7 Epiphany—Year C/February 24, 2019
Genesis 45:3-11, 15, Psalm 37:1-12, 41-42, 1 Corinthians 15:35-38,42-50, Luke 6:27-38
Through the years I’ve heard many reasons why a person goes to church. Things like: I go for the kids, so they’ll learn right from wrong; I go for the music; Only time all week I get 45 minutes without a kid in my lap; My father makes me…my wife makes me; If you’d asked me when I was attending Westminster Boys High in Atlanta, I’d have told you I go to church because of the cute girls. If you ask me now maybe I’d say because it’s my job—and a wonderful job it is to get to hang out with all you wonderful people.
Luke tells us earlier in the chapter that the people are coming to Jesus for his healing power which pours out of him. And that’s fine, too. In fact, all our reasons for going to church are okay, because God doesn’t judge between secular reasons and sacred reasons, for in God all are one. There is one reality and God is that reality. There is no such thing as God over here and other stuff outside of God over there.
That’s why in Mark 12 when a scribe asks him: “Which commandment is the first of all?” 29 Jesus answers, quoting Deuteronomy 6, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is One”.
Some modern folk have built in their minds an impenetrable wall between God and the world, between God and their own lives, and especially between God and those strange looking people over there that they don’t like and don’t care to learn how to like.
Of course, Jesus will have none of it because he says, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.” So all our reasons for going to church are a good place to start, and Jesus is happy to grab whatever handle he can to lure us into ever-deepening personal experiences of God in every aspect of our lives.
In today’s teaching Jesus, however, calls us beyond just pleasing mamma or raising well-mannered kids. He invites us into a radical experience of the love of God. He knows this is a difficult teaching so he begins: “I say to you that listen”. That is, this teaching is for those with sufficient conscious separation from the ego, those willing to surrender to God’s work in their lives, those who want not just a healthy body, but the Mind of Christ; those open to experiencing the contemplative dimension of the gospel. In short, those thirsting for union with God. Eugene Peterson paraphrases this opening in The Message as: “To you who are ready for the truth, I say this.” Because if we’re not ready for the truth what follows will make absolutely no sense, which is why most don’t even pretend to obey Jesus when he says, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you….” and in case we missed it the first time he says again, “But love your enemies….”
Jesus isn’t talking this way to turn his followers into doormats for bullies, but rather, to turn his followers into Children of God born, raised, and taught by God, who can stare down bullies while still loving them.
Jesus is teaching us a new way of being in the world.
Think about it this way: Parents know how painful it is when all the children gather around the family table at thanksgiving, except for one angry child who chooses to stay away. God wants all of our feet under God’s table. Therefore, it is necessary we learn to love as God loves, because some of the people God invites to the party will be people we don’t like or trust.
“To you who are ready for the truth, Jesus says: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
Notice also: To act this way toward people we don’t like is to make a radical stand for our own freedom. When we spend our lives reacting to the negativity of others by being negative back to them, then we are having our character determined by what others do to us. We are being trained, like a puppy, to fetch the bone of anger every time someone throws it our way. This isn’t freedom, but slavery.
Jesus wants us shaped and formed, not by the bad behavior of others, but by the Divine Love for us.
This call to love those we don’t love cannot be carried out by the ego trying to be religious. Rather, the only way forward is to rest in God’s presence in the silent places in the heart. As Jesus teaches in Matt 6: “Whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Places in the heart: Reminds me of the 1984 Academy Award winning movie with that title, staring Sally Field, Danny Glover, John Malkovich and others: It takes place in 1935 in a small, segregated Texas town in the midst of a depression. One afternoon the local sheriff, Royce Spalding, goes to investigate trouble at the rail yards. He dies after being accidentally shot by a drunk young black boy, named Wylie. Local white vigilantes tie Wylie to a truck and drag his body through town before hanging him from a tree. That’s how the movie begins.
The movie ends in church with the reading of 1 Corinthians 13 and the choir singing “And he walks with me and he talks with me” as the plates of little communion bread and communion cups are passed down each pew from person to person. Black Danny Glover passes it to blind John Malkovich, then we are stunned to see Sally Field passing the wine to Royce, her long dead husband. Then Royce passes the wine to Wylie, the young Black man who killed him.
The last words we hear are said by Wylie to Royce: “the Peace of God”. This is Holy Communion, the Peace of God.
The best reason to go to church is so we can walk with Christ into ever-deepening personal experiences of God, who “is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.”
If we want peace in our hearts and peace in our world this is the only path—“to let Christ teach us how to love your enemies;”
–to let Christ show us how to act like “children of the Most High”;
–to let Christ heal our addiction to retaliation and revenge, so we too can “be merciful, as God is merciful.”
If you have an enemy in mind this morning here is a prayer that I have found helpful:
Prayer for an enemy:
Merciful God, you know I am angry at this jerk for what he has done and that I really want really to lash out and hurt him back. But I pray instead that you show me the joy this person causes you every time you think of him. Make him aware of your Love, so he can find peace. And finally, I pray that you show me how to stay safe should he want to bother me again. In the Name of Christ, my Master————–Amen.