Compassion for Self Leads to Compassion for Others
Beloved God of Beloved Community, we pray that you would bless and inspire these words to come, may they bring peace to those who listen and help transform the world. Where these words are only mine and are in error, I pray that no harm would be done. Amen.
I read today’s scripture passage and what immediately came to my mind was a Martin Luther King Jr. quote:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” It seems to sum up today’s passage.
In today’s political climate, I feel like we should read this scripture passage over and over and over again everyday and implement it into our lives as much as we possibly can. For the last two weeks our news feeds have been full of convention speeches and fact checks, talking heads and pointed political vitriol. I don’t know about you, but I’m so tired of it all. I mean, I’ve heard a few speeches that I found inspiring, uplifting, and hopeful - but the constant attacks, the hate that has been thrown back and forth, has me weary.
Maybe you, like me, have watched family members, friends, and neighbors argue politics and then simply stop talking with one another. Perhaps you, like me, have felt that for your own sanity you have had to block someone on social media. Anyone else out there spent time dithering over the keyboard for extended periods of time trying to think of how to respond to a post or whether it is even worth responding to... or worse, responded and then really regretted it afterwards.
Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.
Boy, do I need this passage right about now. Maybe our whole country does.
The Apostle Paul knew plenty about conflict and how competing sides could tear each other down. As I mentioned in a sermon a few weeks ago, the Epistle to the Romans is Paul’s attempt to bring down the tension and build a bridge between the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians. Both sides were convinced that they were right, that the other was wrong; that they were the real and true Christians and the other was not Christian at all. Lines in the sand were drawn, theological arguments were at the ready, scripture was used as weaponry, and churches were torn apart. It was ugly.
So Paul wrote to them and said:
“Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.” And “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
These are not the words of someone who is writing to a happily unified congregation. (Have I mentioned lately how grateful I am to be at Hedding? Our little church family does seem to be happily unified. Or at least y’all are really good at hiding conflicts from me!) Anyway, this is not Paul’s experience. These are imperative statements from an authority figure who is trying to get the squabbling sides to calm down and behave like the Christians that they claim to be! I wonder if these folk got the letter and then every immediately settled down…. O, I don’t really wonder that. I know humans and, according to the history I’ve read, we haven’t changed much over the millenia. We are still those obstinate sheeplike creatures that Jesus compared us to! *sigh*
Although our congregation thankfully exhibits a joyful unity, our nation certainly doesn’t. Before I go any further, I want to ask a pointed question. You don’t have to answer it out loud (I couldn’t hear you if you did), but try to be honest with yourself. As you are listening to this, are you spending more time thinking about how you need to change or about how your neighbor needs to change?
I’ll bet that the Romans’ first instinct was to point fingers across the room instead of at their own hearts, too. I’ll be honest. I’m guilty of it. No matter how hard I try to be compassionate towards loved ones who I disagree with politically, I’m still guilty of thinking and saying out loud things that are not showing honor to them. And Lord knows, I am guilty of thinking myself wiser than I am. God, forgive me!
God, forgive us all. The time in which we live is clearly not the first time, nor will it be the last time, that humans have found themselves so terribly divided. But it is a time of heightened anxiety and we are already watching violence unfold in some of our major cities. How do we avoid getting swept up into it all ourselves? I mean, it is one thing to disagree on things but it is quite another to take up arms against one another, even if the weapons we choose are words on a keyboard. And words have certainly fanned the flames of violent tendencies.
James Baldwin wrote: “I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.”
So I want to ask another pointed question: If you are holding anger or hate, what is the pain that is hidden underneath? What pain is keeping you from being loving toward your neighbor or toward someone who disagrees with you?
Perhaps the pain is very personal. Maybe you were hurt very badly by someone who holds similar positions to the “other team” and now you have lumped the other team all together out of a sense of self-preservation. Or maybe you have found friendship with people on your own team and your pain is the fear of rejection if you were ever to disagree with them or accept someone on the other side. For some, it is a lingering parental inflicted pain - either we picked our team out of a strong need to please our parent or to push away from them. Or perhaps it is the pain of a fear of how you anticipate being impacted by whatever the other team stands for. Or maybe it is just the grating pain of perpetual discomfort when all you want is to relax.
Perhaps the pain is not as personal, but more about empathy. Maybe you have watched someone else get hurt and it has affected your own heart so much that you want to fight anyone who seems to even consider supporting policies that could cause that pain.
Sadly, tragically, some pain goes much much deeper, generationally deeper, and it is hard for people on the outside to even begin to understand. But we all need to understand the pain beneath our stances. Not only will it help us access our own humility, it will likely help us better understand our neighbors’.
"if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads."
Not only that, but if you feed them and then later find out that you were the one who was wrong - it is so much easier to backpedal and forgive them for being right. Yup. That. Ever have to forgive someone for being right when you were wrong? Ugh.
Beloved community, let us love one another. Let’s try to notice our own pain and acknowledge others’, let’s treat one another with respect,
If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.