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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, Day 19 of 40: A New Kind of Love

Matthew 5: 42-48
Give to the one who asks you and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.  You have heard that it was said, "Love your neighbor and hate your enemy."  But I tell you, love our enemies and pray for those who persecute you that you may be children of your father in heaven.  He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?  Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others?  Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Corrie ten Boom lost all of her family in the German concentration camps during World War II.  After her liberation, the only way she could carry on with her life was to speak and write of her horrific experiences (described her experiences in her famous book The Hiding Place).  She traveled widely and lectured on the goodness, grace and mercy of God.

After one of these lectures a man came up to meet her and to shake her hand.  He revealed to her that he was once a guard at the concentration camp where she and her sister, Betsie, were imprisoned, and in which Betsie died.  He asked Corrie to forgive him.

"I had to do it.  The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us.  And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart.  But forgiveness is not an emotion.  Forgiveness is an act of will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.  I prayed silently and I thought, I can lift my hand.  I can do that much. And so, woodenly, mechanically, I thrust our my hand into the one stretched out to me".

"And as I did, an incredible thing took place.  This healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being.  I  cried, I forgive you, brother.  With all of my heart.  For a long moment we grasped each other's hands, the former guard and the former prisoner.  I had never known God's love so intensely.  But even then, I realized it was not my love.  I had tried and did not have the power.  It was the power of the Holy Spirit."

In these verses, Jesus is describing a radically different love than the world has ever experienced; a love that cannot be understood by the world. This new kind of love requires the power of the Holy Spirit and the will and willingness of the persons involved.  His examples of this love force us to search our hearts:

Give to those who ask, never turn away.
Love those who are difficult to love.
Greet all people in the same manner.
Be perfect in your love, as God is perfect.

When have we ever done this?  For us to live this way, to reach out into all the world in love, we must first be transformed.  All self-interest, self-glorification, anger and other negative worldly emotions have to be destroyed in us.

Jesus is clear, the standard of our love is God's love.  And, as long as this is the standard, none of us, it is true, have room to boast. But we do have hope; the hope of the Holy Spirit leading us, guiding us, pointing us in the direction of God's love, showing us the way.

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