A Good Measure – Feb. 24, 2019
A Good Measure
A Sermon by Rev. Karen A. Mendes
February 24, 2019
Main Idea – Jesus calls us to the power of love.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Our Scripture text for today comes from the middle of the Sermon on the Plain. Last week we heard the beginning of the sermon; the Beatitudes and the Woes. We are more familiar with Matthew’s version, which we know as the Sermon on the Mount. [It is Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount which gave Monty Python Blessed are the cheesemakers.] Luke’s Sermon on the Plain is more challenging and certainly today’s text is very challenging. Some would say it is impossible! But it is so important for us to hear and grapple with it, especially in these times when love and understanding seem elusive, and hate and division seem on the rise. This week there was a call for retribution against a TV comedy sketch. We learned this week that a hate crime was faked as a way of grabbing attention and people on both sides of the political divide jumped to conclusions and pointed fingers at the other side. Children are still be separated from their families on our Southern border. People are afraid of migrants, of guns, of drugs, of climate change, of the future in general. We need serious help to bring our communities together. We need serious help to not throw up our hands in despair. And the answer? To paraphrase Jesus via the Beatles, All We Need is Love. Now, let’s not roll our eyes. Not touchy feeling love, not Hallmark Valentines Day love, not exclusive love for only those like us, not controlling love that requires the object of our affections to change as we choose. No. We need powerful, expansive love that challenges us and challenges the powers of hate and despair. Jesus calls us to the power of Love.
Jesus says to “you that listen”, that is, we who want to make a difference in the world, “Love your enemies”. It is as simple and as complicated as that. The rest of today’s text spins out what “Love your enemies” means.
First, let’s define what we mean by “enemies”, for some of us may think that we have no enemies at all. On a personal level, if we are in a dispute with someone, that person can be thought of as our enemy. An enemy may be someone we envy or someone with whom we are in competition. On a global level, we can identify enemy nations and organizations such as ISIS or the Taliban. In between the personal and the global, an enemy is anyone we fear; it might be a stranger, it might be a political party, it might be an ethnic group. An enemy is someone, or a group, who are not part of “us”. They are “them”.
Jesus says, loving your enemies means to do good to those who hate you; to bless those who curse you; and to pray for those who abuse you. These directives are paradoxes and they echo the poetry of the Beatitudes. They are definitely counter intuitive. Why would we do good to those who hate us? Why would we bless those who curse us? Why would we pray for those who abuse us? Why? Because doing so is powerful! Someone who hates you does not want you to do good for them because it messes up their rational for hating you. Someone who curses you does not want your blessing because they don’t want to think that God listens to you too. Someone who oppresses you or abuses you does not want your prayer because it flips who has power. You are no longer their victim but a person with choices and power and God on your side!
Jesus gives concrete examples of how to do this. All four examples entail giving and not withholding anything, instead trusting in God’s abundance, justice, and love. Give your other cheek when someone has hit you, forcing them to see you as a person undeserving of violence. Don’t withhold your shirt when someone takes your coat; if they need one, then they probably need both. If they don’t need either, they are forced to acknowledge their unjust action. Give to everyone who asks for money without asking why and don’t withhold any of your stuff, don’t ask for anything back. If they need it, so be it. If they don’t, they are saddled with stuff they don’t need. Clutter with bad associations.
Now it is important to note that sometimes these verses have been understood to advocate for a passive stance and worse, sometimes they have been used to shame victims of abuse into staying with their abusers. That is not what these verses mean. Jesus calls us to action not passivity. Jesus does not ask us to stay in, nor enable, unhealthy relationships.
Jesus sums up these examples with what we know as the Golden Rule. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This idea did not originate with Jesus but he transformed it. The Golden Rule moves us past the eye for an eye vengeance of treating others as they treat us. “He is mean to me so I’m going be mean to him!” Instead we are to treat others, not just our friends and our family but also strangers and our enemies, as we would like to be treated! This means doing good for those who hate us, blessing those who curse us, praying for those who do us ill. Jesus states this elsewhere as loving our neighbor as ourself and he lifts it up as one of the two greatest commandments, second only to loving God. Some try to finesse the boundaries of who is their neighbor so as to limit their responsibility. But Jesus will have none of that.
He says, ‘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.” (6:32-34) Everybody can love those who love them. Everybody can do good for those who do good to them. Everybody would be willing to lend money to those who would be sure to pay it back (especially if they kick in a bit of interest). These actions, only taking care of our own, do not increase the love in the world, they do not lessen the hate and division. They only increase that which separate us. And therefore we are called to more.
Jesus repeats “love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.” Here the paradox is revealed again. We do this, expecting nothing in return, and find that we receive more than we had ever imagined. To act in this way, is to act as God does. We can be kind and show mercy because kindness and mercy is showered upon us from God. Our reward for living as “children of the Most High” is peace and joy beyond our wildest hopes and dreams.
Just so we have this idea and action committed to memory, Jesus restates it once more. ‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.(6:37a) Judgement leads to division. Condemnation leads to hate. Instead, Jesus says “Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you.” (6:37b-38a) Forgiveness leads to the repair of relationship. Generosity leads to abundance.
All of this is possible through the abundant grace of God. Picture yourself holding an empty container, hoping that it will be filled with a needed or favorite food; maybe rice, maybe brown sugar, maybe ice cream. God scoops the food into your container, fills it up and presses it down to give you more, fills not only your container but your lap as well. God’s provision, God’s power, God’s love is given to us in extraordinary abundance and therefore we can give love in abundance as well. In fact, the more love we give, the more love we experience. This is the power of love.
Loving our enemies puts the power of love into action.
When we love our enemies, we extend the witness of God’s love in the world. We show that love is not sentimental and weak, a pink, flowery doormat. Love is the greatest power there is. We know through Christ’s resurrection that love is stronger than hate, love is stronger than evil, love is stronger than even death itself. Love conquers all.
When we love our enemies, we do not ignore the fact that the other person or group may still try to do us ill. Instead we recognize the other person as a person with a history and reasons for doing what they do. We do not demonize or dehumanize them. Last week, after the white suprematist posters were plastered on Ohavi Zedek, the Pride Center, and Outright VT, we were asked to consider what would lead people to join a white supremacist group and to think of ways in which we counter the fear that leads to such extreme views. Love reaches out to all.
When we love our enemies, we change the balance of power. No longer are we adversaries but partners in solving the problems of our communities and world. We can recognize common goals instead of focusing on what divides us. This is what is needed in Washington DC, at all levels of our government and in our church; in our boards, committees and teams and at the regional and national levels of ABCUSA. We may not agree on everything but we can work together on the important issues which concern us all. Love energizes all.
When we love our enemies, we disarm those who gain their power from fear and division. This is a great result of the power of love. I can’t be made to fear my neighbors when I know my neighbors, I share meals and life with them even though we are not the same. Love empowers all.
Let us pray, Powerful, Loving God, we thank you for Jesus who teaches us and challenges us to let go of our fears to embrace love as our guiding principle. Empower us to love our enemies. Help us to act in ways that further your kingdom. Amen.