Sunday is Coming! “Walking to Emmaus – Jesus will meet you there.” Luke 24:13-35

Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32)

Grief.

Fear.

Sadness.

Disappointment.

Despair.

Guilt.

Loneliness.

These emotions all have a place on the road to Emmaus.

Two disciples: one named Cleopas (whom we have never heard of in Luke before) and an unnamed disciples (perhaps intentionally left anonymous so we find ourselves on that road too) were headed home because they thought the story of Jesus was over. For whatever reason they had joined the Jesus movement. When Jesus was executed – their hope that he was the Messiah who would “redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21) died with him. They had heard the witness from the women that Jesus’ tomb was empty that morning (Luke 24:22-24); but like the others must have dismissed that proclamation as an “idle tale” (Luke 24:11).

Into this very human response to death and disruption; the risen Jesus joined them on the road. Not recognizing him, they welcomed him to join them as a simple act of hospitality.

Engaging Jesus in conversation on that seven mile journey they were unaware he was with them. They told him what they had known about Jesus and they listened to Jesus explain the whole scripture to them (Luke 24:27). This exchange is remarkable – it is open and conversational; not judgmental or argumentative. One wonders what these two companions were thinking while listening to this stranger. Wouldn’t you want to hear Jesus teach for a couple of hours on the long walk home?

They still did not recognize him until they broke bread together.

Grief.

Fear.

Sadness.

Disappointment.

Despair.

Guilt.

Loneliness.

We do not have to walk this road alone. The risen Christ reveals he is walking with us all along. In the breaking of the bread we see him. In the sharing of the word our hearts burn. We come to Jesus together.

Look for the outsider and outliers. Invite and welcome them. Visit someone who is lonely or hurting and bring a meal. Listen. Share. Jesus will meet you there.

Meet with a small group over food. Discuss the scripture readings for Sunday. Catch-up on your lives. Pray for one another and the world. Jesus will meet you there.

Serve people. Wherever you connect with friends and loved ones and strangers. Look for Jesus in the faces of others. Jesus will meet you there.

Gather with the church for worship. Sing. Pray. Listen. Ponder. Pay close attention to the words. Discover yourself and where God is at work in the stories. Share the Eucharist and meet once more the risen Jesus . As the people of God continue becoming the body of Christ. Jesus will meet you there.

Where will you walk with Jesus on the way?

PGS

Also Available on John 20:19-29 –

A few thoughts on this Good Friday

Our noon Cross+Walk crew at St Paul Lutheran Church in Old Saybrook, CT

Today is Good Friday. It is a day for us to pause and consider Jesus and his cross. While there is much to see and contemplate here, this Good Friday as I look upon the cross – I see these things…

1. I see my own sinfulness.

I find it unavoidable to see the cross of Jesus and not consider my own sin and unworthiness before God. But the cross is also the place to experience God’s undeserved love and mercy. The cross calls me to repentance – to seek a new direction in my life as the forgiveness of God pours over me. Many Christians (and non-Christians alike) believe in a wrath-filled vengeful God whose hatred of disobedience and self-centered actions demand the violence of the cross in return. I don’t meet that God at the cross. Rather, I see a God that loves us beyond measure for the sake of making us whole. At the cross I see Jesus calling us to care for one another like he loves us. Picking up one’s cross to follow him is a call to into the self-giving-sacrificial love of others we first see in Jesus.

2. I see value in his suffering.

We like to hide our pain and sterilize the world’s suffering. We want happy and comfortable; neat and clean. We avoid death and seek things on our own terms in order to keep us interested. The ugliness of the cross confronts all of that. On the cross we see the One who suffers alongside the suffering; One who dies among the dying; One who uncovers every uncomfortable, messy, bloody, violent situation we would rather not have to deal with and rather than tucking it away he makes it the center of his mission. At the cross I see a God who will hang alongside us when we feel the most vulnerable, abandoned and alone. At the cross the message I hear is not “death will get us all” or “you get what you have coming to you in the end” but “I am with you always…Be still and know I am God…I have called you by name and you are mine.”

