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.[a] Your 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.
But, others have as well, here’s a couple of examples:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.