Genesis 45:3-11, 15
1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50
Did I Stutter?
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There is a meme out there that has Jesus on the plain teaching this passage and he gets to the point where he says, love your enemies and someone in the crowd says, “But what if they are _______________?” Jesus then says, “Did I stutter? I am going to start again and you tell me where I lost you.” I love that meme mainly because it reminds me how often I make excuses for not loving my neighbor or my enemy.
There are a lot of people who think the Bible is just a guide, a rule book, a checklist for how you are to live. If that is the case, why do we need Jesus then? Many will read this passage and think, “Well, I “love my enemies” or in the very least, “I pray for those who wish to do me harm” so I’m good, right Jesus? But I don’t think that is what Jesus is saying. I don’t think that is the point that Luke is making. Maybe if we were reading Matthew, you can make that argument, but I think Luke has nuanced this a bit. The question we should be asking ourselves, “Why is it important to love as Christians?” What separates our love from that of say a non-believer?
Martin Luther King Jr. quotes this passage in his letter from the Birmingham jail. In this letter he says, “Was Christ not an extremist for love?” Now Dr. King is not saying Jesus was just an ethical teacher. Dr. King words are far deeper in meaning. Jesus was not just a teacher of ethics—That is not the Christian message. The Christian message is that being a Christian is far more than being a nice person. As the song says, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” This idea of Love has major implications for the coming kingdom of God. And as Lutherans, we should be at the front of these discussions.
We are the ones who confess that we are justified not by our works but by God’s grace. While many have interpreted this article of our faith as a “Get out of Jail Free Card” I can assure you that it is not. There is another side of the coin and we call this sanctification. Why is important for us to care about our enemies? The simplest answer that I can give you is because it brings about the kingdom of God and God has equipped us, sanctified us, to bring about this dominion into our world today.
What will heaven look like? Lots of people, who have had near death experiences, have written many books on this topic. Some describe a white light, streets of gold, etc. But what does scripture say about the kingdom of God. Look at verses 27-31. Heaven looks like “Loving your enemies, doing good to those who hate you, blessings those who curse you, praying for those who abuse you.” Heaven looks like someone striking you on the cheek and you offering the other also. Heaven looks like you giving away not just your coat but the shirt on your back. Heaven looks like giving to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, you do not ask for anything in return. Heaven is embodiment of the golden rule: Do to others as you would have them do to you.
And I am sure there are lot of you all sitting and hearing this and thinking, “this is not how I picture heaven.” But remember, these are not my words but the words of Jesus. These words from Jesus was how Jesus lived and acted here on earth. These words from Jesus describe God’s nature. When you look for God, this is what God will be doing. Therefore, this is what the kingdom of God will look like. It will be a place where enemies will love each other, where acts of good are done to those who hate us, where violence will not be met with more violence, where the needs and wants of all are met and reciprocity is not expected.
That is the total opposite of how the world responds to people today. How do we treat our enemies? We blow them up. How do we treat those who ask for help? We turn them a way. We question their motives and ask if they are worthy of a few dollars. How do we respond to those who hurt us? We hurt them even more; we give them a proportional response. An eye for an eye. A tooth for a tooth.
Jesus is calling for a radical change in our norms and that is not always popular. I mean, imagine being in Luke’s pews, hearing this message of “Love your enemies” after your spouse, your mother, your father, your brother, your sister, your own child has been captured by the Romans and thrown into the Lions den for their faith. Are you really going to turn the other cheek? I pity anyone who would ever try to hurt my sons. I don’t think I could ever forgive that person. I have a hard time with this passage when I think about a woman living in an abusive relationship—she should not have to turn the other cheek and that is not something I believe our Lord is saying. This passage from our Lord this day is not something that can be easily summed up in a 15 minute sermon. I wish I was a baptist preacher where I had an hour to unpack all the nuances of this passage. These words require a lot of thought and reflection that cannot end after you leave this place.
You know, loving in this way, living as Christ commands us to do Luke 6, will not lead to a happier life. Well, maybe in some ways it will, but it will not be an easy life. Loving your enemy will not lead to an easier life—it might very well lead you to your death. But loving our enemy is what Jesus did and when we act in this way, Christ shines through you and me.
What if we lived our lives like it was imperative to bringing the kingdom of God to the world? What if serving your neighbor, loving your enemies, giving without question were a moral imperative because these actions bring God’s kingdom to our world? When we do these things, God’s kingdom breaks though and the world we know disappears a bit and we show a tiny glimmer of God kingdom.
There are many who are craving that the church be a place of cultural and social influence. And I want that to be the case, but only if we are willing to to go above the ethics of doing good works. Our role in society is that we point to the gospel. Because we got a lot of nice people in the world who love their neighbor and love their enemies just as Christ commands. What makes us different? What makes being a Christian so important? Well, We point to the gospel. We point to Jesus.
We talk about the man who loved his enemies. We talk about the man who did good to those who hated him. We talk about the man who blessed those who cursed him. We talk about the man who prayed for those who abused him. We talk about those moments Jesus turned the other cheek, gave up the shirt on his back, and gave to anyone who begged to him. This is how Jesus brought the kingdom of God into our world. He did all these things and we threw him on a cross. Evil intended to destroy the God’s word, but God’s kingdom is stronger than evil and God kingdom broke into our world despite evil’s best laid plan. We speak the truth even when the truth hurts and convicts us.
In an age when the church’s relevance is being questioned, it is important to remember that we are more than just a social justice organization with sacraments. Anyone can do good works. Anyone can love their enemies, do good to those who hate them, bless those who curse them, pray for those who abuse them. We, though, bring the kingdom. We bring the gospel. We point to the one who did all these things, was crucified, and rose on the third day despite this world’s best attempt to silence him. The church will lose if we think our only job is to be the ethical voice. We, first and foremost need to carry the one was beaten, battered, and killed. We need to be like God and remind the world that God is not absent, but is here and you can see God in these small, every day miracles.
God’s kingdom will continue to break into our world whether by us loving our neighbor or simply through God’s sheer will. God’s kingdom coming is not dependent on us, thanks be to God, because it ultimately would never happen. But when we act this way, we bear the divine mark of God. We imitate God. We take on the image of the divine.
Living this way will not be easy and it might easily get you killed, but you can bring a glimmer of God’s kingdom every time you treat someone with the same love you have for yourself. Better economic policies will not save our world, our community, or our church. Jesus has saved you, our community, the whole world and we have the ability to bring this good news through words and deeds. Living in this way ushers in the kingdom of God and pries Satan’s grip off our world (END) every time we do this impossible thing of loving the unlovable.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.