The Rev. Nancee A. Cekuta
I don’t know about you, but I really struggle with this idea of “love your neighbor as yourself,” especially when I don’t get to pick my neighbor. The lack of nuances in the English language doesn’t help this either. In the Greek language there are four different words that mean love, but each one is a different form of love. In English we say, “We love our children”, “we love our spouse or partner,” and we love ice cream and Dunkin Donuts.” All of which are very different forms of love. In Paul’s letter to the Romans this morning he is teaching the difference between agape a divine love, a Godly love, a holy love versus eros, which is a human desire. Agape love involves community, eros is a self-centered love.
Dietrich Bonheoffer, was born in 1906, grew up, and was educated in Germany. In 1930, he found his way to the United States after he earned his PhD in Theology, where he taught at Union Theological Seminary in New York. With the rise of Hitler and the outbreak of WWII, Bonheoffer decided he needed to return to his mother country to support his German neighbor. Upon his return, he connected himself with the Confessing Church, which was an underground religious organization that opposed Adolf Hitler and his teachings. Bonheoffer was eventually imprisoned for participating in a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler. On April 9th, 1945 Pastor Bonheoffer was hanged by the Gestapo, less than a month from the fall of Germany.
In his book, Life Together, Bonheoffer writes this:
Human love lives by uncontrolled and uncontrollable dark desires; spiritual love lives in the clear light of service ordered by the truth. Human love produces human subjection, dependence, constraint; spiritual love creates freedom of the brethren under the Word. Human love breeds hothouse flowers; spiritual love creates the fruits that grow healthily in accord with God’s good will in the rain and storm and sunshine of God’s outdoors.
Bonheoffer experienced the division and torment caused by human love, but continued to teach and strive for the power of divine love or spiritual love…agape love. Human love stifles and controls; spiritual love liberates and encourages growth. On Social media human love deletes, unfriends, or bullies those who don’t agree with us; spiritual love asks questions and seeks common ground. Human love listens with ears to respond and rebuke; spiritual love listens with ears to understand. Human love speaks with tongues to persuade and control, spiritual love speaks with tongues that heal, that bring forth hope and unity. Human love is reaction, but spiritual love is action. Action that creates, that builds, that unifies.
The Episcopal Church has a very simple way of reminding us of our duty as Christians. In our Baptismal Covenant, the final affirmation we make as Christians is to “Respect the dignity of every human being” not just the ones who think like us, or look like us, or live right next to us. To respect is Bonheoffer’s service ordered by the truth. To respect does not mean we have to agree, it does not mean we have to change our minds or our positions, but it does mean that we see value in the other person. That we see people as equals, that we see people as created in God’s own image.
Human love is reaction that divides; spiritual love is action that heals and offers hope.