Date: February 19, 2017
Text – Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18; Matthew 5:38-48
I would like to begin today sermon with a song.
“There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done.
Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung.
Nothing you can say, but you can learn
How to play the game
Nothing you can make that can’t be made.
No one you can save that can’t be saved.
Nothing you can do, but you can learn
How to be you in time
All you need is love, all you need is love,
All you need is love, love. Love is all you need.”
(The Beatles, All You Need Is Love)
All You Need Is Love is a song by the Beatles that was released in July 1967. The Beatles were asked to write a song with a message that could be understood by everyone. So, John Lennon wrote this song to give a message to the world, very clear and simple – love is everything we need. Happy marriage. Happy family. Happy work. Happy world. All our problems would be solved if we can love one another.
However, John Jacobs, a psychiatrist, “All You Need Is Love” is one of many lies when it comes to marriage. He shares that many couples come to his office saying, “We love each other so much. Why are we so unhappy?” He says that although the myth “All You Need Is Love” sounds wonderful, it often leaves people unskilled in developing and unprepared to manage sustained intimate relationships. When people get married, they often come to realize the true difficulties and complexities of the married life. The prince comes and kisses Cinderella and wakes her up from the eternal sleep. They fall in love. What the fairy tale does not tell us is what happens after they get married. The prince or Cinderella goes to work and comes home late. They argue over how to spend limited resources or how to get the kids a good education in underfunded, overcrowded public schools. In other words, “All You Need Is Love” often works against our pursuing healthy marriage by not fully embracing the challenges of marriage.
When it comes to Christianity, many seem to define what the gospel is about by the similar mantra. “All You Need Is Love.” “Love Your God. You Your Neighbors.” It is all about love. So, let’s love one another regardless of who we are. Then all our problems will be solved. If we just love our God more, we will not have any trouble with the declining number of attendance on Sunday. It we just love our young people more, we will attract more to the Sunday schools. A pastor walks into the finance committee and hears that there would be a big financial hole by the end of the year. And the pastor tells the members of the finance committee, “It is all because we do not love our God enough. We have become so selfish.” The fact of matter is that there is a shifting paradigm of why people give and how people give. People are still generous by wanting to give where their resources can be used in a meaningful way such as orphanage, disaster relief, or hospital. They are just not sure if the church is a faithful steward. Jesus calls us to go deeper in our relationship with God, in our understanding, and in our faith.
In today’s passage from the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus continues to teach on the mountain. And he challenges our popular notion of “All You Need Is Love” by saying, “When I tell you to love your neighbors, I do not mean just those whom you consider your friend or family. You know what you have heard. “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I am telling you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” I can feel that the Beatle’s song “All You Need Is Love” fades away slowly when we think about all those whom we think did wrong to us. Think about Tom who goes behind your back and spreads rumor about you. Think about Susan who borrowed your money and still has not paid back. Worse, think about those who did wrong not just to you, but also to your children or your family. And what do you do?
It is natural that our initial response to someone wrongdoing to us is simply pay it back. “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” Such rule was placed in the Israel community so that it could “curb the tendency to unlimited private revenge by incorporating the jus talionis into the institutionalized judicial system. In other words, even before Jesus there was a Jewish tradition calling for restraint and opposing revenge so that it could minimize the retaliation against the party that did the wrongdoings. “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” is also what defines our legal system – the retributive justice. But Jesus radicalizes the Jewish tradition by not only opposing the unlimited revenge, but also loving our enemies as our friends or families. And that is not an ordinary love. It is a scandalous love. It is not a love that we can sing with a sentiment that love can unite us all no matter who we are.
Jesus is asking us, “Can you sing the song with those who do wrong against you?” When I was the sophomore in college, I was staying at a dormitory that was built by the American missionaries in the 1980s. At that time, there was a conflict between the minister, a retired minister of Korean Methodist Church, for the dormitory and the student council. I happened to be the vice chair of the student body and we were in constant conflict. I was filled with my own sense of justice. My relationship with this retired pastor got worse and worse. We both said something really ugly. We always argued. Our relationship came to the dead end when he filed a lawsuit against me. I was only 19 years old. He even called my father threatening that he was going to talk to the bishop if he did not control my behavior. It was one thing that we had conflict. But he came after my family?
