By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
March 10, 2019
Luke 4:1–13 (ESV)
The Temptation of Jesus
4 And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness 2 for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” 4 And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’ ” 5 And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, 6 and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 And Jesus answered him, “It is written,
“ ‘You shall worship the Lord your God,
and him only shall you serve.’ ”
9 And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written,
“ ‘He will command his angels concerning you,
to guard you,’
“ ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ ”
12 And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” 13 And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.
At times it is difficult to engage with scripture and at other times when we read them it is as if we have entered the scene and are walking along side those involved. This phenomenon is largely due to the mental state of our mind at the time. When we are tired or greatly stressed, engaging with scripture is a chore that we can put off until we feel better. The problem is when we feel better, if we are not disciplined in reading scripture, we will often find something else to do. If you happened to read last week’s sermon, I wrote about how Jesus would make space in his life to pray. He would guard that space, withdrawing to isolated places to spend time with his Father. When I speak of engaging scripture, I speak about as in prayer. We often look at scripture as if it is a user’s manual. If you happen to need to know how to make life work, we read it for the answer and move along to other things. We have even made clever little acronyms for the bible: Basic instructions before Living eternally, Believer’s instructions before leaving earth, and Basic instructional book for living everyday. There are several them that I have heard over the years, some are fun, and some are bad. If we approach scripture as an instruction manual it will encourage our actions, but does it change our soul?
When I engage scripture, I engage it in a couple of ways. One approach is for sermon prep and bible study, with this approach I am seeking to learn all I can to encourage others. The second approach is to use the words of scripture to direct my life of prayer. And if I am honest, both of those approaches are very similar, because when I am preparing to speak, I am in prayer and often when I am allowing the scripture to direct my prayer life, I am often inspired to write things into sermons. Scripture and prayer to me is just part of life. It is something I have trained my mind and body to do, so it is difficult for me to read through the bible like a regular book, because my mind will often dwell on things for a while. And when my mind stops on a word or section of scripture, I ponder it, I look deeper, and I try to look at it from many perspectives. I will sometimes read it in multiple translations to see if things are worded differently to see if maybe what I first might have though might have been taken a different way by some other translators. I will consider the opinions of scholars as well as listen to the opinions of others. And when I am done with that I just sit and pray, I ask God to open things up so I can see more clearly. To read scripture is to pray in my opinion and to pray is to engage with the scripture, because to pray is to converse with God and what better way to do that than to join with those ancient writers as they prayed and composed the words we regard as inspired by the very spirit of God.
Like I said at times, this is easy and at times it is difficult. This is why I think it is so important to look at the life and lifestyle of Jesus. Jesus is more than a prophet, he is more than a teacher, he is more than a king, he is Emanuel (God with us). That idea is something that keeps me in a state of awe. God with us. If God is with us there is another side to it, we are with God. If Jesus is God with us then everything, we can learn from Jesus speaks deeply to our lives because it is God living, encouraging and teaching us so that we can be with him. There is something amazing about God being with us. It is a mystery beyond anything I can really wrap my head around, yet it is encouraging. It is encouraging because it tells us that we are not alone. In our darkest times, during our most difficult struggles, there is someone to walk with us.
Today we meet Jesus, just as we have so often in scripture, in an isolated place out in the wilderness. The past few weeks we have meet with Jesus later in his ministry, today we meet him before he begins his journey toward the cross. This passage takes place shortly after Jesus meet John the Baptist in the waters of the Jordan. For approximately thirty years Jesus has lived his life within a community along side his family. He had spent seventeen years laboring beside his brothers, several of those years he had worked with Joseph, and possibly cousins and uncles. Every day they would leave their home to work, and every day they would return. They would take one day each week to rest from their labors, and on that day the would worship in their local synagogue just like everyone else in the community. When a teacher visited, they would go and listen, when there was a holy day they would participate in the festivities. They would travel to Jerusalem and offer sacrifices on the appointed days, they celebrated marriages and births, they mourned those that died, and they lived life just like we live ours.
