Misguided Love - 04/03/22
Updated: Apr 11, 2022
How do we love: Misguided Love
Rev. Fritz Nelson
April 3, 2022 – Lent 5
Text: Acts 8:1b-3, 9:1-4
“I was advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age,” Paul recalls when summarizing his biography to the Galatians. “I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors.”
So zealous Paul worked the coat check at Stephen stoning and approved of the brutal action. Stephen’s sin: corrupting traditional Judaism by encouraging people to follow the false teachings of the Jesus followers. Stephen deserved to die. So did the other Christ followers corrupting Judaism and threatening the nation. So Paul raided their homes. When they fled to Damascus he followed them.
On the road to Damascus Jesus intervenes: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
Saul is too stunned to answer but if he had he would have likely used the language of love. “I love you, Lord. With my whole heart and mind and strength. I’m loving my neighbor as myself. I’m Phinehas, your hero, who when the people were threatened by the plague in the desert killed his fellow Israelite and his non-Israelite wife. They were going against your word. Defiling your people. Kindling your anger. I love you, so I’m killing these Christians who don’t follow your way, who threaten your love for your people. To protect Israel, they must die.”
“Saul, Saul,” Jesus must have wept. “Do you love me, or do you love tradition, do you love power, do you love your pride in being more zealous than everyone else?”
All Lent we’ve been considering the ways we love and today we find ourselves at the hardest of the categories – misguided love. Saul’s misguided love ended up working against the very Lord he sought to serve. How stunned he must have been on the road to Damascus. What seemed so very right turned out to be so very wrong.
Paul wasn’t wrong to love God with his whole heart and mind and strength. He wasn’t wrong to love his neighbor as himself. So often misguided love starts in the right place. All those values in the car ad: family and country, faith and community, strength and power, tradition, sexuality. They’re good values. They shape us. They form the bedrock of our society and community. Each value good in the right space, the right place, the right moderation.
Each value good in the right space, the right place, the right moderation. Yet if GM convinces us love of family requires a GM car even if we can’t afford it, or if it harms our family because its not safe, then our love has been misguided. When our love of country blinds us to our country’s sins, or leads us to denigrate the foreigner, our love has been misguided. When we love family or others in such a way as to oppress and stifle, our love becomes misguided. Hard work is great until we ignore the sabbath, ignore our families, ignore our own need for rest and renewal. Then our love of work becomes misguided. Slippery is the slope. Almost any love, any value can become misguided when our love separates us from God. When our love prevents us from embracing our neighbor.
In the story of the Good Samaritan the priest walks by. His training as a priest had taught him to value the traditions of purity and holiness. Contact with blood caused impurity. Contact with the wrong type of people caused impurity. Both could compromise his holiness, his reputation in the community, his ability to continue his work as a priest. Jesus casts the priest as the villain in the story but his audience of pious, temple worshipping Jews may have questioned his assessment. The priest was just doing what a priest should do. The priest loved the Lord, so he walked by. The priest knew the importance of his ability to minister to the community, so he walked by.
The priest was a good priest, so he walked by. Paul was a good, zealous Jew so he terrorized the followers of Jesus. Both priest and Paul dedicated every ounce of their beings to serving God – and their dedication lead them straight to sin.
Slippery is the slope. How easy for our love to be misguided. My cheers as Tom Brady’s perfect pass settled into the arms of Antonio Brown. Did I allow my love of football, my New England required near worship of Tom Brady, to supersede my duty to honor the many Antonio Brown has hurt over his career as a coddled athlete?
Did my love of personal freedom and autonomy over these last two years of COVID lead me to endanger others, or endanger myself and my family? Or did my love of safety and caution lead me to unhealthily separate myself from my neighbor?
Does my love of tradition, comfort and stability blind me to the radical change God desires for his people and the communities in which they live? Do I let my zeal for the Lord and my commitment to transform our communities for the gospel of Jesus Christ impact my family life, my own self care, my ultimate ability to love God and love neighbor?
There are days I wish I never realized the priest walked by not because he was evil but because he loved. For misguided love is a quagmire, a quicksand, sucking us in, the broad, feel good path leading us away from our God, leading us to bring hurt to our neighbors. How I wish I could just keep on keeping on, knowing clearly what is right, clearly what is not, being zealous for God and country and traditional values with an American, union-built Chevrolet in my driveway.
Instead, I must walk in humility, knowing I might be another Saul marching down a road of destruction cloaked in false righteousness. I must constantly ask Christ to break into my life with the questions of judgment: Fritz, Fritz, why do you persecute me? Fritz, Fritz why have you walked by your neighbor in need? Fritz, Fritz why are you letting your fears, your desire for comfort, your need for certainty interfere with the change I’m trying to bring? Fritz, Fritz, drop your misguided loves. Let me make you fully free.