“Otherly love”

Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:

Proverbs 25:6-7
Hebrews 13:1-8
Luke 14:1, 7-14

(this devotion was written in 2001)

In his sermon for the Sept. 8 installation of President Kieschnick and those in other offices of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, Dr. Arleigh Lutz spoke more than one prophetic word. Among other things, he spoke of “a world scarred by evil that grows more dark and dangerous with each passing day.”

Three days later, Americans and the free world were stunned into grief and silence at a second and even more heinous day of infamy in our nation’s history. The good and gracious God who came in peace in our Lord Jesus must surely be in tears over the pain of His children and the darkness and evil of His creation. But He remembers and so must we that this dark world has already been redeemed and is in process of being enlightened through our Lord and Redeemer Jesus Christ. Therefore, let us pray that Jesus, the Good Shepherd and Great Physician, will comfort, heal and renew all surviving victims and the families of all victims.

God of all comfort and grace, touch every person of every land who is injured, bereaved, depressed or confused by the evil of Tuesday, September 11. Thank you for the tens of thousands of emergency workers at the scenes and for the countless volunteers who gave blood or gifts to help others. Give wisdom and accuracy of judgment to the leaders of the United States. By Your Spirit’s unyielding power may their decisions be truly Godly decisions and their actions blessed by Your intention. It is a profoundly dark time, Father, and we sorely need, deeply desire and earnestly request Your light…in the name of Jesus. Amen.

“Never cease to love your fellow-Christians.” These words form the first sentence in one translation of Sunday’s Epistle lesson. It is one of those lines to which our present society has added some new wrinkles for the translator. The Greek says, “Let brotherly love continue (abide, remain).” In 2001, at least in America, the word “brotherly” is not held in highest esteem unless it is coupled equally with “sisterly” or something similar. I am not trying to belittle this effort or even, as I have been known to do, to poke fun at it. The problem for the translator is that neither “sisterly love” nor love for “fellow- Christians” has the rich heritage and tradition of the familiar Greek word philadelphia.

I have not been around the organization known as the Jaycees since I went “over the hill,” so to speak, and was too old to be an active member. I have wondered what has been done, if anything, to a marvelous line from the Jaycee Creed that once stated: “We believe…that the brotherhood of man transcends the sovereignty of nations.” I checked their Web site and it remains.

Language is both a beautiful and a terrible thing. Phrases like the brotherhood of man and brotherly love have been loaded with so much weight and power and meaning over the years that I worry about them being replaced with something light and impotent and void of emotional impact. At the same time, if these very words are used to imply or to seize some kind of transcendence of one part of humanity over another, their brilliance and beauty are debased.

I remember watching a movie on television in which a member of the KKK repeatedly used the word “Christian.” From his lips, it sounded vulgar. “If I speak with the eloquence of both men and angels, but have no love, I am a noisy gong and a clashing cymbal.”

Feddersen’s Fables is indebted to Glendon Harris for reprinting this story and to Methodist Bishop Lloyd Wicke for first telling it. There were two brothers in a church that the Bishop once served. One was a physician, the other an Oldsmobile dealer. Whenever the new Oldsmobiles came out, the dealer gave his doctor brother a new model and sold the old one. Just after his new car had been delivered one year, the doctor took it on a house call. When he came out of the house, he noticed a boy, the son of one of his charity patients, standing by the new car and admiring it. The boy was about 12 years old, and not too well clothed. “Well, son, what do you think of it?” the doctor asked. The boy answered “Gee, Doc, it’s something. How much did it cost?”

The doctor said, “I really don’t know. You see, it’s a gift from my brother.” Then he added, “Would you like to take a ride?”

“Boy, would I,” the boy exclaimed. So the doctor took him for a short ride around the neighborhood. After the ride, the boy got out of the car and said, “Say, could you wait one more minute?” Then he bounded into the house, and returned carrying a little boy about half his age — his retarded brother. “Jimmy, look at it!” he said. “Ain’t it a beauty? And you know something — his brother gave it to him.” He paused and then added, “Jimmy, when I get to be a man, I’m going to be that kind of a brother.”

