October 14, 2007

"Upon Whom The Sun Rises"
Scripture: Matthew 5:38-48
Sermon by Rev. Kathleen Groff
Dundee United Methodist Church

  “There was once a father who had to go away from his young family for three or four days on business. Anxious that his wife should be properly looked after in his absence, he had a word with the oldest son who was nine at the time. ‘When I’m away,’ he said, ‘I want you to think what I would normally do around the house, and you do it for me.’ He had in mind, of course, clearing up in the kitchen, washing up dishes, putting out the garbage, and similar tasks. On his return, he asked his wife what the son had done. ‘Well,’ she said, ‘it was very strange. Straight after breakfast he made himself another cup of coffee, went into the living room, put on some loud music, and read the newspaper for half an hour.’ The father was left wondering whether his son had obeyed him a bit too accurately. (Matthew for Everyone, Part one, Tom Wright, p. 50)  

    In this passage in the Sermon on the Mount we hear Jesus’ continuation of the theme to imitate God and, in this case, even better than the son did for his father. Jesus gives three examples of what it means to use other than violent methods to deal with those situations we might tend to want to use vengeance or retaliation. His three examples are once again extreme. In the first example to strike a person on the right cheek would mean hitting with the back of the hand. This way the strike would be more of an insult than something that would cause damage. It infers that the person who is doing the hitting is superior to the one being hit. Jesus says to turn the other cheek instead of retaliating. Hitting on the other cheek means that you are hitting the person as an equal.

  In his second example, Jesus says in a law suit to not only give the first garment, but the second as well. In those days to give the second garment meant becoming naked because only two garments were usually worn. This way even though you might not be able to win, you can shame the one who is suing by your impoverished nakedness. In one very real sense this is what the rich and powerful were doing to the poor, reducing them to a state of shame.

  In the third case it was common practice for a soldier to elicit the help of a passer by and force him to carry his gear a mile. There were strict codes as to how far a soldier could force one to carry something. But Jesus says, go an extra mile. Turn the tables on them and astonish them. Jesus is saying, imitate a generous God with your generosity.

  All of these examples points to the possibility that there is another way, not the way of revenge and vengeance, to deal with humanity. In other words we are to copy the ways of God in dealing with our fellow human beings. If we take a good look at Jesus’ example of what God is like, we see that Jesus did not use violence to counter the violence done toward him. Instead, he copied the incredible love of God even to his enemies. He copied God’s patience. He countered what ever the soldiers and crowd could put him through, terrible pain and agony with the words, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!”

  Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is about Jesus himself, the-example of what is being said. It’s about one man who knew his Father intimately and was able to imitate him even at the point of death. Jesus calls us to reflect God’s generous love in spite of anger, provocation, pressure and frustration. Our most ready tendency is to want to retaliate when someone has insulted or hurt us. Jesus says, “Don’t do it!” Instead, we are called to reflect God’s love even to those we hate.

  The Jews were called to be a people of God, not for themselves, but for the world, to be salt and light to the world, to show just how extensive God’s love was. In fact Jesus makes the love of God and neighbor the fundamental commandment upon which all else depends. This is the hardest part of following Jesus. It’s not just believing in Jesus or accepting Jesus as our Lord and Savior. It’s about following Jesus by imitating his way of showing us the extreme love of God. We, in turn, are called to show God’s love to those around us, especially to those who want to insult or injure us. It is in our ability to show that love in spite of our tendency to do otherwise, that we counter evil and injustice effectively and bring about the Kingdom of God.

  But we seem to want to stop showing that love when our limits or tolerance have been reached. We want to lash out when our anger gets the best of us. We want to retaliate because it seems the just and fair thing to do. After all we can’t let someone get away with their insults and hurts to others let alone ourselves.

  As an example we can see how violence begets violence in the patterns of family violence. If one is abused or raised in an abusive situation, they are likely to repeat the pattern in their own families. Also if one side of an argument resorts to anger and lashing out, the other side will more than likely find a way to retaliate. Many of the modern day crises in the Middle East and other areas of the world are based on generations of retaliatory efforts to defeat the other side. Small fires smolder for years until the conditions are right for a flare up and war resumes. Vengeance begets vengeance. Jesus says, stop that cycle, break that pattern and the only way to do that is to show God’s extreme love.

  In our own lives retaliatory behavior only escalates hard feelings and locks the parties involved into firmly entrenched non budging positions. And example would be an argument about the color of the carpet for the sanctuary in a church. Some people want red, others feel that blue is the right color. A heated debate ensues and one person gets angry at another. The other person feels hurt or slighted and retaliates with his or her own words of anger and eventually one of the parties walks out the door. One or both parties then engage in smear tactics, degrading the other person, passing along untrue rumors. The other person then retaliates with his or her own rumors and derogatory statements and before we know it we have an all out church war, in the name of God mind you. This seems like a ridiculous example but it is a true story. I wonder what it would take for the parties to reconcile and for peace to return to that particular church.

  Jesus’ examples seem to be extreme, but are they really. Isn’t Jesus telling us to be human in another way, to live the love of God in all our dealings with others? Jesus is calling us to be imitators of his way of living and it’s hard to do that just right. How can we get over those little angers about things that hurt us and how can we keep from retaliating? It is possible! As we continue to try to follow Jesus, even though those efforts seem difficult at first, we discover the love of God for ourselves. When we see that the sun rises upon the just and the unjust we see that God’s love extends to all people, not just us who believe we are on the right path. God knows that there are possibilities of redemption for all people. God doesn’t want people to be left out, but wants all people to embrace His loving ways. We can only help others if we experience that love for ourselves and then act out of that love. Of course we are going to slip up once in awhile, but Jesus will pull us back on track.

  There is another way of living! It flows from the love of God for us and for all his creation. God’s love is intended to be reflected in our lives and that means love our enemies, not just those who love us. Following Jesus isn’t about how to behave. “It’s about discovering the living God in the loving, and dying, Jesus, and learning to reflect that love ourselves into the world that needs it so badly.” (Tom Wright. Matthew for Everyone )

  So, how are we doing at loving our enemy? How are we doing about giving the extra mile or the second garment, or turning the other cheek? It’s about having a heart for God, knowing God so intimately and lovingly that we can respond to life out of that love. If we all practiced that love we might just see a very different world.