“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”

(Jesus) said to him, `You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it: `You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”–Matthew 22:36-38

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“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.  It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”–1 Corinthians 13:4-8

It has been a difficult week to feel loving.  Yesterday alone, 1) I received an email insisting I vote for a Christian candidate because the opponent “is an openly gay man”; 2) Had a conversation debating whether it’s a sin for a woman to proclaim Christ’s gospel; and 3) Made the mistake of watching the Saturday Night Live Weekend Update parody of the presidential candidates.  There have been other incidents as well: a story about a church that refused to host a nondenominational Thanksgiving service because women would be participating in leading worship;  attempts by friends to draw me into petty arguments;  people laying blame on others for their own bad behavior.

 

Lincoln's Tomb, Springfield IL

Lincoln

A few years ago when we visited the Abraham Lincoln museum in Springfield Ill., I was struck the most by an exhibit of newspaper articles, editorials and cartoons from the time.  Hateful drawings and diatribes against Lincoln, sharp criticism of the Emancipation Proclamation, and, as men started dying in the Civil War, quick turnarounds from people who were supportive of the end of slavery–but not if it meant they were required to make sacrifices for human beings that were of a lower class and intellect.  I find it most poignant that the people who were supposed to be standing up for the rights of the oppressed and those treated harshly–the Christians–were sharply divided over the question of slavery. 

 

In 2,000 years, we’ve learned little about loving our neighbors as ourselves.  We are particularly happy to ignore at least one of  Paul’s descriptions of true love: it does not insist on its own way.  We have done a great injustice to 1 Corinthians 13, shuffling it off as a nice little wedding scripture, but nothing that has to do with Christ’s commandment to love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.

What is love?  Love isn’t an emotional high, a warm fuzzy feeling of affection that goes away if someone doesn’t act or believe the same way we do. Love was never meant to be about us–it’s an action verb that describes how we’re to treat other people.

Love means respecting other people’s experiences and beliefs. Love means giving kindness without expecting anything in return. Sometimes love means allowing people to face the consequences of their actions without becoming irritable or resentful.  Love means believing and hoping for the best in others, and never writing them off as beyond God’s grace and mercy. Love means accepting that you’ll find yourself around people who may make you uncomfortable, but they are people who want understanding and respect and friendship, just like you.

God didn’t send Jesus because we deserved a Savior, but because He knew we could never earn salvation on our own.  If God loves us that much, even when we’re behaving badly, who are we to claim that we follow God–and then withhold love and respect and kindness from others?

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