Across the Pastor’s Desk: Loving people as God loves us

Published 8:00 pm Friday, February 9, 2024

Across the Pastor’s Desk by Nancy Overgaard

While working on a kibbutz in northern Israel in the 1980s, I was thrilled to hear that a renowned Israeli singer and songwriter would be performing on our small kibbutz. I had learned several of her songs in Hebrew and owned two of her songbooks. I immediately made plans to attend.

Nancy Overgaard

Not so, one of my Israeli coworkers. Sara adamantly stated she would not be going. When I asked why, she replied that, while the singer was a gifted songwriter, she had a terrible personality.

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She was right. The performer pranced on stage with an air of arrogance, flipping her long hair as she sashayed toward the piano. Even that image clashed with the lyrics of her tender songs.

Moments into the concert, while playing and singing a deeply moving song about Jerusalem, the soloist banged her hands down on the keyboard and yelled at the audience.

Even with my limited Hebrew, I understood what she was saying. She was incensed someone entered the auditorium late, wearing clogs whose clomp on the floor could be heard throughout the auditorium.

The singer berated not only the latecomer but all kibbutzniks for their presumed rudeness. With the mood of the concert shattered, the singer tried to go on by turning to a less emotional song. But the concert was effectively over. My coworker was gleeful to have been proven right.

In I Corinthians 13, the so-called love chapter in the Bible, the Apostle Paul talks about this very issue. Giftedness without the character to match, he says, is not worth much:

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” — I Corinthians 13:1-3

In that chapter, the Apostle Paul spells out the hallmarks of genuine love:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres,” — I Corinthians 13:4-6.

I wish I could say my character is better than the famous singer-songwriter, but all too often it is not; I am irritable and unkind myself. It is a constant work in progress, and sometimes it is hard to see the progress even though I have tried, over many years, to work on each quality Paul lists.

Recently, I have found comfort in knowing that the only One who loves perfectly, loves even the unlovely and the imperfect.

The Apostle Paul tells us that, God, in His mercy, sent Jesus to die for us and for our sins, even while we were still sinners. (Romans 5:8)

The Apostle John wrote similarly:

“This is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” — I John 4:10

John then issues this challenge:

“Dear friends, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” — I John 4:11

Jesus extended the challenge to love, not only our friends, but our enemies and others who mistreat us, in the same magnanimous, undeservedly merciful way God loves us. (Luke 6:27-36)

As we approach Valentine’s Day, be heartened by God’s great love for you, even with your imperfections, even as you work at loving others in the same magnanimous way.

Nancy Overgaard is a member of the Freeborn County Ministerial Association.