Counter Cultural Love
Talk for Sunday 10th Feb 2019
* Looking at how hard it is to love those who disagree with us
* Who support a different view point
* Who dislike someone we like
* How we are led by culture to hate certain ideas and people
* How Jesus calls on us as God always has done to love even those who hate and hurt us.
Readings 1 Samuel 24.3-5, 7-13 Luke 6.27-36
- Last week Clare talked about the Power of Love and this talk builds on that.
How Loving even those who do not love us is God’s way.
- I have used a piece from the Big Issue by Dr Harris in the notice sheet piece
He says our minds are “trained to disconnect” when we see a homeless person. “We readily help kids and cute animals, in part because we know that whatever trouble they’re in, they can’t really be held accountable.”
“We’re less likely to be so understanding and forgiving when it comes to homeless adults or drug addicts.
“This tendency to judge rather than help is partly the result of a spot in the prefrontal cortex which appears to modulate the degree of empathy by regulating the release of dopamine.
No dopamine means no reward from engaging with the other person, which makes it less likely that we’ll reach out empathically.”
This sense of disconnect could be at the heart of everything that divides society today. “Of course these kinds of responses occur, ultimately, in our brains; where else would they occur? But social processes have enormous power to change neural processes.
So is our humanity something we can turn on and off – if only we found the right buttons to push?
“We’re trying to figure out what brain mechanisms allow us to switch these responses on and off,”
Harris says. “We want to make empathy the default response because now, the default response is to switch off entirely. If we’re going to get that to change we need a complete cultural shift.
As Christians we believe that living God’s way will turn our response around we will love others as God loves us and them. That is Counter Cultural Love
That is what we are going to look at together today.
- ‘Let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.’ Romans 12:2 NLT
From UCB Word for today – Thoughts produce feelings, not the other way around. Worried people tend to think anxious thoughts, and eventually those thoughts become so automatic that, like a lingering odour, you stop noticing and learn to live with it. You get used to ‘stinking thinking’! Your thought patterns become as habitual as brushing your teeth. You get so accustomed to thinking bitter, anxious, selfish thoughts that you stop paying attention to any other way of doing things.
Basically you respond as the world expects you to.
Love those who love and help you ignore most others and hate those who harm you or those you love.
David had been Hurt, Insulted, Hated and Hunted by Saul for a while and now he had his chance, his men where encouraging him to deal with the enemy once and for all.
However David had always followed God and knew that it was God’s job to deal with his enemies.
So he did the Counter Cultural thing and let him live.
He refused to kill the one who wanted to kill him and even got distressed at having cut his robe.
Can you think of situations in the world or even your life which are similar?
David had been transformed into a New Person because he tried to live God’s way.
Jesus taught his disciples saying, “But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you.
David did this, most of the people then including the King, Saul, didn’t.
And it is still the same now people hold on to anger and hatred and that breeds more of the same.
Saul responded by saying how sorry he was and stopped hunting David, at least for a while and this situation happened again. In the end it was Saul who died but not at David’s hand and David became king.
- Luke 6.27-36 From the Message
7-30 “To you who are ready for the truth, I say this: Love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst.
This is hard teaching.
So how does not acting like those who dislike us, our enemies, bring out the best in us?
I saw a situation during the week
A red car was coming out of a junction when another car came down the hill and honked it and speeded off.
The red car honked back and gave chase and off they went honking each other.
The red car had not brought the best out of the other car in fact the situation just got worse.
What would have happened if the other car had just stopped or driven past?
If we react in the way we are being treated then we just ramp up the situation
whereas if we show love we show the best of ourselves and claim down the situation.
Think about how people react to each other over Brexit or many other points of view, or who hate those they like.
How does responding hate for hate help?
How does being angry to those who are not like us help?
How does ignoring the Homeless or the Migrant help?
It doesn’t it just produces more anger and hatred.
But what if we help in some way??
How did David respond?
- When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer for that person.
Now that is the way to respond, pray for them.
I know from my own experiences that it is hard to not respond in kind, and culture expects and encourages us to.
Just watch the soaps or virtually any drama
Watch how they act in parliament
Or just see how society around you act.
Culture tells us its ok to hate those who hate you, to want revenge on those who hurt you to only help if theirs something in it for you
However if I can just stop and pray it starts to make a difference to how I respond.
Its a bit like counting to 10 as I was told to as a child.
But in this case I am asking for help from my Father to act as He does.
I do not always get it right either, but then neither did David.
- If someone slaps you in the face, stand there and take it. If someone grabs your shirt, gift-wrap your best coat and make a present of it. If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.
Again, this is not easy, we tend to want to get our own back to get an advantage.
If someone says something about me I want to get my own back, is how our thoughts go.
That leads to personal insults and on the internet Trolling.
