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"A Love / Hate Relationship"

John 12:20-43

Rev. Alan Taylor

Palm Sunday
St. John Lutheran Church  
Galveston, Texas

Sun, Mar 24, 2013 

+ In Nomine Jesu +

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

In 1956 psychologist and social philosopher Erich Fromm proposed that loving oneself is different from being arrogant, conceited or egocentric.  He proposed that loving oneself means caring about oneself, taking responsibility for oneself, respecting oneself, and knowing oneself (e.g. being realistic and honest about one's strengths and weaknesses).  He proposed, further, that in order to be able to truly love another person, an individual needs first to love himself in this way.

Fromm paved the way for the self-esteem doctrine that has permeated our society over the last 30 to 40 years.  While there are merits to his work, and while some level of self-esteem may be a good thing, too much becomes self-love, which, prior to Fromm's innovative definition, was called narcissism. 

Whether it was Fromm's concept of what it means to love oneself or some other phenomena, many social scientists and even the casual observer would agree that our culture is now consumed by the love of self.  Surveying the changes that have occurred over that last few decades brings to mind the Apostle Paul's warning to Timothy regarding the things that would transpire in the last days.  "People (he writes) will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God."

If you think my assessment of our cultures uncritical adoption of the self- esteem doctrine is a bit too pessimistic, consider the following.  Did you know that it is now possible to hire fake paparazzi to follow you around and take pictures of you everywhere you go?  I'm not kidding.  It's true!  There is a company that provides the would be star with his or her own paparazzi.

Or, how about this..."This Little Piggy went to Prada" is a title of a book of nursery rhymes that has received rave reviews on Amazon.com.  It gets 4.5 out of 5 stars from "fashion-aware" moms with "hip" kids who love to shop.

My personal favorite is about Chidi Ogbuta, a young woman who was married on January 10, 2008.  To commemorate the event she had her wedding cake sculpted into a life-sized image of herself.  Who is Chidi Ogbuta, you might ask?  Well, she is no one in particular as far as I can tell.  Just a woman who thought it appropriate to have her wedding cake sculpted into her own image.

This is the society in which we live.  You may or may not have given in to the doctrine of self-love, either for yourself, or, in raising your children, but, either way, you are constantly barraged by it.  Even Burger King promotes self-admiration on its food wrappers.  One proclaims: "You're special, and you deserve a special sandwich."  In a cross-promotion with the NFL, Burger King printed bags that said, "You are a BK champion.  You eat to win.  You grab life by the horns and food by the bun."  Unfortunately, we all know it's their food that grabs all of us by the buns, but, we eat it anyway!

Whether its 21st America, or, some other time and place, Jesus and His message always come across as counter-cultural.  What He loves, the culture generally disdains and what the culture loves, He generally disdains.

Jesus said, "Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life."  I suspect you don't have any problem recognizing Jesus' words from this morning's Gospel reading as counter-cultural.  The question is, what do they mean?  Contrary to Fromm and his doctrine of self-love, it would seem that Jesus advocates self-hatred, some sort of twisted deprecation and loathing of self.  In fact, it seems that He is saying that the only way you can come to eternal life is by hating yourself. 

It is, however, contrary to Scripture and the Gospel to believe that God expects you to literally hate yourself.  After-all, how can you hate the one that "God so loved that He gave His only-begotten Son" to save?  If God loves you so much that He would die for you, and you insist on hating yourself, your hatred can only amount to pride, the pride that exalts its own judgment above the judgment of God.

The point is, there is more to Jesus' statement about love and hate than meets the eye.  In the Book of Romans, Paul wrote about Jacob and Esau, the two children of Isaac.  It is a story that Paul's audience would have been well acquainted with.  You may recall that Jacob received the promise of his father Isaac because Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of porridge.  Paul, speaking for God, says of the two sons, "Jacob I loved, but, Esau I hated."

I realize that on the surface those words make no more sense to us than what Jesus said in this morning's Gospel reading.  How does God love one child and hate another?  Actually He doesn't.

I've taken you to this story about Jacob and Esau to demonstrate again how ludicrous it would be for us to take this love / hate dichotomy found in these sections of Scripture in a literal sense.  Ask yourself, did God literally hate Esau?  Well, not if He "loved the world so much that He gave His only-begotten Son."  Ah, but maybe, you say, that Esau was not included in God's love for the world.  I mean, maybe God so loved the world, except Esau, and maybe Pharoah, and Judas, and some others.  Be careful, my friends!  If Esau, or, anyone else was excluded from the promises of God there is nothing to say that you weren't excluded too!

The point is, Jesus uses the contrast between love and hate, not as polar opposites, but in a relational sense.  In other words, as one before the other.  Thus, while God loved both Jacob and Esau, He favored Jacob with the rights due the firstborn. 

As to Jesus' words in John 12, "Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life," if your love of self is primary you will most definitely lose your life.  Why?  Well, because if you love yourself as a first priority, there is no room left in your heart for Jesus or for your neighbor.  And remember, the Law of God is summed up in this, "you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, body and soul.  And, you shall love your neighbor as yourself."  If your love of self is first, then your love for God can be no better than second, leaving your love for your neighbor to wain somewhere way down the list.

Friends, you were made a need creature in your baptisms, just as Logan and Wren were this morning.  That stone cold heart that really had no care for anyone or anything but self, was soften and finally broken by the overwhelming love of God for you.  Your love for yourself is now as hatred when compared to your love for God.  Oh, I'm not saying you have gotten it perfectly right, or, that you are now longer tempted by societies insistence that you love yourself before you try to love someone else.  I'm simply saying, you have been and are loved by God that you might lose you life in love of Him and in service of your neighbor.  God grant you such a servants heart in this Holy Week and beyond.  In Jesus' name.  Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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