This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. –1 John 3:11
I’m in Nashville today, sleeping in a hotel room, missing my own pillows, my own bed, and my family. That’s okay, I suppose, as I’ll appreciate them all the more when I get to go home on Thursday. Besides, being in a different place and a different situation always makes me pay a bit closer attention to the world around me. Take this evening’s events for example.
When we returned to the hotel after supper, I decided to make a bit of a pilgrimage, not to the Ryman Auditorium, long-time home of the Grand Ole Opry, but to a nearby convenience store to buy a two-liter bottle of soda. As I walked down Broadway, over the long bridge that crosses the main railroad tracks through the city, I encountered a bedraggled guy in a filthy jacket. He approached me for a bit of money. I declined to help him.
When I reached the store, a pair of slightly less bedraggled guys in less filthy clothing stood out among the other customers. One of these men held an enormous bottle of beer in his hand as he waited for the cashier. He turned to face me. “How you doing, brother?” he asked.
“I’m doing okay,” I replied.
His turn at the register came. He handed the bottle to the cashier, and she turned to place it behind her. Then she looked at him, slightly ill at ease. When he shrugged, she said, “I cannot sell you any beer, since you’re already intoxicated. I can smell it on you.”
My new-found brother muttered for a moment and then moved off. I heard him say a few things about “smell it on me,” but he didn’t raise too loud of a fuss.
All this leaves me wondering about today’s verses. I’m sharing a room with David of Cincinnati, a very easy roommate all in all. We understand how to defer to each other, how to respect each other, and how to love each other. Being loving toward some people–all the people I’m meeting with this week–happens with ease. But what of the dirty drunk on Broadway? How do I love him?
Do I love him by giving him a handout or by shrugging that request off? Does the convenience store clerk love him by selling him the beer or refusing? Do I speak to him or refuse to make eye contact, scuttling away at the first opportunity. I ask these questions because I don’t know the answers. I’m not sure how to love a difficult daughter or an annoying church brother. Loving is hard work.
In a way, adherence to a complex and convoluted law, refusing to eat this or washing that, would be a great deal easier than the religious observance that Jesus called us to, this message we heard in the beginning. We don’t get a checklist or a rule sheet. There’s no clear standard to this love we’re to practice. No one ever said that Christianity was easy, did they?