First Congregational Church
February 24, 2019
Seventh Sunday after Epiphany
“So Much More”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
A woman is sitting at her husband's funeral listening to the eulogies being read...
A man in the pew behind her leans forward to ask, "Do you mind if I say a word?”. "No, not at all", she replies. The man stands and clears his throat. “Bargain", he says, and sits back down. "Thank you", the woman responds, "it means a great deal."
This morning’s scripture passage continues where we left off last week, the passage from Luke 6 known as Jesus’ Blessings and Woes Sermon or the Sermon on the Plain, verses the Sermon on the Mount. In the middle of his sermon, Jesus says, “But to you who are listening I say…” That statement makes you wonder if Jesus was aware of some people that were daydreaming, getting restless or even falling asleep.
Hearing weather reports for the last couple of days, and not being at all sure what this morning would bring, I figured that rather than assigning one person to read the passage, I thought we all might do just that - together. After all, what better way to help all of us listen better? So if you will take out the bulletin insert, let us read.
27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
Thank you, everyone. Last night I came across a Facebook meme that smacked me right between the eyes. It said, “I thought that I was a good person but the way I react when people drive slowly in the left lane would suggest otherwise. Sometimes truth can really sting!
A cell phone in an upscale gym locker room in NYC rang and the man turned on the speaker phone next to him. Everyone else in the room stopped to listen.” Hello? Hi honey, it’s me. Are you at the club?” The man said, “Yes,” and the woman said, “I’m out shopping and found a beautiful leather coat. It’s only $2,000 – is it OK if I buy it?” The man said, “Sure, go ahead if you like it that much.” She continued, “I also stopped by that new Lexus dealership and saw one of the new models I really like – it’s on an opening special.” He said, “How much?” She said, “$90,000.” He said, “Wow! OK, but for that price I want it with all the options.” She said, “Great! Oh, and one more thing … I was just talking to my sister and found out that the house we wanted to buy last year is back on the market. They’re asking $980,000 for it. Remember it was well over a million when we looked at it?” The man said, “I dunno. Make an offer for $900,000 and they’ll probably take it. If not, we can go the extra $80,000 if that’s what you really want.” The woman said, “OK. I’ll see you later! I love you so much!” The man ended by saying, “I love you, too,” and then he hung up. The other men in the locker room were staring at him in astonishment, mouths wide open. The man turned around and said “Anyone know whose phone this is”?
At first glance, the passage from Luke 6 can read like a list of rules for being a Christian. And as good as it is to love enemies, to pray for those who mistreat us and help those in need, the passage is actually far more than rules and behaviors.
That’s “good news” for people who question a passage that can seem to make such gracious givers and helpers into a bunch of chumps. Scott Hoezee of Calvin Theological Seminary is not the only one to voice the question, “Won’t we become the world’s doormat if we assume as passive a posture in the face of abuse as Jesus seems to suggest?” I would venture to guess that there are a good number of folks here this morning that share such a thought and question. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus sent out the twelve disciples to do ministry, telling them to be “shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” The commission is as much for us as for the disciples. But the passage is more than a set of rules, especially rules for the sake of rules.
Jesus points out, near the end of the second paragraph, that if we are kind and prayerful and generous, even loving the hard to love, “Then your reward will be great.” Yay! After you clean up your room, you can have a treat! After shoveling snow all morning, you get to take the afternoon off! We can stop there, with just that much reasoning, and we’re on par with any behavior modification program you want to imagine. But it’s only a one-sided, or human-to-human program, and Jesus has a bigger message to impart. There is much more to Jesus’ sermon, more for even us modern followers.
For doing these things, loving and giving and praying and turning cheeks, we will get great rewards, but - we will also be children of the Most High. Being known as a member of a group of individuals is an important thing for most of us. Being a member of the Daughters or Sons of the American Revolution, or a Mason or Eastern Star, PEO or the Wednesday Morning Book Club are important parts of identity for some people. Those are all worthy enough groups in and of themselves. But they can also become exclusive and restrictive. Being exclusive and restrictive is not necessarily a bad thing - unless it is attached to God and Christ and the Holy Spirit. That’s why we have the entirety of that sentence: “Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.”
