Seventh Sunday in Epiphany
Year C RCL
North Fork Ministries
February 24, 2019
Jesus said, "I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
"If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
"Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back."
Luke tells us that Jesus continues his “Sermon on the Plain”, that you may remember from last week, by reminding his listeners of a truth they had already been taught, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” We know it as the Golden Rule and it was accepted by Jesus’ Jewish listeners as an important part of thelaw. The Greeks in his audience would have recognized in Jesus’ words the teachings of Philo and Homer. And it is, in fact, a truth lying at the heart of all the world’s major religions.
In Islam it is taught, “No one of you is a believer until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.” Among Buddhists, “Hurt not others with that which pains yourself.” Hindus teach, “This is the sum of duty; do naught onto others what you would not have them do unto you.” And in Judaism: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellowman. This is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary.” No matter your faith, or culture, this simple rule of reciprocity, this golden rule, has been discovered.
But as Jesus tends to do, when his listeners become complacent and self-satisfied and confident that they know where Jesus is headed, he ups the ante. He raises the bar by telling his followers that it’s easy enough to love those who love you in return. The real challenge is to love your enemies. He suggests lending to those from whom you expect nothing in return. And following the Father’s example, by showing mercy and being kind to the ungrateful and wicked.
Most of you are church goers, so you may already be familiar with the demands of the Christian life, but imagine what it would be like to hear these words for the first time. We live in a culture where even the practice of the Golden Rule seems too much. In America we have embraced an economic system in which self-interest is deemed the highest good, getting ahead without regard for the well-being of others the norm, and the acquisition of wealth is the societal measure of self-worth.
So imagine how the uninitiated would react to hearing a prophet proclaim that you ought to love your enemies, expect nothing, and be kind to the wicked. It makes you wonder how Christianity ever caught on. If Jesus were running for political office in the United States, with a platform like that, he wouldn’t ever make it to the primaries.
It might, in fact, be startling for you to hear these teachings. Are we to take them seriously?Maybe, just maybe, we are. Knowing full well that we are certain to fail in attaining the high standard Jesus has set for us. Yet, those of us who call ourselves Jesus followers are called on to practice living into the teachings of Jesus. Practicing living into a standard that is higher than the Golden Rule is part of what it means to be a Christian living in the world, but not being of the world.
It is a spiritual practice – a practice in the same sense in which an athlete practices the attainment of a skill and fails to get it right.Over and over again, the athlete continues the practice until the musclesare strengthened and the skill, over time, is honed. Selflessness is an unnatural attribute, a counter cultural act, and it requires work and forward movement in a opposite directionfrom what society teaches us.
And the kind of radical selflessness that Jesus seeks to instill within us isn’t simply meant for the classroom, the coffee hour, the office, or the committee meeting. It is not simply an interpersonal concern. We now live in such an interconnected world, that our actions here have an effect on those on the other side of the globe. And we are responsible for how our government behaves. It is not enough to strive to love the irritating neighbor that lives next door. We are called on to share a fragile planet with a rapidly changing climate with people our leaders are quick to call enemies. And Jesus tells us to love them. And if we don’t love our enemies, or at least learn to cooperate with them, all of our children and grandchildren will suffer.
I was long a student of international politics – schooled in the days of the Cold War, realpolitik, and game theory. And I am not naïve about the dangerous world in which we live. But since World War II, the world has become a safer place. On a global scale, violence has greatly decreased – largely because of organizations like the United Nations, the European Union, and increased global economic interdependence. Recently, however, our nation has begun moving away from a spirit of international cooperation. Perceiving threats that do not exist, we have begun hardening our borders, renewing an arms race, breaking down traditional alliances and erecting barriers to free trade. How do we as Christians square that with Jesus’ command that we love our enemies?
The columnist, David Brooks, wrote a popular piece last week called, “A Nation of Weavers”. He speaks of a common thread of pain we are feeling in American society, “our lack of healthy connection to each other, our inability to see the full dignity of each other, and the resulting culture of fear, distrust, tribalism, shaming and strife.” The antidote he proposes to the sense of social isolation and lack of connection endemic today, is something called Weave: The Social Fabric Project.
Many of you are weavers – people who understand what it means to be “relationalist” rather than “individualist” – weavers of the social fabric rather than rippers, loving across boundaries, being generous with your time and resources. It happens when people join organizations and when they simply show kindness to others, without expecting anything in return. It’s the kind of social network we are building with our Common Ground garden project. It’s the kind of community involvement we want to see with the community potluck dinner we will have after our Jazz Mass in March. We can be weavers right here on the North Fork, and lay the foundation for weaving together a nation that is becoming unraveled.
As Christians, we have a higher calling. We are called into right relationship with others. We are called to be weavers. The self-absorption of our political leaders can’t be ignored, but it does not have to be an example we follow. Instead, “love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.”