But when we are filled with anger to the point that we want to pay back with more violence, we are already destroying our soul. We think that we deserve to pursue justice. But when we recognize the thoughts in our minds, and behaviors of our bodies, we realize that this is not what we are meant to be. We are actually destroying ourselves by forgetting how God created us in the beginning – that we are the children of God created in the image of God. Jesus says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” he does not say this because such non-violence brings better result of peace and justice in the world. But his new commandment is concerned with the redemptive work of God in the world. It is for our salvation. It is for salvation of others. He says, “Love your enemies and forgive them so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (v.45)
After the incident with the minister, I joined the army in Korea, as it is mandatory for every Korean male. And I was not in peace in my mind as I thought about my life before joining the army. I prayed that God would heal me and forgive me. It was the Father’s Day in Korea. And I took the pen and wrote my letter to the minister with sincere apology. I said to him that I was truly sorry for what happened between us. And I loved and respected him as my father. After a couple of months, I was given a short vacation. I decided to visit the dormitory to see my friends. When the minister saw me from his office through the glass, I still remember that he ran like a wind to give me a hug and said, “You know, son, it is me who should have told you sorry.” We both cried and reconciled with each other. Whenever I think about the moment of reconciliation, I still feel the chill in my body that my burden of anger, violent thought, and revenge was completely liberated from me.
When people say forgiveness and reconciliation, they often misuse to justify their recurring action of misdemeanor. It happens a lot within the marital relationship that a spouse is abused by the other physically, emotionally, and spiritually. “Honey, you go to the church. And I know that God commands you to love your enemy. I know that I have done wrong to you. So, you need to forgive me.” The perpetrator demands forgiveness from the victim, otherwise shaming her that she is not a faithful Christian. However, the true sign of repentance is not only that we confess our sins against God and neighbors, but also we do not sin anymore. God gives us a power and courage to forgive and reconcile. God does not command us to remain as victim by constantly being manipulated. Rather, God shows compassion to those who cry out in suffering and leads them out to the Promise Land.
And Jesus tells us why we practice such radical love, or scandalous love in our lives. He says, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (v.48) One of the distinct marks of Methodism is that we believe in Christian perfection. John Wesley does not mean Christian perfection as a status in which we are completely free from sins, free from illness, or free from ignorance. Rather, he means that we are perfect in our love for God and love for our neighbors. It is not a status, but journey that the Holy Spirit empowers us along the way. When we forgive and reconcile with our neighbors and also enemies, we realize that we are growing in our love for God. Just as we smile at our children when they show our own characteristics, God is pleased when we try to be like God in forgiving others and embracing them as our neighbors.
With racial tension arising in our society today, many of us still remember the shooting in Charleston, SC. On June 17, 2015, during a prayer service, Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old white supremacist walked into Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and killed nine people. It is unimaginable how this young man was disillusioned to believe that his violence motivated by racial hatred would achieve anything. But the relatives of people slain decided to face the shooter at his first court appearance. The sister of DePayne Middleton-Doctor said, “I acknowledge that I am very angry. But one thing that DePayne always enjoined in our family is she taught me that we are the family that love built. We have no room for hating, so we have to forgive. I pray God on your soul.” Some might still blame his mental illness as the cause of the tragedy. Some might wonder where God was in the middle of such tragedy. But God was surely there when these families and relatives tried to live out the scandalous love of God for our enemies.
I am asking you this morning. Whom do we need to forgive in our minds and hearts? Whom is Jesus asking us to offer our forgiveness and be reconciled? I know that it is not easy. But we know that we do not offer forgiveness out of our own good will or righteousness. But we remember what Jesus said on the cross. “Father, please forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:24) And can we offer the same forgiveness to our neighbors and even enemies today? We may not. But God can. And the Holy Spirit will give us the power and strength that we need in this broken and divided world. Amen.
 John Jacobs, All You Need Is Love & Other Lies about Marriage
 NIB: Matthew, 194.