10/04/2020 1 Thessalonians 5:15 15
See that no one pays back evil for evil, but always try to do good to each other and to everyone else. Anything attached to the word ‘good’ has some shared characteristics. Whether we are talking about a good life, a good person, a good idea, a good book, a good deed … it is viewed as beneficial, fulfilling, satisfying, valuable, and worthwhile. This is subjective, of course, but as divided as we are as a nation or a world, most people would consider something that brings us value and does not harm us as good. Micah had a vision and related this: 2 Many nations will come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths." The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. 3 He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. 4 Every man will sit under his own vine and under his own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the LORD Almighty has spoken. 5 All the nations may walk in the name of their gods; we will walk in the name of the LORD our God forever and ever. Micah describes an idyllic world, a tolerant world, a good world, where nations and religions coexist peacefully and respectfully, and love flows freely. As I watch the news, however, I do not see the world that Micah describes. I see intolerance at many levels. One of the lessons we still have to learn is to separate the deed from the doer. If we were to question people, I don’t think people actually object to Muslims – isn’t it really the violence that we object to? It’s not their beliefs that cause us problems; it’s the small factions of extremists who insist upon aggression at every turn. The same is true with immigrants. If we get to know them individually, someone who immigrates to this country is just like us: they want a good life, to take care of their families and be of value to society. Yet many of us observe an immigrant from a fearful child perspective. We carry the fear implanted in our minds and hearts by our parents, when they warned us, “Don’t talk to strangers.” We have developed the wisdom to differentiate between the doer and the deed. We think that someone who doesn’t have the same skin color or dialect is a ‘stranger’, so we should fear them. But we don’t recognize the source of our intolerance - the unfounded fear passed on by ignorance. And since we fail to distinguish our true thoughts, we lump all Muslims, all people of color, all immigrants, anyone who doesn’t vote like us, or think like us, into the same pile. It is the “Them” pile. Out of fear, we cling to the people who are like ourselves, and our group becomes “Us”, while all others are “Them”. Our thinking is small, unclear, narrow, fear-based, and the result is turmoil and intolerance. We see the world not as Micah sees the world, but as “Us against Them”. Bob was walking across a bridge one day, and saw another man, Rick, standing on the edge, about to jump off. Bob immediately ran over and said "Stop! Don't do it!" "Why shouldn't I?" Rick asked. "Well, there's so much to live for!" "Like what?" Bob asked, "Well ... are you religious or an atheist?" "Religious, answered Rick. "Me too! Are you Christian or Jewish?" "Christian." "Me too! Are you Catholic or Protestant?" "Protestant." "Me too,” said Bob. “Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?" "Baptist." "Wow! Me too! Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?" "Baptist Church of God," replied Rick. "Me too! Are you Original Baptist Church of God, or are you Reformed Baptist Church of God?" “Reformed Baptist Church of God,” said Rick, beginning to feel like he had a friend. "Me too! Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915?" "Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915," said Rick excitedly. To which Bob said, "Die, heretic scum," and pushed him off the bridge. We are not yet ready to fulfill Micah’s prophecy. As long as we continue to look for differences, our similarities are meaningless. Religious, gender, racial, cognitive, cultural, and socio-economic intolerance are still rampant internationally and nationally, and still need loving attention and consideration. Romans14: 2-3: For instance, one person believes it is all right to eat anything. But another believer who has a sensitive conscience will eat only vegetables. 3 Those who think it is all right to eat anything must not look down on those who won't. And those who won't eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them. Then in Romans 12:18: If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. And I believe it all depends upon us. It depends upon how we apply our peace, our joy, and our love to the world. I am of the opinion that love can truly overcome all situations. As we open our hearts to the flow of the Christ spirit within us, we can change how we think, how we see others, how we speak, and how we respond. A little phrase that appears on our website is “Where God is love, and love is all that matters.” That is the truth: Love is all powerful; it is all that matters. 1 Corinthians 13 describes love as being patient, kind, truthful, unselfish, trusting, believing, hopeful, and enduring. It is not jealous, boastful, arrogant, rude, selfish, or angry. True love never fails. The description perfectly fits God's love toward us, and is the standard for how we are to love each other and God. There are many insipid acronyms that have been made using the letters LOVE, and I may as well add my own. ‘L’ represents Letting Go. Letting go of our judgments, our opinions, our small-self thinking and attitudes. Love is bigger than anything we think; it is more all-encompassing and homogenizing than our small earthly thoughts. As we surrender to God what we have learned and think, and believe, and feel – then we start to allow a new flow to enter us, fill us, and move through us. This is the Christ; that individualized essence of God that we become aware of when we are attuned to God. Ephesians 4:31-32 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Love starts with Letting Go. ‘O’ is for Open. After we let go, we open our hearts to the flow of Spirit. We are willing to be filled with the newness of Christ. After we have released the patterns of this world and are open to the new thoughts and attitudes that Spirit has for us, we become non-resistant to opposition. When we are open, differences do not stick to our hearts; we take them in and immediately surrender all judgment, retaining only the likenesses and similarities. When we are open to the guidance, the taps on the shoulder, the whispers and nudges of God’s still small voice, there is no place for criticism; we understand that we are all Children of God. We may not always see things exactly alike but we can be harmonious and tolerant and understanding of one another. When we are open, we express Christ’s love to everyone and every situation and remember the words of Christ … Love your neighbor, judge not, condemn not, forgive, love each other. When we are open, we release the desire to express our will, but are open to God’s will. In prayer, we ask that God’s will be done, not our own. It is no longer ‘us against them’; it is just ‘us with God’. Rev. Michael McCormick wrote: "Once we shift from seeing self to seeing openness, we become truly appreciative of life and fully become a grace for others." ‘O’ is for openness. ‘V’ is for Validating and valuing others. When we let go of our tightly held small beliefs and are open to the flow of God, then we see the value in all of God’s creatures. We can accept, approve, and appreciate others right where they are. We move from seeing flaws to seeing areas where “the Father within is doing His works”. After all, not everyone can be as perfect as we are. We start to validate others with our words and actions. We become encouraging and supportive. We learn in Micah 6:8 – He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. We know the worth of ever individual despite their differences. They are here in our lives for a purpose, so what lessons do they bring? Which leads us to the letter ‘E’: If we continue to let go of our old ways and thought-patterns, and are open to the newness of Spirit, which allows us to appreciate the value in others, then we continue to Evolve. The ‘E’ in love represents our personal and collective spiritual evolution. We are not static creatures. Our life is not done; we have not learned all that we are going to learn. Through God’s movement within us, we maintain a constant expansion of thinking and awareness. As a species, we are changing, evolving, getting better, stronger, and more aware. Despite the slowness in some areas, we are making progress. How about as an individual? Are we a catalyst for this spiritual expansion or an anchor? Are we dragging our feet, digging in our heels, and resisting Spirit’s gentle call, or are we running forward fully committed to our spiritual blessings? Most of us are probably somewhere in the middle: we occasionally here God whisper, but we are still reluctant to let go of all our fears and familiar beliefs. That’s fine; Spirit uses us right where we are. We may not eliminate it entirely, but we can dilute intolerance with love. I pray that each of us fully embraces and expresses God’s love, and that we remain willing to let go, open our hearts, see the value of every individual and of all life, and evolve into the perfect expression of Spirit that only we can be.