2022-02-20 Epiphany 7
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen!
Our Lord’s Sermon on the Plain, the ‘Little Sermon on the Prairie,’ the Saskatchewan Sermon, continues this week where we left off last time. Our Lord Jesus’ totally radical teachings about God’s Kingdom. So completely other-worldly are His teachings that many cannot behold such brilliant light, shining in the darkness. Today we arrive at the hardest teaching of all of our Lord’s teachings. The greatest challenge in all the Bible, in all theology, in the entire Christian life is laid out before us today: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (LK 6:27).
What does this mean, little Lutherans, what does this mean? It means that Jesus continues to flip the world upside down with His new and radical teachings about love. This all hinges of course on if His disciples have ears to hear Him. Will they accept the light or will they embrace the darkness. The darkness of our human condition is measured in justice. Hostility is met with retaliation. Kindness, on the other hand, is met with kindness. You love your friends but if that person stabs you in the back, one generally responds in kind. Friends become enemies. But Jesus’ teachings are radically different than our normal way of doing business. He overturns human logic by saying the disciples must operate not in the realm of worldly justice but instead in the realm of heavenly grace. No mean, nasty, hostilities can allow them to turn from our Lord’s commandment to love and do good to all people. This kind of wild and crazy heavenly love has no limits, no boundaries, no fences, just like the agape love of God.
Henceforth and thusly, the followers of Christ must love their enemies instead of looking for ways to retaliate or do harm should an opportunity arise. To the contrary. To walk in the light of heaven is to “do good to those who hate you.” If your neighbour curses you, invokes wrath and darkness upon you, the Christian response is not like retaliation. The answer is benediction and blessing. “Pray for those who abuse you” Jesus says. If your neighbour strikes you on the cheek, our Lord tells us to “offer the other also” (LK 6:29). It is an expression of total non-retaliation. The same thing goes for theft. To the one who takes your winter parka, give him your bunnyhug also! A disciple of Christ is firstly a disciplined one, under control of the spirit with an unshakable inner peace. A Christian is so far from retaliation that he heaps up gifts on an agitator! “Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back” (6:30).
This is crazy stuff in the eyes of the world. It completely and utterly betrays our sense of human justice. From the time we are 2 years old, toddling around, we are instinctively stealing toys from the other 2 year olds! “Mine!” we yell. But Jesus says a German “Nein!” to our sinful Mine! Our Lord appeals to the heart. He hopes to jolt His disciples into an interior revolution. A total eclipse of the sinful heart. Complete transformation and sanctification through the Holy Spirit. He trains us to do the unexpected, the complete opposite of what we want to do in our sinful nature. Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth is traded up in Jesus for grace, mercy and forgiveness. Otherwise we would all enter into God’s Kingdom blind and toothless! … Sounds a lot like a family reunion in Regina and nobody wants that!
There was a boy who was being bullied badly in school. He wasn’t the smartest kid or the most handsome one either. He was kind of slow and clumsy. He was smaller and scrawny compared to the other boys in his class. In other words, he was the perfect target for harassment. He couldn’t retaliate because he was no match for the other kids in his class. He continued on a downward spiral of sadness and helplessness that made the others bully him more.
One day the pastor of his church found him crying after Sunday School. The boy explained the situation when the Pastor asked him what was wrong. Knowing there was no “Schwarzenegger Solution” to this problem of simply beating up the boy’s assailants, the Pastor suggested the boy repay their evil with good. Whenever they picked on him, he would do something nice in return. For one bully, he offered a ride home on his bike when the bully’s bike was stolen from the school. With another bully, he shared his lunchtime dessert. A third one he helped do his homework. As you can imagine, this kindness response actually made everything worse. They picked on him all the more! But he didn’t give up. Before long, the bullying ceased. The boys that made his life a living hell now accepted him as a friend. It is a good reminder that “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (JN 1:5).
The next part of our Lord’s Saskatchewan Sermon on the Plain is a shift in direction from response, to direct action. He lays down for us the famous golden rule:“And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them” (6:31). Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The famous rule of rules that outlines the sociological ethic of human group life. Or more simply put, “how not to be a bonehead to others.” Jesus is calling us to rise up, to live life on the higher plane of grace. Loving one’s enemies, like the way the little school boy did, is almost certainly a recipe to be repaid in hatred. So the temptation is always then to limit love to our friends. But Jesus warns us about that. “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same” (LK 6:32-33). Or in other words, “I’ll scratch your back and you scratch mine.”
Here, Jesus shows us the way of light. Doing good to all people, even those who are not your friends. Loving enemies, doing good to them, lending money, putting yourself out there, expecting nothing in return. Extending grace in Jesus’ teaching isn’t for the hope of getting back either. There is no karma in Jesus’ teaching. Rather goodness is motivated by the the grace of God. It is manifested by the mercy of God, just as God Himself is “is kind to the ungrateful and the evil” (6:35). Compassion to the uncompassionate. Merciful to the unmerciful. Love to the unloving. This is how Christ is to us. He suffered and died willingly on the cross for all people and all nations to illustrate exactly this point. From the faithful to the scoffers, grace was extended to all.
So what does this mean, little Lutherans, what does this mean? It is by far the hardest of Christ’s teachings. But it truly is a teaching that stands the world on its head. Forgiveness for those who hurt us. Blessing for those who curse you. Prayer for those who wrong us. Give to those who are reluctant to give to you. For every wrong, return righteousness. If they offer you misery, you offer back mercy. For every heartache and headache given, you give back peace and love. Their firey words are met with words of compassion. Give to them what they won’t give to you. This is what Joseph did for his brothers in Egypt. And this is what Christ has done for you and for me and indeed for this whole world.
Our text for today ends this way: “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; 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” (LK 6:37-38). Here we see that it is impossible to out-give God. This goes for everything in life from money to grace to loving our neighbours. It is measured back to us in the same way we give. Overcome evil with goodness. Be the light of God’s ways in our dark world. Amen!