February 24, 2019 Series: Lectionary
Topic: Biblical Verse: Luke 6:27–6:38
Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany[i]
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
Things look different around here. For the next several weeks while updates are underway in the current sanctuary, we’re worshiping in the space that was St. John’s original sanctuary. And things won’t just look different, they’ll feel different. We’ve had to change the way we do some things. We’re in chairs instead of pews, with somewhat less capacity for seating. We don’t have our majestic pipe organ to accompany the hymns we sing. We’ll be receiving Holy Communion via a continuous style without gathering together around the altar. But an important thing remains unchanged: God still calls us together as His people to receive His gifts.
While we might be in a different setting this week, something else has carried over from last weekend: our Gospel reading from Luke 6 continues Jesus’ “sermon on the plain.” In last week’s section of this text, Jesus spoke of how those who would follow him are declared “blessed,” even though in unexpected ways. By God’s grace, His people are blessed even though they would seem to be least in the sight of the world. As his sermon continues this week, Jesus now goes on to teach how his people are to live out this new identity they have as children of God. Jesus calls his hearers to action as they follow him. You and I are numbered among those hearers. And once again, life as Jesus’ disciple is going to appear odd in the sight of the world.
Things look different around here. If someone does you wrong, what’s the natural response? Do it right back to them, or more! Why should they be allowed to get away with whatever offense they’ve committed? They should feel the pain they’ve caused, right? That’s how it works in the world. People even proclaim that the Bible recommends “eye for an eye” justice – but that’s not talking about what those folks think. God was limiting the violence and pain of our broken world: “this far, no further.” And in Christ, He responds in a very different direction that our world would expect. Jesus teaches the people that life as children of God isn’t the usual turnabout, parties taking turns in hurting each other or doing each other wrong. In fact, it’s a turn-around, and about-face from they way of the world. How are Christians, Jesus’ followers, to respond to evil? By doing good!
People can – and do – do evil. That’s not news. People commit any number of offenses against their fellow human beings, some more serious than others. Someone has likely done something hurtful to you. As Jesus speaks to his hearers in this sermon the plain, he’s particularly speaking of the hardship and evil that people will face as they follow him through life as a Christian. Jesus isn’t setting aside civil justice or the need to defend both neighbor and self from the evil that others would do. And neither is he setting limits. He’s turning our natural, turnabout response to the evil people do us upside-down. In our country, we may never know the kind of persecution that the people of the early church did. All the same, you are an enemy of the world if you follow Jesus. And we Christians are to repay evil with good. As Jesus says, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”
Jesus cares about how you treat people. All people. That includes your relatives and friends, along with your other neighbors and coworkers, even strangers and other people you’ve never meet – even those who would do you wrong. Here’s a neat thing: this applies to us both individually and together as the Church. Those first commands that Jesus gives his hearers, they’re all in the plural. To put it in more sophisticated terms, he’s saying, “All y’all do this!” My people, all y’all love your enemies. All y’all do good to those who hate you. All y’all bless those who curse you. All y’all pray for those who mistreat you. This is to be our standard operating procedure as the Church. Jesus then moves into singular verbs, giving each of us specific instruction about how we’re to interact with our neighbors, even those who do evil to us because we follow him. He caps it off with what’s known as the “Golden Rule:” “And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” And here’s the thing about the Golden Rule that I think many people misunderstand: you don’t treat people well so that they treat you well in return. Jesus tells us to do good to others because that’s how we’re meant to live, period. Show people love. It doesn’t matter if they’re friends or enemies.
But how might all y’all love your enemies? Here’s some happy news: if you’ve been listening to the concepts of Joining Jesus on His Mission around our congregation, you already know how! And even if you haven’t, it’s still straightforward. Love people through concrete actions of doing good to them. Give without expecting payback. Help them. Show them kindness. And minister to them through prayer. Pray for them – they need it just as much as you do. If you have the chance, pray with them, and demonstrate the love that God has for them, even as He loves you. Show who – and how – God is.
Look to the example of Joseph, who showed forgiveness to the brothers who wished hum dead and gone, who even sold him off to a life of servitude. Joseph stood as God’s representative to them, holding the lives of their families in his hand. He showed mercy, and grace. Instead of punishing them, he welcomed them in as his own people and shared with them the blessings God had given him. God’s people represent Him to the world.
As Jesus continues his sermon on the plain, he calls his hearers to imitate our Father in heaven. God is merciful, and gracious. Show love to others, even those who hate you, by imitating the Father’s kindness to you. Don’t pay them back in a turnabout of hate for hate, but do the good to them that they do not deserve. That’s just what God has done for you!
Things look different around here. The world constantly judges; it cannot be the same with us. As people redeemed by Christ, do not be judging others. Listen to your Savior’s words. I think there’s a popular perception of Christians as being judging people, in part because we have not followed our Lord’s instruction. Just after today’s reading, the sermon on the plain continues as Jesus says, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.” (6:41-42)
God delights in showing mercy, not condemnation. God is unlike human beings – and thanks be to God for that! In Jesus, we experience God’s mercy. Jesus came not only to teach, but even more importantly, to rescue. The Father sent His Son to humanity that had rejected him and constantly done evil. Jesus sacrificed himself for them, even as that evil was focused on him in his suffering and death. And with his resurrection, Jesus turned everything upside-down again. Because of Christ, the Father doesn’t judge you. You are redeemed in him.
Characterized by mercy and forgiveness, you get to go out and show God’s character to this world. You can forgive. You can love. Because you are forgiven. Because you are loved.
You’ll need the Holy Spirit’s empowerment and support to love others, especially those who hate you. You and I can’t do that on our own because it’s not the way of the world. This kind of turn-about requires supernatural effort. Forgiveness, mercy, and grace come from God. And it’s only because we get them from God that we can share them with our neighbor.
Jesus turns the world upside-down and turns it around, bringing people back to God. Following Jesus, you and I get to be a part of that transformation of lives as we treat others with His love.
Things look different around here. And may that always be so!
[i] Passage for memory:
“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. – Luke 6:27-28