Last Sunday we welcomed Leigh Weber to worship. Leigh is a seminary student and our preacher for the day. Later that day I got an e-mail from Leigh that read: I had a WONDERFUL time worshiping with your congregation. The light streaming through those beautiful windows, the hymns you chose and being able to celebrate the Eucharist with you all…God was at work in the blessings! Thanks so much for the invitation to preach and to meet your gracious community. I look forward to seeing you in the future.
On Monday I met with Mel Kroeger. You remember Mel; she is also a seminary student and she preached her first sermon here a few weeks ago. She also happened to be here last Sunday and I met her for coffee on Monday. And she said, Scott, I love worshiping at Lakeridge. I always feel welcome and you all try hard to include everyone.
Feels good to hear that, doesn’t it? I hope you hear these gracious words of affirmation and are encouraged by them! Jesus said to welcome the stranger and so we work at it. Creating gracious space, providing hospitality is at the heart of our mission statement and at the center of what it means to be Christian.
On the other hand, it’s not that hard to take a shine to people who say nice things about us, right? But in today’s reading from Matthew Jesus says, If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that!
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…” It’s easy to love those who love us and say nice things about us! And to that, Jesus seems to say, Big deal!
You have heard that it was said… Jesus takes popular opinion, conventional wisdom, tradition, even religious teaching, and turns it all on its head. What have you heard said that you have taken to heart? What have you heard said on the TV, on the radio, on the Internet? What have you heard said by your parents, your teachers, your pastors, your friends, your political party? What traditions or habits of thought, word, or deed do you hold sacred? What are you so sure you believe that you cannot imagine letting it go? What are the rules you live by? Today’s readings are all about God’s rules, God’s commandments, God’s laws. But the bottom line for all God’s laws is just this: love.
It’s hard to talk about love without thinking about what we’ve “heard it said” love is. I was in the store looking for an anniversary card for my wife this past week. Mostly what I found was row after row of drippy, gooey, sentimental, warm-fuzzy mush. You have heard it said that this is what love is!
Jesus’ teaching is quite different. You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you…If anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well…Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. Not very sentimental or warm-fuzzy! Are these the rules we live by?
Tax season is upon us and I met with our tax guy this past week. He’s been preparing our taxes for almost twenty years now. When we meet, though, it’s never just about taxes. It’s not all business. He’s a Christian so we end up talking about personal issues, including faith issues. I don’t remember what we were talking about exactly this past week but at one point he said, I am so tired of people talking about personal rights. I want to hear people talk about doing the right thing. Didn’t expect to hear that at my tax appointment!
Because you have heard it said—and I have heard it said–since we were “knee-high to a grasshopper” that personal rights and personal freedoms are sacred. But if that’s the standard that we set for ourselves then it won’t be long before our personal wants and needs will take over our lives and become more important than discipleship to Jesus Christ.
“I want to hear people talk about doing what’s right,” said my tax guy. Well, doing the right thing sounds like something we could all agree on—but what does it mean to do the right thing? The final word in today’s first reading is the bottom line for Jesus himself: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Elsewhere he said, “No greater love does a person have than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” That sounds do- able–until we remember that for followers of Jesus, the neighbor and the friend include the enemy.
Is there anyone of us here this morning who lives by these rules? Is there anyone who wants to? The best I can say for myself is that I follow some of these teachings some of the time. But all of these teachings, all of the time? Never!
St. Paul writes to the Corinthians, “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.” And yet, it is the “wisdom” of the world that bombards us every minute of every day. Fashion, fads, rumor, popular opinion, conventional wisdom, common sense, tradition—we even dress up the wisdom of the world in religious language if it helps us avoid the uncomfortable rule of love. Jesus says to his disciples, Be perfect…as your heavenly Father is perfect. To be perfect is to love perfectly—to love not just those who love us but all people. This is the gold standard. This is the God standard.
So what are we to do? God lays down the law. Jesus lays down rules that we find impossible to live by. So what do we do, just give up? Stop trying?
No, we do not give up! One of the best prayers we can offer to God is, “I can’t do it. I can’t measure up to your law of love.” That simple confession might make enough room for God’s power to take hold. St. Paul writes, “Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise.” The measure of a wise person in the kingdom of God is love. Perfect love. Unconditional love. God’s love for all people.
You have heard it said…many times, many ways, what’s important and who you should love. But probably what you haven’t heard—through the TV, the radio, the Internet, through your parents, your teachers, your pastors, your politicians—what you haven’t heard said nearly enough, but what I say to you, Jesus says, is love one another. This is the the key to an abundant life.
Love one another…more than you love your country. Love one another more than you love your personal rights and personal freedoms, or wealth, or power. Love one another even when others don’t say nice things about you. When we can start to get this much right then we might be ready to tackle the tougher stuff–like loving our enemies. That kind of love is a sign of God’s kingdom. “Loving one’s enemies” is the kind of love…that God has for us!