Sermon Epiphany 7 C
I don’t know about you, but I think Jesus is asking some pretty impossible things of us in today’s gospel reading, starting with “Love your enemies”. Stop for a minute and think of someone you really can’t stand. I can think of a certain public figure who seems irredeemable for all the harm he has done in the world. Telling me to love this man is a stretch, a really high bar!
Jesus tells us to “do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you”. Ooh, these are hard. Oftentimes, the best I can do is try to have sympathy for the background circumstances of these people and try to find some empathy for them.
Jesus tells us that if anyone strikes us on the cheek, offer the other also. When Jeff was being bullied in high school, we kept telling him to stand up for himself, to fight back. The school vice principal told him to fight back, promising Jeff that he wouldn’t get in trouble. But Jeff wouldn’t fight these jerks. He finally confessed that for years we’d taught him to turn the other cheek and not fight. He was absolutely right. Augh. That was a parenting dilemma!
In this gospel, we are called to behave in ways that are completely counterintuitive to our culture. Why does Jesus set the bar so impossibly high for us?
If you watched the Super Bowl, then you’ve heard of Cooper Kupp. He’s plays football for the LA Rams, and he was just named the Super Bowl MVP. He also won Offensive Player of the Year and won the receiving triple crown. Nobody has ever achieved all of this in one year. Most of this doesn’t mean a lot to me but the reason I’m bringing him up is because of how he got where he is. He was a star football player growing up in Yakima, but he only got two belated scholarship offers for college. He’s not that big or fast and just wasn’t getting much attention. He ended up attending tiny Eastern Washington University and did really well there. Here's the thing about this guy: we watched a show about him where he talked about how hard he has worked to rise up against the odds. He said he’s done so by setting almost impossible goals for himself. “Almost impossible goals” – that stuck with me.
And that’s what Jesus is doing for us today. He’s setting almost impossible goals for us. He makes it clear that we mustn’t take the easy path: loving those who already love us, doing good to those who do good to us, lending to those from whom we hope to receive. Anybody can do that. That’s tit for tat behavior. But loving those who hate us? Letting someone strike both of our cheeks? Giving to everyone who begs from us? This is a high bar.
Jesus finally gives us a break when he tells us that if we can do these things, our reward will be great, and we will be children of the Most High. He reminds us that our Father is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Phew. I guess I have a chance after all.
Now when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, I always pause over this part: Forgive us our trespasses AS we forgive those who trespass against us. After praying this prayer my whole life, I’ve learned to hear that sentence in a new way: Maybe God will forgive my sins just as much as I forgive the sins of others.
Jesus tells us: “Don’t judge and you will not be judged: don’t condemn and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven, give and it will be given to you.” Isn’t that the crux of the Golden Rule: Treat others the way you want to be treated?
We know that Jesus turned the world upside down, especially when he said things like ‘blessed are the poor, and the meek shall inherit the earth.’ He was a revolutionary guy. Following him, genuinely trying to live by his teachings, has certainly changed my life and made me a better person. I fail and fail and fail but I know that God loves me for trying. I know that God’s mercy and grace are immeasurable.
When we were teaching church school, Lorraine taught this to the children: “I can do anything with Christ who strengthens me”. Please say it with me. “I can do anything with Christ who strengthens me.” Week after week, we did this, and it got imprinted in my brain. It’s a good lesson: we have Christ helping us, every day, in every way. We can do anything because we have the strength of Christ supporting us!
Now please pray with me:
Dear God, immerse us in your mercy that we might be merciful, submerge us in your love that we might be loving, bathe us in your compassion that we might be compassionate. For mercy, love, and compassion is the only way forward. Amen.