“Love Them Anyway”

August 16, 2015

Texts:
You shall love your neighbour as yourself. (Jesus, Mark 12:31).
People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centred.
Love them anyway. (Dr. Keith)

Every once in a while, a story, poem, or saying emerges that captures the imagination of people.
Today’s sermon is based on one such poem by Dr. Kent Keith,
and the phrase, “Love them anyway.”

The story of the poem begins with a remarkable coincidence.
It happened at a Rotary meeting as recently as September 1997.
Most Rotary meetings begin with a grace or a thought for the day.
On this day, a member got up and noted that Mother Teresa had died,
and that he would like to read a poem she had written, titled, “Anyway.”

As he read the poem, another Rotarian at the meeting couldn’t believe his ears:
it was his poem.
He had written it as a student at Harvard University, thirty years earlier,
but under a different title, “Paradoxical Commandments.”
And to think that Mother Teresa, in India, had thought his message
important enough to put on the wall of her children’s home, blew his mind.

“That really hit me.
I wanted to laugh, and cry, and shout–and I was getting chills up and down my spine,” he recalled later.
He also discovered, unbeknownst to him, that the poem he had written for a student handbook,
had circled the globe, and was used by countless people.
He was moved that so many people were hungry for his modern credo,
that he decided to write, travel and speak about the poem.

I am using the poem as the basis for today’s sermon for two reasons:
One, for its wise, energizing insights, into finding satisfaction and meaning
in our crazy 21st century world.
Two, because it reinforces today’s lectionary reading,
namely, the commandment of Jesus to love your neighbour as yourself.

Dr. Keith called his list of ten principles “Paradoxical Commandments,”
because they seem to contradict common sense, and yet are true.
For Keith, they are also a declaration of independence,
for if you can do what is right and good and true,
you may or may not be appreciated for your efforts.
But if you can do private good, without looking for applause or approval,
you are free to find meanings that others miss.

Here are Keith’s ten original Paradoxical Commandments:

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down
by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.

People favour underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.
People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.
Let’s look at these principles a little more closely.

Note that the inspiration for action comes from the words in italics.
They are verbs of action that can become our mantras, our daily motivators.
If you can’t figure out what to do in this crazy world,
be sincere and honest, and do what is good anyway.

The first Paradoxical Commandment is probably the one that gets us hooked
on the rest of the principles.

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

There is something intuitively correct about this saying.
How much easier it would be for all of us, if all of us followed those guidelines.
The world is full of difficult people, ourselves included,
and what we crave is to be loved in spite of our failings.
We are born to be loved unconditionally;
loved in spite of foibles;
loved through thick and thin.
I’ll never forget what Ben Johnson said about his friend, William Shakespeare,
There is so much more to be admired in him,
than ever to be criticized.

The first Paradoxical Commandment stands first in the parade.
Let’s look at one more, the ninth commandment about ordinary helpfulness.
People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.

Helping people is a sure way of loving them.
Helping is giving a thirsty person a cup of cold water,
or dropping a twoonie into an upturned cap.
It is giving someone a kind word, rather than remaining aloof or indifferent.
The notion of random kindness is a notion of unsuspected helpfulness.
We may be criticized for being over-helpful;
help people anyway.

Conclusion:

I would like to conclude with two stories that illustrate the essence
of loving our neighbour as ourselves, and, loving people anyway.
Both stories were reported on the front pages of the Times Colonist last weekend
(August 8 and 9, 2015.) You may have seen them.

The first incident began when a woman failed to return to the cruise ship
when it was set to sail for Seattle.
The cruise ship staff called 911, and alerted the police.
They in turn contacted the family in New York, who informed them the woman
had been having dementia-like symptoms.
Then the woman turned up on her own at the Empress Hotel,
and the police took her to the Jubilee hospital for assessment.
It was at the hospital that one of the Victoria police officers assessed the situation,
had empathy for the woman in distress,
and took the initiative to arrange a flight for her to Seattle,
so she could make her connection and get back to New York.

The striking element in this story is that he used his personal credit card
to pay the costs of the ticket, with the anticipation of recovering the cost with his air miles.
When the Victoria policeman was interviewed by the Times Colonist about his generosity, he replied modestly:
“She needed help. It could be my mom stranded somewhere, and I would hope someone would help.”
At the airport, Alaska Airlines stepped in, reimbursed the officer, and made sure the woman made it to Seattle in time for her next connection.

It was, indeed, a human interest story worthy of the front pages of our newspaper, and inclusion in a sermon on “loving your neighbour as yourself.”

You may also have seen the second story on the front pages of the Times Colonist last Sunday.
It was the story of a young Dutch prisoner of war, Rudi Hoenson,
who witnessed and survived the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan,
exactly 70 years ago this month.
The blast of hot air from the explosion knocked Rudi down, but he managed to crawl to safety,
while 40,000 others in the city died in the atomic blast.
Rudi was taken back to the prisoner of war camp, where life continued to be harsh, brutal and unforgiving.
A week after the atomic bomb was dropped, Japan surrendered, and the war was over.

The road back to Holland and health for Rudi, was slow but progressive.
He immigrated to Canada in 1951, and moved to Victoria in 1979.
He now lives in the Broadmead Veteran’s Lodge, where he is a much-loved and admired
Victoria philanthropist, who has given away millions to local charities.

What makes Rudi’s story truly memorable, and worth including in this sermon?
It’s that his soul transcended the feelings of bitterness and anger towards his captors,
and emerged with understanding and forgiveness.
This was Rudi’s preeminent quality of character.
What is truly remarkable, given all this, is his lack of anger, Jack Knox wrote.
He is not bitter. He does not dwell. He bears no ill will towards the Japanese,
who he says acted according to the dictates of what was then their way of thinking.
The officers ordered the soldiers to be rough on the prisoners, and the soldiers
complied. It was part of their culture that we were nobodies.

Jennifer, a friend who coaxed some of the story from Rudi, sensed his depth of soul:
how a man–a boy, really–can witness unspeakable depravity, endure 3 1/2 years of brutal captivity,
be starved to the point of death, and live through the horror of nuclear war, yet emerge with his soul
intact, his heart free of bitterness.

How could he?
We may not know the personal struggle of soul and spirit that brought Rudi
to his point of inner freedom,
but we applaud his spiritual insight and peaceful resolution.

These are stories worth hearing on Sunday mornings.

Amen.

Rev. Dr. Eugen Bannerman

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