Sunday, February 24, 2019

Year C 7 Epiphany 2019 Hard Words

Year C 7 Epiphany, 24 February 2019 
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA 
“Hard Words” 

Collect: O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing: Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you. Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. 

Luke 6:27-38 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.” 

[Note: today is Middle School Sunday and I am only preach at the 8 a.m. service so this is a bit shorter than the norm.]

There are some times when things are better left unsaid. This is not one of those times. Some days I wish Jesus did not have these teachings. These are hard. They almost seem impossible. 

In describing people who try and live these out, we often tend to call them saints, or people trying to be saints, and we would not include ourselves in these discussions. We want to hear, and not to obey. We want to nod our tacit approval without changing our attitudes or actions. 

We want to hear Jesus metaphorically, like plucking out our eye, or chopping off our hand. But, here, I would argue, Jesus is unquestionably, undeniably, terrifyingly Literal. “Love your enemies.” He even says it twice in this passage. He probably had to so no one would have the excuse of saying, “Pardon me, I missed that.” 

Jesus teaches here the Radical Grace which has come to be the hallmark of the Christian Faith. And it is when we miss getting the message here we are less than the Church of Christ, and not worthy to be called his disciples.  

Hard words? No harder than Jesus’. He calls us beyond our better selves to beyond our best selves to Christlikeness. Remember, Christ shows us what God is like. That is the miracle of the incarnation. These teachings were the foundation of the very nature of God. It enables us to reframe our world and lives we lead. 

When I was a middle school teacher I cannot tell you how many conversations I had with kids who had just gotten into a verbal or physical mix-up with another kid. Now the one who hit or started bad talking were often in trouble, and I had a kid in front of me who wanted to “get them back.” They wanted to do to them as they had been done unto. It is what this world teaches. But we are called to be not of this world. 

I would invite the injured party, this child, to be the bigger person. I would ask them to see their way when they have to interact with this person to be bigger than the other person. At least in the inside. They needed to stand taller, and know that they are bigger and better than whatever it is they encounter. 

Now if we were asked to love our enemies, turn the other cheek, and give all that we have, while operating on our own power and authority it would not be possible. We could not do it on our own. We are not all-powerful. We are not almighty. We have limited resources and need to “take care of ourselves.” 

But let’s think of this another way. There is an old joke that goes, what does a 500 lb. gorilla do when it walks in a room? Whatever it wants.  

While you are not a 500 pound gorilla, God is bigger than any and everything. In fact, you plus God is bigger than ANY and EVERY THING. And remember the gorilla gets to do whatever he wants. And what does God want for us? Love your enemies. Turn the other cheek. Give what we have.  

Jesus said it better than me: “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.” 

I am being asked by Christ, YOU are being asked by Christ, to be the bigger person. You are being asked to be LIKE HIM in YOUR situation.  

I know that this is not easy, and as I started, these are hard words. As Mark Twain said, “It ain’t those parts of the Bible I can’t understand that bother me, it is that parts that I do understand.” Jesus’ words are very clear, most of them monosyllabic. He calls us as his children to be like him. “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” 

When my daughter was young, probably about three, she did something she should not have done. I corrected her. She was angry about it. She stood in front of me while I sat on the sofa so I was lower down and could look her in the eye. She got red in the face and started shaking. And then she blurted out, “I hate you!” In that split second, she had declared herself my enemy. But was she my enemy? Were we opposed? 

No. In that moment, I saw her for who she was. She was a frustrated, angry, embarrassed child. She was angry for being in trouble, and she redirected it at me. In that moment, however brief, she thought she hated me. I do not remember what I said next, maybe nothing. But I did not lash back. I did not strike. And I watched as my beloved daughter burst into tears and wilted. And I picked her up, put her on my lap, and let her cry. My enemy? No. My beloved daughter. 

If we treated all our situations of conflict as a chance to be loving, firm, but done in a spirit and approach of love, think of how much better the world would be. Think of how Christlike we could be. And remember, we are not alone. Something better than a 500 pound gorilla has our back. 
In my research for this morning, I found this line from Fred Craddock. “God is full of Grace, and the final work of Grace is to make us gracious, too.” Amen 

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Blessings, Rock