A congregation of the United Church of Canada
Yr C ~ Epiphany 6 ~ Luke 6:27-31
Sometimes Jesus really ticks me off. How’s that for a sermon opener?! I mean, I don’t know about you, but I’ve been in a state lately, and it’s not been happy. There are times when I just want to shut out the world, and ignore all the news, and retreat to my cozy little country home hideaway. I don’t ever talk politics from this pulpit, and I won’t talk politics today.
I will, however, definitively and without apology, say that these ongoing protests, regardless of whatever wafer thin connection to legitimacy they may have begun with, have devolved into a reprehensible affront to decency, common sense, science, and logic. It’s a toddler’s temper tantrum that thinks personal inconvenience for the greater good and health of all is somehow an attack on an individual. But I probably shouldn’t say any more because, you know, pastor and all. My first draft of this rant (I mean sermon) had several more paragraphs about this, including how if this had been an Indigenous rights or Black Lives Matter protest it would have been physically ended long ago – but I digress. Pastor. Shh.
Look, everyone is tired of mandates and restrictions. Everyone is tired of all this Covid pandemic nonsense. Everyone wants their lives back. Everyone wants all this stuff to be over and done with. I know I do. I’m sick of it. I believe our Prime Minister even said it clearly this past week – this pandemic stuff sucks. We’re done, we’re tired, we’re through.
But the problem is that Covid doesn’t care about how we’re feeling. It just keeps on rolling, and infecting, and mutating, if unchecked. And dropping health mandates too quickly that collectively protect us all just because we’re tired and frustrated, well, that’s an understandable desire, but unwise.
So we take a deep breath, and then another, and another, because we’re all pretty ticked off about this whole thing – and then we keep on keeping on, because it’s for the collective good – because that’s what love does. Love looks out for the collective good. Love gets vaccinated. Love wears masks. Love loves.
And then we’re confronted with ‘the other’ who refuses to…love. The type that parks their lot in the middle of everything and shakes their fist at the world. The type that yells at the top of their lungs the opposite to what I’d yell at the top of mine. The type that, considering all that, would have to be described as my enemy. An enemy to logic, and science, and decency, and love.
And what does Jesus have to say about that? You’re not going to like it. I don’t like it.
Remember how I started this sermon? Sometimes Jesus really ticks me off!
What would Jesus say to us in such a delicate, and fraught, and volatile situation?
What would Jesus say when clearly ‘they’ are in the wrong and ‘we’ are in the right?
He’d say this, (hold on to your hats):
Luke 6:27-30 ‘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.
Aw, c’mon Jesus! Don’t say that. I don’t want to love them. I’m flying high on righteous indignation.
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.
Seriously?!?!?! I mean, I get setting a high bar and aspiring to live up to it – but this feels impossible. If Jesus was here today and turned on the news, what the heck would he say about it? He’d say, “Love your enemies.” Aarrggghhh!!!
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? I suppose you could argue that Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, and Gandhi, who all practiced the philosophy of radical non-violence, are about the closest examples in recent memory.
And what happened because they lived that way? They each dramatically impacted the world! But the reality is that there was a tremendous personal cost to living that way. Here’s a thought that you can take away and ponder today: Why is non-violence so threatening? Why is love so threatening? I guess it’s because it so thoroughly undercuts and humiliates those who hold and use power.
On paper, 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 live 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, or love, 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 how am I supposed to preach this? I don’t know how to reconcile our desire for non-violence and love of enemy with the need or urge to respond or defend ourselves or others when violence is inflicted upon us. 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. Love your enemy. But even in our usually 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. Maybe he’s doing that ‘over-exaggerate for effect’ thing? Maybe it’s just rhetorical hyperbole? Maybe he says that impossible sounding stuff to shake us out of our complacency and at least aim higher. But, um, he seems to really mean it. And if you think about his life, he pretty much lived it – even on the cross.
How about if we turn this teaching on its head? How does the opposite of Jesus’ teaching sound?
Hate your enemies. Do bad things to those who do bad things to you.
Curse those who curse you. Wish ill on those who abuse you.
If anyone strikes you on the cheek, punch them back harder;
and if anyone steals something from you steal something bigger from them.
Ignore everyone who asks anything of you; and if anyone borrows your stuff, hound them until they return it.
How does that sound? Kinda sounds like the worst of the society we’re already living in.
But if I did the opposite – like Jesus – what might happen? If I love my enemies maybe after they finished ridiculing me they might feel a twinge of conviction. If I do good to those who do bad to me maybe it might stop them in their tracks in confusion. If instead of cursing out disagreeable people I offered prayer for awakening and awareness of the love that is surrounding them even though they can’t seem to perceive it, well, maybe they might catch a glimpse. You get the idea.
You could read this teaching and come away with the idea that Jesus wants us to be a door mat and get walked all over. But if you read more and more of his teaching and put this into that whole context you should more properly come away with the idea that Jesus is challenging us to live justly, even if it costs us. To love unswervingly, even if it’s hard. To embody and enact God’s kingdom even in the face of opposition. In typical Jesus fashion he upends the way we tend to see the world and turns our conventional wisdom – the stuff we see splattered on the news – completely upside down and says that loving in the face of unlovingness is actually a powerful act, not a weak one.
It’s a hard, hard teaching. There is no wiggle room here. But there is a last line that gives it all a bit more perspective. Luke 6:31
Do to others as you would have them do to you.
We call this the Golden Rule. You can find a version of it in every major expression of religion in the world. If everyone followed it the world would be a very different place, wouldn’t it? But not everyone follows it, and I can’t make everyone follow it. Heck, trying to get me to follow it is a full time job – and one that I fail at a lot more than I’d like to admit.
There’s a sci-fi movie from the 80s called Enemy Mine in which two opposing space pilots are fighting and they cripple each other’s space ships and land on a desolate planet. They start off trying to kill each other, because they’re enemies, but eventually they realize that if they don’t work together they’ll both die. As you can predict, by the end of the movie they become friends. They had to come face to face, and let go of their prejudices and preconceptions in order to get past being enemies. The tagline for the movie went like this: “Enemies because they were taught to be. Allies because they had to be. Friends because they dared to be.” A key point in the movie was that one of the two enemies had to bend. Interestingly, it wasn’t the human! It was the lizard-guy. The human’s first response was to pounce on the perceived weakness, not yet understanding that without ‘the other’ he couldn’t survive. It wasn’t until the tables were turned and the alien showed the human mercy that the human started to awaken. Hmm.
Well, crash landing on an alien planet with your enemies is not a very likely scenario for your afternoon. So we’re going to have to figure something different out. Maybe we can just start with the Golden Rule part and slowly work our way up to the loving our enemies part? We can only change ourselves, not the other person – but we can certainly pray for them. Sorry I couldn’t wrap this scripture up in a nice little bow for you and make it easy. Maybe this sermon ticked you off like Jesus ticked me off at the start of this? I hope that doesn’t make us enemies! But if it does, I’m going to try my best to love you. Do to others as you would have them do to you. It sounds so simple…