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Archive for February 25th, 2019

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Text: St. Luke 6: 27-38

Sixteen of the verbs in the Gospel Lesson are in the imperative mood: Love, do good, bless, pray, offer, give, do not demand, do, Judge not, etc.   If a deed is to be done, and it’s imperative, it is of central importance and urgent. Imperative is a command, not a gentle nudge.  All those imperative verb forms, love, do good, bless, pray, etc.  are all good and powerful actions.  The problem is the object of those verbs:  people who hate you, strike you on the face, steal the shirt off your back…your enemies.  There not the sort of people, I want to love! And Jesus is saying that’s the point.  Jesus says to love your enemies twice in this lesson. Jesus sums up these imperatives with another imperative:  Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.  Why is this so imperative? 

First, these verbs and those on the receiving end of them, describe who the Lord is:  “…and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.”  That’s mighty unsettling especially when  I think:  have I been ungrateful and downright nasty in thought, word and deed?  The Lord has been kind to me as well. But my first urgent imperative when someone has down me wrong is what?  Strike back!  Not turn the other cheek!  That’s unnatural!  But unnatural to the nature of sinful flesh.  In Genesis, Cain who killed his brother, had a son, Lamech.  To his wives one day, he boasts:

I have killed a man for wounding me,
    a young man for striking me.
24 If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold,
    then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold.”

I can see Lamech strutting as he said this!  I killed a man for “striking me”.  Now that’s a comeuppance.  This is not the Lord’s nature…neither for the redeemed in Christ. The Lord even protected Cain so he would not be revenged. The imperative to “Be Merciful” is the face that We live in an unmerciful, vengeful world. The cycle of vengeance and comeuppance can only be broken by the Lord’s mercy. Only God’s mercy in the Church’s preaching and teaching of the Word and the Word producing mercy in mercy’s perfect deed, Jesus Christ in us, can break the cycles of hate and revenge. The Lord is merciful.

Second, these verses and so many verses in the Bible, in the Lord’s words and deed we find out the exact nature of The Lord’s being:  mercy and grace. Your Father is merciful. Three times in this lesson the word “grace” is employed. “Hey, I didn’t hear or read the word “grace” in these lessons?”  You were listening!  In these three verses, the word translated as benefit or credit,is charis, grace:

  1. 32 “If you love those who love you, what benefit χάρις is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 3
  2. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit χάρις is that to you? For even sinners do the same.
  3. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit χάρις is that to you?

What does this mean?

In a Big Bang Theory episode, it’s Christmas and Penny gives the freakishly brilliant Sheldon, physicist, a gift.  For Sheldon, Horrors! Sheldon hates gift giving because of the law of reciprocity.  If I receive a gift, then I should give a gift of the same monetary value. Sheldon just expresses the tit for tat world with scientific precision.  We live in a tit for tat world. We know this:  You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours.  “One good turn deserves another.”  And one bad turn deserves another But why did Penny give Sheldon a gift?  She cares for him and just wanted to give him a gift.  She expected nothing in return. We keep even the good stuff amongst ourselves in this tit for tat world.  That’s okay but the Lord wills His charis to spread to others, not hidden under a bushel basket, but the candle set on highest place in the house.  Even to those who don’t want it in our-let’s-make-a deal world.  It’s easy for us to be judging others, as we think the Lord must be like, to eternal damnation. But to live as the Lord in grace toward others is so different, to give just because it’s good and our neighbor needs it…as I do. That’s the thrust of these imperatives. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.  We are to extend God’s charis, grace to and for others which will also redound to God’s grace we have also received. The Lord command His grace to be announced in Christ to all.

Third:    A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned the short story “The Devil and Daniel Webster”.  It’s about Jabez Stone. Jabez is a down on his luck loser.  He’s barely making ends  meet until a stranger, Mr. Scratch, meets him with an offer.  If he would sign this paper he held, for seven years Jabez will have wealth, but then Mr. Scratch will come back to claim…Jabez’ soul.  It was an offer Jabez could not refuse.

