Tomorrow is Valentines day. As someone who has been single for a whopping 5 years, you could say that Valentines day isn't my favorite holiday, but after attending worship at First Baptist Church of Boone yesterday, I found a new perspective that gave a little bit of light to the holiday, especially given some of the things that have been going on recently in our country.
" But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.  So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you,  leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.  Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison.  Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny." Matthew 5: 22-26
This was a section of the verses that the sermon was based off yesterday. Now I'm sure you're thinking that these verses can be a little intense. I mean, "liable to the hell of fire," sounds pretty terrifying to me. Roy Dobyns, the pastor at FBC Boone helped me to take a step back from these verses that are actually in the context of why you should not murder and instead see them as words that can help to guide how I treat others on a daily basis.
So much of what has been going on recently in our country has created divides and put up walls (unfortunately not just figurative walls) between individuals, families, and entire identities of people. Now, I am no expert in politics, and sometimes the big picture of things is honestly so confusing, that I get nervous taking a stand against things I don't feel fully educated on. But regardless of what big actions I take against some of these divides, I can use what I do feel comfortable with to take smaller actions that in the end can seriously add up. For me, that is individual relationships and connections. Although I go to a university, in which I find my values and beliefs being echoed back to me in many instances, I have met my share of opposition and questioning, from people all over the spectrum, friends and strangers alike. The first step that I've found in dealing with these instances, is to listen.
In my job as a Resident Assistant stressing "Listen to understand, rather to respond" is a huge part of building relationships with all residents, similar or different from you. Sometimes, we are quick to respond, filling with immediate backlash and emotion. And that is exactly what Matthew is warning against here in these verses. He calls us to put down our angers, put down our judgement, and to come to terms with those who are accusatory against us. Now I know that's way easier said than done. I have found myself shutting down quickly in conversations sometimes when I know that if I continue to listen, or even attempt to respond, that things will get ugly fast. But I think striving to keep that motto of listening to understand rather to respond is the first step towards bridging that divide.
Roy commented on how the sometimes scary language in Matthew suggests that when we have these angers towards others, when we keep the walls up that divide us from our brothers and sisters, we simply cannot reach the kingdom of heaven. It's a hard task to take on. Especially because a lot of the time we find ourselves easily bridging the divide with certain groups of people more than others. But we have to remember that even the oppressor, even the accuser, and even those who don't believe in God deserves our understanding and forgiveness.
As I hopefully write more, you will soon learn that I tie in a word that has significant importance to me in a lot of situations that I find myself stumbling upon. Agape. It's a greek word, one of the four greek loves. It means unconditional love, usually to represent the love between people and God and God and people, but can also be used in context of how we treat one another. That no matter what someone does to us, that we won't let it bring bitterness into our hearts. I recently had this word tattooed on my arm as a permanent and constant reminder of tearing down these walls that I find between myself and others. Although initially confusing and kind of terrifying, after spending some time with these verses, it is comforting to know that overall, we are called to love others, to put down our gifts and to settle our disputes before entering the kingdom of heaven.
So Valentines day is tomorrow. A day I usually gag as I see couples walking around hand in hand with way too much PDA. But in the end, it is a day in which people show love to others. So rather than sitting in my sometimes ridiculously lonely state and being bitter towards the world, I have been inspired to show agape love. To break down barriers between myself and people I find it hard to love at times. And I am reminded that as long as I have the unconditional love of God, things are going to be okay.
- Simply Nat