The word trolling is a word commonly used to describe a method of fishing. In trolling, a fisherman casts a line out into the water, usually several, and pulls them behind a boat, hoping that he will catch something.
A troller or someone that trolls is someone that casts a line out in the Internet world in hopes of hooking someone into an argument, pretty straight forward right?
They get a kick out of winding others up or just being rude.
Jesus tells us to not respond in kind but to be generous to them in our response.
- Luke 23 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”
Like Jesus we need to ask our Father in heaven to help us forgive.
When we forgive we help ourselves by not having that stress in our life anymore.
In an argument we just stop and let them have the last word or ignore them, Jesus did this with the Pharisees often.
Sometimes we just have to be the servant, a person who just takes orders and abuse from the master and can not respond.
Just think about Jesus and how He lived He never retaliated
Then there is what we say in the Lords Prayer
forgive us our sins,
as we forgive those who sin against us.
And don’t let us yield to temptation.
31-34 “Here is a simple rule of thumb for behaviour: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them!
So think if someone else has sweets you might like them to offer one to you, wouldn’t you?
Then you need to offer others some of your sweets.
If you only love the lovable, do you expect a pat on the back?
Its easy to give some of your sweets to a friend who has some to share back, not so easy to give to a stranger or outcast who can’t give back, but it is what God asks of us.
It is also what we expect from God if you stop and think about it.
Run-of-the-mill sinners do that. If you only help those who help you, do you expect a medal?
Garden-variety sinners do that.
If you only give for what you hope to get out of it, do you think that’s charity?
The stingiest of pawnbrokers does that.
God helps us in many ways, He forgives, He Loves, He Blesses all without anything in return.
We need to be the same
Always giving in Love to others with no thought of praise or reward.
John 3 16 Message version
“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.
- 35-36 “I tell you, love your enemies. Help and give without expecting a return.
Many people do good things for the reward.
Helping children or animals because it makes them feel good
Helping friends because they will like us and might give us something back
We need to teach ourselves to act as God does to us with Love and Forgiveness
Train ourselves so we move the pleasure switch to doing good to all no matter who they are, how they treat us or where they come from.
As with all re-training it needs to be done in small steps.
Start with one person who you would not normally engace in love with and go from there, slowly you will change how you think to become more Christ like in your actions.
And as in all things do not beat yourself up if you make mistakes or get it wrong, Jesus understands and He knows you are trying.
You’ll never-I promise-regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind.
We know that God loves us no matter what, we do don’t we?
After all He gave Himself for our punisment.
He is kind and loving to us no matter how we treat Him
So we need to act that way to those around us.
Loving them even when they hurt us by their actions [Sin]
Loving them even when they ignore us
Loving them when they take advantage of us
Because when we do then our Father promises that we will be treated in the same way in heaven and by Him always.
forgive us our sins,
as we forgive those who sin against us.
And don’t let us yield to temptation.
None of us want to be treated badly so we need to treat all we met, no matter how they stand with us, with LOVE.
This is Counter Cultural this is LOVE as GOD LOVES US not as Man loves.
1 John 2
15-17 Don’t love the world’s ways.
Don’t love the world’s goods.
Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father.
Practically everything that goes on in the world-wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important-has nothing to do with the Father.
It just isolates you from him.
The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out-but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity.
So let’s adjust the switch by keeping close to Jesus Loving as He does rather than keeping close to the world and acting as it does.
As John Harris says in UCB Word for Today
An honest reading of Luke tells us that true discipleship is based on following Jesus, seeing the world through his eyes and striving to act as he did.
Like the wise builder, we must come to Jesus, listen to him and do what he says. Unlike those who were learning to be disciples back then, we don’t have Jesus present with us – but we do have his Word. Like the wise builder, we must dig deeply and lay the foundation of our lives on the Word of God. We must not dig shallowly, selecting only those passages which suit us, as the Pharisees did. We must keep digging deeply until we encounter the Revelation of God in the person of Jesus Christ. Then we must model our lives on his.
1st Reading 1 Samuel 24.3-5, 7-13
King Saul hunts David, and David has an opportunity
3 At the place where the road passes some sheepfolds, Saul went into a cave to relieve himself. But as it happened, David and his men were hiding farther back in that very cave!
4 “Now’s your opportunity!” David’s men whispered to him. “Today the Lord is telling you, ‘I will certainly put your enemy into your power, to do with as you wish.'” So David crept forward and cut off a piece of the hem of Saul’s robe.
5 But then David’s conscience began bothering him because he had cut Saul’s robe.
7 So David restrained his men and did not let them kill Saul.
After Saul had left the cave and gone on his way, 8 David came out and shouted after him, “My lord the king!” And when Saul looked around, David bowed low before him.