Jesus was human. He was born, he grew, he laughed, he cried. Some people liked him, and others may have had other opinions. Jesus was a man. Do we fully grasp what that means? Jesus was a man. He had responsibilities. He had difficulties in life that he had to overcome. He had struggles. So often in my life as I face various hardships, I forget that Jesus was also a man, though the time was different then than it is now, many of the issues I face he experienced.
I want us to remember this as we consider today’s passage. Jesus the man went out into the wilderness to pray for forty days. He went out there because as a man he had to come to terms with the struggle we all face: desires for comfort and security versus answering a call to something greater. Yes, Jesus was more than a man, but Jesus still struggled because life is a struggle. We know he struggled because when he prayed the day of his betrayal, his body was so intensely stressed that he sweat blood. That is extreme stress, a level of stress I pray I never face. Why was he stressed, because as a man he knew what he was about to face, and the prospect of that even though he counted it as joy was not something his body wanted to endure.
Jesus went out to that wilderness to pray, because he was about to embark on a mission that was set in place at the foundations of the world. He was about to start that journey that would eventually lead him to the cross, and there were so many things involved with that journey. He had just spent thirty years as Mary and Joseph’s son. Seventeen years he had spent as a carpenter and now at the age of thirty he was going to walk away from that life and enter a great adventure. He was going to fulfill his purpose. He was about to step into the life he was meant to live.
For forty days he prayed and fasted. He spent forty days in a retreat, where he would discuss the redemption and restoration of creation. Last week I wrote about Jesus on the mount of transfiguration where his face shone and his clothes became white, and while he prayed and Peter, John, and James watch, Moses and Elijah appeared before them. Jesus was there praying and talking, and they were discussing things that were to occur. It is interesting to remember this because for forty days Moses was on the mountain with God when he received the law. Elijah spent forty days in the wilderness when he heard the voice of God speak in the silence. Forty is an important number, and the law giver, the prophet, and Jesus spent forty days in prayer, forty days talking with God about restoration of creation. They each spent this time in prayer prior to embracing a mission set before them.
At the end of the forty days of fasting and prayer, Jesus was tempted. Temptation we often see as a negative thing, and it can be. There is nothing in temptation that is sinful, it is simply the struggle of life. There are many choices and direction we could go with every decision we make. Each of those options has a cost and a benefit. Every choice we make is a temptation, because within every choice we must weigh in our own mind how we will respond in to our relationship with God, ourselves, and others. Temptation can become sin if we choose a path that leads away from God, or that places ourselves in a position where we do not consider the good of others. For forty days Jesus struggled with temptation, and the devil was there making every attempt to distract Jesus from the path that would lead to redemption.
Jesus prayed in that wilderness for forty days and he was hungry. “If you are the son of God, command this stone to become bread.” The devil encouraged him. This temptation is a choice in life we all face. This is that temptation to place our need above others. With Jesus Satan was encouraging him to use the power he possessed to satisfy his personal needs. “Just focus on yourself,” Satan seems to be saying. You have the power to make bread appear, you are hungry, just do it. Do not worry about the struggle of life, do not worry about the joy of relationship and allowing others to provide or serve you, just focus on your own needs. We face this temptation every day of our life. We are probably facing it right now if we want to be honest. It is placing our desires before those around us, nor taking into consideration how our actions will affect them.
The devil then shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time saying, “I will give you all of this if you only worship me.” This temptation is the one that caught my attention this week. The devil showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world, in a moment of time. What does that mean. Usually when I read this segment, I tend to think that Jesus was shown the glory of Rome, and the numerous countries and empires that existed in that day. But this week I was challenged by the word all and the phrase in a moment of time. Was Jesus shown I that place of pray did he see all human history and the rise and fall of the nations rapidly play out before his eyes? Was this temptation really a dealing less with power and more about removing the will of humanity? Could Satan have really been telling Jesus, you could stop all this all the wars, all the suffering, and you could achieve your greatest desire of united humanity under your influence, you could do all this right now without the struggle of relationships, work, and sacrifice.
