Up for Debate

This sermon was originally preached at North Star United Methodist Church and Kenai United Methodist Church on February 24, 2019.

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 God 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.”

Our scripture this morning is a continuation of the sermon on the plain we read last week, where Jesus is giving instructions to the people, on even ground. As Jesus addresses the people in the first sentence of verse 27, he calls them ‘you that listen’. The folks there are there to hear what Jesus has to say, and they are in a position where listening is really what they can offer at that moment.

In a way, right now in our church, in our denomination, we too are like the people in the gospel, in a place where listening is all we can really do. As we are here today, conversations and legislation are taking place in St. Louis, with bishops, delegates, and observers from all over the world. The United Methodist Church is in a crossover season, where we are learning and waiting to know what the future of the denomination will look like. We are in that place on the roller coaster where we’re pretty much up the hill, and we can feel that we’re about to take the plunge downhill super-fast, but not yet.

I find myself stressed, because so much is out of my control. I don’t have a vote. I’m not at the conference. At best, I’m watching pieces of it through a screen. But still, I need something from the folks there who do have control. So I listen, in response, just like the folks in Luke did.

The response those people got, the disciples and those who had heard about Jesus, is the part we read today. Jesus gives instructions about love; how to love, who to love, and why we love. He has a habit of repeating himself several times, because if we’ve ever taught to a group of people or said something to a loud room, we know there’s a good chance that some of what you say will go in one ear and out the other. So Jesus says it more than once.

He starts out by using four different illustrations of the same instruction: loving your enemy:

  • Turn the other cheek.
  • Do not withhold to those in need.
  • Give to those who ask of you.
  • If your goods are taken, don’t ask for them back.

Then he goes right into the golden rule: treat others as you want to be treated, do to others as you would have them do to you.

Jesus’ instructions are clear, and even if they aren’t clear the first time, he repeats himself three more times just to be sure. Those hearing his words again, are in a position where the words Jesus is uttering are out of their control. But they can control how they will respond.

The votes that will take place these next few days by the delegates are their way of responding to Jesus, collectively. We as official and unofficial members of this church will not be voting, but we will be able to respond accordingly.

We have been living our lives in a certain way up until this point, and soon, things are going to change. Those on the plain had been living the same way, and now like us, they are at a crossroads, where they are given a choice of how to respond to the reality before them. This scripture gives us what we can control: our response.

Jesus calls us to respond in love, and to respond in love to both those we already agree with, and those who we don’t, even those who hate us.

IMG_1910

More conventional teaching back in Jesus’ time would say that if someone harmed you, you harmed them back. Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth kind of stuff. But what Jesus is doing here, is saying, no, this isn’t about coming out on top anymore. This is about human relationships. Turn the other cheek.

IMG_1911.PNG

The crossroads we as a denomination are coming to have up until this point, divided us big time. We chose sides. We argued about who was right and who was wrong. Like any democracy, someone comes out on top, and someone loses. Often, the ones who lose are the ones whose voice is being silenced by the powerful, the majority. And in a lot of ways, the result of this General Conference will be no different.

IMG_1912.PNG

But what is different, what we hear echoed from Jesus today, is that our future isn’t about winners and losers. Some will be more hurt by the outcome than others. Some will be celebrating while others mourn a loss. Some will become more invested in the church, and some will leave forever. But we are not being called to that. We are being called to give to those who ask of you, to not withhold to those in need, to treat others how we want to be treated.

Now friends, these next three days, we are out of control, waiting, listening, watching. But soon, we will be asked to respond. We will be asked to be a part of whatever change our representatives have decided will happen. And we can either respond by continuing to hurtfully divide, or we can respond in love. It also occurs to me that maybe, our division could also be a response in love. Jesus is calling us to be generous in our response.

The command to love one’s enemy can sound like a further source of division, giving us permission almost, to ‘us’ and ‘them’ each other. But what we’re talking about when we hear Jesus saying ‘love your enemy’, is that we are making the choice to no longer regard the separations we have previously placed on people, moving to a spirit of inclusion.

So today, I find myself preaching and leading from a weird spot in our denomination’s history. In tens and twenties of years, we will look back and see February 2019 as the turning point for the United Methodist Church. It is going to change from what we know it to be today, and we can’t yet predict if that change will be good, will help grow the church, will cause it to schism, will cause lasting damage. But that change is going to happen, and we today, are being asked to respond in love, when it comes time for us to respond.

Wherever you find yourself, however you are feeling, let us remember the clear instructions of Jesus one more time.

“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 God 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.”

When we respond in love, we follow this Holy example that is Jesus Christ. Through his death, his resurrection, and through his ministry, he is a beaming example of what it means to choose love as a response to all things, and to value relationship over choosing sides.

IMG_1913.PNG

Today, as we sit waiting, listening, and preparing our response, let us practice that spirit of relationships, of responding in love with one another in perhaps the most sacred of ways, through the sharing of the bread and cup, as we share in Holy Communion.

As a reminder, this table, like the love of Christ, is open for all. This is not my table, or yours, or even the United Methodist Church’s table. This is God’s table, and God invites all who love God, all who want to love God, all who are curious or are doubting or who have questions. So today, know that God’s active love is inviting you, me, and all of us to the table today.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s