Monday, February 20, 2017

Loving Our Enemies

Matthew 5:38-48
2-19-17
Rev. June Wilkins

This is the last installment of the sermon on the mount for us.
There’s two more chapters beyond this
which we’ll see at other times.

Last week we heard that God has hopes for our relationships
with our friends and relatives and wants us to work on problems
Beatitudes
Joseph Matar
in those relationships.

But this week, 
Jesus says what must have seemed
like the most radical thing ever.
Jesus says, “love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you.”

Reconciling with a friend 
or relative is one thing,
but this is a whole new level.
“Love your enemies, 
pray for those who persecute you”
I think we would find it pretty shocking
if we hadn’t heard it a million times already.
And if we actually did it, 
it would truly set Christians
apart from the rest of the world.
But sadly, Christians have not taken this scripture
literally, although this one, I don’t think is hyperbole.
I think Jesus really meant this as written.

Now, I think we can agree to this in theory,
but when we start thinking about real situations we struggle.
So if someone does something bad to me, I don’t fight back?
If someone yells at me, or hits me, or hurts my family,
I’m not supposed to yell or hit back?
  
If someone hurts me or my people
Don’t I need to respond in kind?
Isn’t that the noble thing to do?
If someone bombs our country, we have every right
even a responsibility to bomb them too don’t we?

This is the force that has driven the world since
the beginning of time.
It’s the cycle of violence that has left humanity
in a constant state of war and hate.
But Jesus says there is another way.

Jesus starts off by saying:
You have heard it said, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”
This was actually from the old Testament
The original Exodus law (21:24-25) reads
"eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand,
foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe."  

Now the original purpose of this law was to not to say
that you had to take revenge if someone did something to you
but it was to curb excessive retaliation.
If someone in your family loses an eye,
that does not mean you can cut off the head of the perpetrator.
It’s about using justified violence, violence that fits the offense.

The next part that Jesus says is translated
“do not resist an evil-doer” or “do not resist evil”.
But Jesus resisted evil all the time, so what does he mean?
The word translated as resist in Greek was usually used
to refer to armed fighting.
So a better translation would be : “Do not violently resist evil."
Do not violently resist violence.
Do not use justified violence at all.

Jesus isn’t changing the law here,
Jesus is taking it up a notch.
Jesus takes this rule that was meant to stop escalation
of violence and pushes it further.
Jesus is saying that blessed people
don’t even use justified violence.

The usual response to this is that if we
Don’t return violence for violence
everyone would just take advantage of us,
steam-roller over us, that we will be door-mats.

We like to think that there’s only two ways to respond
to evil or violence or wrong-doing  --
Retaliate or ignore it.
But Jesus outlines a third:
Resisting without violence.

Jesus outlines it here:
“If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other one also.
And if someone steals your coat, then give them your shirt too.”
These are not actions of passiveness,
These are acts of defiance.

Turning the other cheek is a bold act, not a weak one.
Jesus didn’t say cower and hide until they hit you again.
Jesus said turn the other cheek, offer it to them.
It is showing the other person that you
have not been reduced by their actions.
And if they wanted to humiliate you by taking your coat
then you show them that the
coat didn’t matter and give the shirt too.
Let them see you walking around in your underwear.

Jesus advocates standing up and showing
the enemy their wrongdoing by offering more.
Jesus advocates not reacting in fear,
but acting with the confidence and power of God.
Jesus advocates not getting
caught up in this endless cycle of escalating violence,
but exposing it for the activity that it is.

Martin Luther King Jr. took the power of this
seriously, they were the guiding principle of the civil
rights movement he led, he did it himself, he lived it, and it worked.
And he learned it from Gandhi who, although he was a Hindu,
took Jesus words probably more seriously than Christians did.

And when people saw protestors on TV voluntarily getting hit with
the spray of hoses and attacked by police dogs,
and not retaliating, it didn’t show the
weakness of the protestors, it showed the
weakness and the injustice of the law enforcement
who were committing the violence in the name of the law.
It was powerful, more powerful than if someone fought back
and more powerful than just giving up.

This teaching is already hard,
but Jesus goes even one step further for us.
He doesn’t stop at telling us not to do violence
to someone who is out to hurt us.
He starts with
“You have heard it say that you should love your neighbor”
which is found in Leviticus (19:17-18), which commands
that you should love your kin, your neighbor, your people.

But Jesus says to love our enemies.
Not just don’t retaliate against them, but love them.
Pray for people who do bad things to you,
wish the best for them. Love your enemies.

These are amazing teachings,
If Christians actually followed it throughout history,
it would be a nothing short of a  revolution.
it would literally change the world.
But we have haven’t.

Because these teachings are hard. Very hard.
It doesn’t happen naturally.
It actually goes against most of the things we’ve been
taught and goes against our instinct and our feelings.
Just try it, driving in traffic, at a grocery store,
Think about that person who has hurt you,
is your first instinct to love? To forget the grudge?
To pray for them? Mine isn’t.

But we are living in difficult times in this country.
We have a president who seems to enumerate
his enemies on a daily basis - not for the purpose of reconciliation,
but for a rallying his side against another side.
We have Americans who have joined that call,
against journalists, against immigrants, against refugees.
We have people on all sides who use their words
as weapons to demonize other people.
We have Christians and Christian leaders who are
more dedicated destroying their perceived enemies than loving them.
It feels like we’re sitting on a pile of dynamite with a lit match.
It’s hard not to pick sides and join in the animosity.
  
But now more than ever, we are called to go against our
inner instincts and follow Christ’s words and teachings.
To love, not just those who love us - everyone can do that-
but to love those that don’t love us.
Do not return violence for violence – in words or actions.
Love your enemies – pray for them.
This is a spiritual practice, the more we do it, the better we’ll get.
These things we can start now.

