First Congregational United Church of Christ
Great Falls, MT
February 24, 2019
“It’s Not Easy”
The Rev. Lynne Spencer-Smith
27“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31Do to others as you would have them do to you. 32“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36Be 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; 38give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”
What is your favorite part about being a Christian? What is it that you like most about following in the way of Jesus?
Now, what is your least favorite part about being a Christian? What is it that you like least about following in the way of Jesus?
There seems to be three things about following in the way and teachings of Jesus that people struggle with the most:
When bad things happen to good people.
Loving your enemy – doing good for those who hate you
We struggle when bad things happen to good people because it just doesn’t seem fair – at least as we understand fair. But, we find that faith is a powerful companion that helps us through the hard times. Some find it helpful to think that God never gives us more than we can handle. I look at it differently because I have a really hard time thinking that God actually hands out hardships. Bad stuff happens. Period. To everyone. Where God comes in is that God equips us with the things we need to get through those hard times.
Forgiveness. This one has layers. How grateful I am that the neighbors whose wet cement my friends and I drew in when we really were old enough to know better forgave us. What a relief it is to be able to forgive those who have wronged me or those I love. When things don’t go well between people – forgiveness is a huge part of reconciliation. We’ve all heard the inspiring stories of people who have forgiven beyond all reason: Rape victims, family members of murder victims, even holocaust survivors teach us that forgiveness is possible, and healthy, and faithful, and inspiring. Keep in mind that forgiveness is always towards the person and never toward the action itself. Rape, murder, assault, violence is never okay. Forgiving the offender, however, is a part of the process of repentance and restoration.
And finally, loving our enemies and doing good for those who hate you. At first, it doesn’t seem like it would be all that hard because we in this room are probably not confronting folks we would consider enemies every day. Maybe people we disagree with. Perhaps some folks that we just don’t like. But all out enemies? Probably not.
And then we remember Hitler and the Nazi’s. And then we remember the KKK. And then we remember 9/11. And now the political division that doesn’t seem to be getting any narrower at all. With the widespread use of the internet and Instagram, Facebook and Twitter and the 24 hour news cycle, we not only have access to the garish details of violence, oppression and political vitriol, we are confronted with anger and violence every time we look at a screen of some kind. We have the potential to claim as enemies people we may never even know.
The world has seen such violence before. In fact, statistics are starting to show that we are actually living in the time of least violence.[i] But never before has it been so graphically spread so far and so fast. We see it, if not in real time, within 24 hours. And, we tend to think that, because we are more aware of it, violence is running rampant throughout the world and will soon take it over. And what makes it even more of a challenge for Christianity is that much of the violence we see today is linked to religion. How can people who claim to be religious, especially a religion that is ours, be so violent? How can people who claim to be following the same savior we do want to cause harm to others, even those who claim the same savior? There’s a very real fear that we could be the next target, and if not the next, we fear it will eventually be at our doorsteps. Until recently, I never thought I’d be having conversations about dealing with an active shooter in church. And we take this possibility and create, in our minds, enemies of those who could pose a threat.
How can we love an enemy whom we believe is out to destroy the very thing that gives us hope and courage? How can we love those who supposedly do atrocious deeds in the name of God? How can we love when someone else’s hatred seems to not care about mercy and compassion?
Because that’s what we’re called to do by the one who, when faced with his own brutal, excruciating death, prayed for those who put him on the cross. It’s what we’re called to do by the one who, when those nearest to him drew swords in his defense, rebuked them and told them to put their swords away. Love, even for those who do not love us, even for those who are so filled with hatred that they seek it in the most barbaric manner, …love… not because it’s easy, but because it’s what we’re taught to do by the one we have chosen to follow.
It’s not easy. It’s a dilemma that challenges our logic. But a life of faith isn’t about logic. There is nothing logical about the creator of all that is becoming a human being with all our illogical emotions and the vulnerabilities. What kind of God would do such a thing? One who understands the power of love and compassion.
Some say that Jesus’ call to “turn the other cheek” is a call to permit violence but it is not. Jesus’ command to love enemies does not mean passively accepting what they do. When we read and study about Jesus’ actions, especially those in response to the hatred and violence around him, we see that his response to violence was non-violent resistance. The way he responded to violence was to de-escalate and put the perpetrators to shame. It was the practice of what has been referred to as “The Third Way” – a way different than fight or flight. It was a way that was studied by Ghandi and King and Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela and became the basis for the peaceful revolutions that changed their world, our world.
If we, as followers of Jesus are called to resist oppression and evil, it begins with our commitment to not become evil and violent ourselves for when we retaliate to violence with violence, we run the risk of becoming the oppressor, we lower ourselves to the level of those whose actions we wish to stop.
Rather, if we, as followers of Jesus, a non-violent, passive Jew whom we claim to be the Son of God, were to nonviolently resist evil, including the evils of injustice near and far, how might this world be different?
It’s not easy. It was never intended to be and I hope no one has told you that it would be. Following Jesus is a radical thing. It’s revolutionary. And it puts before us things with which many of us struggle – night and day. And we should struggle with them. Evil and oppression are not simple and easy things and should never be tolerated. Faith is not simple or easy either. In the end, as the resurrection shows us, evil and violence and oppression never win. The love of God revealed in Jesus simply won’t let it. Tombs are broken open. Lives are changed. Love wins. And that, my friends, is my favorite part of being a Christian.
[i] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/22/world-less-violent-stats_n_1026723.html, http://www.salon.com/2014/01/15/were_living_through_the_most_peaceful_era_in_human_history_%E2%80%94%C2%A0with_one_big_exception_partner/, http://reason.com/archives/2012/01/11/the-decline-of-violence