Seventh Sunday after Epiphany

Seventh Sunday after Epiphany

Luke 6:27-38

Love for Enemies
[Jesus said] “But 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.”

Judging Others
“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.”

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our strength & our redeemer (Psalm 19:14)

I want to begin with a statement that may seem heretical, but I believe by the end of the message it will make more sense to you. That statement is: We are good because we are Christian, not Christian because we’re good.

Think of a watermelon…we don’t plant whole watermelons to get new ones to grow. We plant watermelon seeds, a vine grows and from that vine we get watermelons. The same is for our faith and ability to forgive. God plants the seeds and nurtures it, Jesus is the vine that grows from that and our becoming a disciple and living out being a Child of God is the watermelon. 

Our Genesis & Lukan text deal with the eternal question…what do we do with our enemies (family or stranger)?

Genesis 45:3-11, 15—forgive- Joseph forgives his brothers 
There’s a saying ‘Revenge is a dish best served cold’. Joseph must have considered such a dish in the interplay with his brothers over time, after they had thrown him in a pit, plotted to kill him, left him for dead, and then finally sold him off to desert slave traders. But, as the overlord of Egypt — with the power of life and death at this command — Joseph chooses life and grace, and swears to provide for his dastardly siblings, their father, and their families.

“God sent me before you to preserve for you…,” is a deep theological reflection that Joseph must have become aware of through the trials and pitfalls of his life. Watching for the working of God in the midst of pain takes effort — but it pays big dividends.

Luke 6:27-38—Jesus said “bless them” & “love them”
Jesus continues his “Sermon on the Plain” that we began last week something that is easy to miss Jesus begin this week with the words: “I say unto you that listen….” Listen. Not just hear the sounds I’m making. Actually listen to what I’m saying and work to understand.

The power verse in this passage though is the last one, verse 38. It’s a great quote for stewardship emphasis and all that. But this is a good time to look at the end and work backwards. Here’s what I mean. “Give and it will be given to you…” truly is a dynamic principle in scripture. This section of the sermon is about much more than money. Go back to verse 27 and ask the question, “What is it that we have to give?” There are at least ten things that Jesus mentions before we ever get to the payoff verse about cash!

  • “Love your enemies…” Okay, I can try to give that.
  • “Do good to those that hate you…” Umm, Jesus, things are getting shakier.
  • “Bless those that curse you…” Okay, I’m getting pretty nervous here.
  • “Pray for those who speak detestable, vile things about you…” That’s it! That’s enough!

And the list goes on. We even get Jesus’ version of the Golden Rule (popular in religions the world over.) And then more teaching on how we should give these good things to people that we don’t know — and even to those that we don’t like very much! I like Golden Rule #2 that slides in at verse 36; the mercy that we are called to bestow is actually the same mercy that God has shown to us. Mercy is just the way God is.

And THEN comes the payoff — don’t judge, don’t condemn, learn to forgive, and — last of all — give. And stuff like mercy and forgiveness and good things that you don’t deserve will be given to you in heaping helpings, evidently.

Most people are pretty familiar with some version of, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” And most of us think we have a pretty good understanding of what they mean. Be honest, be truthful, be kind; treat other people the way you want to be treated. Fair enough. 

But most of us also think that if other people treat us badly, well, then all bets are off. I’ve had stories from other pastors, people sit in my office, and I’ve sat in my pastor’s office growing up and heard the phrases uttered, “Pastor, forgiveness is not going to happen, never. Then don’t deserve it. Not after what they did to me— they can rot in Hell for all I care. I’m sure God doesn’t expect me to forgive someone who treats other people like that and isn’t sorry.” Well, surprising as it was to me, and is to some people…that’s exactly what God expects.

People almost always quote the Golden Rule by itself, in isolation from its place in Jesus larger teaching about love and forgiveness. This is why we are able to assume that it only applies when both sides are playing by the same rules. “I only have to forgive if the other people are really, really sorry and say so.” We act as though it’s our Christian obligation to righteously judge, and condemn, and withhold forgiveness from, people who have wronged us.

But tonight’s/today’s readings tell us a totally different story. Considering where it is placed in Jesus’ sermon loving one’s enemies, we might ought to use an amended version, “(Whenever someone treats you badly) do to them as you would have them to do you (when you have treated them badly—which being human, inevitably, you will).”

“Do unto others” is surrounded by other commands to “Love your enemies,” and to “do good to those who hate you,” and “if anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also.” This text is not about how nice people treat one another when everyone is being nice. No, this teaching is about how to behave when we have been, inevitably, “acting out” the evil that lurks within our hearts. It’s about what to do when someone is sinful toward you—always remembering that there will come a time when you will be sinful toward others.

The center of this gospel lesson is not so much the Golden Rule as it is verse 37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.” Of course, the words about “forgive and you will be forgiven” sound familiar. The Lord’s Prayer, right? Well, not exactly. The Lord’s Prayer says, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us,” which is a prayer to God, asking for forgiveness and reminding us to forgive others. The line in the prayer is about the divine/human relationship which flows then into human-to-human relationships.“(God) forgive our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” Our text is more instruction, wisdom advice, a reminder–”Forgive and you will be forgiven,” is more about how we can best live together as broken and incomplete people. 

If you think of it in this light, it does make a lot of sense. The alternative to Jesus’ vision of being a community of “non-judging, non-condemning, always forgiving, constantly loving, and generously praying for your enemies” folk is frightening.

 An “eye for and eye and a tooth for a tooth” leads to a lot of blind people with no teeth. It is, literally, a dead-end street. In our text, Jesus has a proposed a better way.

A quote from a book on Bono (Bono on Bono, Ch. 11), the lead singer for the band U2, helped me see this point better: the thing that keeps me on my knees is the difference between Grace and Karma…You see, at the centre of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you; an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics – in physical laws – every action is met by an equal or opposite one. It’s clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the universe. I’m absolutely sure of it. 

And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that “As you reap, so will you sow” stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff. I’d be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge. It doesn’t excuse my mistakes, but I’m holding out for Grace. I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity. The point of the death of Christ is that Christ took on the sins of the world so that what we put out did not come back to us, and that our sinful nature does not reap the obvious death. That’s the point. It should keep us humble … it’s not our own good works that get through the gates of heaven… If only we could be a bit more like Him, the world would be transformed.(All text taken from Chapter 11 of Bono on Bono: Conversations with Michka Assayas)

Today’s Gospel lesson is indeed a call to all be a bit more like Jesus so that “the world would be transformed.” 

  • Christ has indeed loved us when we were his enemies.
  • Christ prays for us when we curse him.
  • Christ forgives us when we sin against him, Christ always gives us more when we take without asking.
  • Our only hope is in the cross of Christ, for there God in Christ promised not to judge, not to condemn, not to give us what we deserve but rather to pour out upon us an overflowing measure of God’s grace.

And all that is asked of us is that we do for each other what God has already done for us.