Luke 6:27-38

27 ‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not with- hold even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
32 ‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you?

For even sinners do the same. 34 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. 35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.[aYour reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

37 ‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be con- demned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 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.’

Is it easy to love one’s enemies? What happens when we do that? Has anyone ever given you something and not expected anything in return?

This gospel text is a continuation of the beatitudes. Jesus is sharing with his followers the marks of the alternative, beloved community that God wants for all of us.

This alternative community calls for a change in our worldview. We are to act and practice love differently. And, in so doing, we are participating in a new reality of what community means. It is marked by practicing love…it is not marked by tribal identity, political affiliation, the color of skin, orientation, social or economic standing. It is also not marked by holding on to long standing grievances. It is a community of forgiveness, grace, of second, third, fourth, etc. chances.

Some might say this is impossible, we cannot live in community like this…yet, Jesus is calling us to treat all people as if they were close relatives that we love deeply, and to do so without expectations of return.

This kind of community changes the world. It is not based on a patronage system like that of antiquity, and even today, a system that says “I’ll do this for you if you do that for me”, a system that can lend itself to a slow death by constantly checking the scoreboard. No, this is a life based on giving, knowing that all you need is all that you have, and working towards friendships where folks of all sorts of diverse backgrounds, cultures, and opinions can come together in unity through acts of lovingkindness.

A community of belief in one another and in a God who demonstrates faith in us…even when we mess up.

Jesus is addressing folks of a certain wealth in this passage also. They have cloaks, clothes, money to lend to others. Much like us in this room, these are followers of Jesus, or folks curious about Jesus, and all searching to live lives full of meaning and depth as they ask questions, seeking abundance in life, intentionally or unintentionally.

And, folks that may have experienced this sense of God’s practice of lovingkindness through others.

I know that I have had experiences that have been transformational because of this practicing what God has demonstrated to us throughout history and with Jesus.

Honestly, I could point to so many folks in my life who have demonstrated this…Debbie, is certainly someone who has been the kind of friend that has demonstrated God’s lovingkindness in so many ways.

Debbie put on a fantastic event for caregivers through her work as a PTA with Premier Physical Therapy recently. These folks believe in one another!
Had to include this picture…Leo, the dog, believes in Debbie…so much, that he thinks he’s a lap dog!

But, others have as well, here’s a couple of examples:

I was a summer staff person for EAPE in Philly in 1989. Over the years after that summer, I brought students for service trips from Lexington, Atlanta, and Cincinnati! This is a group from Cincy about 9 or 10 years ago.

In 1989, after hearing Dr. Tony Campolo speak, I moved to the inner-city of Philadelphia for a summer. I lived in an Episcopal church at 5th and Reed for a summer. The church’s congregation was, at that time, maybe had 20 person. Yet, we had a team of folks from all over the world learning together what it means to share with one another, have disagreements, work through them, and build friendship. We were also surrounded by neighborhood folks that were black, white, Irish, Italian, middle-eastern, etc. you name it…and, yet, they practiced so much hospitality with us, that it changed me. I could never be the same. Out of that summer, I solidified a calling to be a minister and it set me on a path that led me to being a pastor and a community organizer of sorts.

In 1993, I was working with a non-profit youth ministry in Lexington, KY after graduation from UK in 1990.

Back in the day, probably 1990 or 1991…playing guitar at Campus Life club, along with the amazing Jill Cole, one of our volunteer leaders…who’s still a rock star to this day!

I was at a point where I knew that I wanted to work for a church.

I was dating a Catholic youth worker, Melissa Berens, at the time and she encouraged me to become a church partner with Young Life and the Presbyterian Church through the Rev. Charlie Scott, someone that she had met at a conference. Charlie, and his wife Mary, had a great impact on my life. He eventually encouraged me to go to seminary and to become an ordained pastor. That also meant a move to Atlanta where the church partnership was located.

Charlie and his wife Mary! Through good and hard times, conversations, and life together over years, they believed in me and so many others! Their legacy continues on to this day!

