By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
February 20, 2022
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Luke 6:27–38 (ESV)
27 “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. 31 And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. 32 “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. 37 “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
Most of us know the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount and on the Plain. Much of the words we have committed to memory and yet we struggle with incorporating them into our lives. Last week we looked at the section of blessing and woes. Blessed are the poor and woe to the rich. I think I might have brought out something that most of us have not considered. The terms rich and poor do not necessarily represent wealth but perspective. The poor are those that are oppressed, neglected, and lorded over. In most cases the poor are those without worldly wealth, but this is not always the case. The poor are those without a voice. Those that are not allowed to participate in the direction of the culture.
The opposite of the poor is commonly seen as the rich, but this is not the complete story. The opposite of poor is the violent. The rich are those that have the power to enforce rules, they are the ones that control the means of production and rule those that do not have that power. The rich in ancient cultures, and in many ways today, are those that govern and have a monopoly on the use of force. Force is the opposite of poor, and this is why Jesus states that the poor will always be among you. There will always be people that fall through the cracks of society, there will be portions of the population that hold a minority voice and therefore laws seem to deny them the things that others may enjoy. We often see them as the other. It is an us or them mindset. When we get into this mindset we often fail to recognize the imagine of God that they too possess. And when we deny the image of God in the others, we participate in the violence against them and are living in a life of sin.
These verses contain a great deal more than we might otherwise think. But it is important to recognize the reality of the rich and poor before we move forward. It is important to recognize how easy it is to participate in these sorts of activities. For the past couple of weeks we have watched as Russia and Ukraine have come to a stand off along their boarders. We do not fully know what all is involved in this conflict of ideas because unfortunately when it comes to our media and Russia, we will always see them as the offending party. We see the people of Russia as the other. We see them as the ones exercising force on the poor. This might be the case, but in the eyes of Russia we are the one that are exerting power and they are the ones being oppressed. The response is one that is all to common in the kingdoms of men. Those that feel oppressed feel that their only options is to take up arms against the oppressing powers. They use fight against the oppression using the very violence they wish to alleviate.
When the poor or the oppressed use violence, they do not rid the world of the rich oppressor. They have not changed their way of thinking or the minds of the groups they see as other. They simply change the position of the groups, the poor become the rich and the rich become the poor and the cycle will continue throughout course of time, because there will always be poor among us. The cycle must stop.
We cannot fully grasp the verses we read today until we recognize that we are all poor in some way, and we are all rich. If we use the power that we possess no matter how large or small against the humanity of others we are participating in this struggle between rich and poor even if we do not possess what the world would see as wealth. We are the problem. We often find ourselves in the place where we label people loved by God as others. They are the ones that need to change, but that will not happen. We cannot force change. We cannot force those that have the power today to relinquish that power through violence. The only way change happens is if we look at ourselves first. How are we contributing to this seemingly never-ending cycle of otherness?
Jesus in today’s passage, right after he speaks about the blessings and the woes launches into the ethical teaching that defines his kingdom. He does not tell us that these are the things that we should do. Instead he is telling us that if we are truly participants in the kingdom, this is who we are. Those in the kingdom are by default poor. The Kingdom of God does not function as the kingdoms of this world. The kingdom of God is not based on power, but on mercy. It is not based on wealth but on charity. It is not based on might but on grace. The apostle Paul tells us these things remain faith, hope, and love and the greatest of these is love.
What is love? We live in a culture that has perverted this word to such a degree that we no longer even know what it means. We say things like we fell in or out of love and we base our actions on these terms. Love is greater than our cultural understanding. John, who tradition tells us is the disciple Jesus loved, says this in 1 John chapter 4:
“7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
God is love. Love flows to humankind through God and this is how God wants us to interact with the world. I know I sound a bit like a hippie, but they actually are not too far from the truth. They twist the truth a bit, but as the Beatles say, “all you need is love.”
John tells us that love is from God and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God, and if we do not love we do not know God because God is love. This tells us a great deal when it comes to the relationships we have within our culture. If we participate in any form of violence against those we see as others, we are not associating with the kingdom of God. We are working against God and his kingdom.
Jesus tells us, “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either.”
Love, do, bless, and pray. These are all present tense imperative words. This means that they are, for those that are part of the kingdom, a constant state. Just as there will always be poor among us, those in the kingdom will always approach the culture in this state of mind. We will love, do good, bless, and pray.
The Greek word we translate as love, self-giving. This is not lust; this is not necessarily the love that we have for our children or our parents. This is an action that denies our own self interest so that we can participate in encouraging those around into something better. Yes parents have this type of love for their children, but the difference is to whom this is directed. Our family is part of us, not them. This type of love transcends us, and is extended beyond to those who are other. When Jesus says love our enemies he is telling us, right off the bat, to stop the cycle of otherness.