The time comes, all too quickly, and Mr. Scratch is about return. Jabez approaches the great 19th century orator Dan’l Webster to plead his case before Mr. Scratch, that is, the devil. So the day arrives, midnight and Dan’l Webster is told by Mr. Scratch there will be a judge and jury…of the worse and most notorious of the 18th century:  murderers, traitors, molesters and the like. Dan’l Webster looked over these miscreanst:

It got to Dan’l in the end, and he began to heat, like iron in the forge. When he got up to speak he was going to flay that stranger with every trick known to the law, and the judge and jury too. He didn’t care any more what happened to Jabez Stone. He just got madder and madder, thinking of what he’d say. And yet, curiously enough, the more he thought about it, the less he was able to arrange his speech in his mind. Till, finally, it was time for him to get up on his feet, and he did so, all ready to bust out with lightnings and denunciations…

But before he started he looked over the judge and jury for a moment, such being his custom. And he noticed the glitter in their eyes was twice as strong as before, and they all leaned forward. Like hounds just before they get the fox, they looked, and the blue mist of evil in the room thickened as he watched them. Then he saw what he’d been about to do, and he wiped his forehead, as a man might who’s just escaped falling into a pit in the dark. For it was him they’d come for, not only Jabez Stone. He read it in the glitter of their eyes and in the way the stranger hid his mouth with one hand.

And here is the important part:

And if he fought them with their own weapons, he’d fall into their power; he knew that, though he couldn’t have told you how. It was his own anger and horror that burned in their eyes; and he’d have to wipe that out or the case was lost..

If we fight with the devil’s own weapons, and sin’s own weapons, we fall into their power. The case is lost and so are the lost! Dan’l Webster had to wipe out his own anger.  I think we live in an age of rage.  If we see the anger and horror of sin and evil in others,  it is in us as well and can flare up.  Love your enemies.  We are called to take up wholly and holy different weapons…of the Spirit, the helmet of salvation, the shield of faith, the Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God, walking in the sturdy shoes of God’s peace in Christ. 

God’s mercy is for the weak and God’s mercy is by no means weak. The same man who preached our Gospel would love His enemies, us all, and bear the Cross and the weight of the sin of this world, as only God Himself can and did in the flesh in strength, power and majesty bearing our weakness of the strength of our flesh to despise.  We so need to disconnect from the weapons of the world in our struggle against the powers and principalities. We need to diffuse so many situations.  Wiping out anger is nigh on impossible to do. Twice in the 20th century the Lord’s command to Love your enemies was taken literally by a Hindu and a Christian, an Indian lawyer who practiced Law in South African, Mohandas K. Gandhi and a Baptist preacher, Martin Luther King, Jr. The Lord commands us to love our enemies to diffuse the smoldering bombs of vengeance and anger but it can only be done in “…your Father who is merciful”.  The working out of the Father’s mercy is long and arduous.  Look at the 20 years, after Joseph was sold into slavery by his own brothers who wanted to murder to him. They are reconciled.  Christ alone is our peace.

How? 

pray for those who abuse you.  When we pray for those who abuse us are not let off the hook of God’s moral law and civil law.  Those who harass and mock, when prayed for, changes us.  Here too is someone for whom Christ died for and forgives, even when His forgiveness is rejected.  There are 16 imperative verbs in the Gospel lesson.  There is another place where the Lord employed the imperative, the prayer He taught us:  “Our Father, who art in heaven . . . hallow your name, bring your kingdom, give us bread, forgive our debts, lead us not into temptation, deliver us from evil.” We are not commanding God. It suggests that in the struggles in this world, prayer is an imperative. Even constantly.  Pray at all times.  Struggle not against flesh and blood but the cosmic rulers in the heavenly places. So did Joseph pray and did not forget in the strange land of Pharoah’s Egypt. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God. 

Only God’s mercy in the Church’s preaching and teaching of the Word and the Word producing mercy in mercy’s perfect deed, Jesus Christ in us, can break the cycles of hate and revenge. Why? The Lord is merciful.

We are to extend God’s charis, grace to and for others which will also redound to God’s grace we have also received. Why?  The Lord is full of grace.

The Lord commands us to love our enemies to diffuse the smoldering bombs of vengeance and anger but it can only be done in “…your Father who is merciful”.  Look to Him upon the Cross and bearing the marks of the nails. Why?  Christ alone is our peace

Grace, mercy and peace in the Name of the Father, and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Now may the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding guards your hearts and minds in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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