It is retired Methodist minister, William H. Willimon who receives the credit for making the point that “this sermon by Jesus is not first of all a list of human rules. The sermon is based on a claim about who God is and how God acts.”
I’m guessing that even the great Mother Teresa and Saint Francis would look back on their lives and recall moments where they were ungrateful, perhaps even wicked - at least in their own eyes. We all do things that are less than gracious and loving in our lives, and yet, God is kind to us. Each of us have - on purpose and innocently - excluded and looked past, been condescending and hurtful, and God has been merciful to us in forgiving us when we ask to be forgiven.
Scott Hoezee put it so pointedly. Jesus is recommending no more and no less than the same thing he’d seen all along in God. As the Son of God himself, Jesus is speaking from divine experience. When you are the Creator God of the entire cosmos, you sooner or later get used to seeing people snarfing up and consuming all the bounty of your creative imagination, yet without even once giving a sidelong glance back to the Giver of all that good food, good wine, and good everything. Seeing ungrateful people is a commonplace for God. God has spent altogether too much time watching delicate creatures fashioned in God’s own image strutting around this world and fancying themselves to be “self-made people.” God has witnessed altogether too many people sighing over the glories of a crimson sunset only to see those same people marveling at how this whole big and beautiful world of ours just happened to evolve all on its own.”
Ole showed up at church with two red cheeks and a black eye. Sven asked him how it happened. Vell, Torvo and I were having a discussion about which was better. I said lutefisk is better with butter, and Torvo said it was better with cream sauce, and he slapped me. Sven said, Vell, that explains one red cheek. How’d you get the other red cheek and the black eye?” Ole said Vell, I turned both cheeks, he slapped them both, and since I was fresh out of cheeks to turn, I slugged him and he slugged me back.”
It makes obvious sense to be wise with our blessings. Being so wise, we’ve been able to assist somewhere around a hundred kids to attend camp - in the time I’ve been here. And that’s just a whopping guess. We’ve been able to support 35 families of four to make a visit to Benzie Area Christian neighbors for food, we’ve allowed for three families to obtain complete sets of tires to remain employed and transport children, filled five household propane tanks and purchased home weatherization kits for ten households, reducing their heating bills up to 25%. And those are things that people with generosity-like hearts do, too.
Loving and doing good to enemies, or at the very least - those hard for us to love - blessing mis-treators, withholding judgment and condemnation, those things are much more costly to us as individuals, and therefore, more “pressed down, shaken together, running over and poured into your lap.” Doing so in response to God’s kindness and mercy is perhaps a little easier, but make no mistake, we don’t do any of this on our own or with our own steam. So let us recommit our hearts and efforts and enter into the power that allows us to be movers and shakers of the God of So Much More.
Kind, Gracious and Loving God, thank you for your Son, for his wisdom, his love and his desire for all of your children to live in your kingdom - the son who died to make your love known. Forgive us, Lord, when we dismiss your demands as impossible expectations. Forgive us when we set our own bar too low, when we let ourselves off the hook too easily. May we remember always the mystery that those we consider enemy and our own selves are one; for all are one in you. Help us, when we are tired, cranky, sick, or just uninspired to love generously, graciously, over-flowingly. May we see those who are cruel, as your beloved children, especially in need of your love. Help us to discern the difference between injustice and personhood. Help us to do so by tapping into your love, that has no limit, no parameters and no exclusions. Give us the courage to turn the other cheek, the creativity to give away our coats of protection, and to lend with the knowledge that nothing we have is ours, except our souls - that all we have is yours and we are merely caretakers of such richness and blessing. And then allow us to see how you provide, if even in the strangest and goofiest of manners. For all with which you have blessed us, and all you empower us to share, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.