3. I see our understanding of power turned upside-down.

Jesus’ enemies thought they could do away with him by having him killed. His religious opponents believed the ends justified the means. The Empire in which he lived believed that might made right. At the cross injustice, corruption and our blind allegiance to both are exposed. At the cross Jesus values everyone who is ignored, blamed, scapegoated, thrown-away or stomped-on by others. At the cross Jesus succumbs to power to show its weakness. At the cross Jesus’ death reveals that death had no power over him (and now poses no threat to us either). At the cross I see every person in power and the systems they represent deemed ultimately irrelevant as Jesus alone is Lord.

These are a few things I see this Good Friday at the cross of Jesus. But there is one more thing I see today too. At that cross I find a community of people who are also seeking and called into his undeserved reconciliation, healing and peace that surpasses understanding – centered in love, mercy and hope.

Standing with them at the foot of the cross of Jesus – I am grateful.

PGS

Sunday is Coming! “No hosannas. No palms. But praises abound.” Luke 19:28-44, Palm/Passion Sunday, Year C

“As (Jesus) rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road.” (Luke 19:36)

The Palm Sunday story is familiar and important. All four gospels tell it. Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey. People bring their palm branches and lay them on the ground as Jesus rides into the city.

Jesus enters the city as a new King David. The people see in Jesus the enactment of a restored Israel and shout praises but miss the larger promise unfolding. I Jesus the promised Messiah has come – but the gospels lead us to ask, “What kind of King is this Jesus?” and “What does his entry into Jerusalem mean?

If we read the Passion on this Sunday alongside the Palm Sunday reading we will hear how quickly people turn on him. The disciples meet in the upper room (in John Jesus washes the disciples’ feet. In Matthew, Mark and Luke Jesus shares with them the last supper) but later abandon him; Judas betrays him; Peter denies him; the people shout ‘crucify him‘ and after a mockery of a trial Jesus is put to death on a cross beside two criminals.

We see before our eyes that either Jesus is a complete and miserable failure; abandoned, betrayed, shamed and executed – OR – that his Kingdom is centered on sacrificial love and undeserved mercy that the powers of this world cannot contain, control or defeat.

What is your take away from this narrative?

Luke’s telling of Palm Sunday (Luke 19:28-40) leaves out two familiar details we associate with Palm Sunday. There are no palm branches. There are also no shouts of ‘Hosanna.’ Jesus is not the restorer of Israel (at least not in the way many thought of what restoration would mean) and he did not come to start a military rebellion against Rome. While he comes to the Holy City, his revolution of sacrificial love and undeserved mercy burst out to the entire world and is inclusive of all and embracing of everyone.

When the religious leaders (the Pharisees) tell Jesus to tell his followers to stand down, he states, “I tell you, if these were silent the stones would shout out” (Luke 19:40). He weeps for the city rather than conquering it (Luke 19:41), saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes” (Luke 19:42). He warns of the coming destruction of the city (Luke 19:44) which by the time Luke would have composed this story had already taken place and would be fresh in his hearers memories.

This story serves not as an ending but the very beginning of Jesus’ global reach and mission (hence part 2 of Luke’s story, the Acts of the Disciples). The Kingdom comes in small moments with huge implications. To another man dying on across beside him who asks Jesus to remember him in his kingdom, Jesus replies, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:44). We are reminded that even when it feels like the world (or our world) is ending – his sacrificial love and undeserved mercy will endure.

What are a few takeaways from Luke’s telling of Palm Sunday?

  1. The story is neither about the Palms nor the Hosannas. Jesus enters Jerusalem not to restore Israel but to die. His weeping over the city reveals his compassion for  people in he present and hi understanding of the pain that is coming. His imminent death joins the suffering of people everywhere. His Kingdom comes from Israel for all.
  2. Disciples of Jesus are not to keep silent. Too often we make faith a private affair and/or don’t want to get involved in other people’s struggles. We are called to live into and share the love and mercy of God we see in Jesus with others in their pain and suffering. But be not afraid – God’s Kingdom comes beside us when we fail; Christ’s compassion and grace meet us even if we lose our lives in the process; and all of creation shouts especially when we don’t believe we are up to the task. We are invited to join the cosmos in God’s restorative mission.
  3. The time is now. Sometimes we become so focused on our future (or think we are focused on God’s future) that we miss important moments. The pharisees in this story are risk averse and worried about what might happen if Jesus presses on. The crowd prepares for a King to give them what they want. The powers play their part to maintain the status quo. The disciples are eager but fall prey to their fears. Jesus acts in the moment to bring the Kingdom to us.

