A sermon preached at St. Francis by the Lake, Canyon Lake, Texas.
The lectionary readings for the Seventh Sunday after Epiphany are here.
Do you remember where we are from last week? In Luke’s telling of the Good News story, Jesus has just called the twelve and his fame was increasing, drawing great crowds wherever he went. And in light of this apparent ministry success, Jesus speaks to the disciples, which in Luke’s telling describes all of his followers not just the 12 he gave the title ‘apostle’, Jesus looks at everyone in the crowd and says you are blessed if you are poor, hungry, sad, and hated. And woe to you if you are rich, and filled, and praised.
And then he follows this reversal of blessing and woe with: LOVE. YOUR. ENEMY.
How many in the crowd, do you think, were willing to hear this teaching? How many of the crowd do you think stuck around? If I had my flannel graph, I’d be taking the people in the crowd off one by one as I’ve been talking.
Love your enemies. Ten folks in the very back start inching away.
Do good to those who hate you. Another fifteen turn and leave.
Bless those who curse you. There goes another 20.
Pray for those who mistreat you. This one is’t so bad, at least I can pray that God will smite them, so only five more hit the exit.
How about you? Are you still listening?
Success in God’s Kingdom is quite different from how the world views success.
Regardless of what our culture and our society may teach, ‘turn the other cheek’ IS the way to success in God’s Kingdom. But let’s be very clear, Jesus isn’t telling us to let others get away with harming us or abusing us, there is accountability for all, but he is telling us not to let revenge and retaliation be our guide in how we respond to another’s bad behavior.
With these words:
Jesus is teaching us that life in God’s Kingdom isn’t transactional, we don’t live tit-for-tat. When others mistreat us, it isn’t permission or justification to mistreat them. In all things and in all ways, we are to treat each other with love as Jesus loves. Life in God’s Kingdom is relational.
To help everyone understand this and to keep us from looking for loopholes with the definitions of “enemy” and “neighbor,” a little while later on in Luke’s telling of the story, Jesus answers the question of “who’s my neighbor” with a story about someone helping their culturally defined enemy, the story we know as the Good Samaritan. When our worldview is a Kingdom View, we see both our neighbors and our enemies through the lens of love.
Love takes away the separation between ‘us’ and ‘them’. When we love as Jesus loves, there are no dividers between us and those who look differently than we do, between us and those who vote differently than we do, between us and those who dress differently, live in a different neighborhood, drive a different kind of car, speak a different language, or for any possible reason you can think of to separate yourself from “them”.
This past Wednesday night after the potluck, we had an excellent conversation about what it looks like to invite others to church. We may think of it as an invitation to a place and an event, but the true root of the invitation is an invitation to the life we are all created for. We are inviting them to experience the same life changing Good News we have in this place and with these people with whom we experience and learn about the God of Love.
When Jesus says others will know we are his followers, his disciples, by our love, it isn’t just about how I love you but how you witness me loving others, especially my enemies.
If I’m speaking derogatorily about someone else for any reason at all, I am not being loving. And Jesus says plainly, “Love your enemy.” And, if we are to love our enemies that means I should not speak ill of them. In God’s kingdom our neighbors and those we might label as an ‘enemy’ are both in need of God’s love, just as we are. WE ALL need God’s compassion and kindness and understanding and because God offers these beautiful gifts to us, we offer compassion and kindness and understanding to every one.
We are to treat everyone as our heart desires to be treated. This is the key to a successful life in God’s Kingdom. And to live this ‘well-lived’ life, we have to come to grips with who we are and who we are living for.
And to make this point, let’s look at the Psalm appointed for today:
1 Do not fret yourself because of evil doers; do not be jealous of those who do wrong.
4 Take delight in the Lord and he shall give you your heart’s desire.
What is the deepest desire of our hearts? Is it the best house or job or car we can imagine? We may try to fill our deepest desire with these things but I think we all know things don’t really satisfy our deepest desire or else we wouldn’t need to keep buying or trading up for better and better things.
Our hearts’ deepest desire is love because that is what we are created from and for.
Back to last Wednesday, as I was driving home from the potluck and conversation, feeling deep in my bones the power of love in this church family, my podcast queue automatically rolled over to the next download and it just happened to be a talk given by Henri Nouwen back in 1994 and I’d like to read you a short part of it because Henri says what I wanted to say so much better than I ever could (you’ll have to imagine the Dutch accent):
“See, I have a heart that is created by God that wants perfect love. You know, right? I have a heart that yearns for perfect love and every human person I bump into is disappointing me. Every human being somewhere is not able to give me all my heart’s desire. And I’m constantly disappointed. I’m constantly disillusioned. And not because the other person is that bad or wrong. But because somewhere, my desire for love is much greater than the other person can offer me. And you know what happens when I force people to love me perfectly? …. I want something from you that you cannot give.
And when I force you to love me perfectly, you say, please hold off. You know, I can’t do that for you. I can’t be that for you. I can’t be all for you. I can give you a little bit, but I cannot give you unconditional love because I have needs too. I am broken too. I have my own weaknesses too. And somewhere I’m not able to be for you all that your heart desires. And please forgive me for not being God, for not being the solution of all your struggles and pains.”
To live the life God intends for us, we have to seek the true source of our desire and when we start living from that place of God’s image within us, our heart’s center of love, we will be able to, with God’s help, to love more and more like Jesus.
We can’t expect others to love us as we want to be loved, we can only work at loving others better. We have to remember that Jesus’ command to “Do unto others” begins with our behavior not the other person.
Love your enemies.
Do good to those who hate you.
Bless those who curse you.
Pray for those who mistreat you.
We can’t look for loopholes as to who we can love and who we don’t need to. We can’t measure the success of our life with the same measuring sticks our culture and society use. These statements may not draw in the crowds to grow us into a mega church but they will change the lives of those who are willing to listen because they’ve witnessed us not only saying them but doing them.
Without love, whatever we do is worth nothing. In the economy of God’s Kingdom, the more we give, the more we have. Love grows and bears fruit only when we give it away. And in the abundance of God’s Kingdom, we have a never ending supply so offer it to everyone. Amen.