A sermon preached at St. Francis by the Lake, Canyon Lake, TX.
The lectionary readings for the thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost are here.
Two weeks ago we talked about the meaning of Sabbath and what it is to cease our work, our way, and intentionally focus on God’s presence as we rest in the truth of who God is and Whose we are. Last week we talked about humility and pride and knowing our place in God’s Kingdom – who and Whose we are.
And today, we have some very challenging words of Jesus that also speak to the truth of Whose and who we are. Taken out of their context, these words can be twisted into permission to hate. But received in the truth of who God is, the context of the whole of scripture, and in the culture into which Jesus spoke, we cannot take them literally but as the dramatic hyperbole they are.
These words of Jesus make us stop and ask “WHAT?” and that’s exactly how we should react. Jesus came to shake up our worldview, to incite us to look at ourselves, the life we have crafted, the culture and society in which we live through the lens of the God’s Kingdom. Jesus came to transform our views of love and hate, success and failure, families and enemies, good and evil, wealth and poverty.
Before we talk about the wisdom this particular passage offers us, let’s look at what else Jesus has to say about love and hate. First and foremost he tells us the greatest commandment is to love and he says we are to love our enemies and those who hate us and that others will hate us when we choose God’s way over our own way, especially those who have benefited most from our way. Taken in the context of all of his teachings, Jesus is setting up the same kind of impossible scenario that he did with the parable of humility and pride we read last week. The point of this shocking statement isn’t to give us justification to return hate for hate but to incite us to consider the true cost of following Jesus, the true cost of loving others as God loves us.
Hate is a much easier path than Love. When we claim to hate someone, we don’t have to deal with them, we can just write them off, not having to consider a greater good that also includes them. We don’t have to treat them as a fellow child of God, desire good for them, or treat them with dignity. Following Jesus in the Way of Love is much more challenging. We have to give up our ideas of revenge and retaliation which are transactional; we have to let go of any idea that we are better or less than any other human being; we have to let go of our thoughts about earning and deserving; accept that we can’t control other’s behaviors because love doesn’t seek control or power; and we have to do the difficult work of examining our own self-serving motivations so that Jesus can transform our hearts as we learn to love better and better through our lives.
This is the mission Jesus sets us on when we choose to follow him. Jesus never tells us we have to save anyone or to fix the world or to fix anyone we don’t think is living as we think they should. Jesus gives us one mission – to proclaim that God’s Kingdom is at hand, by how we love and live. This mission is a purpose, it isn’t goal oriented. Goal oriented implies there is a point at which we will have achieved our mission. Jesus does’t give us a goal for our mission but a purpose, a way of living: loving God with our whole being and loving our neighbor as ourselves.
We aren’t responsible for saving souls, that’s the Holy Spirit’s work. We are to live a life in which we learn from Jesus, every day, how to love well and share our life, grounded in God’s Love and the teachings of Jesus with the people we encounter ever day. Our mission, as Jesus invites us to it is about HOW we live, not just what we do for an hour or so on a Sunday morning or for a few minutes each day, but HOW we conduct ourselves in every relationship – family, friends, community, business, recreation, every possible encounter with another human being.
Our mission as we follow Jesus is to build community with mutual love, to be Image Bearers who look for the image of God in every human being so that we all come to know to Whom we belong.
The most concise way I know of to express the worldview Jesus came to transform is moving from a transactional way to a relational way. Richard Rohr refers to the difference as ‘world of merit’ and ‘world of grace’.
“Everything is a gift—one hundred percent pure gift,” Rohr writes. “The reason any of us woke up this morning had very little to do with us and everything to do with God. All twenty-four hours today are total gift. Only when we stop counting and figuring out what we deserve, will we move from the world of merit into the wonderful world of grace. And in the world of grace, everything is free.”
When we choose to live relationally, our two deepest needs are fulfilled: our need to belong and our need for purpose. When we live in the confidence that God loves us, full stop, not in spite of our failures or because we are good enough, we can let go of our need to try and make others love us by what we do or the way we look or what we know. We can let go of our struggle to earn others love or favor or attention. And we can let go of our expectations of others with the wisdom that to love someone isn’t about whether or not they measure up to a particular set of standards we impose but to see them as a fellow image bearer, a beloved child of God.
I was privileged enough to grow up with a wonderful model of the kind of Love Jesus teaches us. My grandparents knew each other mostly their whole lives. They and their families settled into Martin County Texas when they were young children. They grew up on neighboring farms, got married, made a home and raised 4 boys, helped raise seven grandchildren and several of their great grandchildren. When my granddaddy died they’d been married 65 years. I remember my grandmother saying as she would share her wisdom with us that through their lives there were moments and days that she didn’t like my granddaddy at all but she always, always loved him. My grandparents understood that Love was a way of being together, not a hallmark imposed emotion. They always looked for the good in and wanted the best for each other, sought the best for their family, and served their community through their work and relationships with those around them.
As we live in the Kingdom on earth as in heaven we are accountable and we have responsibility. There is great cost to following Jesus. We have the responsibility to seek justice in this world, to be kind and compassionate and loving, as we walk humbly with God, even when others treat us poorly, even as we live in the difficult consequences of other’s bad behavior, even when we want nothing more than to get revenge. Any life we attempt to craft for ourselves pales in comparison to the life Jesus invites us into – life defined by God’s love and walking God’s way. Let’s mind how we go. Amen.