It’s OK with me if you want to call it “love for your fellow-Christians” rather than “brotherly love,” but the love of that little boy for his brother is what the Author to the Hebrews wants as a constant in His church. And the capital “A” in Author is not a typo. I don’t know if I could help the world to come up with a substitute for “brotherhood,” but it is clear to me that the New Testament idea of brotherly love is otherly love. Most little boys, admiring the doctor’s car would have said, “When I get to be a man, I’m going to own a car like that.” Sin has erected a wall between us and God and between us and the other.

Sometimes we think that the opposite of love is hate. Once, on the old “Amos and Andy” radio show, there was a big man who would slap Andy across the chest whenever they met. Andy got fed up with it and devised a plan to get even. He told Amos, “I am fixed for him! I put a stick of dynamite in my vest pocket and the next time he slaps me he is going to get his hand blown off.” The dynamite of hatred clearly has its drawbacks — it may injure others, but it will inevitably blow out our own hearts.

The opposite of otherly love is self-infatuation and it has a dynamite of its own. In Sunday’s Gospel lesson, Jesus draws on an Old Testament Proverb to teach a lesson about the Kingdom of God. With the common illustration of being invited to a wedding banquet, Jesus warns His listeners not to take the places of honor. The host may come and make you move so that some distinguished guest can have the seat. Jesus concludes: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The Lord then turned to His own host and offered some directions on creating a guest list. He said not to invite friends, relatives and wealthy neighbors who can invite back and repay the favor. He added, “Rather, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.”

It is both interesting and sad that we do so many things with great expectations of a return or reward. Even the very best of the service organizations can’t seem to resist putting their names on the objects they donate. Some people never give regular tithes to the church. The only offerings they ever make are those that will have a plaque on them, or will somehow show their names in print. In contrast to Jesus’ direction, they never let their left hands do anything unless their right hands are held out for recognition.

I have concluded that there is no real, or at least discernible, difference between humility and otherly love. Humble people are people who do what they believe God wants them to do. They work, they serve, they give to both the Great Other and to others. It is no wonder that they are shocked and embarrassed if someone gives them recognition — they cannot imagine why anyone should receive (let alone want) recognition for simply doing what they should be doing in the first place.

A famous chef was invited by his brother to a banquet. He was invited as a guest, but since his brother was the host, he arrived early in the morning and began practicing his culinary skills. By the time the festivity was beginning, he had prepared a feast fit for a king. As was his custom, he brought the first plate out himself to place it before the guest of honor. His brother showed him the spot at the head table and noted that the honored person would be there in a moment.

The chef quickly removed his apron, donned his tuxedo and sat down at a table near the kitchen, where he could supervise the serving. His brother called the guests to their seats. Then, in a loud voice, he invited the chef to step forward. Thinking that he would be introduced as the one who had prepared the meal, he simply stood at his chair, but the brother insisted he come up to the head table.

Then he announced, “My dear brother, this banquet is in honor of one who has been voted by his peers to be the finest chef in all the world. I knew that because of your great love for me you would come and work just as you have. I also knew that to truly honor you, we could not serve anything but the very best. This first and finest plate in all the world is for you.”

A preacher once shared the Good News about Jesus in a clear and meaningful way. Then, in an attempt to get his hearers to respond to the Gospel, he asked, “Do you not think that, because He died for you, the Lord expects you to praise Him? Don’t you think it’s time you started repaying Him for all He did for you? Can’t you see the debt you owe Him for dying on the cross for you?”

He went on, but I couldn’t hear because I was shouting, “No! No! No! Jesus died to cancel our debts — not in order to make us indebted!”Fortunately, I was in my truck, yelling at my radio, rather than in church some place. Suddenly, I realized the window was open. I slid way down in my seat as if I could be anonymous in my own truck.

We have been invited by our Brother to the heavenly banquet. The tickets are priceless, but He has purchased ours in advance. We are early, but many are still coming and there is much to do. I don’t know a thing about cooking, but I can help with technical stuff like taking out the garbage. I can help get the invitation to people who haven’t heard yet. How can you help?

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