Love has an awesome power.
It is the power of God working in our world.
And Jesus has given it to us to use
and to share with a world who needs it.

We are the blessed people,
we are the light of the world.
We are the salt of the earth.
Blessed are the peacemakers,

The kingdom of God is ours.

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Light of the World

February 5, 2017
Matthew 5:13-20

Oh, being Lutheran and reading Matthew.
It’s not that easy.
Especially where we get to a line like the last one
we read today which says
“Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes
and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

And the snarky Lutheran answer after reading this is,
“So how are you doing on that?”
the answer for all of us and for the disciples
Apparently though, the building wasn’t insured.


and for the crowd hearing this  is probably “not that good. “
I mean no one was better at keeping the law than the
Scribes and the Pharisees.
They were the law-keepers and they
were careful to watch for the letter of the law.
and they were quick to let everyone else know when
they weren’t doing a good job at it.
How could anyone compete?

 But as followers of Jesus, we are not just law followers,
we are law fulfillers.
Jesus is assuring his critics that, even though his message seems
radical and different, he is not throwing away history, he is fulfilling it.
We may not be able to follow the letter of the law,
but we follow the spirit of the law:
spreading God’s love and God’s kingdom to the world.
We are called to be different than the world,
not to be separate from the world.,
but the ones who bring light and hope and flavor to others.

Jesus is saying, that those crowds would be
more righteous than the Pharisees,
just by hearing him and being in Jesus midst
that it was inevitable. They would fulfill the purpose of the law.
Earlier at the beginning of the sermon, we heard that they are the blessed,
theirs is already the Kingdom of God,
the kingdom of heaven is theirs for the entering.

Jesus tells them
You are the salt of the earth.
You are the light of the world.
Not, “You should be” or “If you do these things, you will be”
God’s work will be done, and we can be a part of it.
The light will shine in the darkness.
Join in and be part of the light.

And God knows, the whole world needs some light right now.
Whatever side of politics you are on today,
We are divided from our neighbors.
It doesn’t feel right.
And it seems to be happening all over the world in every country,
ideologies and politics have caused division
like we’ve never seen before.

The whole world is in a time of retraction,
a mantra of fear, separation, scarcity and isolationism
has been expressed in the politics of many countries and cultures.
We’re dividing into separate tribes and groups.
Some are in and some are out.
There’s a movement in the world like we need to only
take care of number one and separate ourselves
from anyone who is different.
This is the antithesis of the picture of God’s kingdom.

In times like these, just doing normal, simple decent
human things can offer some light.

Not getting hysterical,
talking to people we disagree with and not yelling at them,
not resorting to vitriol,
not taking personal jabs at people,
In times like this, just living the basics of Christian
decency can be refreshing and enlightening.

And doing the normal things that Jesus has called us to:
Giving food to the hungry, welcoming the stranger,
and standing up for the oppressed -- can seem almost radical.

Even the slightest bit of light can change the darkness
And a lot of little lights can eliminate the darkness all together.

Like this week, when people were being denied
entry into the US, thousands of other people
quickly started coming out of their homes
and going to airports and speaking up
for people they don’t know 
and will probably never meet.
Whether you agree with 
the political point or not,
this show of support 
has been a light to those who are
afraid and unsure 
about their status in the US.

And also this week in Victoria Texas,
 a mosque was burned down. It was most likely arson,
They’re not sure quite sure what the cause was yet,
but the mosque has been a target of vandals before,
possibly people emboldened by the anti-Muslim suspicion
and sentiment going around.

In the midst of the darkness of that fire,
The community came together,
Muslim, Christians, Jews and probably some nones and
atheists, and agnostics -- hundreds of people gathered
and prayed for the people who lost their place of worship.

Then, soon, money started coming in to help the congregation.
Just in a few days, over one million dollars have been raised
from all over the world, people of all different faiths,
all different belief systems all over the world
donated for them to rebuild.

And then, a member of the local Jewish congregation in Victoria,
came by the home of the president of that Islamic
center and gave him the keys to their Synagogue
and invited them to treat it like their own.
And three other churches in the area offered the same support to them.
In the face of more darkness,
people not putting their lights under a bushel,
they are turning their lights brighter.

And someone might point out, rightly,
that many of these people who have acted
in this time are not even Christian. 
Many of these people are of some other religion,
or are undecided, or are of no religion at all,
some are even against religion all together.
It’s true, very true.

But here’s what I think, and it’s something that gives me hope:
That just shows me that Jesus light is invading this world.
The salt of the Holy Spirit is flavoring things without people
even knowing it’s the Holy Spirit.
In all parts of this world, Christian and not, religious or not.
God’s hope, and love, and grace, and light
is slowly taking over the darkness.

God is getting this work done in this world.
Just like that woman who puts a little yeast into pounds of dough.
Just like the little mustard seed that invades everything.
Jesus is the Way – the way out of this mess we’re in.
Even if you’re not Christian, Jesus’ way is the WAY:
Loving our enemies, turning the other cheek , welcoming the stranger.
And in the face of that light, the darkness has no chance at all.

So not one word of the law will go away.
God will fulfill God’s promises.
God’s kingdom will come to all of us.
Even though it sometimes doesn’t look so hopeful.
It is God’s promise, and Jesus plan, and the Holy Spirit’s mission.
So it will not fail. And we are part of Jesus plan.

Because salt is salt. It can’t lose its flavor. It will always be salt.
And even if you put that little candle under a basket,
that basket will catch on fire and that light will even get bigger.

You are the light of the world
You are the salt of the earth.
God’s love will have the last word.