Then he takes him to the top of the temple and encourages him to jump. With the assurance that God would command the angels to keep him safe. This temptation is also one we face nearly every day. Just act and pray that God will remove any negative consequences. We can also fall in this trap when we plan without considering others. We think we know what is right, so we push forward, grabbing the bull by the horns and move. The problem though is a bull is a big beast with sharp horns and sometimes a bull has a mind of its own. God does say he will give us all the desires of our heart, but that comes after we seek him first.
I love to read the temptation of Jesus, I love it because I connect with it so much. Every time I read it, I see yet another perspective I had not considered before. Yet all of it speaks of the same things. The temptation to focus on self, the temptation to force others to do our will, and the temptation to try to avoid consequences for our actions. Jesus struggled, he struggled because everything that Satan said he had the power to do, but to do so would hinder or destroy relationships. Moses and Elijah spent forty days on various mountains speaking to God about these things. Moses was given the law to direct and encourage the people, but the people quickly twisted the law to the point that they could justify their own actions while appearing to be righteous in the eyes of the religious. So, God sent the prophets who cried out to the people it was mercy not sacrifice I desired. The entire law revolved around the core principle that we should love God and love our neighbors as ourselves. Meaning we should love God, and work for the mutual profit or good of all. The Law and the prophets encouraged us to turn from our selfish self fulfilment, to turn from using coercion instead convincement, and to take responsibility for our own actions. God sent the law and the prophets to encourage repentance, yet we still struggle, so he sent his son. Jesus, being God, became man to live with us and to show us how to live that holy lifestyle with others so that we could then live with God. God showed us how to truly be human, and humanity is the struggle of relationships. And to travers life of struggle we need to Love God in our worship, embrace he Holy Spirit while we withdraw to isolated places to pray, and to live the love of Christ with others as we encourage and minister for the good of those around us.
As we enter this time of open worship, let us contemplate on this amazing mystery that is God with us and us with God. Let us consider how God is with us in our struggles and how we can allow God to help us overcome with him.
By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
Luke 9:28–36(ESV): The Transfiguration
Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.
Do we ever get used to the narrative of scripture? Where we hear the story so much that we forget the power the words really have? This Sunday we read about the transfiguration of Christ. I have heard about this many times. I have been impressed with the unique ability that Jesus has, he glows when he is on the mountaintops praying. Which might explain why he withdraws to the wilderness when he prays. Imagine his mother yelling at him when he was growing up. “shut off the light Jesus we are trying to sleep.” Mary might say. Only to hear, “but mom I was only praying!”
Yes, I joke a bit about this passage because for many if us it seems almost fantastic. People do not glow, their clothes do not turn dazzling white without great work, and people just dI not appear out of nowhere.
The fact is that these things do not normally occur and that is why this story is included in the gospel. There is something special going on. Something out of the ordinary. Something that no one really understands, and they simply try to explain something without an explanation.
I have dwelled on this passage this week. I have reflected on it from different perspectives hoping to bring something today that might speak to our condition. I listen and read the news and all I hear is extreme division. What is it that we need to hear?
That is when I began to just sit with this passage. Sometimes when we simply let the scripture be, the spirit speaks the loudest. At times we want to know so much about scripture we spend vast amounts of time in study. We look for that nugget of truth that will be the key to life. Jesus spoke about how the religious leaders pour over scripture looking for life only to miss it. The study of scripture is important, I spend a great deal of time doing it but at times we can get so deep into the grammar and spelling that we miss what is said.