We can no longer look at anyone as an enemy, because that is not how God see them. We were once all enemies of God, but while we were in that state of being, Jesus gave himself for our redemption. To love our enemies means that we must change our perspective. We can no longer hold a grudge, we cannot seek vengeance, and we cannot retaliate. We cannot interact with those around us as the world does because we are not part of their kingdom, we are part of something else. We are to love.
Do good to those who hate you. For most of us we cannot understand what this truly means, because we have not experienced true hate directed at us. This is why we should listen to the stories of those within our community. We need to listen to the life experiences and the stories of people of color, because many of them have experienced hate, where hate was not part of my life experience. The closest most of us have come to experiencing hate has been in the past couple of years where we were inconvenienced by mask mandates. Think about the divisiveness we have experienced by people that have a different perspective than you might hold. How are we responding? Are we actively do good for them? Our natural response to hate is to give it right back to them. Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. If they burned our house we will burn theirs. This continues the cycle of violence within the world. Riots and looting are responses to hate. And our responses to these actions are also reflective of the same hate that boils deep within us. It is there even if we do not notice it. I say it is there because have we actively participated in doing good?
Bless those that curse you. I have experienced this. I have been wrongfully accused of things that I have not done. I have had to face disciplinary actions for accusations that cut deep into my character, and I have had to decide what to do. I have even had member of the church stand in my face screaming accusations that are false. How do we respond? They are cursing us. They are falsely accusing us. They are putting us into a position where we might lose our livelihoods. Do we retaliate? Those in the kingdom bless those that curse you. We continue to live our lives among them. We continue to show them a different way of life. And we continue to make sure they are not overlooked.
I must admit that I am not perfect in this. It is difficult to stand with people that have wrongfully accused you of things that you have not done. But it is necessary. It is necessary because every individual within our community is important. We need each other to accomplish the mission that God has placed before us. So we need to find a way forward, so that our community can succeed. And the only way we can find a way forward is through prayer.
Prayer is a conversation we have with God. It can be difficult at times because we do not have the words to say. This is why I will often use scripture to assist me in this. I will withdraw to an isolated place, often I will come and sit in this meetinghouse, and I will open up the scripture and I will let God know what is bothering me, and I will read and reflect of what God has inspired the prophets and apostles to write. I will pray that God will change those around me, but more often than not, God will change my perspective so that I can see how to interact with them in a different manner.
Jesus is telling us that this is how people that live in the kingdom act. This is their lifestyle and their culture. When God created the world and placed our first parents in the garden, he gave us a job to go into the world, name the animals, be fruitful and multiply, and to ultimately make the entire earth into what they experience in the garden. Many look at Eden as God’s goal. It is a place where heaven and earth come together, where we and God live together in complete harmony. This is the mission and the goal of God. That has never changed. When our first parents initially turned from God, we began to participate in something contrary to God’s plan. We were deceived into this, by a being that was jealous and did not fully understand God’s plans, but we listened to the voice of deception and the result caused death. Separation from life. Since that time we have had to strive among ourselves, we have had to determine what is good and what is evil. We have had to struggle against all the forces around us as we strive to build the kingdom that is still in our primal mind.
Our default setting no matter who we are or what we believe is to make the world into our image of good. This is our default because we are image bearers. The problem arises because we are distracted by other voices. We get ideas that we perceive as being for the good of others, but do we step back and look at the larger picture. Do we see the image and where our actions might lead? We define good and we define evil. And this is something that everyone around us is doing as well. We define. I define. We ally with those that have ideas that resemble our own. We ally with those that resemble us. And we make assumptions that anyone outside our group are evil. Jesus asks us what good is that? Even sinners love those that love them. Even sinners do good to those that do good to them. Even sinners give money with the expectation of receiving back what was given.
Even sinners. Most people believe themselves to be good people. They believe this because we define good in our own minds. But when someone called Jesus good he asked them why do you call me good, because only God is good. I believe that Jesus is good, and the point of Jesus’s statement was to bring an understand within that conversation that our definition of good should not reside in our own thoughts, but in something greater than ourselves. Most of you may believe that I am a good person. I only wish that I could live up to that. The reality is that I am just as stubborn as everyone else. I will argue my position. I will not back down, and I will fight for what I think is right. And many of you might agree with me. I can be wrong. I can misunderstand scripture. I can error, because I struggle just like everyone else.
We all do. But we are called to break the cycle. We are called to change the world. We are called to make the world we live in like Eden of ancient days. Jesus is telling us how to do this. We change the world by doing for others what we would like them to do to us. We stop the cycle by recognizing that of God in others and honoring that. We change the world by treating those we once regarded as enemies as friends. This does not mean we do not have conversations; it does not even mean that arguments will cease. We will still be humans and we will still have struggles. But in those struggles we will consider the position of others before we act.
As we enter this time of Holy Expectancy, I encourage you each to re-read this passage as we sit in silence. I encourage you to use this passage as you pray and have a conversation with God. In what ways do we need to repent? And how can we live this our in a greater way. The cycles of vilence in our own lives need to stop before we can change the world. And God is calling us to pray, “his kingdom come, his will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
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