Wednesday, 23 July 2008 17:11

What We Love and What We Hate

“What We Love and What We Hate”
Romans 7:14-25a
A sermon preached by the Rev. Douglas M. Donley
July 6, 2008
First Congregational Church, Minneapolis, MN

The last time our congregations were worshipping together was also a communion Sunday. It was August 5, 2007 and we were all reeling from the I 35W bridge collapse. This weekend, the box girders have finally spanned this Mississippi gorge and in two months the 35W artery will once again pump cars smoothly across the river. We were united by love and concern for the victims of the collapse a year ago. We are still united by love and by the greatest ideals of our best selves. It’s great to be with both congregations again.

But that love is a powerful force only if it is tended and nurtured. It’s easy to lapse back in to the opposite of love. It seems to be the way of so much of the world.

Even though the title of this sermon is “what we love and what we hate,” I’m not so sure that the two are opposites. The opposite of love is not hate. It’s apathy. You have to be passionate about something you hate, just like you have to be passionate about something you love. But to be apathetic, to not care, to give up, that’s the real opposite of love. There’s plenty of apathy out there and even in here.

Hate and love are both emotionally charged words. But I think hate tends to be a more potent word, not necessarily powerful, but potent. This is because it shows you whom and what to fear. There is not such a thing with love. And yet, Martin Luther King based his nonviolent movement on the premise that love is more powerful than hate. Love is better because it has a more hopeful well out of which to draw living water. But love nedds to be tended, watered, and even weeded a bit for it to flourish and bear a harvest of hopefulness. More about this in a few minutes.

Let’s look at the way hate is used these days. There is hate speech—the words that are used to intimidate and put people down. There are hate-policies—these are the policies that are put in place to keep prejudice in place. These are the anti-lgbt policies, the misogynist policies, the racist and anti-immigrant policies. But then there is the hate and fear that is used in political campaigns. This person hates America—beware. That person wants to talk with someone who hates America, therefore she or he must hate America too. It’s all fear-based and it’s potent and powerful.

While I was reading Romans 7:14-25a, verse 15 leapt out to me and wouldn’t let me go. It says, “I don’t understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”

Many of us have been there, living with divided loyalties, holding our noses as we fill out a ballot, sucking it up for a time in the hope that something better might come along. It’s a virtue, after all, to suffer. But it can also become a bad habit. What if our voluntary suffering ceases to be redemptive and we’re stuck in a cycle of dependency and co-dependency. It seems to me that the Gospel would want us to get out of that. But it’s easier said than done. Some of us approach the Fourth of July festivities like this, too.

We like the fireworks and the cookouts, but we hold our noses at the blind patriotism that says “my country right or wrong.” It seems to me that God would want us to engage our best selves in things that are redemptive.

Paul seems to think that we are all sinful creatures and that sin is waiting just around the corner to snatch us up in its tempting lures. “I do not do what I want, but what I hate.” While this may be true that evil is out there, it’s a pretty big cop-out to say that all of the evil is not really our fault, but is part of our sin-nature. I think that’s a bit of an easy answer.

Yes, there is a lot of sin out there. Yes it is relentless and it comes in many forms. We can list it out. We can list the sins of all of the isms out there. We can list the sins of the prejudices. We can list the sins of commission and omission. And if we’re real good Christians and especially puffed up and holy, we can say that we hate all sin. Well, except for the fun stuff.

But we’re not that good of Christians, at least I’m not. We compromise and let a little bit of sin in so that we can avoid a bigger sin, or at least an inconvenience. But it can be a slippery slope. You know how one lie begets another lie which begets another lie, which begets a real mess. It’s like this war that we are in. We can rehearse the lies that brought us into it, perhaps for the best of reasons. But once we committed to the war machine, we couldn’t stop. It was like an addict. And there is good reason not to stop. There are people who gave their lives to the cause. To stop now might render their deaths meaningless. But in order to continue, we need to make up more reasons to be there. And then the reasons become confused and we don’t know which way to turn anymore. It is more than simply right and wrong, there are shades of gray and before long, we are doing what we hate.

How do we get out of this mess?

Well, a big part of it is to remember what you love and what you hate. Remember the things that make for life and the things that make for death, both literally and figuratively. Think about what motivates you.

So, it’s easy to say I love peace and I hate war.

But I don’t hate warriors. They often hate war, too.

I hate the conditions that make for war. I hate injustice and prejudice and racism.

But more than that, I hate narrow-mindedness. This is an aspect of apathy. It hides behind slogans so that we don’t have to go deeper. It accepts the frame of a campaign without looking deeper into the issues. Think of the way the anti-choice folks have framed the issue of abortion as being “pro-life”. Anyone who opposes them is labeled pro-death. It’s like the death tax in stead of the wealth and inheritance tax, or the anti-oligarchy tax. So, I hate simplistic sloganeering.

I hate lying. That’s a bit different from un-truth. It’s the fact that sometimes good people say things that they know are not true because it gets them a bit closer to something that they want. An in with the right crowd, a simpler way to deal with people, an easy out. But it’s a slippery slope. Addicts will tell you that they get so used to lying that they can no longer tell the difference between lying and telling the truth.

This can be the basis for all injustice, lying and prejudice. It tells you whom and what to fear, even when such fears are not grounded in reality.

Then there are other things that I hate, like passive-aggressiveness. We all have our lists of pet peeves. Luckily it is not the whole story, those things we hate.

The church’s role is to remember and remind the world of a different kind of story. Our churches seek to express God’s love story to the world. That’s what the Gospel is. It’s God’s love story to the world. The ways of Jesus are always the ways of love and justice and compassion and humility and redemptive grace and hospitality. It goes against the grain of fear and hatred. It is a force more powerful than fear and hatred.

Think of the things you love.

I love community that does redemptive things. And being community is redemptive in and of itself.

I love things that inspire me to be and do more than I can.

I love hearing people’s testimonies of the way they have overcome a hardship.

It goes without saying that I love my family.

I love good music. I love expressing myself in music. I was at a Sacred Harp singing event yesterday. As you know, when you sing Sacred Harp music, you sit close together and you sing toward each other instead of to an audience. One of the singers said that Sacred Harp makes you have to deal with each other, which is a good thing. I love that. In a week, I’ll be at the Baptist Peace Fellowship’s summer conference in Montreal. What I love about the event apart from all of the activism and learning is the things that happen after hours when we pull out guitars and dulcimers and sing old favorites with good friends. I love good friends.

I love the gospel message and I especially love it when it gets lived out. I love the reminder that the Hebrew Bible is the story of a people’s liberation from slavery. I love how the Christian scriptures have Jesus standing up with those who seek a better world and against those who would continue to impose hatred and abuse upon the people. Jesus taught us all how to overcome evil with good—how to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, how to live into the redemptive grace of the fact that God is in love with each of us and with our world. Our task is to respond to that love not with hatred, not with apathy, but with love that gives back.

Think about how you might be able to give some love back to the world.

Think about how you have been loved into being the person that you are.

Think about how you can show the grace of Jesus to a world that needs it.

For we are confounded by the fact that we do the very things we hate. But we do them often because we don’t know how to do anything better.

Or do we?

Hate might inspire you to do something. But it needs to be countered by something that you love. If we’re only motivated by hate, then we can get downright evil.

Hate needs to be tempered by love. As you think about what you hate, try to imagine something that you love as an alternative.

Paul says later hate what is evil and hold fast to what is good.

Hold fast to the good in the face of evil. It will save you life and those you touch.

Thanks be to God.