Two Rivers Pastoral Charge
February 24, 2019
Scripture: Luke 6:27-38
So shall we start with the easy part of today’s reading, or the hard part?
The easy verse is probably one of the best-known verses of scripture – a teaching that features in all major religions, and is the foundation of much interfaith dialogue. “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” If you read the United Church Observer, there was a recent article exploring this teaching from different religious perspectives.
And this is a key teaching from Jesus, linked with his teaching that we are to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. And it is an important teaching for living well together. If everyone were to treat everyone else in the way that they want to be treated, then the world would be a peaceful place indeed.
But Jesus’ teaching in today’s scripture reading doesn’t end there. Jesus gives us some much more difficult instructions to wrestle with. Twice in this passage, he tells us that we are to love our enemies. He says that it’s easy to love people who love us back, but that isn’t enough. We are also to love our enemies.
So my question to you today is, who is your enemy?
It’s a nebulous word, “enemy.” It’s one that we can think about in the abstract, but when we try to put a face to the word, it becomes a bit more challenging. It might mean someone that we don’t like; it might mean someone who doesn’t like us; it might mean someone who is doing something we don’t agree with, something that is cruel, something that we see as evil.
So who is your enemy? Can you put a face to your enemy? Can you love your enemy?
Can you love that person who votes for a different party than you, someone who votes for that party that you think is completely wrong?
Can you love that teenager who bullies their classmates, in-person and on-line?
Can you love the people who think that it’s OK to separate children from their parents and lock them into cages at the border?
Can you love the people who take advantage of those who are vulnerable; who abuse and assault people knowing that “the system” won’t do anything to stop them?
OK Jesus – how can you expect me to love these people? How can you expect me to love people who do such horrible things? This is a hard teaching that you are giving to us Jesus – do you really understand what you are asking us to do?
But when I think about it, Jesus does understand what he is asking us to do. We are now less than 2 months away from Holy Week. In just under 8 weeks, we are going to gather for our Good Friday service. We are going to hear about how Jesus was beaten and nailed to a cross and left to die. And we are going to hear about how Jesus, hanging there on the cross, cries out to God, “Forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.”
Jesus knows what it is like to love his enemies, to bless those who cursed him, to pray for those who abused him. Jesus knows what it is like to be merciful and to forgive. In a few short weeks, Jesus is going to live in to everything that he teaches us today.
So where does that leave us?
Because is we truly believe that we are the Body of Christ in our world, that we are the hands and feet of Christ, then we are called to live and act as Jesus did.
But the good news is that we don’t have to do it alone. The good news is that we have the Holy Spirit living in us, always transforming us more and more into the image of Christ. And the Holy Spirit, living in us, can help us to do things that would be impossible on our own.
As the start of Lent draws closer, our season of Epiphany is drawing to a close. This season of Epiphany has been a time when we have looked for how Jesus was and is revealed in the world. We’ve heard the story about how the Magi visited Jesus and recognized him as a king; the story of how Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River and a voice from heaven proclaimed that he was God’s beloved son, in whom God was well pleased; the story of how Jesus turned water into wine; the story of how Jesus called his disciples and they recognized him for who he was; stories about how he attracted crowds of people to him whenever he taught.
All through these past two months, we’ve had stories about how Christ was revealed to the world through Jesus of Nazareth.
But I believe that Christ continues to be revealed to the world today, through the Body of Christ, which includes all of us here today. Through what we do, and through how we live, we can reveal Christ to the world around us. Epiphany continues in the here and now. When the world sees us forgiving others, the world sees Christ. When the world sees us doing unto others as we would have them do unto us, the world sees Christ. When the world sees us turning away from violence rather than reacting or retaliating, the world sees Christ. When the world sees us loving our enemies, the world sees Christ.
Which brings us back to our original problem. How can we love our enemies? How can we love people who do horrible things in the world?
I have to remind myself that we aren’t told that we have to love the things that our enemies do. In fact, so many places elsewhere we are told that we are to speak out against injustice and oppression. But in this passage today, along with telling us to love our enemies, Jesus also tells us that we are not to judge.
I find that commandment a huge relief. I don’t have to judge other people. I don’t have to decide who is worthy and who is not. I don’t have to decide who to love and who to withhold love from. I don’t have to judge, and Jesus tells me to love everyone.
I want to end with a passage from one of my favourite books. I love the series of books by Madeleine L’Engle that begins with A Wrinkle in Time, and think that they are so full of good theology. In the second book, A Wind in the Door, the main character Meg is put in a situation where she has to love someone who is very unlikeable. Mr. Jenkins is the principal at the primary school – he was unfair to Meg when she was a student there, and now he is tormenting her beloved younger brother. He is abrupt, he doesn’t listen to others, he is apathetic towards the students, he has no confidence in himself, and he doesn’t tolerate anyone who deviates from what he thinks “normal” is.
And yet Meg has to love him. Her first reaction is to say, “If you mean you think I have to love Mr. Jenkins, you’ve got another think coming.”
Meg then thinks about the other people in the world she loves – her parents, her brothers, her best friend. And then she remembers seeing a kindness that Mr. Jenkins had done to her best friend. And in the end, she is able to truly see Mr. Jenkins, beyond anything that he had done or hadn’t done, she is able to see him in his full humanity, mistakes and all, and she says, “‘the only one… who’s human enough to make as many mistakes as he does is you, Mr. Jenkins’ – suddenly she gave a startled laugh. ‘And I do love you for it.’ Then she burst into tears of nervousness and exhaustion.”
We are called to love our enemies, to bless those who curse us, to pray for those who abuse us. It isn’t easy, but Jesus doesn’t say that it will be. We are called to see everyone in the world in their full humanity and love everyone. And the good news is that we don’t do it alone – the Holy Spirit working within us, working to transform us into the likeness of Christ, allows us to show Christ to the world.
Thanks be to God!