Preached on Feb. 19, 2017
The gospel reading this morning is a part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. And like other portions which we have been reading over the past few Sundays, it makes us wonder if Jesus is really serious about what he says,
Do not resist an evildoer. Really?
But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; C’mon.
and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; In the winter?
Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. Get real.
Tom Long, of Emory University, in his commentary on this section of Jesus’ teaching says,
“It boggles the mind to think about living out this example literally in contemporary society. Imagine a Christian in New York City who got up one morning and decided to do what Jesus says here: to turn the other cheek, to give to every beggar, and to respond to every lawsuit by settling out of court for double the amount. This person would be broke, homeless, and in the emergency room of Bellevue Hospital before noon!”
But if that weren’t enough, Jesus finishes this part of his sermon with a bang:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
I can hear the objections of Jesus’ audience—then and now: Impossible.
How can we possibly love our enemies? And besides, what’s love got to do with it anyway?
Jesus is describing what the kingdom of heaven is like—where there will be no more crying or sorrow, no more pain or violence, only pure love. We pray “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” And sometimes, our prayer is answered. We get glimpses of God’s heavenly kingdom here on earth. Some people have helped make God’s kingdom come on earth by showing us how to live by Jesus’ radical words.
Mahatma Gandhi, a leader who employed nonviolent civil disobedience to lead India to independence and inspired movements for civil rights and freedom across the world, said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
Mother Teresa, now St. Teresa was a nun and missionary who showed her love to the poorest of poor in Calcutta. As a reporter watched her clean the maggot-infested wound of a man on the street, he said, “I wouldn’t do what you do for a million dollars.” Mother replied, with a bit of a wry smile, “Neither would I.”
Martin Luther King, Jr., a minister who inspired and led the Civil Rights movement for African Americans with non-violent civil disobedience, said, “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”
We recognize extraordinary people-Gandhi, Mother Teresa and MLK-can love as Jesus did, but how do we?
What’s love got to do with it anyway? Everything. For without love, none of this is possible.
This week, I have seen ordinary people’s ordinary acts of love make an extraordinary difference in lives.
Jesus says, but I say to you…if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also;
A strike on the cheek can be a serious issue of abuse, so I don’t want to suggest that if you are being hit at home, you should turn the cheek and take more. Jesus did not endorse violence, but advocated for love.
So we can think about other ways to read this today.
If you receive an email or a text or see a facebook post or a tweet that is mean and hurtful, it is so easy—too easy to reply instantly-before you can think twice-with a mean and hurtful retaliatory reply.
A woman was having a hard time being on facebook, there were just so many angry and mean spirited posts about the candidate she supported. She was tempted to reply with just as much anger and hurtfulness. But, instead, she put on a post about love—nonjudgmental, inclusive, and kind—and it changed the conversation—at least for a day.
Jesus says, but I say to you…if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well;
Out coat keeps us warm and comfortable. Taking off our coat is stepping out of our comfort zone. Monday night, a group of youth gathered together at the church with Melanie and a couple of adults, prepared a meal, and went to the Pleasant Valley Men’s Shelter on the north side, in a neighborhood that looks and feels different than our own—in effect, they took off their coat, went out of their comfort zone—and served a meal to the homeless. They also took small red paper hearts, on which were written some messages of love, and they put them beside the plates of every man. So, the men were not just served food, but love.
Jesus says, but I say to you…if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.
My 15-year old son Christian is on the Quaker Valley basketball team. They are required to run and do drills in practice that amounts to running a mile (at least). They have had a full season—beginning in November—and just made the play-offs. But, that was not enough for the coach. He didn’t just want them to be good players, but good people. He, with some parents, organized a service day. On Saturday, we went to the Allegheny Valley School in Coraopolis, a home for adults and children with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Most were in wheelchairs and could not speak. But that did not stop the boys. They helped the residents make valentines and play games and have a good time. They shared their time and they shared their love.
Jesus says, but I say to you…Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
I met someone this week, he came to see me to tell me about his organization that gives money to people in need. Local families who have experienced cancer diagnoses, unemployment, or in the most recent case, the fire that destroyed the Milbert family’s house and took the life of their daughter Hannah. He collects money from people he knows who have big hearts (and not so small wallets) and he gives it away to people in need…even before they can ask. He is living his faith through generous acts of love.
Jesus says, But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
This is the hardest of them all. It’s one thing to love people we know or who are innocent victims in need in some way. But, the hardest thing to do is to love our enemies or those who have hurt us.
I admit that I am not as diligent as I used to be about reading the newspaper every day, or listening to NPR, or checking the Associated Press app on my cellphone. The news is just so overwhelmingly bad and frustrating and depressing to make it part of my daily routine. After all, my job is to keep faith and hope and love alive!
But, as a concerned citizen of this country, I do try to stay informed—every couple of days. And so, on Monday, Feb. 13, I read the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. In the main section, I read some local news...it was bad. And then national news…it was getting worse. And then I ventured onto the International page. Here were the headlines: Brazils’ huge corruption scandal spreading to the rest of Latin America… Police brutality protests turn violent in Paris…North Korean nuclear test aggravates concerns in Washington… Slow going for Turkish backed forces in northern Syria. But in the midst of such grim news, I saw a picture that captured my attention. It was a picture of man painting a long line of hearts red on a street. The caption read: An Iraqi Kurdish man spray-paints hearts Sunday in anticipation of Valentine’s Day in a street in Arbil, the capital of the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq. This picture was worth a thousand words. Here in a part of the world that has known such hostility and war, was a man who refused to give into hate. He was painting hearts, and the red paint was spilling over onto the street. In a place and time of hate, with a simple, some might say foolish gesture, he was witnessing to the power of love.
As I recalled the words of MLK, , “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word,” I was filled with faith and hope and love all over again.
What’s love got to do with it? Everything. Ordinary people performing ordinary acts of love have the power to change the world for good, one place, one person, one heart at a time.