God Does Not Give Up On Anyone
The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield
Scripture: Luke 6:20-31
I want to talk a little about a book I’m reading. It’s called Love: A History by Simon May, and it is what it says it is. A history of love. Well, a history of love in the Western world. This isn’t a Christian book. It isn’t even a religious book at all. It’s more of an academic philosophical history. Its thesis contains the phrase “ontological rootedness.” But the author basically argues that our modern conception and practice of love is ultimately rooted in the Hebrew scriptures and then reinforced by Jesus.
What “is fundamental to the history of Western love is the remarkable and radical justice that underlies the [commandment to love your neighbor as yourself]. Not a cold justice in which due desserts are mechanically handed out, but a justice that brings the other, as an individual with needs and interests, into a relationship of respect. All our neighbors are to be recognized as equal to ourselves before the law of love. Justice and love therefore become inseparable.”
I mention this because that’s really what Jesus doubles down on in this gospel reading: justice and love becoming inseparable.
Blessed are you who are poor…
Blessed are you who are hungry now…
But woe to you who are rich…
Woe to you who are full now…
Jesus constantly teaches this unbreakable connection between love and justice. When justice is accompanied by love, no one has too little and no one has too much. And when people do have too little, Jesus calls for them to be blessed. And when people have too much, Jesus calls for them, well, to be cursed.
Then he takes it a step further: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”
I don’t think Jesus is saying, “Endure abuse for my sake” or “The more you suffer, the more faithful you are.” Justice isn’t about revenge, that’s true, but love isn’t about how much suffering you can endure. It’s not the hurt or the offense that Jesus wants us to focus on, it’s our response to that hurt, our response to that offense.
How are we connecting justice and love when we respond to being harmed? That doesn’t mean you don’t hold someone accountable for the harm they’ve done. Jesus was constantly calling the Pharisees and the disciples to accountability. Jesus turned over tables in the temple when he thought the vendors there were harming people in that sacred space. That’s the justice part. But, Jesus says, do not give up on those who cause harm. Love them, do good for them, bless them, pray for them. See the love in them. And as one Buddhist teacher once said, “Everybody loves something, even if it’s only tortillas.” See that love in them. That’s the love part.
Don’t give up on anyone. That’s what grace is. And listen, that doesn’t mean continuing to engage with someone who continues to harm you or others. If someone continues to harm, not giving up on them requires stepping away from them—because our staying enables them to perpetuate that harm. And that’s not the loving or just thing to do, not for yourself or for the person causing harm. Do you think that Jesus kept hanging out with the Pharisees when they refused to change their behavior?
You step away and you continue to pray for them. You continue your practice of seeing the love in them—from a distance.
When we refuse to give up on people, when we refuse to separate justice and love, we practice a greater love. We practice the way God loves us. Because God does not give up on us.
What all the saints of our Church have in common is that they did not give up on God’s love. St. Luke did not give up on the poor and oppressed, whom he lifted up as central to the gospel he wrote down. St. William Wilberforce did not give up on the humanity of any person when he fought for the abolition of slavery in the British Parliament. St. Evelyn Underhill did not give up on the power of spirituality and liturgy as a force for joy and renewal in our everyday lives.
Each of the saints did it in their own way, but all of them lived their belief that God doesn’t give up on anyone, and so in their own lives they would not give up on God’s love for anyone.
Which brings us to our own saints. The people we’ve loved and lost. The people we grieve. And yes, I do believe that they are all saints in some way. They all lived God’s love in some way.
For some of the people we’ve lost, it’s easy to rest in the love that they gave us, that they gave the world. They were joyful, caring, forgiving. But some of us have lost people for whom love was more complicated. They may have harmed us while they were here. Or they harmed others. It was hard to see God’s love in them. Maybe they gave up on us. Maybe we gave up on them.
I don’t know what happens to us after we die. No one does. The scriptures speculate in dozens of different ways.
Whatever your hand finds to do, do with your might; for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going. Ecclesiastes 15
When their breath departs, they return to the earth. Psalm 146
We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed. 1 Corinthians 15
And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. Matthew 25
God will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. Revelation 21
I don’t know which of these is correct. All I know from what Jesus said, from what he himself learned from his Jewish scriptures, is that God does not give up on us. That yes, there is justice. Yes, there is accountability. But that doesn’t mean vengeance. That doesn’t mean eternal punishment. Because with God, justice is never separated from love. Which means God never gives up on us. Not even after we die.
So I think the verse I’d go to when it comes to death, when it comes to grief, when it comes to our saints, is this:
So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 2 Corinthians 4.
I believe this. I believe this for the people for whom love has come easily, was given easily. I believe this for the people who have caused harm. I believe this for you. For me. For everyone we’ve lost. Our inner nature is being renewed day by day. In this life and beyond.
I believe this because I know that God doesn’t give up on anyone.