February 21, 2024 Creekwood United Methodist Church

Perceived Value - Deep Thoughts

Posted in Deep Thoughts


Going into the latest interfaith dinner, there were some nerves because of the ongoing war taking place in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Hamas. Our gatherings had always been meaningful and peaceful, with the expressed goal of reducing “fear of the other.” No matter how we might feel about the conflict, imagine being a Jewish person who understands the creation of the nation-state of Israel after World War II as a solution to the on-going discrimination they have faced since their existence. And, imagine how a Muslim or Arab descent might feel to see people who look like them starving and without healthcare, while others justify their suffering in the name of righteousness.

I imagine you might be getting worked up or a little uncomfortable just reading that last paragraph. Imagine sitting at a table together for 2 hours with the subject looming on people’s minds.

That’s why we picked the day after Valentine’s Day to host our dinner and made the topic “love.” However, Rev. Mary Beth Hardesty-Crouch and I wanted to both keep the peace and also not ignore the elephant in the room completely. That’s why we wrote questions about love…but not the easy kind. We asked about the kind of love that Jesus commands in Matthew 5:43-48:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.”

Keep in mind, this isn’t totally new wisdom. There are copious examples of the rules and wisdom centered around welcoming strangers and how to treat our enemies in the Old Testament. Proverbs 25:21-22 explicitly tells us to feed our enemies if they are hungry, and more, to live the perfect life of love centered in God – not what we’ve “heard.”

Believe it or not, Gaza wasn’t the biggest challenge at my table.

Love was.

The questions leaned purposefully into the “compulsion” of our religious traditions – as every major religious tradition, in one way or the other, attempts to perfect humanity out of a flawed status. My assumption was that every person around that table was leaning on a religious tradition to justify love of one’s neighbor – and I was wrong.

A very nice man explained that he was an agnostic, and from his point of view agnostics are much more open minded to asking the question, “what is best for all people?” In his mind, from an evolutionary standpoint, we should help and love each other because it leads to progress and peace, which is part of our survival. Religion, on the other hand forces people to choose sides and judge their neighbor.

My mind was blown. This is 180 degrees of what I think, and him and I both couldn’t wrap our heads around how the other was capable of the love described in Matthew 5 with our specific worldviews. And then he dropped the biggest question of the night: “Do you have to love a terrorist?”

Essentially, is Jesus requiring us to have such grace and love for our neighbors, that we would put ourselves in harm’s way, simply to make sure the other person knew they were loved by God?

That’s a hard question. I think we want to say both yes and no, and start reasoning out what love really looks like in practicality. But as this man started questioning whether or not Christians are called to lay down their lives for the good of someone they don’t even know, myself and another Christian at the table kind of shrugged and said, “That’s the story of Jesus in a nutshell.”

Now, we both agreed that neither of us would probably have coffee with Osama bin Laden or Timothy McVeigh and admitted that love often looks like “tough love.” But, we also had to acknowledge that what we “hear” from our culture isn’t always the ideal of “what should be” and what is most powerful. This man was talking about irredeemable people. We told him that if we believe in Jesus, Jesus says no one is beyond redemption – just look at the man beside Jesus on the cross. What we have to wrestle with, as Christians, is if we are to be perfect as God is perfect, then it forces us to consider how each person is fearfully and wonderfully made – no matter how evil they might have chosen to become.

The non-Christian people at our table were dumb-founded (as were we). What popped into my mind was Paul’s words to the Corinthian church:

“For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18 NRSV)

And what makes me comfortable writing the “perishing” part is that it’s not just people of other faiths that think the radical love espoused by Christ is foolishness. It’s me. It’s probably you. It’s a lot of Christians who can justify the exclusion, hatred, or possibly even just apathy of our neighbors – because it’s convenient, easy, or politically/economically advantageous. Or maybe they deserve it?

That’s what we’ve heard.

But what is Jesus telling us?

If it sounds foolish, are we really ready to say that God is a fool?


David Lessner
PS – a big shout out the Celebration and FaithWorks classes for making it part of their support of our core mission partner, Samaritan Inn, to furnish a “gateway” apartment for someone who is coming out of the Samaritan Inn program and taking control of their life. Gateway apartments are the next step towards freedom and empowerment, and we are so thankful for the sacrificial love shown by the Celebration (pictured above) and FaithWorks classes for taking this opportunity!