Working for this non-profit in Lexington was great, but it was also at a tremendous cost. It was only about $15,000 per year. It was a great experience, but I had accumulated some debt. My grandfather was still alive at the time. He was really into our Scottish heritage and was pretty excited that I had become a Presbyterian in college, and was going to work for the Presbyterian church.

Howard and Elva Wheeler…or PePa and MeMa. Still, so alive to me!!!

He also believed in me. Throughout my life, he had poured into me. Building me up. His belief still gives me confidence to this day and has been foundational.

He also knew about my debt. One day he asked me to write down all of my debts, how much I owed and to what. I was pretty embarrassed to give him that list. Yet, he took it, did not condemn or lecture me, and simply pulled out his checkbook and wrote me a check for the entire debt. Then he said that he was proud of me and did not want me to start over in Atlanta worrying about debt. It was cancelled.

He was not a wealthy man or do I remember him being particularly religious, but he understood community and friendship. Everyone in his neighborhood knew Howard and respected him.

I also experienced so much friendship this past weekend on our church retreat.

2019 Fleming Road Church Retreat @ Kirkwood!
2019 Fleming Road Church Retreat @ Kirkwood!

Friends, we are all building up our church together and being the alternative community that this world desperately needs, even if it doesn’t recognize it yet.

The last verses in the gospel lesson remind us that God treats us all the same, and when we act in the way that our very loving God does, towards those on the inside and outside, that we will see more clearly God’s practice towards all of us.

When we do, when we live, or be the people God calls us to be, we will truly live and others will find life, and life to the full, with us.


“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” – Galatians 2:20 (TNIV)

Live (verb) [ζῶ (Gal 2:20 BGT)]

  1. of natural life, of the conduct of life, be well, recover, as surely as I live, life—
  2. of the life of the child of God.

What does it mean to “live”?  It seems to me that our lives so often get filled with busyness, getting things done, achieving, performance, and so much more that we often do not have time to simply live, or we forget what it means to live.  We may be breathing and blood may be pumping through our bodies, but when we pause for a moment, we ask ourselves, are we truly living?

It seems to me that we have become enslaved to the notions that have been presented to us through media, many relationships, and even institutions.  We can resonate with the words of Jesus found in the first part of John 10:10:

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.”

What is the thief stealing, killing, and destroying?  Our lives.  

Yet, Jesus goes on to say this in the second part of that verse:

“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

How do we have this life to the full?  By simply recognizing that our identities are wrapped up into a new Reality.  The writer of the verse in Galatians, Paul, sums it up best when he states that we have been crucified with Christ.  Jesus represents all of us in our shared humanity and was crucified for humanity out of the world’s thirst for power and violence.  On that cross and throughout the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, our old, enslaved, dead-end lives have been crucified and absorbed by Jesus.  In its place, Jesus has given us himself and our identities are wrapped up in Christ and given the chance to live life to the full, to become, as Thomas Merton and others have said through the years, our “true selves”.

As the church, we are called to be the “body of Christ”, which is universal to the whole of humanity.  We are called to live out this new Reality.  We are called to have freedom from the things that enslave us and to boldly occupy our identity as Christ followers.  A few years ago, I used a poker analogy with a group of students at Northminster Presbyterian where I was the Associate Pastor for students and families at the time, asking them if they’d be willing to go “all in” in pursuing this God who pursues us and binds us together.  They did and the student ministry at Northminster took off.  

Students, and adults, all of us, need to see this new Reality, especially in a world becoming increasingly isolated and yearning for authentic friendships.  It is my hope during this upcoming season of Lent that we can empty ourselves and let God’s divine flow fill us.  May we be “all in” as a church in building up Christ’s body to effectively be a part of the transformation the world around us and around the world!  Together, all of us, with Christ living in and through us, let’s reach out to our neighbors and their families sharing with them abundant or full living!


Luke 6:17-26 (NRSV) Jesus Teaches and Heals

17 He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disci- ples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. 18 They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19 And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.

