Posted on Feb 24, 2019 by Pastor Dave Whetter
Last week we started reading what we call Jesus’ “Sermon on the Plain.” This is a series of teachings, beginning with the Beatitudes, which we read last week, that Jesus offers his disciples that are intended to help his disciples understand a way of living that is different from the ways of this world. As I noted last week, these teachings offer us a way to live “holy lives.” And today, Jesus continues on with some very difficult sayings.
Today, we hear things like, “love your enemies;” “bless those who curse you;” “if someone hits you, turn the other cheek;” “if someone steals your coat, give them your shirt;” “lend to those who need it and don’t expect anything in return.” A few years ago when I preached on this I titled that sermon, “You Have to Be Kidding!”. Jesus can’t be serious, can he? He can’t really mean that we need to do these things to live holy lives. Seriously, if we lived like this, people would walk all over us.
In our culture today, the motto is always stand up for yourself and always be willing to go “toe to toe” with anyone who disagrees with us. That’s the way to live! Our world today seems to be more polarized than ever. I don’t know about you, but it’s not uncommon for me to say prayers like, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people.” “God, thank you for letting me know better than those Democrats; those Muslims, those …”. It seems anymore I spend most of my day trying to prove that I am right and everyone else is wrong. Most of us only want to hang out with people who think like us, act like and are “good,” just like us. Whether it's in politics or any area of our lives, it seems like we not only seek to disagree with each other, but when we do disagree, then we also want to demonize those who have another view. It seems to me, we are more interested in defending our way of thinking and acting than we are in listening to people on the opposite end of the spectrum from us and trying to learn from them. The problem with this is it is a dangerous way of living. Focusing solely on how we are right rather than listening to each other and really trying to see the other's point of view is not only unproductive, but it always fails to build community. Following the last presidential election, Parker Palmer, an author and activist for social change, wrote, “When we operate from the place where we are right, nothing good can grow between us and the people who see things differently.”
So, if this is true, and I do believe it is, what would happen if instead of always starting our conversations with our certainties and all we know to be “truth,” we began from the place of our doubts and fears? Maybe, with this approach, we might learn that we have more in common than we think. We might just learn that we all love our children and we want the world to be a better place for them. We might just learn that we are all afraid of what the future might hold if we don’t change things. We might just learn that we all love this faith community and we want to do whatever it takes to make sure it is here for future generations. We might just learn that we love and care about many of the same things.
And so, it is into a world like this that Jesus offers his radical words of holy living. You see, what Jesus knows is that if we are ever going to create a better world we have to start with changing how we treat each other. Specifically, if we want to change the world for the better, then we need to change how we treat those who hate or despise us, the ones who likely work from the place where they believe they are right. And to accomplish this, today we hear what may be one of the most famous teachings of Jesus, “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31).
If you want your enemies to stop hating you, then stop hating them first. When you see others in need, be generous with what you have and give abundantly. Don’t withhold what you have out of fear that you will run out, because more will be there when you need it. And when you give to others, don’t give expecting anything in return. Give freely, because you know that God gives all you need to you freely.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. This all sounds good, but it will never work in this world. If I turn the other cheek, then the other guy will pulverize me. No, turning the other cheek is a sign of being ready for what is coming next. It is a sign of equal footing. If I give freely, people will just expect more. If I don’t stand up for what I think and what I know is right, then who will? How will the world get better if we don’t get rid of all those stupid ideas and thoughts that “those other people” have? Well, let me ask you a question? How is all this working for us now? The ways of this world are failing miserably. Instead of talking to each other when we disagree, we stop talking. Just last week, I was talking with someone I hadn’t talked to in a while and in the conversation, I asked them about a close friend of theirs. This friend is someone who this person was quite close to and I had noticed that they hadn’t mentioned this person at all, which was quite unusual. And after I asked, this person got a very sad look on their face, and with a tear in their eye, said, we don’t talk anymore. I was shocked because they had been friends for years, probably more years than I have been alive. It turns out that they each voted differently in the last presidential election, and they haven’t spoken since then. If we continue to speak from a place of our differences we will never build healthy communities.
But, Jesus offers us a better way. Today, we are being challenged to radically change how we live and how we treat each other. If we want to build healthy and prosperous communities in this world then we need start by offering mercy to those who are different from us. We need to offer forgiveness even when we don’t think it's deserved. We need to be generous even when we will get nothing in return. We need to offer love, when the other refuses to love us. In other words, treat others like we want to be treated.
Now, these teachings do not support a wimpy and uncritical “love everybody” ethic; rather, holy living often is about doing things that turn the world upside down. This way of responding to our enemies that Jesus teaches us is a countercultural way of living. It’s upside down. It’s backwards. It’s uncomfortable beyond belief. It’s not easy.
So, I know it’s hard and I know you probably don’t believe it's possible. But today, Jesus is saying to us, live and love as I have lived and loved. Live generously! Love generously, whether it be loving yourself or others. Forgive generously, whether offering your attacker the other cheek or yourself another chance. Show mercy generously regardless of color, creed, gender, or affiliation. Give generously regardless of whether there is anything in it for you or not. What have we got to lose?
Think about it, what if we tried it? Maybe then we will get a glimpse of the world Jesus came to show us here on earth. Amen.