What is Unconditional Love?
Well, I think that some of you know that I am a Facebook person. I'm on Facebook almost every day. And I know that some of you think that is a complete waste of time. And you're probably right. But for me, it's a wonderful tool to promote what's happening at our church, and to know what's going on in the community. And of course, I love looking at your joyful pictures, and reading your supportive and uplifting comments. I also follow many spiritual teachers on Facebook, who post words of inspiration each day, and many times they're often exactly what I need to hear that day.
Recently, though, one of those spiritual teachers put up a quote that said, “Do not cross oceans for those who will not cross a puddle for you.” And she was getting so many likes on that post. And people were commenting ‘Amen, right on sister. I wish I had learned this lesson years ago.’
Well, I didn't like that comment. I understood what she was saying. But it's in direct opposition to the way of Jesus. Jesus would say, “No, DO cross oceans for those who won't cross a puddle for you. Do it now. Do it without hesitation. Do it without stopping to think whether they're deserving or not.’
Now, that sounds crazy to us. But Jesus said a lot of things that seem crazy. He said, ‘Bless those who persecute you.’ ‘Love your enemy.’ ‘Forgive those who have wronged you, not just once, but 70 times seven times.’ You have to keep forgiving them over and over again. And he said, ‘When someone strikes you on this cheek, turn and have him strike you on the other one’
Now, come on.
That just sounds crazy. It sounds crazy to our rational minds, to our ego minds. And that's what he's saying in today's Gospel passage. He's saying that, when you are invited to a party take the lowest place at the table.
And he says when you throw a party, don’t invite your friends and your family members. Instead, when you throw a party, invite the poor, invite the oppressed and the marginalized to your table. Now who does that? That just seems set in such opposition to the way the world works. But we know Jesus takes the way of the world and kind of flips it on its head. He doesn't want us to follow the way of the world. He wants us to follow the way of the Lord, to follow how God loves, how God forgives. God loves all people unconditionally, which means without condition.
Now, last year, I talked about God's unconditional love. And I said, you could go out this afternoon, and you could feed 12 homeless families. Or you can go to Las Vegas and party this afternoon. And God is not going to love you any more, or any less than God loves you right now.
And I said something that made a lot of people scratch their heads. I said, you could get baptized today, or you could rob a bank today. And God isn't going to love you any more, or any less. I said God loved Mother Teresa, and Hitler equally. Because God's love is not based on conditions.
And the reason many people were scratching their heads is they were saying ‘Pastor Sal, then why am I doing good things? Why am I being so kind to everybody? Why am I doing charitable things? Why am I being so good?
So that's my question for you. Why are you doing good things? Are you doing them because you're trying to earn brownie points with God? You're doing it because you want to be rewarded? You're trying to earn God's favor? You're trying to win God's love? You want to ensure your place in heaven? Well, if so then you're doing things with conditions applied. You're expecting a reward in return. And that goes against everything that Jesus is saying here.
Jesus wants us to love like God loves, to forgive as God forgives. Because when we do so we're fulfilling our divine purpose. All of us were created in the very image and likeness of God. And so our reason for being here is to manifest God's love and light in the world.
I know that may seem heretical to some, that we're supposed to be like God. But the early, early Christians understood this. Irenaeus, a second-century Christian bishop said, “God became man, so that man might become God”. The fourth-century Christian Archbishop named Gregory implored humankind to “Become like God For God's sake, because God became man for our sake.” And the medieval Christian mystic, Meister Eckhart said “God seed is within everyone, just as an apple seed grows into an apple tree, and a pear seed grows into a pear tree. God seeds grow into God.” God's seed is within us. That's our purpose for being, to grow into our divine potential.
Now, most of us growing up in the Christian church in the 20th century, we didn't hear that. We didn't hear God's seed was within us. We were told we were so far removed from God, that we were bad, broken, sinful, and in need of fixing. But I love what Paramahansa Yogananda the 20th century Hindu Swami said, he said, “Gold covered in mud is still pure, undefiled gold. He said to think of yourself as a sinner is the greatest sin, because you are a child of God.”
That's the truth. You're gold. You're a child of God, God's seed is within you. That means you don't have to do anything to earn God's love. Because you already have it. You don't need to win God's favor. God's favor is upon you already. And you don't need to ensure your place in heaven, because your place in heaven is assured.
And how do I know that? Because God is unconditional love. God is all loving, all forgiving. God's love is not based on condition. But you know, a lot of Christians don't want to hear that. They want God's love to be based on conditions. They think that forgiveness of debts is unfair.
So they’re a lot like that older brother, in the prodigal son story. Remember that Jesus told that famous parable. The prodigal son, the younger brother takes his father's money and he goes off and he spends it all. And when he comes back, what does the father do? Does the father punish him? No. The father rewards him. The father says we're going to throw a big banquet for you, a big party. Here's a gold ring. Here's a silk robe. And remember the older son? ‘How dare you, Dad? He did the wrong thing. He wasted all the money. I stayed here. I was loyal to you. I did the right thing. Where's my party?’
How many of us are like that older son? But the point of the parable is, the Father's love is not based on conditions. We're supposed to love and forgive like that father, like The Father/Mother God, Because that’s the purpose for being. That's what Jesus is calling us to do. Jesus wanted us to follow this way of life, because when we do so, we stop listening so much to the voice of the ego. And we start listening more to the voice of the Spirit. The voice of the ego says, ‘What's in it for me.’ The voice of the Spirit says, ‘How may I serve you?’
And so my friends, we the people of Douglas UCC, let us recommit ourselves this day to seeing the good in all people, to love as God loves, to forgive as God forgives, for when we do so we continue the work of bringing about the kingdom of heaven right here on earth.
Rev. Salvatore Sapienza
Words of Integration and Guidance
By Mary Ann Brussat
As we struggle to live a spiritual life in harmony with others, it's comforting to know that those who have gone before us faced some of the same challenges. The Christian Desert Fathers and Mothers, who lived as hermits in Egypt and the Middle East in the third to fifth centuries, developed an everyday spirituality that can teach us about patience, humility, inner peace, and hospitality. Known as the abbas and the ammas, they were often visited by spiritual seekers who asked them for "a word." In one instance, Abba Nilus advised: "Do not be always wanting everything to turn out as you think it should, but rather as God pleases, then you will be undisturbed and thankful in your prayer." This advice not only applies to prayer but to all of our attempts to have things go as we expect them to. Expectations can be a big stumbling block for us, both personally and communally. When we participate in some activity, we often have big expectations about what will happen, how we will feel, and what the end result will be. When all does not go as expected, we are disappointed. Advertisements tell us how we should look, how much money we should earn, what things we should have, and how things should unfold in our lives if we are good people. As we internalize these expectations, we wreck havoc on ourselves. The Desert Fathers and Mothers recommend a different approach. We need to recognize that we are not in charge, and we cannot control what others do. Let things be as God pleases, and we will be undisturbed. Let your models be Jesus and other spiritual teachers who confound all our ideas about who they will be and who stay open to grace-filled surprises.
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