Sermon; Epiphany 7C; Luke 6:27-38
Last week we heard the beginning of the Sermon on the Plain. In this Epiphany season, in this season of manifestations and God-moments, I wondered where those manifestations and God-moments were in the midst of Jesus offering blessings and woes. And I suggested that Jesus was manifested to the world when we worked to fight poverty, to feed the hungry, to bring laughter to those who mourn, and to change the world. Jesus isn't necessarily manifested to the world through miraculous events, but through our actions.
This movement away from the miraculous manifestations to how we live in the world continues today. If last week was the bridge between the miraculous and our following Jesus, we are clearly on the other side of that bridge today.
Jesus is laying down a new moral code that essentially says we are not going to live with business as usual – we are going to live unusually. But what he's asking us to do is difficult.
Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who abuse you. These are not easy things to do. And because these are not easy things to do, many people have opted for easy interpretations of these sayings to the detriment of many.
Note that these sayings are directed to the victim. They are directed to those on the receiving end of hate, curses, and abuse. And because Jesus is addressing those caught in such relationships, the easy answer is for the victims to remain in said relationships maintaining a Pollyanna, pie-in-the-sky hopefulness that things will change if I just behave better.
Too many clergy have advised too many people (mainly women) to remain in abusive relationships based on this passage. Add to this the image of Jesus himself being abused, beaten, killed, and you have a deadly concoction of bad theology that does more harm than good.
In looking at this passage, as always, it's more complicated than that.
As I said, note that these sayings are all directed to the victims. I think that's because Jesus is working to shift the balance of power. In other words, abusers won't stop abusing, but those suffering from abuse can change the dynamic. The big point in this is that the behavior of the abuser should not determine the victim's involvement or response to that person. Change the balance of power.
Do good to those who hate you. It's easy to return hate with hate; or with a greater hate. It's easy to retaliate in kind. This is the mob or gang mentality – “If they hit us, we hit them back harder.”
I'm thinking of the Westboro Baptist Church here. Well, clan, really, since it's mainly a small group of family members. These people make a habit of loudly spewing their hate-filled condemnations against anyone not hateful enough. The best counter protest I saw was a group of (I think) ECW who, when the WBC came protesting on a hot summer day, delivered ice water, tea, and lemonade, along with snacks to the protesters because the women wanted to show them that God's love extended to all.
Or think of the Selma march in protest for equal rights. They walked and were attacked by force, but they didn't respond in kind.
That takes guts. And it takes a deeper understanding of this passage. If you love those who love you, what credit is that?
By choosing not to respond in kind we are choosing to break the cycle of violence. Not only are we choosing not to respond kind, we are also choosing to be active rather than reactive. In other words, the behavior of the other person shouldn't determine our own involvement or response in that relationship.
We need to be able to care for ourselves before we can care for others. For us to love our enemies, for us to do good to those who hate us, for us to pray for those who abuse us, we need to have a good understanding of not only ourselves, but of how God operates.
All of this, of course, can be complicated. Abused spouses who can't escape come to mind. Or children who suffer abuse at the hands of adults. Or the recent revelations of just how bad and deep the abuse in the Roman Catholic Church goes. How do these victims love, bless, and pray for their abusers?
It's complicated. But if we continue to react in a retaliatory manner, we are elevating worldly systems over and above God's system.
In all of this, where do we start?
I think the basic place to start is right here in this place. It is here we learn about kingdom values. It is here we learn what it means to be a disciple of Christ. It is here we learn to walk in the way of love. It is here where we learn to ask for forgiveness. It is here we learn to grant forgiveness. It is here we learn to love, bless, and pray. What we learn here should then be taken out there.
It does no good to learn these values in here and then go make snarky, hateful comments on social media. It does no good to learn about treating others as we want to be treated, and then go out there and attack, belittle, berate, and abuse others. It does no good to learn to treat others with dignity and respect, and then go out there and work to keep people “in their place.” It does no good to learn about love and then go and throw stones at WBC.
This is the Epiphany season. This is the season when Jesus is manifested to the world. This is the season when people look for the moments when God has come among us.
We call ourselves Christians. Right now, more than ever, people are watching us. How will your life manifest Christ to the world? How will you be a God-moment for someone else? As we wind down this Epiphany season, you may be the only manifestation of a loving God people see.
So go forth loving your enemies, doing good to those who hate you, blessing those who curse you, and praying for those who abuse you. This is the way of the kingdom. This is how Christ is manifested to the world.