Jesus, as was his custom, withdrew to an isolated place to pray. I think we often forget how often Jesus did this. We get distracted by the miracles and the healings that we miss the life he lived. Jesus made a point to withdraw from what was going on all around him to pray. He cleared a place in his life to simply pray.
Do we understand how important this is? Jesus was a very busy person. People were constantly demanding his time and attention. They would follow him from one town to the next. When he went home to visit his family so many crowded into the house that people could not even eat. Jesus was in demand, he did have the luxury of privacy. So, he would go to places difficult for others to follow to pray. He would even send his disciples away as a distraction so that he could withdraw in a time of solitude to commune with his father. Prayer is important to Jesus.
At times, I feel we do not understand how important prayer is. We often have a skewed idea of prayer. We pray for others in need, we pray for our own needs, we pray before a meal and offer Thanksgiving, but do we pray for commonality with God? Do we make space to just be with God? Not just to read scripture or read devotionals to increase our knowledge but to just let God move and speak to us?
Jesus and his three closest friends went up the mountain. We are never really told why it was the three. I say his closest friends, only because they are the ones that are spoken of most often. He might have taken them because they were the ones most likely to cause trouble. James and John were the sons of thunder and Peter seemed to like to swing a sword around, so maybe Jesus kept them close to prevent bad press. But more than likely they were the most eager to learn. He left the others down below, he most likely did this to ensure that he would not be disturbed. If we read the gospels, we find that this is a formation that occurs often. This is how important prayer is to Jesus. It is as if he places guards at the trail head and then places more guards just outside his sanctuary.
Is our prayer time guarded like this? How often are our prayers interrupted by our busy schedules? How many times are they cut short because of ringing phone or a chiming notification? Do we defend our time with God or is it something that we just squeeze in between appointments? Yes, we should pray without ceasing. Yes, we should live in constant communion with God, but if we do not make time from the start do, we participate, or is prayer just good luck charm we rub before we do what we want?
Jesus went up to the mountain to pray. The disciples marveled at his joy at prayer. They once begged him to teach them to pray. Pleading with them to teach them to pray, like John taught his disciples to pray. We are not told exactly how John taught his disciples. He may have given them a set format or words to say. But the mention of this tells us that he did teach them to pray. And some of Jesus’s disciples were once disciples of John. They knew what John taught but there was something different about the joy Jesus had and the discipline of John. They wanted to know. They watched Jesus pray, we are told that they were heavy with sleep as they watched. Initially we might think that they were bored, but do we get bored watching the people we love? How many hours do parents watch their children do common things? Parents will watch their babies sleep. They look at the creases in their skin and examine the swirls of their hair. They are exhausted yet they watch until their bodies force them to sleep. The disciples watched Jesus pray. They marveled and wished that they could have the joy of prayer as Jesus did.
They watched and saw before them something amazing. As Jesus prayed, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothes became a dazzling white. Imagine if you were one of those three disciples looking at your beloved teacher and seeing this. The awe that must have filled their souls. One of the books I read while I was studying for my master’s degree at Friends was about an Orthodox priest in Soviet Russia. This priest was sent to the gulag because he was a threat to their government. This book was written not by the priest, but it contained the stories of those people this priest encouraged during his life. There was one story that I will never forget, it was in the deepest coldest part of winter and the prison camp they were in was in Siberia. The priest and one other prisoner were being disciplined so they were locked in a metal room out in the weather. The cold was unbearable, it would kill them within hours, yet the priest was excited to go to the room. He was excited because he would have the opportunity to pray undisturbed for hours. His companion was frightened because of the cold but the priest encouraged him to pray with him, so they prayed. They were in this room for over twenty-four hours, yet they survived. The companion said that while the priest was praying, he was no longer aware of the metal room they were in. He said that as the priest prayed it began to get warmer and then he opened his eyes and the priest was standing not in the clothes of a prisoner but in the robes of a priest and they were standing within a church. They prayed all night and when the doors were opened, the guards were amazed when they walked out alive.
