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Sunday message: Radical love

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8th Sunday of Epiphany – February 24, 2019

Scripture readings:

Genesis 45:3-11, 15, Psalm 37:1–11, 39–40 and Luke 6:27-38

While the Beatitudes from last week were bomb shells — each a challenge — the admonishment by Jesus to love our enemies, was also a thunder bolt. To love our enemies was not like the warm love for our families, but a concern to seek only the best for the people who insult or injure. 

How can Jesus, the Son of God, say this? It might help to bear in mind that in the ancient world, many groups believed that the community was to imitate its leader. The Jesus, that Luke introduces us to, draws on this principle when grounding the Sermon on the Plain in the 36th verse of this chapter. The community is to be merciful as God is merciful. Mercy is releasing people and circumstances from counter-accusations they deserve. Mercy is one of God’s primary qualities.

God is all about being this ‘radical love’, meaning that times when our love towards the other may seem undeserved, it makes a huge Godly difference when we do give love in spite of people who seemingly don’t ‘deserve’ our love.

There are great things that happen when the community, whom Luke wrote this gospel to, acts on these instructions of Jesus. The witnessing community extends the mercy of God — and the hope of being part of the New Realm of God — to those who otherwise face destructive lives. 

Further, when we extend mercy we find that our experience of mercy deepens as part of our present experience of God’s Realm, even if it’s only partial. 

Ultimately though, we as the church, as believers get to model the promise of the New Realm of God for other communities. They might not grasp how it can be that a person can love their enemy. 1)

People might come to you me and say, “You know, I just can’t love my enemy.” I would reply, “You are absolutely right, neither can I.” Now that we are in the same boat there is only one way we can do this and that is with supernatural help. That’s why the only way to reach this way of life is through the discipline of prayer. Pray for those who hurt you. Can you do that? You know you are moving along on this thing when you get to the point you can pray for your enemies.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer — World War II — fighting Hitler, decided to leave the safety of America and to go back to Germany and lead a church in the resistance movement against the Nazi regime. It cost him his life. But Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in that great book The Cost of Discipleship, “We are approaching an age of widespread persecution. Our adversaries seek to root out the Christian Church because they cannot live side by side with us. So what shall we do? We shall pray. It will be a prayer of earnest love for those who stand around and gaze at us with eyes aflame with hatred, and who have perhaps already raised their hands to kill us.” What will we do? We can pray. Why not? Why not a better way of life? 2)

Once again, this better way of life would only be possible if God does this in us. It just isn’t our making. In a great sense we are conduits of God’s mercy and that is why our love reaches beyond the regular boundaries.

There certainly is a huge void to fill if we actually entertain that we are the means by which God works in the world and then put Jesus’s words into practice. 

What if we took Jesus’ words to heart and actually lived them? What if we did not downgrade Jesus’ sayings in this passage to just aspirations of what’s possible but believed them to be activities that might indeed make God’s New Realm palpable?

Somebody recently tweeted, “Jesus didn’t call it ‘social justice.’ He simply called it Love. If we would only Love our neighbors beyond comfort, borders, race, religion and other differences that we’ve allowed to be barriers, ‘social justice’ would be a given. Love makes justice happen.

— Be A King (@BerniceKing)

Would there be resistance against me saying this? Once we start down this road, the road that actually prescribes ways to live because of faith, all kinds of warning signals start to flash and blink and we will have to decide how to navigate them. 

A reminder that this is a continuation of the Sermon on the Plain might be in order. We are all on equal footing here. This is not a competition or the means by which to compare your discipleship to others. Rather, would these words of Jesus perhaps be a vision for what is possible, for what should be, were we to have Jesus’ sermon at Nazareth in mind; were we to have Mary’s Magnificat in mind?

And so, maybe we do not cast this part of Jesus’ teachings on the level plain as rules but as that which results from the song of his mother and his first sermon. In other words, we cannot NOT love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, bless those who curse us, pray for those who abuse us. We cannot NOT do to others as we would have them do to us. We cannot NOT be merciful, just as God is merciful. We are not asked to or called to judge. We are asked to forgive. We are charged to imagine the measure we give as that which we will get back. This may indeed be hard work. 3) 

In The Grace of Giving, Stephen Olford tells of a Baptist pastor during the American Revolution, Peter Miller, who lived in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, and enjoyed the friendship of George Washington. In Ephrata also lived Michael Wittman, an evil-minded sort who did all he could to oppose and humiliate the pastor. One day Michael Wittman was arrested for treason and sentenced to die. Peter Miller traveled seventy miles on foot to Philadelphia to plead for the life of the traitor.

“No, Peter,” General Washington said. “I cannot grant you the life of your friend.”

“My friend!” exclaimed the old preacher. “He’s the bitterest enemy I have.”

“What?” cried Washington. “You’ve walked seventy miles to save the life of an enemy? That puts the matter in different light. I’ll grant your pardon.” And he did.

Peter Miller took Michael Wittman back home to Ephrata — no longer an enemy but a friend. 4)

Let’s remember Jesus’ words: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” 5)

We now have a minute of silent reflection.

Amen

  1. Ronald J. Allen, Commentary on Luke 6:27-38 on workingpreacher.org
  2. J. Howard Olds, Radical Love is Risky (Series: Radical Love in a Risky World) from sermons.com 
  3. Karoline Lewis, Simple rules, from Craft of Preaching at workingpreacher.org 
  4. From sermonillustrations.com, under “Love of enemies”
  5. Luke 6:36, NRSV

 

Copyright 2019 – Heinrich Grosskopf, Minister of Dayspring Presbyterian Church

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