St. Matthew’s Sermon 02-24-2019

St. Matthew’s Sermon 02-24-2019

“Listen, Love”!

Genesis 45:3-11, 15, Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40, 1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50, Luke 6:27-38

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

“”Teacher,” [the lawyer asked], “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said “”What is written in the Law. What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said to him “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”” (Luke 10:25-29) Then Jesus went on to tell the parable of the “Good Samaritan” leaving the impression that anyone in need of love is your neighbor. And anyone showing love to someone in need, even a despicable Samaritan, is doing a Godly service.

It can be challenging to love a next-door-neighbor. It can be even more challenging to love a stranger, even one who has fallen at the hands of others. But, in this case I can’t imagine anyone here “passing by on the other side of the road”. At the very least I would expect you to call 911.

But in today’s reading, which by-the-way comes before the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus gives us the hardest challenge to meet telling us that we are not only to love our neighbors, but to love our enemies as well. And this time no one asks “And who is my enemy” so we don’t get a parable to explain things further. Instead of explanations that might make this pill easier to swallow, we get examples that are even harder to put into practice. Like turning the other cheek, willingly giving more than was already taken from us, not asking for the return of what was rightfully ours, and lending without expecting to get anything back.

Yes, it’s hard but there is no way of getting around the fact that it is what Christ calls us to do.

Oh, we could dissect the text and relieve ourselves of the duty by claiming that it only applies to matters of finance and politics; or that it only refers to early persecution of the Church. And we could claim that it only applies to matters within the community of the Church therefore it doesn’t need to be enacted toward those outside. But any and all of these can only be justified by reading things into the words of Christ that just aren’t there.

But we can see the light of Christ’s commands if, rather than asking who it applies to, we ask why should we love our enemy?

Is it a way to win over our opponent with kindness? Is it about us, that we prove ourselves more righteous by taking the moral high road or by shaming our enemy with your superior goodness? Is it a way to end conflict or prevent further hostility by not perpetuating it with more of the same? Is it a way to rise above the pettiness of retaliation? Or is it a demonstration of the spiritual strength of Christian witness?

I’m fairly certain you all know what my answer is… all of the above.

Anger, leading to hatred, leading to violence is as old as human life itself. We can recall the story of Cain and Able from the book of Genesis to see that. But violence and retaliation are not natural responses to conflict, they are learned behaviors passed on from one generation to another through the ages. The result: continuous escalation of destruction of life.

We have seen it in more recent times. A disgruntled Bosnian national, Gavrilo Princip, assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in 1914. Retaliation by the Austrians led to more violence against them. Things escalated quickly and soon World War I was devastating all of Europe and many other places in the world.

In the late 1960’s, no one can agree on an exact date, tensions rose in Northern Ireland. A few fire bombs here, a retaliatory murder there; and it grew into a conflict of Christian against Christian; Catholic against Protestant; that lasted over 30 years.

And, continuing into today we have our own nation’s conflict with Iraq and Afghanistan now in its 18th year.

These are national and international conflicts, but they all started at a personal level. One person is wronged and retaliates with greater wrong; they get others involved in the hatred and both sides grow in numbers and strength; and soon, everything is whirling out of control, innocent lives are harmed or taken, and most people can’t remember how it all started nor find reason for its continuation much less figure out how to end it.

We see it happen in our world, within our nations, our communities, and even in our homes.

But Jesus says “STOP IT”! …Stop the perpetuation of such destruction! Stop the practice of retaliation by means of violence and oppression! Stop the insistence on winning the fight by not getting involved in the fight.

Jesus wants us to learn a new behavior that causes us to react to hurt and hatred with love; the kind of love that makes everyone a winner and no one a loser.

So, we should love our enemies, not just because Christ said so, but because Christ knows how much better life can be when we do so.

Just think of the prosperity there would be for all people and how much good-will could be created with our “enemies” if the money spent on war was spent on feeding the hungry, lifting up the poor, and healing the sick!

Just think about how much joy there would be if mourning the daily loss of life on our streets was replaced with sharing a meal and fellowship in a block party every week!

And just imagine the smile on God’s face when would be enemies use their hands, not to slap each other, but to join them together in prayers of gratitude and praise!

It might seem an unrealistic dream. We might think it an impossible task. But it is neither unrealistic nor impossible. For just as every conflict starts out small and escalates beyond control, so can acts of love unite people in growing numbers and strength; and soon begin whirling without need for control, and leave most people unable to remember how it all started and having no desire to end it.

Jesus knows this and he knows it isn’t easy. Yet through him and the God who sent him all things are possible… if, as he prefaces this part of his message, we “listen” to him.



Genesis 45:3-11, 15
45:3 Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence.
45:4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.
45:5 And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.
45:6 For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest.
45:7 God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.
45:8 So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.
45:9 Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay.
45:10 You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have.
45:11 I will provide for you there–since there are five more years of famine to come–so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.’
45:15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.

Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40
37:1 Do not fret because of the wicked; do not be envious of wrongdoers,
37:2 for they will soon fade like the grass, and wither like the green herb.
37:3 Trust in the LORD, and do good; so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.
37:4 Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
37:5 Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act.
37:6 He will make your vindication shine like the light, and the justice of your cause like the noonday.
37:7 Be still before the LORD, and wait patiently for him; do not fret over those who prosper in their way, over those who carry out evil devices.
37:8 Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath. Do not fret–it leads only to evil.
37:9 For the wicked shall be cut off, but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land.
37:10 Yet a little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look diligently for their place, they will not be there.
37:11 But the meek shall inherit the land, and delight themselves in abundant prosperity.
37:39 The salvation of the righteous is from the LORD; he is their refuge in the time of trouble.
37:40 The LORD helps them and rescues them; he rescues them from the wicked, and saves them, because they take refuge in him.

1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50
15:35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?”
15:36 Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.
15:37 And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain.
15:38 But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.
15:42 So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable.
15:43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power.
15:44 It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body.
15:45 Thus it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.
15:46 But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical, and then the spiritual.
15:47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven.
15:48 As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven.
15:49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven.
15:50 What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.

Luke 6:27-38
6:27 “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
6:28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.
6:29 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.
6:30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.
6:31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
6:32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.
6:33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.
6:34 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.
6:35 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.
6:36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
6:37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven;
6:38 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.”