I have never seen someone transfigured in such a manner. But I have been transported by prayer. In some of my prayers I have reflected on various aspects of scripture and it has been so real around me that the odors around me were not what they should have been. There was one times while I was contemplating the crucifixion of Christ that I could literally smell the coppery sent of blood as I cried over the sacrifice that Jesus made to bring me back to God. I can tell you after that time in prayer I was not the same. Just as the companion of the priest was not the same, nor the disciples. Each of us got a glimpse of something beyond.
What is prayer? It is a question we all ask as we enter a lifestyle of faith. As our faith deepens our life of prayer changes as well. When we are young it is a list of all the things, we are thankful for, with a few pleas for new toys. As we grow, we are exposed to the suffering of life, we begin to pray for loved ones who are sick, or we ask God for guidance through a difficult situation. But prayer is something far more. Prayer is the single most fundamental discipline of our lifestyle of faith. When we pray, we enter communion with God? Our spirit meets with God in a realm beyond our physical comprehension. We enter a place where there is no time; no past, present or future a place that just is. This is why the spiritual lives of our grandparents have lasting affects on the lives of our grandchildren. When they pray their prayers are carried by the Spirit and they can flow and spill over into the lives of generations. Because when we pray, we are not in this world, our spirit has joined with the Holy Spirit in the realms of God. Peter, John, and James saw this when they were on that mountain. They saw Jesus, not as the teacher but as source of light, and they saw with him the law giver and the prophet. Moses and Elijah were standing there with Jesus, the two greatest personalities of their religion were standing right by their teacher. We do not know how they knew who they were, but they knew. They knew because they were with Jesus in this spiritual realm of prayer on a mountain. They knew that Moses and Elijah had also prayed on mountains and stories were told of those experiences. And while they were sitting there in awe, they heard the voice of Moses, the voice of Elijah, and of Jesus. They heard their spiritual heroes speaking the words they had heard for so long. They heard them spoken not as cold text from a scroll but as real conversation as they, Moses and Elijah, looked forward to the glory of Israel. They were sitting on that mountain hearing the conversations that lead to the formation of their scripture. They were heavy with sleep but all at once they were fully awake.
Imagine if your life of prayer were like that? I am often asked why we do not see God working like he does in scripture today. I am asked these things while those that speak express their concerns with the direction various aspects of our world are going. Why do we not see God working? The one answer I can give is that we do not fully release ourselves to prayer.
We let ourselves be distracted by the various struggles of this world, and we let fear creep into our lives. Instead of praying we begin to make plans. We start to use our wisdom which we gather from our various life experiences and we apply them to what we face. At times this is good and even honorable, but have we prayed? As campaigns rage, as war drum seem to beat just over the horizon we turn to the powers of the world, when our finances become tight or our health becomes questionable, we seek answers, but have we prayed? Have we really prayed? When we read the testimonies of the disciples and the prophets from ancient days and we marvel at how they were able to live through the struggles they faced, do we look at their lives of prayer? When we read the stories of those ancient martyrs that faced the violence of Rome do, we look at their life of prayer? When we read of Stephen seeing the heavens open before his eyes as stones are hitting his body, do we ever think that maybe his life of prayer was what allowed him to see the hope instead of experiencing the pain? When we read the stories of the persecuted church throughout Asia and the world have, we considered how they pray?
If God is our refuge, if God is our strength and our shield. If his word is our protecting sword how are we connecting to that power? If Jesus said to his disciples that they will see greater things than the feeding of the five thousand, the healing of a leper, the release of souls from the grip of demonic bondage, or the raising of the dead, how do we see that if we do not make a place for prayer in our lives? We do not see God working in many areas because we are not allowing God to work. We have place guards keeping the Spirit out instead of circling around Him. I say this because I am just as guilty. I say this because I like Peter do not always know what I say. I so often stand before you, encouraging you to do something more, yet I am the one most convicted because I have failed. I like Paul cry out “I want to know Christ – yes to know the power of his resurrection and participate in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” To know in this way begins with prayer, and through prayer we are guided into the ministry He has set before us. And when we pray and minister under his guidance, we will see his hand working in the lives around us. But do we pray?
