The Pastor’s Pen – February 24, 2019

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‘…called to be different’

February 24, 2019

Scripture: Luke 6:27-38

“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 from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If 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. But 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. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, 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.”

I believe that we here, each one of us, is called to be… different.

Called, as a consequence of faithfulness, to look, sound, and be different than the rest of ‘normal, functioning’ society.  Everything that Jesus asks of his listeners in this passage seems to absolutely fly in the face of common-sense intuition and understandings.  Understandings and tactics we as humans have developed over multiple millennia of seeking to survive in a hostile environment.  In other words, in many ways these instructions go against behaviors and automatic reactions that over time have become ‘hard-wired’ into us as a species…fight or flight reflexes imprinted into our genetic code.

And yet here, Jesus seems to be saying that the ongoing revelation of God, mostly specific to his particular witness, puts forth a new and different understanding of the nature of God than we are used to…and vastly different as well I would imagine, from the understandings of the faith of his own day.

Jesus teaches here of a God of love who asks followers to be vulnerable in the face of danger, to give beyond one’s means to do so.  Jesus speaks of a divine being who seeks to assure followers that a ‘full measure’ of blessings will fall upon these who are truly faithful…a claim that in truth, is quite a stretch for many if not most people, both when it was first spoken and now.  Few are those I imagine who truly believe that a life of deep vulnerability before others is any guarantee of abundant blessing.

And when challenged by this passage or others like it, surely some will feel the need to dig deep into their bible verse memory bank and pull out the time-worn verse warning us not to ‘throw our pearls before swine’.  However, I hope to show you that this verse, along with a host of other verses frequently brought into play in attempts to justify or validate Western cultural excess or norms simply does not rise to a level capable of dismissing the raw challenge presented here in Luke.

The challenge presented by Jesus is very straightforward – walk in his footsteps, in the ways he himself demonstrates…and you shall be blessed.  Trust in God to protect and direct you and in so doing fulfill the particular role for which you were created…the role you and you alone have the life-story, the gifts, and the talents necessary for.

But you may ask, surely Jesus did not mean for us to stand in such a place of raw vulnerability, without even what would seem to be the protection of rational thought? A good question indeed, for it would seem that at least some measure of self-concern and self-protection ought to be able to be employed, if only to prolong the time one could be available to actually engage in holy or good works.  And though it is a good question, it does appear from our scripture passage that there may indeed be times, even frequently, when following after the footsteps of our Lord may insist that we temporarily throw all caution to the wind. Times when ‘seeking first the Kingdom of God’ may not include reliance on thought or reason over obedience and faithfulness.  However, I do not believe that this means our gifts of wisdom and discernment must be entirely abandoned all of the time. For truly, we are not called to be doormats for the rest of society…except I suppose, on those occasions when we may be so asked.

Rather, I think that the call to abandon oneself into the care of the Lord in these matters requires that we be all that we are…fully informed, fully aware, fully cautious, fully prepared, and perhaps most importantly fully convinced that the Spirit of Holiness, that indwelling Spirit of God’s grace and goodness, is watching over us and willing to guide our steps through terrain both smooth, as well as littered with jagged rock.

But aside from the promise of the Spirit’s presence and guidance…if it is believed in and trusted, and if it is looked to for moment by moment guidance and support…aside from that, it is also important to remember that Jesus is asking something that may be enormously difficult to do, as well as critically important, in making the requests listed in our passage. 

I believe that we need to read the scriptures within the full framework of the designs and trajectory of the story of our God and of humanity as first created, and not necessarily within the narrow confines of normal, everyday life as it is lived out all around us.  In other words, we may need to take a broader view of what we are all here for in the first place.

If one’s faith believes in a ‘prime-mover God’ who started it all and then took off…if one believes in a ‘warrior God’ who is interested in the wellbeing of just a few very fortunate ‘elect’…if one believes that God may exist, but aside from some creative magic, has no other interest in the affairs of humanity…if one does not even believe in God at all, but feels we are all on our own here on this most miraculous collection of beneficial circumstances….if any of those be in fact the case, then it only makes sense to continue living life the way most people do.  To live solely concerned with self-care, self-protection, and self-advocacy, with the affairs of others being of no concern unless and until they impact, enrich, or threaten one’s own search for balance and survival.