As Holy Week unfolds, we move from praising to mourning, from hope to despair, from communion to isolation, from prayer to abandonment, from life to death, and from certainty to surprise.

Pay attention to the moment. See the details. Grab hold of the promise. Embrace the mystery. Enter this story fully – and take part of the Kingdom unfolding around you.

Without any “hosannas” – get your “alleluias” ready. Easter is coming soon…

PGS

Sunday is coming! “The ongoing conflict between scarcity and abundance” John 12:-1-8 Lent 5C

“You always have the poor with you, you do not always have me.” (John 12:8)

There is inherent conflict in this passage.

The most obvious is between Judas and Mary. Judas believes the extravagance of Mary’s perfume is a waste – the nard could have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor. Jesus intervenes by accepting her gift of love as she anoints his feet as preparation for his coming burial. The narrator’s comments discredit Judas’ character as a thief.

The message: faithfulness is acknowledging abundance and offering thanksgiving over conniving and scarcity.

A second conflict imbedded in this scene comes between The religious leaders and Jesus. In John 11:1-44, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. This scene is the after party to celebrate this amazing sign of the kingdom and the restored life of Lazarus. In the verses between (John 11:45-54), the religious leaders under the direction of the High Priest Caiaphas, plot to kill Jesus out of their fear and the implications of Jesus’ ministry and message. Caiaphas justifies this plot by saying, ‘it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed’ (John 11:50).

The message: Jesus’ anointing (the title ‘Christ’ means: anointed one) serves as a foretaste not only of Jesus’ coming execution – but also his coning resurrection. In an upheaval of the power we expect – Jesus is revealed as the Christ.

There is also an ongoing conflict uncovered in this passage between the culture, the church, and the poor. Jesus says, ‘you will always have the poor with you, you do not always have me’ (John 12:8). The misinterpretation of this verse out of context by the church has served to neglect its mission in search of worldly power and wealth. By individual Christians this verse has been used to justify corruption and greed. A better translation of this phrase is ‘keep the poor with you as you do not always have me’ (see Dr. Lindsey Trozzo’s refelction on this passage from Working Preacher, online available: www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3993 ).

The message: our lives are not about choosing Jesus or the poor, but rather to see Jesus in the needs of our neighbors, recognizing the dignity and humanity in all people. What does that look like – a fragrant, beautiful, abundant gift of gratitude and service in the love Mary shows Jesus here. What if we cared for the least among us like that?

Out of this growing conflict Jesus forges a new way forward – abundance, sacrifice and our common humanity over scarcity, power and dehumanization.

Those powers will seem to take control as his arrest and execution loom with growing tension. But Easter…is coming!

Where do you see abundance, sacrificial love and dignity unfolding around you? Where can you participate?

PGS

Sunday is coming! “The parable of the overtly responsible son” Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32, Lent 4C

“But we had to celebrate because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” (Luke 15:32)

[An alternative telling of Luke 15:11b-32…]

Once there was a man who had two sons. The eldest son was hard-working and knew his place. One day the family farm would be his, and the responsibility of managing the estate, the business and their employees would eventually all fall upon his shoulders. He got up early and worked late seeking to gain the experience, know-how and work ethic required to be successful. As he prepared for his coming future, he sought the wisdom and counsel of his father.

The younger son was no farmer. He slept late. He was not dependable. He was lazy and spent his time day-dreaming of a life (and lifestyle) that was far away. He was more or less useless when it came to the family business, did not manage his affairs particularly well, and was not much a planner. But his father loved him, as did his older brother.

One day to the older son’s shock, a hired hand told him of his brother’s departure.