20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor for yours is the kingdom of God.

21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.

“Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.

22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you[a] on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. 24

“But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.

“Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.
“Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.

26 “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

Question: What does it mean to be “blessed”? In terms of God’s blessing, or the deeper things, is blessing about material things? More money? More status?

Seems like in this lesson that Jesus is making a dramatic proclamation, consistent with many of his other statements, as well as the trajectory of the words and actions of the Jewish prophets. Jesus is calling for a paradigm shift in the predominant world view at the time, and I would say is still prevalent today.

A paradigm is simply a pattern or an example of something, usually meaning that some- thing is going a certain away. The prevalent paradigm in antiquity, and today, is to secure or attain, or sustain, a certain way of living that allows you to consume, maybe even more than you produce.

That is, that the goal of life is to be rich, to have things, to be comfortable, and to main- tain your social status in society. Now, I’m not saying that it’s wrong to be rich, have things, sometimes be comfortable, or maintain a sense of status, nor do I think Jesus is saying something that is an absolute here. I think what Jesus is saying to us that the pursuit of those things, that being our life’s aim, can lead to a slow death, a status that doesn’t lend itself to growth.

Jesus is saying that when one is hungry, one is poor, when one has fallen from status in society, that they are blessed, they will be filled, lifted up, given a place in community.

Jesus is calling for a paradigm shift towards honoring those on the margins. And, Jesus is calling us, as Jesus followers, to practice this deep sense of inclusion.

In our passage, the writer says that Jesus came down from a retreat, a time of reflection, ready to call into action a group of folks willing to be committed to a practice of inclusion and building community, willing to have a shift in their worldview, willing to be grow into becoming all that God intends for them.

A great crowd had assembled, some were followers, others were curious or had needs. It is interesting that Jesus cures all of them. No one was left out.

Which, I think is the point of this text, no one is left out. We are all made in God’s image, all of us. The believers, the non-believers, the rich, the poor, the hungry, the ones that are eating well. All of us, white, black, Hispanic, gay, straight, refugees, immigrants.

And, because of that sense of inclusion, we must practice how well we care, listen, and interact with one another.

When I was in India, this was driven home for me. I’ve seen the affects of poverty here in the States, and in other places like Mexico and Nicaragua. But, in India, one of the wealthiest countries in the world with an expanding economy, I saw more poverty, as well as pockets of extreme wealth. I never will forget riding the sleeper trains with folks from all walks of life, walking the streets and having kids beg from me outside of a store selling high end luxury cars.

I was reading an article this week that described the growing wealth disparity between the top 1% of the world and the rest of the 99% and how that’s fueling a growing threat to any sense of democracy that we have had.

Yet, I was also reminded by a gentleman from Nebraska who I was able to be on a conference call with that said that he’s excited for what’s happening in Nebraska as we move away from partisanship, and even bi-partisanship in how we deal with issues in our communities to a post-partisanship.

In other words, we are realizing that our worldview cannot stay static and based on anxiety, division, competition, or fear, but that we have to begin seeing one another in our shared humanity and that God’s flow, God’s spirit is calling us towards relationship with one another.

This is not only what Jesus is calling us towards, but it also is key for our growth. If you want to grow in your life with God and with others, then allowing yourself to be open to others, to invite conversations and new friends into our homes, our church, and our lives….as well as going out and seeking those on the margins and looking at them through a different lens leads to growth. We are never too old or set in our ways to not be invited into new ways of thinking, which actually causes a re-wiring in our brains that can lead to better health…maybe even has something to do with Jesus’ teachings on having a life of abundance, a full life.

A friend of mine, Peter Block, once said this, don’t ever call someone poor (or rich for that matter), because once you do, then you have labeled them and have a different relationship with them than possibly being a friend. Peter prefers the word “economically isolated” as opposed to poor. Many of you met Peter Block at my Installation service and have asked for him to come back, he is! March 17th. He’ll be sharing with us and leading a discussion after church at that day.

