A New Love: “Stranger Things” Sermon
The Essence of the Law
12 So now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? Only to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the commandments of the Lord your God[c] and his decrees that I am commanding you today, for your own well-being. 14 Although heaven and the heaven of heavens belong to the Lord your God, the earth with all that is in it, 15 yet the Lord set his heart in love on your ancestors alone and chose you, their descendants after them, out of all the peoples, as it is today. 16 Circumcise, then, the foreskin of your heart, and do not be stubborn any longer. 17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, 18 who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. 19 You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. 20 You shall fear the Lord your God; him alone you shall worship; to him you shall hold fast, and by his name you shall swear. 21 He is your praise; he is your God, who has done for you these great and awesome things that your own eyes have seen. 22 Your ancestors went down to Egypt seventy persons; and now the Lord your God has made you as numerous as the stars in heaven.
Matthew 5:43-48 New Revised Standard Version (NLT)
Love for Enemies
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor z and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love only those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
“Stranger Things – A New Love” 2/10/19 @ Harbor Church
Our sermon title today is “Stranger Things” What are some of the stranger things that the Bible has to say about strangers? One of the strangest things appears in our readings today: “Love your enemies” and “Love the Stranger” Feelings of being strange or different are what create distance between people and people groups.
Many things can separate us from others. Ideas, nationalities, ethnicities, religions, even words can create distance between us:
Consider these “Provocative pronouns”: They/Them/Those Guys – the “others”
In the grammar of God, there is no
I vs. You
Him vs. Her
We vs. They
Mine vs. Theirs
Us vs. Them
Theirs vs. Ours.
In our grammar, we need to get away from the third person plural, and begin thinking in the first person instead:
In the grammar of God, there is only one person and one people: One God, and One Family of God.
There is only one We, There is only One Us, and There is only One Ours. -We, Us, and Ours
In the grammar of the Old Testament Hebrew, the words for stranger can mean someone who is different, but also be translated as wonderful or unique as well!
The word for foreigner or alien is derived from the same root word for guest- the implication being that the stranger is the person to whom hospitality has not been extended, YET!
In Science fiction Aliens are green and have antennae; in real-life they have the same number of fingers and toes as we do, they are simply different than we are in others ways.
THE STRANGER There is a natural human tendency to withdraw into an enclave and associate with people just like us, avoiding opposition from those who see the world differently. I admit, I prefer the ease of a gathering of like-minded friends to the awkwardness of other social encounters.
Changing our Perspective: in the Classic book, To Kill a Mockingbird, the fictional lawyer Atticus Finch says,“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it,” According to the experts, that process is not so simple and actually involves four encounters, not just two. Imagine that I encounter a Muslim for the very first time. I meet him and he meets me. Lurking like ghosts behind those two encounters, though, are two more: my image of who he is and his image of who I am. I think of terrorists and the Taliban; he thinks of American drone missiles and internet pornography. We both have our vision clouded by preconceptions and the other stereotypes involved when two races and cultures confront each other.
According to Jonathan Sacks, the former chief rabbi of Great Britain, “The Hebrew Bible [our Old Testament] in one verse commands, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ but in no fewer than 36 places commands us to ‘love the stranger.’ ” He adds, “The supreme religious challenge is to see God’s image in one who is not in our image.”
Valentine’s Day is this coming week, and we all know that kind of love that this holiday celebrates. But we also need a different kind of love- the love for the stranger. Here is the litmus test for a new kind of love.
Here’s a good test of how well we love others: Are other people glad to be with us? Somehow Jesus managed to attract the kind of people frowned upon by most religious types, and yet those renegades clearly liked being with Jesus. Think of the prostitute who crashed a dinner party and anointed him with expensive perfume, or of Zacchaeus, a tax collector scorned by his neighbors as a Roman collaborator. Rather than judging them, Jesus loved and honored them, and in the process brought to the surface a thirst that only he could satisfy.
In a command found in no other religion, Jesus bids us show love not only to strangers and sinners but also to our outright adversaries. “Love your enemies,” he says at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, and “pray for those who persecute you.” an example of this is found in an Army reserve chaplain named Thomas Bruce. Just before mobilizing for a year of duty in Iraq he launched the web-based prayer movement Adopt a Terrorist for Prayer. He registered the website as ATFP.org, an ironic echo of the Defense Department’s own “Anti-Terrorism Force Protection.” On it he posts photos of dangerous terrorists from the FBI’s and State Department’s most wanted lists and invites users to “adopt” one to pray for. To date, over A thousand people have done so.
What would happen if every church in the United States adopted a member of al-Qaeda, learned to pronounce his name, and prayed for him?”
Love has the power to win over the stranger, even the adversary. A news event in 1995 shocked both sides in the culture wars controversy. Norma Leah McCorvey, was the “Jane Roe” of the famous Roe v. Wade Supreme Court case of 1973, she mbraced the Christian Faith, got baptized, and joined the pro-life campaign. Most astoundingly, it was the director of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue who influenced her. As she tells the story, the change occurred when that director stopped treating her like an antagonist. He apologized for publicly calling her “baby killer” and started spending time with her during her smoking breaks in the parking lot that, oddly enough, their offices shared. In time McCorvey accepted an invitation to church from a seven-year-old girl whose mother also worked at Operation Rescue. Pro-abortion forces had dismissed McCorvey—her dubious past of drug-dealing, alcohol, and promiscuity made bad public relations—but Christian leaders took the time to counsel her in the faith while keeping her out of the spotlight for some time.
We recently celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day. He had much opportunity to practice the principle of “Loving Your Enemies.” In a sermon by that title, written in jail after he had been arrested during the Montgomery bus boycott, he explained his method: To our most bitter opponents we say: “. . . Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws because noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. Throw us in jail and we shall still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory.”
The pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer faced mocking opponents in Nazi Germany, where the nation’s educated elite scorned the church as narrow-minded and hypocritical. Writing to fellow pastors, Bonhoeffer advised that in response to cultured despisers who stand against the church, “the quiet service of love is the best spiritual care.”
Who do you fear most? Who in your mind is most different from you? For me as a child, I feared swarthy men with beards- they were scary! If we think about it, we can all think of types of people that are so different from us that they scare us a little. But we can overcome that fear, we can replace it. We can learn to Fear God instead, then we can learn to love the stranger as we take our cues from the Lord.
A consultant in the corporate world reviewed all the courses he had taken—and taught—on principles of good management. It occurred to him that he had never taken a course in how to love, even though the Bible presents it as the primary command in life. At a gathering I attended, he asked us to think about one question: “When have I felt loved?” I came up with a list: when someone listens to me attentively, makes me feel important, encourages me (and sometimes even challenges me), cares for me when I’m hurting, gives me an unexpected gift.
Phillip Yancey says, “The more we love, and the more unlikely people we love, the more we resemble God—who, after all, loves ornery creatures like us.”
The family of humankind, indeed all of creation, is filled with ornery, unlikely creatures who all shared this common ground; they are all equaled and fully loved by God. May the Church of Jesus Christ increasingly reflect this truth, and in the words of
Irish Poet William Butler Yeats may we all be able to say: “There are no strangers here, only friends who haven’t met yet.”
Excerpts in this sermon are taken from Yancey, Philip. Vanishing Grace (p.33- 44). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.