Loving Those on the Other Side: Part 1

Loving Those on the Other Side (Part 1)

Matthew 5:43-48

April 21, 2024

          In January I asked people to suggest sermon topics for me. I’m going to be getting to many of those in the next two months. Thank you so much for your suggestions.

Today I’m starting a two-part series on Loving Those on the Other Side. This is something that Marilyn Poole has been pondering lately. She’s the one who suggested this subject.

How do we relate to those who are so different from us, especially those who are on the other side politically? This will be more acute as we are heading toward another Presidential election in November.

Marilyn tells the story of their neighbor at the farm who has put up some political signs in the past. She’s wondering about how we relate to people who are on the other side politically.

We see many references to the great divide in our nation these days. There are many reasons for this.

 We naturally sort ourselves into groups. We push off against groups that seem opposed to us and create the Other. We then sink deeper into our groups and stories where it’s harder to hear anything else. We call this siloing.

In our silos, we commiserate over our personal and collective trauma and grievance. Organizations in our silos are created to heighten our fear of the Other. Anger, resentment and fear sometimes lead us to even hate those on the Other Side.

It seems that all of this happens more often and in more extreme ways in our day, but no doubt it’s always been there.

What is God calling us to do in the midst of all of this dangerous dividing? How do we respond to family members and neighbors and others on the Other Side?

Let’s turn to Jesus. What would Jesus do?

To get at that, I’m going to imagine a conversation that the apostle Paul is having with one of his co-leaders, Phoebe, about thirty years after the death of Jesus.

Phoebe begins: “Paul, as a leader in the Corinthian Church I’ve been troubled by how we should relate to the Romans around us. They seem to oppose us at every turn. What should we do? What do you think Jesus would have done?”

Paul answers, “Thank you Phoebe for the way you are leading our people in Corinth. What a challenging task you have! Let me share some of my thoughts about how we relate to those Romans who stand against us.

First, let’s remember what Jesus once said, ‘You have heard people say, Love your neighbors and hate your enemies. But I tell you to love your enemies and pray for anyone who mistreats you.”

But Paul, is that realistic in our day? These Romans are on a mission to snuff out whatever freedom and goodness that exists in our world. They are a constant danger to our very lives. Many of our people are being jailed. You yourself have been jailed and whipped by these cruel, inhumane people.”

“Phoebe, I understand how hard it is. I know what they’re doing. But we have to respond as Jesus would want us to.

Listen, I’m writing a letter to the church in Rome where they’re dealing with this day after day. This is what I’m going to say to them at the end of the letter:

‘Ask God to bless everyone who mistreats you. Ask God to bless them and not to curse them…Don’t mistreat someone who has mistreated you. But try to earn the respect of others and do your best to live at peace with everyone. Dear friends, don’t try to get even. Let God take revenge…Don’t let evil defeat you, but defeat evil with good.’

Okay Paul, that sounds like something Jesus would say. But I want to know how to live that type of love out. Doesn’t it seem that sometimes loving those on the other side means avoidance and silence?

I remember one of the stories told about Jesus. This is how it went:

Jesus sent out the twelve apostles with these instructions: ‘Stay away from the Gentiles and don’t go to any Samaritan town. Go only to the people of Israel because they are like a flock of lost sheep. …When you go to a home, give it your blessing of peace. If the home is deserving, let your blessing remain with them. But if the home isn’t deserving, take back your blessing of peace. If someone won’t welcome you or listen to your message, leave their home or town. And shake the dust from your feet at them. …I am sending you like lambs into a pack of wolves.’

I also heard how Jesus responded to Pilate when Jesus was arrested before his crucifixion. For the most part, Jesus was silent before his accusers.

So doesn’t loving those on the Other Side sometimes mean avoiding them or just being silent?”

“You could be right Phoebe. There is a time to be silent and a time to avoid those on the Other Side. I think that’s true as we relate to the Romans. Sometimes, maybe even most of the time, the best way we can love them is to keep our mouth shut, to not provoke them. Other times, we should try to avoid confrontation and interaction with them. It’s shaking the dust off our feet and changing our focus.

We’ll pause in this imaginary conversation between Paul and Phoebe for some of my own personal reflections.

I, Mike Tupper, agree with what Phoebe and Paul have just said. There is a time to be silent and a time to avoid those on the Other Side.

I think of the church I served just north of South Haven in Casco Township for 8 years back in the 90’s. Our organist and a few of our church leaders were gay. This was a United Methodist Church where the official policy is that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Many in the denomination were protesting this exclusionary policy at the time. I personally had come to see that being gay was not a sinful choice.

But… neither I, nor the people of the church, decided to talk about it. We decided to stay silent in dealing with the issue. We accepted LGBTQ people as equal members, but we didn’t talk about it.