Not only had he left to seek his fortune on the road elsewhere, he had dishonorably talked their father into splitting the family inheritance and giving him his portion to him now. As he left home, it was the equivalent of saying his family ‘was dead to him.’

It hurt to hear this news.

The eldest was mortified. His father had been duped. His job would become more difficult. Business would be much more challenging with far less capital to utilize. He was furious. What hurt the most was that his brother did not have the decency to say ‘goodbye.’

In the years that followed, the older son became a hard man. His disdain towards his brother’s selfishness grew. He also came to resent his father’s foolishness. Since his father could not be trusted to make sound financial decisions, the eldest pushed him away.

The father was relegated to the sideline as his eldest son took over the business.

With hard work and time, the farm became a better success than ever. The latest projections indicated that in only a few short months the worth of their estate would double from its original size before his father had cut it in half. To make the next push forward, it would mean taking on more hands to increase yield. This was their year.

If there was a time to celebrate his success…it was now.

Coming back from the fields in the evening one day, the older son heard the music before he saw the party.  For all his father’s faults at least he had recognized how his efforts saved their family from ruin. As he drew closer to the party, the older son began preparing his speech; thanking his father for the opportunity to lead and for all those in his employ for their hard work and dedication. All he had ever hoped for was coming to be. He stood outside, took a deep breath and looked into the party through the doorway.

Then he saw…him.

Not only was his younger brother present, he was making a mockery of everything this older son had accomplished since he had left. He was wearing his father’s robe and ring. He looked scrawny, sickly and aged by hard times, but he was laughing and joyous, drinking his older brother’s wine and eating a feast prepared for him. FOR HIM.

His father had his arm around his younger son.

The older son was not sure which one he was going to confront first as he clenched his fists and his heart pounded so hard it almost burst through his chest.

His father came outside to meet him instead. It required all of the older son’s willpower not to lay him out on the floor, or shout in his face. Instead, the father could see the rage in his eldest son and put his arm around him. In that embrace, his son gave him a piece of his mind, saying he did not deserve this kind of treatment. His absent, wasteful, deplorable brother did not deserve this either. His father held him a little tighter, paused, turned to face him, looked him in the eye and said,

“Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” (Luke 15:31-32)

The older son stood firmly in his place, watching the celebration as his father took him by the arm to invite him inside.

If you were standing there, what would you do next?

PGS

Sunday is coming! “Repentance as a way of life” Luke 13:1-9, Lent 3C

“No, I tell you, unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” (Luke 13:5)

After a horrible event happens, there is often a call to re-evaluate our lives. In religious circles we talk about that introspection as prayer and repentance.  In this passage, Jesus calls people to repentance after the massacre of innocents by Pilate in the Temple and after an accident killing eighteen people when the Tower of Siloam fell on them (Luke 13:1-4). There is a time in the wake of tragedy (in our time as much as Jesus’) that a careful investigation of what happened, why, who was responsible, how can the course be corrected or prevented in the future is warranted.

The word “repentance” literally means to change one’s vision or direction. It is a turning around or seeing a new way forward, that was previously unavailable. To put repentance into practice starts by acknowledging that we are not God and we don’t have a clear view of the big picture or ourselves. It is admitting we do not know everything. It is acknowledging honestly that we often act without knowing the consequences; or that we do know the implications and do it anyway. It is confessing that we have done harm to others out of our self-interest. It is hoping to live, think and act better. Repentance often leads to the hard work of forgiveness, making amends where we can and restoring relationships when possible after we have hurt people. Repentance also includes the change of heart to accompany different actions and way of being.

Jesus calls us to a way of repentance that guides our entire lives. Paul called it the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:11-21). Repentance leads us to be more and more self-reflective, honest, and dependent on God’s mercy and peace. By looking inward, repentance causes us to begin looking outward to the needs of others in self-giving love. This ongoing way of repentance helps us be responsive when tragedy strikes, rather than look for who to blame for it. It calls us into compassion to help when people are in need. It looks beyond our often selfish, self-interested concerns. It looks to love as we are loved. It takes root in us as a new way to be in the world. It helps us grow. It bears fruit.