Another friend, Andy Matheson, reminds me often that God’s economy is based on relationships, not material wealth. May we live into the reality that we are wealthy in God’s economy. That we can grow these relationships with one another and with those that we meet…and, in so doing, we can be the body of Christ that does bring healing to all, just as Jesus did, the deep healing that involves the practice of friendship.


1 Corinthians 15:1-5

15 Now I should remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, 2 through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain.

3 For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, 4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

Alex Dingle is a good friend of mine. He was also in my student ministry when I was at Northminster Presbyterian Church many years ago.  He was in middle school when I first met him.  We clicked from the beginning.  He loved adventure and was always doing crazy stunts like skateboard jumping off of extremely steep ramps that he’d build…or doing tricks on his bike.  He also loved the outdoors.  

Alex Dingle

In high school, we would take students on wilderness experiences.  Our favorite was Pioneer Plunge.  It’s a wilderness camp on the property of Young Life’s Windy Gap.  It seems like many lifetimes ago that we were involved with Young Life, but we had some great memories with Young Life. Their Windy Gap is not a typical camp, it’s more like a Disney world in the mountains with all some extreme obstacle courses, slides, swings, go-carts, horseback riding, modern cabins that look more like large hotel rooms, Jacuzzi, things called blobs on the lake, zip lines, etc.  

However, Pioneer Plunge was built in the middle of the woods with no running water, no electricity, and the bare minimum of luxuries or entertainment.  

Pioneer Plunge

It was build for students to get away, to learn to be dependent on each other, and to have distractions at a minimum in order to foster relationships with each other and with God.

Alex went on several of these trips.  Our last trip there when he was in high school was the best though.  We had a great weekend filled with laughing, deep conversation, and really good community.  On the way out of camp, in our van, we were listening to music in the van, singing at the top of our lungs, and I can remember thinking and then voicing this out loud to Alex, “there is no place else in the entire world that I’d rather be right now than here, in this van, after this weekend, with you”.  I really meant it.  It was a “now” moment filled with life, new life.  A time when things slowed down, relationships were deepened by simply being fully present with each other.

I’ve had other moments in my life like that.  I believe they happen most often when we come to a relational place of deep contentment within ourselves and with those around us…and with a sense of the holy or “other” being present around and in us holding it all together.  

In 1989, I spent a summer working with a group called EAPE in Philadelphia before my senior year at the University of Kentucky.  

The founder of this group was a man by the name of Dr. Tony Campolo.  I heard him give a lot of speeches over the years, but one on Quantum Physics and Einstein’s theory of relativity captured my imagination.  I wasn’t much of a physics student in high school, at all…we had a great teacher, and many of my friends were members of the All-Vector team as they deemed themselves.  However, I was not.  But, now I’m finding myself drawn to it.  Dr. Campolo is a brilliant sociologist and who studied very briefly under Albert Einstein.  In this talk, he gave a great picture of how time is suspended according to Einstein.  Time isn’t always linear either.  

Here are some words that Tony has shared over the years:

According to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, time is relative to motion.  

The faster we travel, the more time is compressed.  You know that, don’t you-from StarTrek?-from the movie Contact, right?  You know that time is relative to motion.  The faster you travel, according to Einstein, the more time is compressed.  So, if we put you in a rocket, sent you into outer space traveling at 170,000 miles a second (relative to us); if you came back in ten years, you would be ten years older.  All the rest of us would be twenty years older.  Our twenty years would be compressed into ten years of your time.  If we got you traveling at 180,000 miles a second, our twenty years would be compressed into one day of your time.  If we got you traveling at the speed of light-(we can’t do that, because, as you approach the speed of light your physical mass increases outward in a geometric progression; your size and weight increases dramatically, as you approach the speed of light.)  I tell you that-don’t let anybody ever say you’re fat.  Just say, ‘I’m traveling too fast’.  You know, just say that.  But if I could get you traveling at the speed of light-186,000 miles a second-there would be no passage of time at all.  Everything would occur simultaneously.  You say, ‘Well, why did you do us that-why did you take us through Einstein?’