I know these days this is sometimes the best response in loving someone on the other side. We don’t talk about those subjects that could be contentious or divisive. We avoid talking politics or about politically charged topics.

This may be the best response for Marilyn to make with her neighbor: being at peace with the neighbor by our silence and avoidance of the issue. But still share love and respect.

I think an even more drastic response of avoidance can sometimes be appropriate as well. Jesus talked about how in the places the apostles were not welcomed, they should shake the dust off their feet and move on.

There are relationships that can be so toxic and harmful to us, that cutting off from them is the best of the alternatives. When those on the Other Side are hurting us, then we need to set up appropriate boundaries to protect ourselves.

There’s a time to be silent.

There’s a time to avoid.

And that can all be a part of loving those on the Other Side.

Let’s go back to Paul and Phoebe.

Phoebe says, “Paul, let me point to another time in Jesus’ life where loving those on the other side looked differently. I remember the story of an event that happened a week or so before Jesus was crucified. This is the story:

Jesus went into the temple and chased out everyone who was selling or buying. He turned over the tables of the moneychangers and the benches of the ones who were selling doves. He told them, “The Scriptures say, ‘My house should be called a place of worship. But you have turned it into a place where robbers hide.’

Paul answers saying, “Phoebe I know that story. It’s clear that at that moment Jesus felt led to speak up, to act out, and to fight in a nonviolent way. It was his way of fighting with love and fighting for love. Jesus is loving those on the Other Side through highlighting their injustice.

There are times when this is what God is calling us to do in response to the Romans. Sometimes we should speak up and share our faith perspective with the Romans. Sometimes we challenge the things that the Romans are doing…maybe even engage in an act of non-violent resistance. We fight for love and we fight with love.

I’m going to pause again from this dialogue between Paul and Phoebe to share my thoughts.

I, Mike Tupper, believe that loving those on the Other Side sometimes means speaking up, acting out, and fighting with love. I know ten years ago when our daughter Sarah asked if I would sign the marriage license for her same sex wedding, I had to ponder this whole issue.

Should I say no because it was against the rules of the United Methodist Church? Or should I say yes but not tell anyone about what I was doing? Both of those responses would have amounted to silence and avoidance. That was basically how I had been dealing with the LGBTQ issue for years. Silence and avoidance.

After a lot of prayer and discussion, I discerned that God was calling me to a different response this time.

I felt led to sign the marriage license and also tell my District Superintendent and Bishop that I was doing it. It led to charges being filed against me. But I chose to use the situation to continue to highlight the injustice being done against LGBTQ people in the United Methodist Church. The following two years involved many opportunities to speak up, act up and fight against the injustice and discrimination in love.

 I believe there is a time to be silent and avoid.

I also believe there is a time to speak up, act out and fight. In today’s world, that means there is a time and place for us to work and fight hard for justice. That could be what God is calling you to do regarding the upcoming election: to speak up, to act out and to fight with love. Where, when and how you do it, calls for much prayer and discernment.

Let’s return to Phoebe and Paul.

Phoebe says, “So Paul, I hear you say that sometimes we should be silent and avoid and sometimes we should speak up, act out and fight. Are there any other ways we can love those on the Other Side? I’m thinking now also about how we Jews should interact with all those Gentiles. I think you have some opinions about that, don’t you?”

“You’re right Phoebe. I’m working on a letter to the church in Ephesus where I will talk about this. Listen to what I’m going to say: Christ has made peace between Jews and Gentiles, and he has united us by breaking down the wall of hatred that separated us….Christ even brought Jews and Gentiles together as though we were only one person, when he united us in peace. On the cross, Christ did away with our hatred for each other.

This is why I preach unity in our churches between Jews and Gentiles. Even though we may think there is an Our Side and Their Side, in reality we’re all on the Same Side. Jews and Gentiles are all on the same side of humanity as we stand together before God. Therefore, we can dialogue, listen and respect each other.

Thanks Paul for your wisdom. That was helpful.”

I’m going to pause that conversation with Paul and Phoebe.

Loving those on the Other Side sometimes means we are to keep our mouth shut and avoid those issues that divide us.

Loving those on the Other Side sometimes means we are to avoid them altogether, especially if we are being harmed.

Loving those on the Other Side sometimes means we are to speak out for justice and God’s kindom of love.

Loving those on the Other Side sometimes means acting out or fighting to bring that kindom to earth as it is in heaven.

Loving those on the Other Side sometimes means dialoguing, listening and respecting those on the Other Side.

Next Sunday, I’ll be focusing on practical ways we can do that last option.

How do we dialogue with, listen and respect our neighbors and family members and others on the Other Side? Come next Sunday, let’s learn together.

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