Hence the parable of fig tree.  Our lives are not just about getting better at growing figs. Fig trees grow figs or there is something wrong. The plant might need better nourishment. We do too. Growing fruit is what a fig tree does, just as loving others is what a follower of Jesus does. God’s word, the sacraments, prayer and community with others nourish our faith. Living into ongoing repentance will naturally grow fruit, or we might not begetting enough nourishment.  It is not a measuring stick to condemn us.  It is fruit to share. Looking beyond ourselves to God and others shows us a new life. In it we may find a joy that we may have never known before or maybe have long forgotten. It is a joy found beyond ourselves that reaches back and gives us a strength that is not our own to meet whatever challenges are coming.

Be nourished in a life of repentance to grow and thrive. Come and be nourished by God’s grace again.

PGS

What do you think of when you hear the word “repent”?

How does changing direction/vision change that definition?

Are you ready to make repentance a way of life? Why or why not?

Sunday is Coming! “Focus beyond that fox…” Luke 13:31-35, Lent 2C

“Herod wants to kill you” (Luke 13:31b)

Jesus has already “set his face toward Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51) but he won’t get there until Luke 19. He is clear in his mission on the way. “I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow and on the third day I finish my work.” (Luke 13:32). On this long road, Jesus is clear on what he is doing, and what the implications will be. The powers of this world are threatened by him. Soon, those powers will crash around Jesus – but not yet.

While Herod is referred to as “a fox” who threatens to kill him (Luke 13:31-32), it is Pilate, not Herod, who will condemn Jesus to the cross to die (Luke 23:13-35). Jesus’ death looms on the way to Jerusalem as its logical conclusion, of which Jesus seems painfully aware: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills prophets...” (Luke 13:34). Herod’s power is meaningless. Only the mission matters.

How often do we shy away from doing or saying what we know is right, not realizing those who threaten us are often powerless?

Jesus does not back down. While the opposition against him is growing, his focus is narrowing. He looks to Jerusalem and his rejection as the climax of where is life is headed, not as the threat of others. He laments the city’s faithlessness. He hopes to gather God’s people like a hen gathers its chicks for protection, but they would rather scatter by their own devices. In the weeks that come they will gather with shouts of, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord” (Luke 19:38) only to scatter and turn on him with shouts to crucify (Luke 23:21).  We often abandon the mission and scatter without focus too.

Jerusalem and the cross are coming. So is the third day. Keep focused.

We are those Jesus hopes to shelter us by his very presence. We are not immune from the dangers of this world but are covered by his enduring faithfulness and grace to face anything that comes at us. This is a time for courage and boldness. Jesus calls us to join him in casting out the demonic and bringing healing to those around us. There is still road to travel ahead. Jerusalem awaits. With Jesus we are on the way.

With Jesus beside you, why should you care what foxes want to do?

PGS

Sunday is coming! “Confronting comfort/power/security in the wilderness” Luke 4:1-13, Lent 1C

“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.” (Luke 4:1-2)

The temptation in the wilderness is a showdown between Jesus and these temptations personified in the devil.

Comfort: “Turn these stones to bread, and you’ll never have to want for anything again.”

Power: “Worship me and I’ll give you the kingdoms of this world who will bow down to you.””

Security: “Throw yourself down from the Temple to reveal your power and God will protect you and keep you safe.”

Three questions emerge from these three areas of life.

  1. How do we typically respond to these temptations?
  2. How does Jesus respond to these temptations?
  3. What can we learn from Jesus?

How do we typically respond to these temptations?

Comfort, power and security form the basis of much of our our competitive/consumer economy, how we often treat our relationships and the world of human politics. Using our agency in economics/relationships/politics for self-interest over the interest of others or for the benefit of the whole we easily pushes us into acting out of greed, exploitation and violence. We respond to one another out of perceived scarcity, fear and dehumanization. We objectify our desires and opponents and seek to insulate ourselves from the world. We turn inward to glorify ourselves, hide from God and negatively judge our neighbors. How we live can be damaging to ourselves, to others and the world in which we live.

