By Reverend Amanda,
When I think of Jesus’ command to love others as he has loved us, I feel as if I somehow fall short. I feel like I always need redirection to remind me that I need to love first and judge later. Love was a lesson my mother spent many long days trying to impart to my brothers and I. This was not an easy lesson for me to learn. I am still learning just how much Jesus has loved me and just how much I need to love others. As a child, I was bullied in school by the girls in my class and occasionally a few of the boys would join in especially in those difficult middle school years.
I remember one such day coming home from school in tears and telling my mother how much I hated another child because they had spent all day making fun of me in class because I couldn’t read when it came to my turn to read out loud. For those of you who don’t know, I was a late reader and spent many years in remedial reading developing those skills. I was ostracized on the playground and told that I was too stupid to be friends with these girls. The words they used left deep scars on my self-esteem.
I remember vividly feeling discouraged with myself and being filled with disappointment with my peers. I hated those who made my life miserable. I can only feel grateful that this was in the 80s and there was no social media. In those moments, I was not thinking about love. I wasn’t thinking about Christ’s love for them or me. I was questioning why God would make me the way he did. And why people disliked me so.
However, it was not alright to relish in pain in our household. It was not alright to judge someone else even based upon the words that they used because as my mother pointed out, I didn’t know their lives, their struggles and when they picked on me that could reflect their own inner pain. She taught me how to have compassion even when I didn’t want to. She taught me that we all struggle with different things in life even those we don’t get along with. I was loved by my family, by my church family, and by God. In God’s eyes, I was perfectly made despite my educational struggles.
I consider myself lucky for all my experiences in life: the challenges and the successes because they have been used by God to mold me. They have taught me to love and be open to the lives of others. I have been bullied occasionally since then, even as an adult from time to time, and when I start to feel sorry for myself, to question myself, I hear the words of my mother in the back of my mind just as prominently as I did as a child, “You are loved. You are special and so are they.”
This sentiment is mirrored in our scriptures for this morning when they say, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you”.1
Jesus loved all peoples no matter their backgrounds, no matter their words, no matter their actions in life. When Jesus was dying upon that cross, he placed aside his own pain and showed his true love and compassion for others when he asked forgiveness for those who brought about his own death.
We are being challenged to live into that same intensity of love. We are called to care for others who are in need. Others who really need to feel compassion and love of another person in their lives. We are challenged to care for other people even when that love and care is not reciprocated. This is perhaps one of the hardest things to live. Caring for someone who does not show thanks or gratitude can be the hardest things to do.
Rick Warren writes, “God teaches us to love by putting some unlovely people around us”.2 We are asked to live outside ourselves, to have compassion and understanding of the complexity of all people’s lives. Once we understand this, it makes it so much harder to hate and easier for us to turn the other cheek. Jesus encourages us to live life with empathy. To do this, we need to constantly be willing to learn about one another and it does not always come easily.
Remember as you go forth to celebrate your Mother’s Day, that God calls us to live a life of compassion and care and to continue to allow for our love of humanity to rise above the conflicts and abuses of this world. We are called to love one another as Jesus has loved us. So live life this week with empathy and when frustrated with others let’s try to use understanding and to reach out t in fellowship.
1 John 15: 12, NRSV.
2 Rick Warren, 21st century Christian Author and Pasto