where they would sit down over a cup of coffee and talk about the good things they have accomplished together. The woman would always say to her husband, “Lasinggo” (Drunkard). The man would answer, “Pangit” (Ugly). Every day, those words are the contents of their mouth. One day, the man got tired of the babbly mouth of his wife. So when his wife said, “Lasinggo” (Drunkard), He said to her, “Lasinggo man ako ngayon, tao naman kinabukasan” (I may be drunk tonight, but tomorrow I’ll be sober.) “ Ikaw, pangit ka ngayon, bukas, pangit ka pa rin.” (But you, you’re unattractive today, you will still be unattractive tomorrow).
Let us not get ourselves involved into this kind of argument. Love one another and be forgiving. Let the beauty of God’s love be displayed in our togetherness and constant walk with our creator. Let us always remember to remove our sandals because we are walking on a Holy Ground. Always remembering that God has something in plan for us and that although we are a lot of times, like Peter, forget God’s real plan, we are quick to ask forgiveness and restore our relationship as followers of Christ. Let us forgive and forget. Forgetting not the beauty and memory of conflict but the bitterness, anger and hatred we felt for others. It should be a virtue we who profess as Christians should posses. So that others may know who we are and why we believe God who owns us. We cannot appreciate the joy of reconciliation if we do not experience the bitterness of conflict. That scar may forever remind us of that sad ordeal. But instead of feeling anger and hatred and bitterness against someone, we feel compassion for him. Only then can we say that we have truly forgiven those who sinned against us. Thus the Lord’s Prayer would not be an empty skeleton of words and phrases, but filled stuffed framework with skin and meat and blood which give life to those who utter it. Let us therefore give one another a genuine love. Give it to God for the sake of your soul. Amen.