161106 – Conflicted

Yr C ~ Remembrance ~ Luke 6:20-31

I know what you want. You want me to do that thing where I take the text and dive into the language of it and draw out a deeper meaning than the plain words alone offer. You want me to take those words of Jesus, where he says to love your enemies and do good to those who hate you, and adapt them and tell you what they really mean.conflicted

But I can’t do that for you today – because they mean exactly what you think they mean. The problem isn’t that they’re hard to understand – the problem is that we understand all too well. And the big problem is that with that understanding comes the realization that we’re just not doing it.

Jesus begins by telling us who’s blessed and who’s woe’d.

Blessed are those who are poor, hungry, weeping, and excluded and put down.
Woe to those who are rich, satisfied, laughing, and thought well of.

It’s pretty obvious that these blessings and woes would appeal to people on the margins and down on their luck, and the blessings and woes would challenge or offend people who are doing ok for themselves.
Which group are you in? Probably doing pretty good.
How does that make you feel?
Apparently we can expect lots of woes around here!

But I’m going to cut to the chase and tell you that I think the clearest and most helpful way to see this is that the problem with the woes group isn’t that they are doing ok it’s that they think they’ve achieved it all by their own doing.
It’s that they are pretty content with the world and think they can manage pretty much on their own – after all, they’re already rich, satisfied, laughing, and well thought of.

That’s the difference with the blessed who are poor, hungry, weeping, and excluded and put down. This group knows they can’t manage things on their own because life has pretty much overwhelmed them and they can’t fix it.

Listen carefully.
They aren’t blessed because Jesus is a masochist and God likes suffering people.
They’re blessed because they are more likely to be God-reliant than self-reliant.

Blessed are you who are God-reliant, for you will know God.
Woe to you who are too self-reliant, for you’re on your own.

And then Jesus says “let’s put this into action and see what happens.”

And he preaches what may be the most profoundly challenging sentences in the whole bible.
Want to be a Christian? Want to follow the Way of Jesus? Here’s what that looks like.

27 ‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.
29 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.
30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.

G.K Chesterton famously said this: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”

Pick a word to describe this teaching: radical, extreme, noble, challenging, impossible, inspiring, weak?
How does this make you feel?

What would happen to you if you really lived this way – loving enemies, praying for people who are rotten to you, giving to everyone who asks?

Is it even possible to live this way? Has anyone, other than Jesus, ever done it?
That answer is yes – and you can probably name at least three.
How about Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, and Gandhi? This teaching could be considered an example of the philosophy of radical non-violence. Those three men lived that philosophy out.

And what happened because they lived that way?
They changed the world!
But the challenge is that there was a tremendous cost to living that way.

Here’s a thought that you can take away and ponder for the afternoon: Why is non-violence so threatening?
I guess it’s because it so thoroughly undercuts and humiliates those who hold and use power.

And so, once again, we find that we are hopelessly conflicted.
A few weeks ago we talked about how we’re hopelessly conflicted because we want to do right by the environment but we all need to get from here to there which requires cars which are hard on the environment. No pipelines means no gas, or at least more expensive gas.
We’re conflicted between what we feel called to do and what we feel pressed to do.

I think we’re conflicted about war and violence too. We’d all love to be Gandhi and practice non-violence and have non-violent protests. That’s a highly moral and highly desirable philosophy. It would be fantastic to this teaching of Jesus out. Non-violence, loving enemies, is clearly the ideal choice.
The challenge though comes when you encounter people who don’t abide by that ethic.

How do you practice non-violence when someone is punching you or a weaker person in the nose?
I mean, I could maybe be courageous enough to practice non-violence for myself and suffer the bloody nose that may come, but I guarantee you if someone lifted a hand against my wife or kids it would be a whole different story.

So I am hopelessly conflicted. I don’t know how to reconcile our desire for non-violence with the need or urge to respond or defend ourselves or others when violence is inflicted upon us.
You want to know what being conflicted is? Try preaching Jesus and Gandhi on Remembrance Sunday!

I have tremendous respect for the men and women who stood in harm’s way, on our behalf, because someone was inflicting harm on people and they sacrificed their safety to defend and protect.
Don’t you think they would have preferred non-violence?
I suspect most entered the conflict incredibly conflicted.

I cannot resolve this dilemma for you. You get to struggle with it for yourself.
Jesus’ teaching in this passage is crystal clear. Non-violence is the call. Apart from the very tricky challenge of armed conflicts, we are clearly called to practice non-violence.

But even in our safe, peaceful day-to-day lives we are hopelessly conflicted on this. How do you live out the principle that if someone wrongs you you’re supposed to bless them, or if someone borrows your lawn mower you’re supposed to give him your snow blower as well?
Is Jesus crazy? Has he gone too far? Is this too idealistic?

I don’t know. Maybe. I’m conflicted about it.

Here’s the only thing I have to offer you. This teaching is preceded by the blessings and woes. I think that’s intentional, and important.
Remember the main point?
Blessed are those who are God-reliant, and woe to those who are too self-reliant.

Maybe we’re conflicted because we’re trying to handle it all ourselves?
Maybe if we were more God-reliant non-violence would come easier for us?

Jesus sums it all up by saying:

31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

If only the other guy would listen!

Amen.