A wise man once said to me that Christians are the one group that tends to eat their young. He also said that we tend to shoot our wounded. While that may be a gross image, what he meant was that we tend to attack and devour anyone in our midst who we disagree with or find to be odd.
And today, we as Christians continue that trend of devouring our young or shooting our wounded. We look at our brothers and sisters in Christ and if we do not like what we see, if they are not up to our standards of what a Christians should be, we tend to begin gnawing on them. We in the Independent Sacramental Movement are the worst about this. We forget that we are all wounded and imperfect individuals.
We look at our brothers and sisters and being to pick them apart: They are too prideful. They are too full of ego. They are too hard on people. They are weird. They have a history. They went to jail as a youth. They are too fat. They are gluttons. They dress funny. They talk funny. They smoke. They are always sick. They think they know everything. They…they…they…
We even being to assign tags to them: They are dangerous. They are vile. They are hateful. They are to be avoided. They are crazy. They are stupid. They are insolent. They…they…they…
And before you say it, if you are thinking, “But I don’t act that way.” or “I have a good reason to say that about so and so.” Then stop and realize, this message is for you.
Now let us ask ourselves a couple of very pointed questions. 1) What did Jesus say about such things? 2) How did he instruct us to live? and 3) Are we living that way?
1) The first question is the most important. What did Jesus say about such things. Many of you will immediately begin with the money changers in the temple. “Jesus threw them all out of the temple. He was justified in his assessment and anger. He even called the Pharisees vipers!” You are right. Jesus did. But we are not the Son of God either. When mortal men, like you and I, came before Jesus with the woman caught in adultery, what did Jesus do? Here, let me help you:
Now the scribes and Pharisees brought forward a woman caught in adultery, and they stood her in front of them. And they said to him: “Teacher, this woman was just now caught in adultery. And in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such a one. Therefore, what do you say?” But they were saying this to test him, so that they might be able to accuse him. Then Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the earth. And then, when they persevered in questioning him, he stood upright and said to them, “Let whoever is without sin among you be the first to cast a stone at her.” And bending down again, he wrote on the earth. But upon hearing this, they went away, one by one, beginning with the eldest. And Jesus alone remained, with the woman standing in front of him. Then Jesus, raising himself up, said to her: “Woman, where are those who accused you? Has no one condemned you?” And she said, “No one, Lord.” Then Jesus said: “Neither will I condemn you. Go, and now do not choose to sin anymore.” (John 8:3-11 CPDV)
The authorities were well within their rights to bring this woman up on charges. The Law of Moses said she should be stoned to death for her crime. However, Jesus did something unprecedented. He challenged the law and the authorities and offered a path of love, mercy and forgiveness. He gave her another chance to be different, to change her life, to live anew in freedom. How many times have we denied this opportunity to our brothers and sisters? Bishop, Priests, Deacons: I am speaking to you! How many times have we looked at our fellow brothers and sisters in ministry and immediately taken a dislike to them? How many time have we judged them through the lens of others gossip about them, or others opinions about them? How often have we decided that we are God and judges, sentenced and executed them all the while feeling justified in doing so?
2) How did Jesus teach us to live? This too is a good question we must ask ourselves. How many times have we been hurt by our brothers or sisters, how many times have we perceived a wrong being committed against us? And how did we act or react? How did Jesus instruct us to act?
But I say to you who are listening: Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you, and pray for those who slander you. And to him who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your coat, do not withhold even your tunic. But distribute to all who ask of you. And do not ask again of him who takes away what is yours. And exactly as you would want people to treat you, treat them also the same. And if you love those who love you, what credit is due to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you will do good to those who do good to you, what credit is due to you? Indeed, even sinners behave this way. And if you will loan to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is due to you? For even sinners lend to sinners, in order to receive the same in return. So truly, love your enemies. Do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return. And then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and to the wicked. Therefore, be merciful, just as your Father is also merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you: a good measure, pressed down and shaken together and overflowing, they will place upon your lap. Certainly, the same measure that you use to measure out, will be used to measure back to you again.” (Luke 6:27-38 CPDV)
Wow! This is a far cry from what most Christians do today! We tend to label those that hurt us. We tend to shun them, talk bad about them, look for ways to attack them. But that is not Christ-like. That is not living the Gospel.
If anyone says that he loves God, but hates his brother, then he is a liar. For he who does not love his brother, whom he does see, in what way can he love God, whom he does not see? And this is the commandment that we have from God, that he who loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:20-21 CPDV)
Listen carefully to me, especially you pastors and teachers: If you do not love your brothers and sisters, you do not love God. Saint John makes this clear. If you say you love God, but hate your brother, you are a LIAR. A LIAR. Listen carefully to what else he says, “he who loves God MUST also love his brother. It does not say that we might love our brother. It does not say if we feel like loving our brother. It does not say if our brother has never hurt us or if our brother is our spiritual equal or if we believe our brother is worthy. NO, it says that we MUST love our brother.
3) Now let us look in the mirror. Are we living the way Christ instructed us to?
Before I get to that, go ahead and begin to rationalize your behavior and your feelings. I will wait.
Now, take a deep look into yourself. Do you love your brothers and sisters? Really? Are you willing to help them bear their cross? Are you willing to look beyond the superficial and see them as Christ sees them?
“But so and so is weird. Or they are dangerous. Or they have a history. Or they hurt my feelings. Or they looked at me wrong. Or their breathing on me. Or…or…or…”
But, before all things, have a constant mutual charity among yourselves. For love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without complaining. Just as each of you has received grace, minister in the same way to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. When anyone speaks, it should be like words of God. When anyone ministers, it should be from the virtue that God provides, so that in all things God may be honored through Jesus Christ. To him is glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:8-11 CPDV)
Look at that! Saint Peter commands us to have constant mutual charity toward our brothers and sisters. We cannot have that kind of mutual charity if we are always looking for the bad in each other. We cannot have that kind of mutual charity if we are always harboring anger, resentment and hatred toward one another. We cannot live that command if we are constantly looking down at our brothers and sisters.
And then Saint Peter says something remarkable. He says something I have seen happen time and time again. “For love covers a multitude of sins.” Saint Peter is saying that if we have love, we can overcome these little vices we see in each other. We can overcome the clouded perception we have of one another. We can overcome the slights, hurts and pains we have caused each other. If we only have love!
I want to close with this: We as clergy, we as Christians, have the great opportunity to minister as true mirrors of the risen Christ. We have a chance to love others as Christ does. We have the chance to effect real change in our families, our churches and our world. But if we really want to do that, we must stop focusing on the splinter in our brother’s eye and focus on removing the plank in our own.
Only then, can we truly see clearly enough to love as Christ loves us: unconditionally.