Tony goes on to say:  For a very important reason: I believe that Jesus is not only very human of very human, I believe that Jesus is God.  I believe he has this humanity and this divinity, simultaneously.…Let me say this: When Jesus hung on the cross, 2000 years ago-because Jesus is simultaneously God, he was, and he is contemporary with this very moment!  You say, ‘But there’s 2000 years separating me from Jesus on the cross, back there.  There’s 2000 years separating these two events.’  At the speed of light, these two events are occurring now.  

Jesus is God, and experiences time in a different dimension.  All things happen now with Jesus.

That’s why the very name of God is “I am that I am”.  That’s why, when they asked Jesus, “Who are you?” he said, “Before Abraham was…I am”…Which means that, right now, Jesus is looking at you.  Right now, Jesus, on the cross, has you in his consciousness.  He sees you sitting here.  

The lecture that Dr. Campolo gave talked about the events of Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection as happening now…not something in the distant past.  Since God is in a different dimension, not constrained to linear time, which science gives testimony to as well, that the drama of creation and redemption with God through Christ are happening all of the time with God, all of it, right now.  He even went on to say that we are brought up into God’s newness when we die.  When we die, we enter God’s now…therefore, we all arrive into the Presence of God at the same moment…into eternity, or God’s now.  Crazy.  

In the fullness of time, Christ gathered all things, all people to him.  We have been drawn, are drawn, and are being drawn into Christ…right now.  We are bound together by God’s Spirit, God’s Otherness to each other and to God.  Because of that, God’s actions on our behalf are happening right now…and always.

Now, one thing we should ask, did Jesus die on the cross to appease God for our sins?  Well, it’s interesting, there are multiple orthodox theories of atonement, or why Christ went to the cross.  Penal Substitutionary atonement, or Jesus going to the cross to appease God the Fathers desire for sacrifice to pay for our sins, is one of many….personally, I don’t think it matches up with the trajectory of scripture and a loving God.  

The scandal of the cross is that Jesus disrupted the system, some folks felt threatened.  They made up charges, put him to death in a humiliating and violent way.  BUT, the beauty of the cross is that God’s love for us overcame the humiliation and violence and that love resurrected Jesus.

The atonement is an “at-one-moment” when we see the sense of God’s now in a dynamic and dramatic union of the divine and human. We see Jesus and Jesus sees us. What’s more, that moment is happening right now, all of the time.

Corinthians was written to a group of Jewish believers with the intent of giving them a hope in a salvation that has already here.  It was good news for them, and good news for us now.

This resurrection life, this overcoming the humiliation and violence of our lives, this conquering of death, is happening now, right now!  We are being healed, now.  Our job is to work on cultivating the reality that is God’s newness.  To be still at times, to work towards a goal of loving our neighbors well, to seek a Kingdom that God has already established for us.  It can be hard work, yes, discovery the beauty within and without takes time and effort…yet, it’s already there, waiting to be discovered and experienced.  Someday, when linear time is complete, or full, we will have the opportunity to see things more clearly.  But, now, we catch inklings of those transcendent moments of being in the now.  

Fleming Road UCC, the church in my neighborhood that I pastor is growing in the confidence that all that we need is here, now.  Yes, we will do lots of new things as well as some old things.  We will continue to grow and learn to “be” ourselves in community with others and with God.  We will experience the confidence of knowing that the entire drama or narrative of God’s work on our behalf, of God’s pursuit of us throughout history and in the future is happening NOW. 

I believe, like that moment with Alex, that God is saying to us, right now, there’s no place I’d rather be than here, with you, now, in all of our struggles and triumphs, shedding awareness into the depths of who we are.

As we go into 2019, may we live in the Now of God and, as we go through the birthing, living, dying, and resurrection of things in our lives, know that the good news of life in Christ has been happening, is happening, and will continue to happen forever.