Sermon for February 24, 2019 7th after Epiphany “Seventy Times Seven”
The sermon on the plain in Luke is not for the faint of heart. It should not be the first teaching for those new to Christianity. Vaugn Crowe-Tipton writes, “Congregations respond to this text in the same way my children respond to seeing cooked spinach on their plate at dinner. No matter how much I explain the nutritional value, no one around the table really wants to dig in. Even though we know enough to understand how texts can be bound by culture and time, we also know this text goes down hard, no matter when or how it is served.”
This lesson, first taught to the disciples early in the ministry of Jesus set the basic tenets of how to behave. If the disciples actually understood is a bit of a mystery. Or perhaps they were so mesmerized by Jesus they just agreed like bobble-head disciples. 2000 years later theologians and preachers are want to skip over the text or add honey so that it goes down easier. The text says, “But I say to you that listen, love your enemies, 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; and anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt…Do to others as you would have them do to you.” And we gulp as we try to swallow this bite.
Jesus sets out right at the beginning that the path of a disciple is going to be hard, go against established convention and land all who follow in hot water. But a revolution does not happen by following the status quo. In the past 2000 years the church has struggled with a disconnect between what the Gospel calls us to do and be and what the church has actually done. Yes there have been moments of brilliance but all too often the church has acted in its best interest and not the interest of the Gospel and teachings of Jesus.
I read with interest an article in the Telegraph Journal about Mega Churches in the world. The conclusion was that these churches are more interested in popularity and entertainment than living the teachings of Jesus. That when you push past the veneer of the glossy cover there exists a shallowness and harsh exclusionism. I listen to the Roman Catholic’s conference and listen to the Pope push for justice for victims of abuse by priests and the same time hear that the church is not listening to the voice of women Nuns who were also abused. So not to exclude the United Church, we too have had our challenges with First Nations reconciliation, living into an inter-ethnic church, living with the learning of white privilege and living the hard teachings of Jesus between Sundays.
My suspicion is that I or even we are not going to change in any significant way the trajectory of this or any denominational church. That path will take years and may even require a few funerals. What I am convinced can happen is that we on a very personal level can try our level best to live out these hard teachings of Jesus between the Sundays.
While on vacation I managed to read plenty. Courage to Lead by Brené Brown offered some insight in setting values in leadership, any sort of leadership. I appreciate her writing as it comes from years of engaged research, struggle and a deep faith in God. The challenge she offered was to take time and name your core values. Name four, then place two as the guiding values for everything you are and are about. My first thought was, that will be easy, and started thinking of words that I would use. Then I read the rest of the chapter and thought oh no this is going to be harder than I thought. So after a few days of thinking and wondering I came up with four values that I tried to live and will live into more intentionally. The first two are the most important. Reverence for all creation, sincere gratitude, gentleness and sensitive integrity. They match my faith beliefs and most of the time I can remember two things. My pre-lenten challenge is for you to take time and wrestle with and discover for yourself you two vital values and live into them as you witness to your faith.
One final caution as we read this challenging teaching of Jesus and that is the tension between good works and grace. We respond to the needs around us both human and environmental because we follow the teaching of Jesus. Redemption in the free gift of grace given by God for which we are all utterly undeserving. The Gospel teaching is the best Good News we will ever encounter, it just may not be the easiest Good News.