So often we like Peter enjoy amazing mountain top experienced and we wish to stay and build a tent. We want to preserve what we once knew. But we cannot stay on the mountain. If Jesus stayed on that mountain, the wages of sin would not have been paid. If Jesus stayed on that mountain we would still be held in bondage. We are called to walk with Christ, walk to the mountain to pray and to walk back down to serve. But we are not called to make the world in our image, but the image of God. We are called to Love our enemies, to do good for those that abuse us, to pray for those that persecute us. We are called to will the good of all those people around us. How can we even begin to do such a task if we do not pray? How can we even consider it without seeing the face of Christ shining in our lives?
Let us now enter a time of open worship and communion as Friends and as we do, I ask that we each read these verses again to ourselves and sit with them. (Luke 9:28-36). As you reflect on those verses watch Jesus pray and join him in that joy.
By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
February 24, 2019
Luke 6:27–38 (ESV)
Love Your Enemies
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.”
When we approach scripture, it is important to remember that each of us bring something with us. We each have lenses or some sort of perspective that we interpreted life through. Although we attempt to read scripture for what it is, we often find our perspective coming through. There are people that believe that the God of the Old Testament and that of the New are different, this difference is largely perspective, because everything taught in the New Testament is found in the Old. Jesus did not teach anything new, even though he said he is giving his disciples a new commandment near the end of his ministry, that new commandment was not necessarily new, but was new to their thinking.
I will continue to mention we each read our own lives into scripture, because it is true. We cannot help it, because we live and experience life. Each of our life experiences give us a perspective that is different. When I read a passage, different words attract my attention than the words that attract yours. Those words are what I meditate on, those are the ones that water and feed my soul, but for you they might carry no meaning at all. I will give you an example. My son, James and I, are reading doing a reading plan together. We are using the YouVersion Bible App, which is free if you have a smart phone. In this app you can add friends and read together and share your thoughts. A couple of weeks ago as I was reading a verse just seemed to grip my attention and would not let it go. I found the verse funny and challenging, it has caused me to stop and rethink many things. The verse was Matthew 15:16, “’Are you still so dull?’ Jesus asked them.”
I told you that Jesus had a sense of humor. I think Jesus had an amazing grasp of sarcasm. He basically called his disciples stupid and guess what I am one of those disciples. Those words that were written are just as much for me as they were for the disciples that walked with Jesus. But why would he call his disciples dull? Because, they like each of us look at scripture from their perspective and were not willing to accept an alternative interpretation. They thought they were right and everyone else was wrong. And the problem with this way of thinking is we will often miss the point.
Today’s passage is a continuation of the sermon on the plain. Which is very similar to the sermon on the mount which is found in the gospel written by Matthew. Jesus had just come down from the mountains, where he withdrew for a time to pray, and when he neared the shore of the sea, he found a crowd had gathered. This crowd was filled with people Jerusalem and all over Judea, it even had people that had come from the lands north of Israel in Lebanon. They had heard about Jesus, that had witnessed some of his feats and they had hope that maybe he might be able to change their life as well. We are not really told exactly where this plain was located, and I mentioned last week that it was likely the same plain outside of Capernaum where the fishermen would gather together to lay their nets out to dry while they separated their produce and made repairs. It is likely the same area where Andrew, Peter, James and John were working when Jesus told Peter to go back out into the waters to cast the nets one more time. Peter, of course thought this was stupid because he was a master of his trade and Jesus was a carpenter. What did a man that worked with stone and wood know about fish? Peter decided to humor Jesus and he took the boat back out and the catch was so great that it nearly sank his boat and that of his friends.
