And another thing…

Posted by secondchurch on February - 25 - 2019

 

Easter is later than usual this year.  As a result, we have more Sundays after the Epiphany than we usually have before Lent begins.  And as a result of that, this passage from Luke is not one that is often heard.  That may be surprising to you, since its themes sound so familiar.  And they are, of course.  These verses are a continuation of Luke’s version of Jesus’ preaching to his disciples and a large crowd of followers.  Last Sunday I spoke about the first section of Jesus’ sermon – the Beatitudes that are recorded in both Matthew and Luke – “the blessed are…s”  Today, again recorded in both Matthew and Luke, are words that one might say were an example of hyperbole – Jesus, perhaps inspired by the moment, given to a little embellishment or exaggeration as to what it means if you intend to commit to Christian discipleship.  That’s why the title of today’s sermon is “And Another Thing!” as if Jesus has gotten a little wound up in his rhetoric and wants to make some dramatic, demanding points.

 

Am I being disrespectful? Perhaps.  But not any more disrespectful than those of us who claim to be disciples, while thinking to ourselves – no one really expects us to do all that Jesus suggested.  That’s just not reasonable.

 

A few weeks ago I mentioned a closed Facebook group of UCC women clergy to which both Leah and I belong.  From time-to-time, a clergy colleague will post a story that seems to penetrate the more glib counsel that tends to trend.  This week was one of those times.  Though I know this woman’s name, I don’t know any more about her than what she has shared.  I don’t know where she lives or anything about the church she serves.  Even so, I am changing a few details in her story to further protect her privacy.

 

Hello all…would love your thoughtful responses to this as I struggle with the gospel text for this week. Recently my son was the victim of an assault. It happened at a small local watering hole that he frequents with friends. Yes, there is beer involved but also they make good chicken wings and there’s Karaoke on Friday nights. During a recent visit there were apparently some known members of a 1%er biker gang in attendance. (In this case, 1% refers to the 1% of motorcycle groups that choose to be outlaws… meaning NOT law abiding.)  On a recent night, they targeted my son for whatever reason. He is a tall, thin, lanky guy, not very muscular.

 

He went to use the restroom and one of the group stood in front of the door so he couldn’t get out (the door opens out into the larger room.) When he finally shoulder slammed the door to get out, my son admits that he did yell at the guy, and he swore at him.  Apparently there was some shouting back and forth for a while and my son decided to go outside to get away from it for a bit. He should have taken someone with him. 

 

I don’t know much about the details after that point. He was confronted outside and the yelling probably continued but in the end someone struck him in the face on his jaw and chin and he dropped to the ground unconscious. He did not throw any punches nor could he retaliate. There were some witnesses at a distance, so 911 was called and he was transported to a local hospital. He then was transported to a larger city hospital where x-rays confirmed a broken jaw requiring surgery the following day. He remembers nothing except waking up in the ambulance. Thankfully there were no head injuries or anything more serious. 

 

We know that a knife or gun could have been involved instead, so, we are grateful for this outcome. But he is in a lot of pain. Eating only soft foods and worrying about the upcoming medical bills. He does have insurance but a large deductible under the Affordable Care Act. 

 

Once able to speak to the officer assigned to the case, he was told that they could investigate and pursue who did this and have them arrested. However, the officer offered a word of extreme caution…. because this is a 1%er group, he said he would be very concerned for my son’s safety and the safety of his family. He still lives with us at home. For now he is choosing not to pursue it but feeling quite a bit frustrated by that.

 

Having shared all this, perhaps you now see the struggle of preaching this portion of Jesus’ sermon, with his teachings of loving your enemies and offering your other cheek to one who strikes you. A little too close to home at the moment. Obviously one option is to avoid it all together and preach on something else. But it isn’t my style to avoid the difficult passages of scripture. In many ways it feels ironically timely. 

 

I can certainly pray for the person who did this. In a pastoral way, I can try to imagine what his life has been like that he needed to find companionship, belonging, and power in such a group willing to commit violent acts.  Is it mercy to not pursue this further? Frankly, the decision not to pursue a legal remedy is being made more out of fear of continuing retribution and further harm.  Forgiveness? harder to come by but certainly never conditional on receiving some sense of remorse on the part of the perpetrator. I think of all the parents whose innocent children have been murdered.

 

So, sisters, any words of wisdom here? It seems the sermon should be more about the struggle because this is hard enough without a real life recent and personal example.  Yes, violence and retribution only bring about more violence. So perhaps that is the act of resistance, as opposed to defining it as weak surrender. That may be a hard sell for my son at the moment. And what responsibility do we have for seeking justice, and when do we simply have to trust that justice will be served in God’s time and let it go?

 

This woman, a woman I don’t know but who could so easily have been any mom I do know, wondering how to preach on a text that cuts too close to the bone, has asked the very questions that remind us that to actually be a disciple is much more difficult than to self-identify as Christian.  Perhaps you have never been a victim of a serious physical assault, and so you have not had to summon the courage to act on Jesus’ commandment to pray for those who abuse you, while you can actually still feel the pain in your bruised or torn body.  Perhaps no one hates you, or at least no one that you know hates you, so you have never had to actually summon the will to do something good for that person.  It would be difficult to believe you’ve never encountered a begging person, a pan-handler, someone who has asked you for whatever change you can spare, but for those of us who have encountered such a person, have we given money? The jacket we were wearing?  Have we actually asked the beggar “what do you need?”  Have we loaned something to someone, not expecting it to come back but loaning it anyway?  Have we forgiven every harm done to us? Every slight? Every insult?

 

My Facebook ministerial colleague received pages and pages of responses. Some of them were a little too self-protective for my taste.  Others were bold in their assertions.  All of them, every single one, acknowledged in one way or another that what Jesus said as he was preaching to his followers out there on the plain was almost impossibly demanding. Did Jesus really mean those things?  Did he really mean that we are not to judge another person – any other person? Did he have any idea how hard that would be?

 

He did.  Yes, of course he did.  Just listen again – if you love someone who already loves you, what credit is that to you?  If you do good things for those people who have already done good things for you, what credit is that to you?  Anyone can do that.  But you, you need to do the harder thing.

 

We have all been hurt in varying degrees of severity.  It’s part of being human, living in the world with other humans.  Our motives have been questioned, our decisions challenged.  We have been in the wrong place at the wrong time, some of us, and have been the victims of someone else’s pathology.  Some of us don’t look or act the way our culture advertises.  We have been selfish with one thing or another.  We have intentionally withheld kindness.  We have condemned and judged persons personally – not just what they have done but who they are.  In some of those instances, we have felt self-righteous, because we know, we just absolutely know we are better people than they.  We have done the very opposite of those things Jesus told us we should do.

 

Here’s the point of living a life of faith, at least the life of Christian faith, which is the one to which we aspire – it doesn’t matter what we know.  It matters what we choose.  It doesn’t matter that others have done bad things – even to us – even to those we love.  It matters how we respond.  It doesn’t matter who we admire or emulate or who we distrust or misapprehend.  It matters who God loves, and we believe, don’t we, that God loves everyone, for God IS love.  Jesus was trying to say that we are to love those who God loves.  When we choose to love those who God loves, we are choosing to love God.

 

And another thing, Jesus never said it would be easy.  Amen.

Luke 6:27-38

Sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Carla J. Bailey, February 24, 2019

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