Matthew 5:38-48

February 23, 2014 by Ken Dale

I cannot help but begin with saying what a wonderful experience it was to be with the current confirmation class this past Thursday afternoon.? It was sort of a make up day ? and we considered a lesson that was supposed to be discussed back in December but it was one of those storm-Sundays.? The topic was the paradox of the humanity and divinity of Jesus ? that Jesus was fully human and fully God and what God was up to in the life of that person Jesus of Nazareth.? It?s a great class ? deep thinkers and wonderful open minded and open hearted individuals on that journey called faith.? I was especially struck when one of the girls likened what we were talking about to being in a class she was in.? In one class the teacher sat behind the desk and taught them ? told them.? But in another class the teacher didn?t stay behind the desk, but instead got involved with the kids and showed them what he was teaching them.? I think she is grasping that whole belief about incarnation ? God in the flesh.

If we look at the life and teachings of Jesus we can see that what Jesus is living and talking about is how the world is ? how life is ? where God gets what God wants from the world.? Last Sunday Kathy and I worshipped at Old South Church in Boston and heard a wonderful message on the verses that precede the verses from the Sermon on the Mount that we have before us this morning.? In fact ? the preacher included some of the text before us.? But he spoke of how Jesus is actually fulfilling, not abolishing the law of the prophets as Jesus states in verse 17.? We hear that law in our reading from Leviticus this morning.? But Jesus takes that same law to a deeper level in the Sermon on the Mount.? The deeper level is not just the outward actions but the heart that is behind those outward actions.

I love Eugene Peterson?s treatment of the lesson in The Message:? ?if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life.? No more tit for tat stuff.? Live generously.? ?You?re familiar with the old written law, ?Love your friend,? and its unwritten companion, ?hate your enemy.?? I?m challenging that.? I?m telling you to love your enemies.? Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst.? When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves.? This is what God does.? God gives his best ? the sun to warm and the rain to nourish ? to everyone, regardless: the good the bad, the nice the nasty.? If all you do is love the loveable, do you expect a bonus?? Anybody can do that?.In a word, what I?m saying is Grow up.? You are kingdom subjects.? Now live like it.? Live out your God-created identity? Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.

??????????? So often we get to be intentional about living that out in our response to others.? We cannot often control how other people act ? in general or toward us.? But we can control how we will respond.? And hear Jesus? words?? If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also – ?human nature would say hit him back!? If anyone would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well.? Does that sound like sound legal advice?? If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two.? Just think about the possibilities for conversation as that journey continued.?? Love your enemies ? if you love those who love you what reward have you?? ?Isn?t Jesus saying we are to make a difference in our response ? we are to put a halt to that negative and change the direction of things in our response -? not making the situation or matter worse. ?As one commentator captured it, Jesus is not saying fight fire with fire ? he?s saying fight fire with water.

I was intrigued with some thoughts about the spiritual discipline of submission.? Actually quite challenging thoughts.? Submission is a spirit with which we view others, and in which we relate to and treat them.? It is the willingness not to get our own way, and the ability to lay down the burden of needing to come out on top.? In some situations submission is the freedom to drop the matter ? to forget it.? Not in the sense of deeming the other unworthy and not wasting time on it or with passive-aggressive behavior like agreeing with someone then dragging one?s heels about cooperating ? but in the genuine willingness to let the other person have his/her say.? It may be saying nothing in response which sometimes is a grace that sets others free.? Submission puts aside our own need to be the center of attention and frees us to value others.? And of course it has its limits ? like when it becomes destructive not to take positive action when active love for another does need to take over.? I just found it thought provoking ? submission as spiritual discipline.

The focus can be two fold.? First Jesus teaches us that living in God?s realm means to live in community where we think of others first.? All our decisions are to be for the common good.? We are to see each other as brothers and sisters and this comes from the God who brings us together and empowers us to live so.? We are able to be gracious and forgiving and hospitable and generous because we are children of God who showers us abundantly with grace.? If we have known God?s love, forgiveness and generosity, we can love even enemies, can forgive those who persecute, and can give to those who have little or nothing.? That is possible because of Christ living in and through us.

The second focus is to see that all of this is embodied in Jesus.? If we only but look and listen to Jesus we can get it.? That is God?s word made flesh and dwelling in our midst.? That is God ? the Teacher who does not sit behind the desk, but the teacher who dwells with us and shows us.? Jesus calls us to more God-like behaviors.? The reign of God is inaugurated in the person of Jesus and we are by faith empowered to live in that reign.? Jesus doesn?t call us to impossible goals ? instead he gives us a vision of God?s world ? where love is genuine and unconditional.? Being perfect is not about being right ? it?s just about being mature and complete and loving each other ? loving others as we know God loves us and others.

Fred Buechner lays it out in a wonderful way and I close with his words:

The love for equals is a human thing ? of friend for friend, brother for brother.? It is to love what is loving and lovely.? The world smiles.

??????????? The love for the less fortunate is a beautiful thing ? the love for those who suffer, for those who are poor, the sick, the failures, the unlovely.? This is compassion, and it touches the heart of the world.

??????????? The love for the more fortunate is a rare thing ? to love those who succeed where we fail, to rejoice without envy with those who rejoice, the love of the poor for the rich, of the black man for the white man.? The world is always bewildered by its saints.

??????????? And then there is the love for the enemy- love for the one who does not love you but mocks, threatens, and inflicts pain.? The tortured?s love for the torturer.? This is God?s love.? It conquers the world.? ?(From The Magnificent Defeat)