Love Without Limits

Posted by on Oct 3, 2013 in Faith Words |

Words of Faith

 Rev. Rita S. Platt

April 28, 2013

“Love Without Limits”

Acts 11:1-17; John 13:31-35

A group of boys and girls, ages 4-8 was asked, “What does love mean?” Here are some of their answers: 

            “Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on shaving cologne and they go out     and      smell each other.” Karl – age 5

             “Love is when you tell a guy you like his shirt, then he wears it every day.” Noelle – age 7

             “During my piano recital I was on a stage and I was scared. I looked at all the people watching        me and saw my daddy waving and smiling. He was the only one doing that. I wasn’t scared         anymore.” Cindy – age 8

            “Love is when Mommy sees Daddy smelly and sweaty and still says he is handsomer than Brad       Pitt.” Chris – age 7

            “You really shouldn’t say ‘I love you’ unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should    say it a             lot. People forget.” Jessica – age 8 

 Jesus was preparing his disciples for the time when he would no longer be with them. “A new command I give you,” he said. “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

No passage in Scripture can be clearer than this one. Christians are to be known by their love. This is our primary witness in the world. As Christ has loved us, so are we to love one another. I believe that deep down we all know that, but sometimes we forget. 

I imagine Jesus had wished it to have been easy to convince people of God’s boundless love; but that was not the case. His main obstacle was the religious community, those who felt that they and they alone were the exclusive recipients of God’s love.

 It all began when Jesus returned to his hometown of Nazareth. It appeared to be a regular Sabbath service. Jesus opened up the scriptures and read these liberating words from the prophet Isaiah: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. — Luke 4:18-19.  Then Jesus preached. And it must have been a very good sermon because the people were proud of their local boy’s eloquence. They were proud until Jesus began explaining the implication of Isaiah’s words being fulfilled in him. 

They were proud until he threw their understanding of the scripture out the window.  What Jesus did that remarkable day in Nazareth was tell his hometown crowd that Isaiah’s words, which they had heard a hundred times, were now finally coming alive for them and everyone. He told them that he was the manifestation of God’s radical love to all, the outsiders, the disenfranchised, and the ones who were

not part of the in-crowd. Jesus told them he had come to challenge their privileged theology by erasing any lines of distinction. How did they respond? These hometown friends of Jesus drove him out of the synagogue and attempted to throw him off a cliff!  This atmosphere of anger toward “outsiders” still exists today. Everyone has their “Gentiles!”  Everyone discriminates against and draws lines of self-righteous distinction. You would think, by now, our world should have moved passed such archaic and cruel ways of thinking. But even after Martin Luther King’s prophetic call for equal rights and all those years of many singing, “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight,” racism still runs rampant, and hate crimes are on the rise. And it is even in the UM church.  The general church has 4 areas of focus:

            * Developing Principled Christian Leaders for the church and for the world

            * Creating new places for new people by starting new congregations and renewing existing ones

            * Engage in Ministry with the poor

            * Stamp out killer diseases by improving health globally

But in W. PA we added a 5th: Dismantle  racism.  You may wonder, is this really necessary?  I would loudly say YES!! In one of the churches I have served my layleader used the term “nigger” repeatedly at a United Methodist Women’s luncheon.  When I spoke to her about that she saw nothing wrong with the content of her conversation and she defended her word choice.  In another congregation the church leadership was upset because I had invited children from a nearby housing project to enter the church.  These are not isolated instances.

The United Methodist system appoints pastors.  If you have ever served on a pastor-parish committee you are probably aware pastors are deployed without regard to gender, ethnicity, or physical handicap; yet, many of our churches will not accept a person of color as their pastor.  And as outrageous as it may seem, some extremist groups discriminate in the name of God and Holy Scripture! People continue to make distinctions between who does and does not count.

Lest I become too self-righteous, I want to take a scalpel to my own heart. You may want to be included. Think of the person you cannot stand to be around.

            * Perhaps it is the sloppy neighbor down the street who never cleans up his/her yard.. 

            * Maybe it is the teenager who has tattoos and piercings all over his body.  Or wears gages in           their ears (gages are big holes, you see.) 

            * The person whose politics are different from yours. 

            * Maybe it is the person who does not speak English 

            * The muslims

            * Or maybe it’s an individual that openly displays a different sexual orientation. 

Try to feel your irritation when you are around those kinds of people. Now, as you have them in your mind, hear these words of our Lord: “Love one another as I have loved you.”  How does that make you feel?  Like telling Jesus to go jump off a cliff?  Like telling Jesus he’s crazy?  You’re not alone.  In fact, you are in a lot of good company. The Bible is filled with people who thought our Lord was crazy.  In the

Old Testament, Jonah thought God was crazy.  Interestingly, God gave Jonah a similar vision to Peter’s, but Jonah was more stubborn than Peter.  Jonah was the man who wanted to do God’s will until God told him to go to Nineveh — wicked, wicked Nineveh! What was he supposed to do there? Persuade the Ninevites to turn from their evil ways and be saved by God.  Jonah responded, “You want me to do what? Go to where? Go to whom? Those awful, evil Ninevites who live across the tracks?  And I am to save them for you?  Lord, you must be crazy or kidding!  Tell me you’re kidding.  Obviously, you have mistaken me for someone who cares about that kind of people. This is where I came in and this is where I get off!”  So Jonah thought that if he left Israel he would be free of Israel’s God. He got as far as the shore of the Mediterranean, hopped on a ship, and said, “I am free at last! For I am free of God!”  But soon Jonah found himself turned upside down and inside out in the belly of a large fish.  And, to his surprise, he found the God of Israel there, as well. So Jonah repented and decided not to run from God anymore. God led Jonah into Nineveh and did a mighty work, through Jonah, in the hearts of the Ninevites.  Jonah’s boundaries and barriers were obliterated.  What God did for Jonah and what Jesus commanded Peter to do in Joppa, our Lord now commands us to do in our world today. 

God commands us to erase any lines of negative distinction between human beings and destroy our exclusive boundaries and barriers which we have helped to maintain. God commands us to turn our institutions, ideas, and paradigms upside down and inside out by reminding our world that God’s love has no limits.