If however, the biblical narrative is taken as holding some measure of truth, and if the words of the Prophets are seen as at all a foretaste or indicator of the will of our God, and if the words of our passage today are to find a place of valid residence whatsoever within the class of words that are truly ‘holy’, then there must be a raison d’etre, a reason to be here on earth together that is larger than personal care and safety.  There must be more to life than making it through the day that is right in front of us, and putting aside stores of provision in anticipation of need tomorrow.

I would submit that the will of our God, as expressed throughout the words of the bible, in the Prophets and laced throughout the teachings of Jesus, is that there is in fact a time and place we are seeking that is far, far different than where we all reside right now.  Not I fear, what many would immediately jump to, not the ‘heaven after death or after earthly destruction narrative’ which so many feel is the be all and end all of a faithful life but rather, a different sort of goal, a different sort of future in which to hope and to seek after.

Namely that is the arrival of the promised and much-prophesied Day of our Lord right here and now, right here on earth, right here in our midst.  A world in which love truly does stand as the underlying force that not only gives life but sustains it as well.  A world where justice finally is allowed to emerge and warring and oppression finally do come to their deserved end.  A time when concern for neighbor really does come before concern for self, when everyone truly does act in the same ways they wish others would act towards them.  A time when the words of the Prophets, as well as the echo of them in the inaugural sermon of Jesus in Nazareth become the lived reality of humanity on earth…a time when all may see that indeed the ‘Kingdom truly is at hand’…a time when the instructions in our passage today, start to make some sense.

However, that sentiment is equally so, if not more so at odds with the very real power of the ‘Self’.  The ego-driven core of every person’s being that is so focused on self-care, self-protection, self-security, and too often self-ish-ness.  One of the most incredible gifts we were given at the moment of Creation was the ability to freely choose…the gift of free will…the ability to choose what or if to believe, to choose who if anyone to follow, and in fact, to choose self over others.  And it is a gift most deeply respected by our God who gave it.  There is no instance where our God is willing or even able to force the divine will upon us or upon any of our decisions…we each are free to act and free to decide.  The Spirit can only seek to reveal to us the power of love as it is lived, can only seek to lead us towards that light…it cannot and will not force us to return that love to God or even to one another.

From there we must choose on our own.  Choose to weigh the relative value of a life lived for self and loved ones alone, or a life lived in active pursuit of the Day of our Lord when all shall see together the saving grace of unconditional love as it is demonstrated by us, and shared across the whole of humanity.

By grace however, I do feel that the Lord has to some extent, stacked the deck.  For it does not take much for us to see the true worth of goodness and self-less acts.  We know the value of good things done on our own behalf…is it not possible that that same value is offered to another when we do the same for them?  Do we not wish to be forgiven for our failings and miss steps, and is it that hard to forgive?  Do we not wish to avoid condemnation from anyone or anything, and is it really necessary to stand in condemnation of another brother or sister?  Do we not shy away from being harshly judged enough to offer that same grace by refusing to judge another? Surely would we not wish to be given a measure equal to or greater than the one we ourselves offered to another…a full measure, pressed down and shaken to overflowing?

This passage asks of us a seemingly impossible task.  To trust in God enough, to have sufficient faith, to be willing to live our lives on behalf of others, trusting that the Lord in turn will take care of us. It asks that we set aside literally millions of years of human evolution seeking and learning how to survive within a horrifically dangerous world, to take all of that ‘hard-wired’ knowledge and trust instead, in the words and teachings of a man who was put to death for speaking them. 

Have we truly ‘heard’ the call of our Lord and of our God of love through these words in Luke which though challenging, indeed may offer us a way to be set free from hatred, prejudice, greed, warring, prejudice, and injustice forever?  Might it be the case, that the Day of the Lord is only possible when we set aside the Day of Our Selves?  Does our faith really ask us to live a life that is so, so different than the one we do now, and so, so different than many of the lives we see lived around us every day? I fear it may be so.

And I do not mean to imply whatsoever that such a surrender is at all easy or other than extremely difficult.  And I can not tell you that abandoning inborn instincts bent on personal survival, and the safety and security of loved ones is anything but almost impossible.  And I surely cannot promise that doing so will yield immediate benefits or even the slightest perceived measure of success, for many are those over the last several thousand years who gave their lives in this fashion without seeing a return.

However, I can attest that this journey, if undertaken, will yield a quality of life and a sense of purpose that can never be matched by a life lived for self alone.

The choice is yours…

…but make no mistake…

…the journey is perilous and the rewards perhaps distant…

…but the value of one life given in pursuit of the Day of our Lord…is priceless.

…amen

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