Based on: Luke 6:27-38
Written By: Rev. Kris Russell
So, does today’s scripture scare you? Listen to it from the Message version of the Bible, my favorite version. To you who are ready for the truth, I say this: Love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer for that person. If someone slaps you in the face, stand there and take it. If someone grabs your shirt, gift wrap your best coat and make a present of it. If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.
31-34 “Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them! If you only love the lovable, do you expect a pat on the back? Run-of-the-mill sinners do that. If you only help those who help you, do you expect a medal? Garden-variety sinners do that. If you only give for what you hope to get out of it, do you think that’s charity? The stingiest of pawnbrokers does that.
35-36 “I tell you, love your enemies. Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never—I promise—regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind.
37-38 “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. Don’t condemn those who are down; that hardness can boomerang. Be easy on people; you’ll find life a lot easier. Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity.”
It sure scares me. This is definitely loving wastefully, this is love writ large. It was revolutionary and radical at the time and it is radical and revolutionary now. Jesus calls us to love dramatically, completely and sacrificially. We are to love the other, the unwashed, the unwanted, the unpopular and we do it with a smile and with grace. Today’s scripture asks for radical love and I’d like to talk about radical love today. Are we brave enough to follow this example? Are we courageous enough to turn the other cheek and give our coat as well as our cloak? I know I’m not a lot of the time. So let’s talk about today’s scripture, let’s talk about our final hymn and let’s talk about loving the other.
Last time I preached we talked about Jesus and his mission statement to bring healing and light. Over the last couple weeks Diana talked about love and the delightful words of Corinthians. Love in all its shapes and colors that we’re called to emulate. Today Jesus puts a fine point on his definition of love and service. To be clear I don’t think these words necessarily ask us to put our lives in danger and to not forget wrongs but they do ask us to step out of our comfort zone and perceive differently. Instead of holding the grudge we are to hold the grace. How hard is that! I know I don’t have the capacity to follow this instruction to the letter. I forget and fuss and fume all the time, but this teaching is always there.
At the end of the service we’re going to sing the hymn “the summons” This hymn is one of my all-time favorites. I even went to an event in Humboldt County with a weekend dedicated to the words of the summons. Let’s talk a moment about this hymn. It was written in 1987 by John Bell to celebrate his entry into the Iona Community in Scotland. It’s set to an old Scottish melody called Kelvingrove and has been a favorite for progressive communities since its composition. It was even sung at the celebration of the Anglican church when ordination was open to women. The song consists of 13 questions Jesus asks of his follower and a closing stanza of the follower’s answer. The song asks us to go where we don’t know, to pull out the love God puts in our hearts and to kiss the leper. It asks us to do hard work for the kingdom of love. When we get to it today I ask you to carefully consider the questions asked of you and sing the final answer with deep introspection and a heart open to the spirit of kingdom love.
Finally, Jesus asks today to love our enemies. To do good to those who do harm to us. To live and move and function in forgiveness consciousness, in the consciousness of loving the other. And who is the other that we are called to love? I hate to tell you this, but it’s all of them! Listen to this quote from Thomas Merton as he contemplates kingdom love in the segregated era he lived in:
In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness… This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud… I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.
Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts, where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time.
-Thomas Merton 1915-1968
Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander
To see each other as they really are. To see each other that way all the time. Just who are these neighbors. Our gay neighbor, our transsexual neighbor, our atheist neighbor, our Muslim neighbor, our white supremacist neighbor, our make America great again hat wearing neighbor, our handicapped neighbor, our migrant farm worker neighbor, our illegal neighbor, our nosy neighbor, our grumpy neighbor, our alcoholic, meth addled neighbor, our homeless neighbor, our unemployed neighbor. We are to love our neighbor that doesn’t look like us, doesn’t think like us, doesn’t love like us, doesn’t speak like us, pray like us, or vote like us. This is a tall order indeed and one that Jesus as very clear about. Painfully, sacrifice your comfort clear.
So how do we do this? I certainly can’t do it on my own power. I am woefully singular and insulated on my own. It is only through the spirit that I can even come close to these directions. It is when, as Merton says, I see people as they really are, loved by God unconditionally, do I begin to see differently and openly.
I’d like to close today with a story about seeing as God sees. It’s called the rabbi’s gift. A monastery was falling on hard times. Attendance was tiny, attrition and time were taking the brothers and the buildings were falling into disrepair. One night the abbot told his assistant that he was at the end of his ideas to rebuild the monastery and decided to go into the woods and ask the rabbi who lived there about the problem. So that nigh he went to the woods in search of the rabbi. He found the rabbi reading and asked if he could speak with him. The rabbi asked what he desired. The abbot told the rabbi his problem and waited for the answer. The rabbi said “ I do not know how to solve your problem but I can tell you that one of you may be the messiah. That’s all I know.” The abbot thanked the rabbi and returned to the monastery. He quickly told his assistant and few followers what the rabbi had said. “He didn’t know what to tell us but only said that one of us may be the messiah.” The reaction was mixed. It sounded silly. Somewhat disappointed the brothers retired to bed. The brothers thought to themselves as they prepared for bed. Old brother John thought “one of us is the messiah, how silly, It can’t be brother Dan, he’s lazy and sings off key. But, he does make excellent soup, what if he’s the messiah?” Brother Edward thought to himself, it can’t be brother Michael, he snores and never helps in the gardens, but he does copy the manuscripts with a beautiful hand. What if he’s the messiah? On and on it went, so and so is this way but they are also this way. Soon the brothers began to treat each other with profound respect and love on the outside chance that one was the messiah. Soon the love and joy permeating the monastery came to the attention of the townspeople and more and more people came to watch and enjoy. More men joined because of the great love and because they treated each other and the environment with such sacred love the monastery was saved and prospered for many years.
May we look into the eyes of each of our neighbors and realize what God sees and practice that profound respect and compassion and see if we can’t rebuild and renew our part of the world. Amen.
Based on Matthew 22:15-22
Message by Gordon Barbosa
The Question about Paying Taxes
Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.
Diana Hunter is our Senior Pastor;