seminary is to preach in chapel. Today it was my turn. The scripture passage was Luke 6:27-38.
Our campus is alive with expectation. In 24 days, seniors called to the ministry of Word and Sacrament will receive regional assignments. Graduation for all seniors is a mere 101 days away, not that anyone is counting. We cannot help but wonder where we will land. Middlers, in just a few weeks you will be going through the marathon of internship matching, affectionately called “speed dating” with all its excitement and anxiety. And you juniors are looking forward to completing your first year of seminary and embarking upon the world of CPE. How do you feel about that?
Today’s scripture passage is taken from Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain as Luke's gospel calls it. Just as our regional, internship, and CPE assignments are not for everyone, these words of Jesus are not for everyone. They are not for the multitude. Who are they for then? They are for followers of Jesus. They are for us.
Once he has our attention, Jesus simply tells us to love. We can do that. God is love. We understand that. That seems basic. And Jesus must have really meant it because he mentions love six different times in these few verses. We are a loving community here. We look after and love our friends and neighbors. And of course, we love our families. But Jesus is pushing us beyond our comfort zone. “Love your enemies.”
Who are our enemies? We may not feel like we have any. Are those who oppose God’s work enemies? Are enemies those different from ourselves, with whom we are uncomfortable? Are they people of different faiths, different colors of skin, different languages? Beggars in Jesus’ day only had the companionship of other beggars. They may have been seen as outsiders, certainly not friends, maybe even enemies. Who are the enemies that God is calling us to love?
This love we are being called to is not just some passive, nice, warm feeling. This love lived out shows we are Jesus’ disciples. Jesus fleshes out for us what kinds of actions express such love. First, love will do good. Anyone can do good to those who are loveable. It is easy to do good for our friends. But Jesus’ call is to do good, not just to outsiders with whom we may be uncomfortable, but to do good to those who hate us.
N. T. Wright suggests:
Think of the best thing you can do for the worst person, and go ahead and do it. Think of what you’d really like someone to do for you, and do it for them. Think of the people to whom you are tempted to be nasty, and lavish generosity on them instead. (N. T. Wright, Luke for Everyone, 73).
Are you uncomfortable yet? Jesus pushes us even farther now. Not only are we to love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, but now it goes beyond hatred to such people cursing us. And just how does Jesus expect his followers to react? We are to bless them. Doesn’t Jesus understand that some people just have to be put in their place? But this is the call for followers of Jesus, we are to bless them—to ask for God’s special favor, to call down God’s gracious power. We are to pray for those who want to hurt us. Really?
Jesus teaching is radical. It is not the norm. As one scholar said:
Jesus’ mode of presentation certifies that his message is not simply one of prescriptive morality, as though he were telling people how they should or should not act. Rather, [Jesus wants us to accept that he is going to turn the world upside down]... and to act accordingly. (Joel B. Green, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel of Luke, 272)
This is the in-breaking of the kingdom of God
Jesus summarizes his message, “…love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return” (v. 35a). This is what Jesus is telling us our attitude should be. Lord, you’ve got to be kidding! Do you want people to walk all over us? No he does not. N. T. Wright suggests, “The kingdom that Jesus preached and lived was all about a glorious, uproarious, absurd generosity” (Luke for Everyone, 73). Jesus directs us back to the nature of God who is “kind to the ungrateful and wicked” (v. 35b). We are to be merciful just as God is merciful.
God lavishes love, mercy, and grace upon all. God’s love is indiscriminate. The message that runs throughout this passage is plain: love, do good, lend. If we pass these words off as mere hyperbole, are we doing justice to Jesus’ admonitions? This life of community in Christ with our neighbors AND OUR ENEMIES is beyond us. But is it beyond God?
Wright sums up this portion of the Sermon on the Plain in this way:
There are two particularly astonishing things about these instructions. First, their simplicity: they are obvious, clear, direct, and memorable. Second, their scarcity. How many people do you know who really live like this? How many communities do you know where these guidelines are rules of life? (Wright, 75)
Are they really the rule of life here on the Ridge?
As we each approach our times, of new beginnings let’s turn our ears to hear Jesus calling and let’s move our paradigm to where our world is closer to making the guidelines of love, do good, and lend the norm. Amen.