How does Jesus respond to these temptations?

Jesus addresses each of these key areas with biblical responses. All three verses he quotes point to God rather than to comfort/power/security:

Comfort: One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 8:3)

Power: The Lord your God you shall fear; him you shall serve, and by his name alone you shall swear.” (Deuteronomy 6:13)

Security: Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” (Deuteronomy 6:16)

Depending on God’s promises is of greater value than feeling comfortable. Faith often deepens when our circumstances become the most challenging. True power comes in serving God not by lording what we can do over others. The wilderness teaches humility and respect for things that are out of our control to better focus on our mission. Jesus’ mission is teaching and showing compassion to others, healing the broken, forgiving the sinner, including the outsider and bringing good news to the poor. Placing himself outside of human constraints and definitions of power, reveals Jesus’ heavenly/divine power; as he confronts worldly/human power. The cross will be the place where undeserved mercy and self-giving love will be made known.

What can we learn from Jesus?

The lure of comfort/power/security can draw us away from God and one another. On the flip-side – entering the wilderness can point us to confront within us our temptation to think only of ourselves. In the wilderness we can to learn to trust God no matter what situation we face, and reorient our lives to see the wilderness others are struggling. Remember the wilderness story, helps Jesus find his voice and focus to re-engage the world through the lens of being focused on his mission of mercy and compassion among people.

We could all use a wilderness refresher course this Lent. Don’t forget, you are not alone. Jesus is sent by the Holy Spirit, and so are we!

-What comforts/powers/securities tempt you from the wilderness?

PGS

Sunday is Coming! “Jesus shines so bright they don’t see or hear him” Luke 9:28-45, Transfiguration C

“The appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.” (Luke 9:29)

I have always found the Transfiguration puzzling.

In Matthew, Mark and Luke the Transfiguration is a pivotal moment in the gospel story as Jesus shines brightly on the mountain (Luke 9:29-30). Standing in glory with both the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah) the voice of heaven proclaims, “This is my son, my chosen, listen to him” (Luke 9:35). It should be easy enough for them (and for us) to see and hear. Jesus is the very embodiment of good news; and the gospel writers point us to where their stories are going – to his message, rejection, suffering, death and resurrection.

The Transfiguration is a clarion call for the church to both see Jesus in all things and hear the promise of his death and resurrection meeting us in all things. OK, maybe it isn’t as hard to see or hear as I think it is. But it is still difficult to know how to react to a radiant Jesus.

It seems equally as difficult for the disciples.

Looking at the story that follows it, Jesus comes across as a bit annoyed that the disciples have no idea what is going on when they encounter a boy possessed by a demon (not that we would fare any better). After snapping at them, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you?” (Luke 9:41a) Jesus heals the boy. They miss the kingdom of God unfolding right before them and the opportunity to participate. Instead they are astounded while the people are amazed (Luke 9:43-44).

It remains difficult for them to see and hear him. (Maybe that is true for us too.)

It is not that they did not have opportunities.

They had after all seen Jesus heal many people and do other signs. Jesus gave them power and authority to cast our demons and go heal diseases (Luke 9:1-11). The had participated in the feeding of the 5000 (Luke 9:12-17). When Jesus asked what people were saying about him, Peter proclaimed him to be the Messiah (Luke 9:18-20). Jesus told them that he would suffer, be rejected, be killed and be raised (Luke 9:21-22). He called them to pick up their crosses and follow him (Luke 9:23-27). That Jesus was then transformed on the mountain so we can see his glory is a great use of foreshadowing as the good news unfolds.

The disciples just didn’t see it.

Neither do we.

Maybe that is the point.

Jesus tells them again that he is going to suffer, die and be raised, but they didn’t understand. Their confusion and fear were too much for them to see what was happening and really listen to what he was telling them (Luke 9:44-45). That happens to us too. We get overwhelmed by the baggage we carry with us. We might follow Jesus for some time and the power of God’s overwhelming love and undeserved mercy may not truly hit us as the liberating word and amazing grace that it is.  We may still be afraid, bewildered, disoriented and unsettled by the pain and suffering we see around us in the world, or the hurt and shame we feel ourselves.   

