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The humorist Will Rogers told us that he never met a man he didn’t like. In the musical that celebrated Rogers’ life, there is a song by that title and in that song Rogers admits that one man “put him to the test,” but never pushed him finally to the point where his ability to like evaporated. I don’t know what your response is to Rogers’ disclosure, but I am led to think he was — to utilize an overworked phrase — “in denial.” Come now, can any of us stand and say that we have, without exception, always liked every single person with whom we have ever come into contact? I appreciated the honesty of a well-seasoned cleric who confessed: “There are some people to whom I couldn’t warm even if I were cremated with them!”
Let’s get this on the table before we go a step further. Christian men and women are not called to like everyone. The old camp song is titled “They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love,” and not, “They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Likes and Dislikes.” If there are folks to whom you do not warm, know please that you are not in violation of any Christian norm.
We are not called to like, but we are called — and this is the burden of our text — to love: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you,” says Jesus.
On Tuesday, I sat across the table from a co-worker whose niece was killed in the terrorist attack on the university in Kenya that was in the news recently. It took them several days to identify all the bodies – and for a while they were in suspense about what had happened to her as she was “missing.” What you probably didn’t read in the news stories was that the attackers purposely shot people in the face so they would be unrecognizable, but her body was finally identified by fingerprints. I asked him how he can not hate the people who did this horrible deed. His response humbled me: “What good would it do for me to hate them? Would that bring her back? The only answer to the problem is to love them.”
Love, as it is defined by our faith, is both a revered panacea, and an underemployed practice. To say that the answer to the world’s problems is for people to love each other more is both right and banal at the same time. It sounds wonderful and grand. Who would argue with the contention? But when you are eyeball to eyeball with another person — especially one who is cantankerous, obnoxious, difficult, who may be holding a gun (literally) to your head, who is unlovely, and seemingly unlovable — it is anything but an easy task. There will be more than a few times when we say with Jeremiah 9:2 – O that I had in the desert a traveler’s lodging place, that I might leave my people and go away from them!
Frederick Buechner has observed: “In the Christian sense, love is not primarily an emotion, but an act of will.” What does that say to you about your understanding of love?
PRAYER: Lord, you have taught me today about what love means and how little hate accomplishes through the words of my friend. Let me learn to love as you do and as you want me to! In Jesus’ name, Amen.
© 2015, Galen C. Dalrymple.
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