The people came out there because Jesus had power. He could heal, he could provide for a family’s lifestyle, and he taught things that made them think differently about life. Jesus came down from the mountain and he looked at the crowd, they brought people with illnesses to him and he provided them with relief. There were some that we in the bondage of spirits and they were released. There were Jews and Gentiles, there were people accepted and rejected by society, there were people considered rich and others who were dependent on others for their survival. Basically, the entire spectrum of human experience was represented on that plain, and Jesus lifted his eyes to them.
“Blessed are the poor for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” he began, “Woe to you who are rich for you have received your consolation.” We struggle with these words. We struggle because our perspective, our life experiences may not resemble those of the people who originally heard those words. Yet those words, cause us to think. They cause us to stop for a moment and consider what is going on around us.
I mentioned last week that many have taken those words and have encouraged people to engage in the work of social justice. I think that this is not enough, because when Jesus speaks of these blessings and woes he is speaking of the extremes of society. Everyone on that social continuum has needs and all are needed. And when Jesus pronounced those words, he was encouraging us to consider where we are and who is around us.
Today we meet again on that plain, we continue to hear the teachings of Jesus as he look up to this crowd, and today he says, “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.” Do we hear or were our ears shut off at the mention of social justice?
Jesus’s ministry was not in a vacuum. He was ministering to people that lived in a very real place, a place that had been on the crossroads of empires for its entire history. There were those in that crowd that had the idea that the messiah of God would be a conquering king that would throw the chains of bondage off Israel and drive Rome to the sea. There were those in the crowd that had a completely different view. There might have even been some in the crowd that anticipated not one messiah but three. The ideas in ancient Israel were diverse, and often we neglect to consider that these people of ancient eras had ideas, ideologies, and opinions just like us. Even among Jesus’s disciples there were different opinions. When this diverse group of people heard the words of Jesus that day, they cringed just as much as we do today.
Love your enemies. This one statement turns many away from Christ. It is twisted and turned, it is justified and butchered trying to make it fit nicely into our ideologies, yet it still plagues our thinking. What does love your enemies mean? Does Jesus really mean enemies or does he simply mean people we do not get along with? Is there any way that we can get out of this and still be considered a follower of Christ?
We love and hate this passage. We love it because it sounds like a utopia, we hate it because we understand that life is filled with pain and struggle. We know that if we were to live this out, we would get hurt in some way. Why would Jesus say such a thing? We need to begin with love.
Most of us know that in the Greek language, the language that the gospels were originally written in, there are several words that we translate as love. Each of those words represent a different type of love. One is philia, or friendship, which is where the name of the city Philadelphia comes from. Another is eros, which is usually used for intimate love. Then there is empathy and tenderness like we have for children or kittens. And pragma which is the love that endures in relationships when eros has lost the fire. There is also philautia, the love of one’s self. Several words that were used to speak of vastly different forms of love, but each we translate simply as love. This is why we struggle with this verse. But none of those words for love are the type of love that is used here, agape.
Agape is the word that is used when the ancients referred to mercy, charity, the love of God to man and of man to for the good of God. We often refer to this type of love as unconditional love, or as one scholar explained it, “to will the good of another.” This is the word that is used in this verse. I want us to consider that meaning as we consider the verse. “But I say to you who hear, will the good of your enemies, do good to those who hate you…”
To love an enemy is to hope for mutual good. The past few weeks I have been reading and listening to a book series that speaks about the history of the establishment of England. It takes place in ancient times when there were wars between the Danes and the Saxons, and Alfred is the last of the Saxon kings, yet he has a vision of a united kingdom of England. Prior to this the lands of Briton were divided into several small areas, some of the areas were predominately influenced by the Danes and other Norse groups, others were settled by Saxons, and then there were the Britons and Scotland. There was peace between some and war between others. Alfred was a Christian, and the Danes were pagan. The pagan religion of the Norsemen honored the warrior, and to get the greatest blessing in the after life they needed to die with a sword in their hand. Alfred and the Christians had a different view, they wanted peace. Yes, they participated in great battles, but Alfred often offered them mercy, an alternative way to exit the battle without a fight. In the stories I have been reading this irritated the Danes because it completely opposed everything about their world view. It did not make worldly sense yet as the Danes plundered the churches and monasteries some wondered why people would live such a life. They would continue to plunder and wonder. They would listen to the priests and some converted.
