Sermons

Genesis 45:3-11, 15; 1 Corinthians 15:35-38,42-50; Luke 6:27-38; Psalm 37:1-12, 41-42

An ethic of vengeance demands an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.  Do unto others as they have done unto you. The outcome of such an ethic, as the saying goes, leaves the whole world blind and toothless.

 

The Golden Rule demands we treat others in the way we wish they would treat us.  The King James translation reads, “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you: do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.”

 

The problem with both of these ethical frameworks is that they are reciprocal.  That is, the way we are to treat one another is based either on how we have been treated, or how we would like to be treated.  

 

 

In the second half of the Sermon on the Plain we heard this morning, Jesus tells his followers to love their enemies, act well toward those who hate them, bless those who curse them, pray for those who abuse them, to turn the other cheek, and to offer their shirt to the one who steals their coat.  

 

And then comes the golden rule. “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

 

But Jesus follows the Golden Rule with the argument that there is nothing righteous about only loving those who love us; doing good to those who do good to you; lending only to those who can repay.

 

So it’s a bit confusing, then, for Jesus to suggest doing to others as we would have done to us, but then arguing that such a reciprocal arrangement is not the way we are called to live.

 

This reciprocal nature of relationship with each other often gets transferred onto our relationship with God.  That is, do what God wants, in order that God might do what we want.

 

That is, in fact,where this morning’s Gospel seems to leave us.  Love your enemies, do good and lend without expecting a return….why?  Your reward will be great.

 

As a child, that’s what I always thought we meant in the Lord’s prayer when we pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

 

I thought that meant either, “Hey God, look how good at forgiving I’ve been, you better forgive me.” Or God saying to me, “Jeff, I have been tracking your forgiveness.  Here’s the same amount of forgiveness from me to you in exchange.”

 

So this transactional nature of love and forgiveness is all over the place in scripture.  So what’s the issue?

 

I do not believe God asks us simply to treat others how we have been treated or even how we would like them to treat us.  I think God invites us to something greater.

 

I believe God asks us to treat others as God would treat them; to love others as God would love them; to forgive others as God would forgive them.

 

Which is to treat them with Love; to love them with abundance; to forgive them without limits.

 

Jesus ends his teaching in this Gospel story by saying that “God is kind to those who are without kindness and are evil.”

This is a difficult teaching to hear.  It doesn’t seem fair. It doesn’t seem just.  It doesn’t seem right.

 

But that’s the practice to which Jesus invites us.  That is the discipline to which God calls us.

 

And the point of this practice, this discipline, isn’t that others might treat us differently, and it isn’t so God will treat us any differently.

 

It is so we will know the abundant grace and love that is there, waiting for us, available to us all the time, no matter how we behave.  No matter, even, how we are treating one another, or even how we are treating God.

 

How we treat one another doesn’t change God, it changes us.

 

We can raise a lot of arguments to Jesus’ invitation to answer insult and injury with grace and love and healing.

 

These instructions to meet violence with peace and hatred with love sound weak to our western and modern ears.

 

But God does not mean for us to give up justice for peace.

 

As newspaper editor William Allen White wrote, “Peace without justice is tyranny.”

 

These invitations to a radical practice of God’s love in daily life are not commands to remain in relationships of abuse or excuses to those who abuse.

 

They are, however, keys to freeing ourselves from the habitual and instinctual cycle of retribution.  It is a freedom that leads to restoration, to healing and to wholeness.

 

But being the one to stop the cycle means being the one to name it, and to feel the weight of it.  Trauma is passed, one generation to the next, until someone makes the courageous choice to stop it.

 

There is a quote about generational trauma that states, “Pain travels through families until someone is ready to feel it.”

 

Ask anyone who has made an effort to stop passing on family trauma and they will tell you hard hard it is, and also how utterly freeing hope-filled and life giving.

 

This country is a hard place right now precisely because we are engaged in a struggle between continuing in a pattern of a transactional, retribution-based, do unto others way of being and stopping the generational inheritances of misogyny, racism, classism and the many other institutional ways we continue to hurt one another while claiming the Golden Rule as our guide.

 

And, let’s be clear.  If you are not feeling the pain of oppression, you are either complicit in it, or you enjoy the privilege of being blissfully unaware of it.

 

We do not want to feel this pain.  We do not want to turn the other cheek.  But if we refuse to feel it, we will have no choice but to pass it on.

 

That is the lesson these times in which we are living is trying to teach us.  It is a lesson the Church has failed to learn and must before another generation receives its inheritance.

 

It is a lesson that must learned in board rooms, in classrooms and on sports teams before another generation of leaders receives its inheritance.  

 

And it is a lesson that government officials, public safety departments, school departments must learn.

 

It is a lesson we must learn in our own lives before we pass it along to the next generation who will then have to decide whether to do the painful work of healing or to pass the pain on to yet another generation.

It is a lesson Joseph tried to teach his brothers in the reading from Genesis, Jesus tried to teach his followers and God keeps trying to teach us.

 

Do not treat one another as you have been treated.  Do not treat each other even as you would like to be treated.  Do not treat each other as you believe they deserve to be treated.

 

Treat others, no exceptions, as God treats them; As God treats you.  

 

Treat one another with a love that is abundant; with a peace that is just; with a compassion that is boundless.

 

I want you to try this, if you will, for a week, a day, even an hour.

 

Pray for someone for whom you have no respect. Someone who you believe stands against everything for which you stand, who works against everything you care about.

 

Leaving vengeance, retribution and wrath aside, what might the God who loves them want for them?  Not simply to agree with you. What might God feel toward them, want for them, hope for them?

 

Can you pray for that?  For a week? For a day? For an hour?

 

Maybe it sounds impossible, but I assure you it isn’t.  That’s what being followers of Christ gives us -- not just an example of getting it done, but the gift of love and grace that allows us to dare do it in the first place, and to get it done.  Remember, as we learned last week, in between each one of us is nothing less than the body of Christ.

 

That is what binds us one to another. And the Body of Christ binds us together without regard to how we feel about one another.  The body of Christ is there, whether we choose to see it or not.

 

With Christ as your guide, Love your enemies.  With Christ as your strength, Pray for those who persecute you.

 

It’s the only way anything will change in this world.  Truly, it’s the only way anything ever has.

 

AMEN.

 

© 2019 The Reverend Jeffrey W. Mello

Click to login to St. Paul's Realm

Don't enter user/password below for Realm.


Below is for St. Paul's website login only

Website Login

Subscribe

Get weekly newsletter emailed to you each week!


catchme refresh