When we look in on ourselves, it becomes almost impossible for us to believe that God is making all things new, restoring all things, and reconciling all creation to himself. We keep looking for limitations. So Jesus keeps shining brightly until we see him.

Where do you see Jesus shining?

Keep looking.

PGS

Sunday is coming! “You want me to do WHAT?!!??! with my enemy?” -Luke 6:27-36, Epiphany 7C

“Love your enemies” (Luke 6:27)

We live by very prudent wisdom:

Destroy your enemy.

Dismiss your enemy.

Ignore your enemy.

Tolerate your enemy.

Understand your enemy.

…in order to defeat your enemy.

These strategies make sense for our survival.

They make sense to protect the things we value and the people to whom we belong.

They make sense to ensure our success in a world of competition and limits.

We believe that enemies are obstacles to overcome.

We hold enemies responsible for interfering with our goals. To succeed we need to move beyond them; whether it be by removal, decimation, work-arounds, forgetting they are there, acknowledging their presence or learning from them. Enemies must be defeated, or we will lose.

We believe enemies are our opposite.

We consider ourselves to be relatively good people with good intentions. Enemies prevent and curb our ‘goodness‘ by their implicit ‘badness.’ In a culture that craves redemptive violence, our counter-strike against our enemies gives our lives value and defines us by what we are not. Defeating enemies may require us to stoop to their level or to compromise our values and ethics – but we believe the ends justify the means. Enemies are enemies after-all, not real people or anyone of value. Enemies are not ‘us’ but ‘them.’  Enemies are the ‘bad guys.’ Enemies are ‘evil.’

We believe that we need the threat of enemies.

Threats provide motivation, purpose and meaning. Threats bring innovation and creativity. Threats help us rise to the occasion with courage. We can achieve our greatest accomplishments by overcoming opposition. Complacency is the greatest threat of all. If we defeat one enemy, we inevitably will seek another.

Jesus says, ‘love your enemy.’

‘Do good to those who hate you.’

‘Bless those who curse you.’

‘Pray for those who abuse you.’

‘If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also.’

‘Give to everyone who begs from you.’

‘Do to others as you would have them do to you.’ (Luke 6:27-31)

This is as radical a teaching to us as it would have been to Jesus’ first listeners.

It is a different paradigm for our world:

where the highest value is mercy (Luke 6:36); not winning;

where our common humanity is more important that our differences or division;

where the needs of ‘others’ are as important or perhaps even more important than ourselves;

where fear and hostility take a backseat to forgiveness and collaboration;

where those who hurt us and humiliate are worth redeeming;

where the greatest threat to our humanity us is ourselves;

where enemies are loved;

just as Jesus loves us.

It sounds impossible, improbable and impractical. It makes no logical or emotional sense.

Yet loving our enemies is Christ’s vision for our humanity.

So what might “loving our enemies” mean?

Loving enemies does not mean negating justice, overlooking violence, submitting to abuse, not following through on the consequences of people’s actions (including our own) or forgoing the responsibility of keeping one another safe.

  • It means working toward restorative justice, peacemaking and non-violence.
  • It means continually dismantling systems of hate, discrimination and exploitation.
  • It means not demonizing people (especially when we think they deserve it).
  • It means creating systems that support mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health and well-being.
  • It means working to protect and listen to survivors of abuse, violence and other crime, following-through and taking responsibility for the consequences of actions (and inaction) while valuing the humanity of everyone involved.
  • It means striving for reconciliation over retaliation.
  • It means putting others before ourselves.
  • It means self-sacrificial Christ-like love; not because it is easy but because it is difficult (if not impossible).
  • It means striving for God’s kingdom and righteousness as we learn, grow into and become the blessing Christ calls us to be.
  • It means not relying upon ourselves but on the mercy and grace of a loving God.

Jesus pushes us to see that we have no enemies; there are just other people God also loves.

Who would you say are your enemies?

How could we love, what we have been taught too often to hate?

Where does this seem impossible?

Nothing is impossible for God” (Luke 1:37)

PGS