I do not mention this because I think we should glorify the life of the Saxon King Alfred, but I mention it because he according to the story, tried to live a devout life of faith. He willed the good of another, he offered a different option even for his enemies. And at times it cost him a great deal, it nearly cost the kingdom.
When Jesus says love your enemies, he is encouraging us to find other ways to change the direction of life. He is encouraging us to stop looking at those around us as enemies but to look at them as human beings loved by God.
I remember when I was preparing to go to Ukraine, my grandpa told me that he would pray for me. He was going to pray because I was going to go to the land of the enemy. I love my grandpa. I have learned a great deal from him and he one of the people who has encouraged my faith the most. Yet I remember him saying that. I remember even thinking that myself. When I began to talk to the students in Ukraine, I found out something different. The stories they were told of us were very similar to the stories we were told of them. They feared the nuclear winter brought on by America just as we feared the nuclear holocaust perpetrated by the Soviets. They wanted their children to go to school and to get a good job, just like we want ours to do the same. They wanted the same things, they just had a different idea as to how those things would happen. Once I heard about the life of those students, I realized that we really were not enemies, we were just people. People with hopes and dreams. People that wanted a better life for ourselves and our children.
Love your enemies, Jesus says, will their good, “and as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” Jesus did not really teach anything new. Everything that he taught was grounded in the teachings of the law. It was required in Torah to treat even the aliens that lived in their land as they would treat their fellow Israelites. The Golden rule was taught by all the great rabbis, because to treat others as you would like to be treated is nearly a universal law. The idea behind all of this is, if you do not start peace who will? If you do not start living your life willing the good of anther who will? If every moment of our lives is dedicated to only getting the best only for yourself, where does that leave the rest of the world?
The blessings and the woes, and the loving your enemy go hand in hand. They speak of the same things. We need and we are needed. Each of us are important not only to God but to each other. When we begin to think that we are more important than another, we begin to participate in that continuous cycle that leads to death and destruction. Yes, some have different abilities, and yes some have different gifts, but we all need and are needed. We are commanded to will the good to them, to live our lives in such a manner that all around us are better off because we are here. If you own a business you direct that business in such a way that it benefits all involved: the customer, labor, and management. If one aspect suffers the entire relationship suffers. And when the relationship suffers eventually it will fail. This applies in every relationship. To encourage our children, we do not simply give them gifts, but we train them and teach them so that they will know how to survive. When they turn from the ways of God, do we stop? No, we continue to encourage, and will the good, but we may have to adjust how we do it. Marriages also must be lived in such a way that we will the good to the other. We do everything for our mutual benefit, not just self. This is what agape is all about. To love other, to love our enemies is doing all we can to find an alternative direction where we can walk together.
How do we do this? How can we love when they continue to do the very things that infuriate us? How can we encourage when we have tried everything we can possibly think of? This is why the lifestyle Jesus taught is so important. We need and are needed. We do not have everything we need in ourselves, we need others to help us get to the places we need to go. This is why Jesus made it his custom to go to worship with the community, why he withdrew often to pray, and then engaged in ministry. We need others to encourage and to listen to us as we gather to worship, we need time in prayer where we can release our frustrations and petition God for direction, so that we can enter our relationships again. We need and are needed. We are poor and we are rich. We are the friend and the enemy, but what will we do? Will we hope and strive for the good or sit back and complain? Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those that curse you, pray for those who abuse you. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.