9 Then he shouted to Saul, “Why do you listen to the people who say I am trying to harm you? 10 This very day you can see with your own eyes it isn’t true. For the Lord placed you at my mercy back there in the cave. Some of my men told me to kill you, but I spared you. For I said, ‘I will never harm the king-he is the Lord’s anointed one.’ 11 Look, my father, at what I have in my hand. It is a piece of the hem of your robe! I cut it off, but I didn’t kill you. This proves that I am not trying to harm you and that I have not sinned against you, even though you have been hunting for me to kill me.
12 “May the Lord judge between us. Perhaps the Lord will punish you for what you are trying to do to me, but I will never harm you. 13 As that old proverb says, ‘From evil people come evil deeds.’ So you can be sure I will never harm you
Love for your enemies
27 Jesus taught his disciples saying, “But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. 28 Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. 30 Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. 31 Do to others as you would like them to do to you.
32 “If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them! 33 And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much! 34 And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return.
35 “Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. 36 You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.
From the Big Issue
Dr Lasana Harris, associate professor of experimental psychology at University College London, studies neurological responses, specifically the way our brains engage with other people and the world around us. He says our minds are “trained to disconnect” when we see a homeless person.
“We’ve developed this as a strategy to help us get through our social environment,” he says. “Most people think, and rightly so, that homeless people are having very negative experiences and constantly suffering. We may not always want to resonate with that suffering. Because of that, we lose sight of the fact that these are just regular people.”
According to his research, our brains automatically censor our perception of homelessness on a biological level to stop us empathising and feeling hopeless.
“People aren’t being seen,” he says. “If I’m a busy person, going through a city like London where there are tons of homeless people, and I have to stop and consider the minds of all of these people, that might make me feel very uncomfortable. Moreover, if I don’t feel like I have the resources to help, there’s nothing I can do to alleviate that suffering. That feeling stays with you. Our brain says instead, if I take a second to stop and think about your suffering it’s going to make me feel bad. So, dehumanisation becomes a kind of emotion regulation strategy.”
Daniel Campbell-Meiklejohn, senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Sussex, says: “While we can’t be thinking about everyone’s feelings all the time, it would be a lonely life if we applied this strategy to everyone. So I think it’s interesting to think about how we choose who to care about, and why we might cognitively step over a person sleeping rough.
“Is it because we think we are not like the homeless man on the street? Are we afraid it’ll cost us something if we engage with his existence, or worry we might feel bad about our part of the inequality problem if we look one another in the eye? Is dehumanisation automatic or is there, at some point, some intentionality behind turning off our empathy machines?
“The answers will better our ability to counter the inequality problem – that is, if deep down, we actually want to look outside our cosy cognitive bubbles.”
The consequences of living in bubbles are all around us, as society in general appears to act increasingly insensitively towards the marginalised. Rough sleepers are not welcome and moved on by authorities without there being the necessary resources to help them properly. Hostels are often inadequate, but homeless people are put there long-term, out of sight and out of mind. Hostile architecture, designed to deter people getting too comfortable in public areas, is becoming a more common sight, and Universal Credit is still the government’s benefits system of choice despite the overwhelming evidence that it is making life for the people it exists to support more precarious.
“We readily help kids and cute animals, in part because we know that whatever trouble they’re in, they can’t really be held accountable,” he says. “We’re less likely to be so understanding and forgiving when it comes to homeless adults or drug addicts.
“This tendency to judge rather than help is partly the result of a spot in the prefrontal cortex called the subgenual cortex. It’s full of oxytocin receptors, and it appears to modulate the degree of empathy by regulating the release of dopamine. No dopamine means no reward from engaging with the other person, which makes it less likely that we’ll reach out empathically.”
“Think about your Facebook,” says Harris. “You probably have a few hundred ‘friends’. But they are casual acquaintances. You aren’t processing them deeply. We’ve developed this as a strategy to help us get through our social environment. And we think a version of this is what’s happening in the case of homelessness.
This sense of disconnect could be at the heart of everything that divides society today. Is there a refugee crisis because people don’t relate to them as fellow human beings? In the Brexit vote, it was areas with relatively low levels of immigration that were most concerned about it.
“Of course these kinds of responses occur, ultimately, in our brains; where else would they occur? But social processes have enormous power to change neural processes, and we should be doing much more to exploit their potential to overcome prejudice.”
This reflects projects Harris ran with the Museum of Homelessness last year. In his experiments, he made participants humanise people by, for example, asking them to consider questions like: ‘Does this person prefer broccoli or carrots?’ He also scanned people’s brain activity before and after speaking to someone sleeping rough. After this kind of interaction, Harris found that participants were far less likely to spontaneously disengage.
So is our humanity something we can turn on and off – if only we found the right buttons to push?
“We’re trying to figure out what brain mechanisms allow us to switch these responses on and off,” Harris says. “We want to make empathy the default response because now, the default response is to switch off entirely. If we’re going to get that to change we need a complete cultural shift.