Confront Evil, Love Enemies

“Confront Evil, Love Enemies”

Luke 6-27 love your enemies

Luke 6:27-28 – July 17, 2016

This week in the news has been difficult, to say the least. Thinking of two situations: the truck rampage in Nice after the Bastille Day celebrations, and the attempted coup in Turkey. Horrific situations. The loss of life, the horror, grief and trauma. Localized in the case of Nice, France. Widespread, in several regions of the country in Turkey.

I know, as sure as I am standing before you today, that many people are traumatized. The deaths, hospitalizations, shootings. Not only affected and grieving people in localized areas, but people throughout the region. Maybe even the world.

I chose this particular passage a week ago to discuss our sentence of the week from the United Church of Christ Statement of Mission. This week’s sentence: “Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are called to name and confront the powers of evil within and among us.”

I searched the Bible to find verses and passages which dealt with evil and confronting the powers of evil. Yes, I could have chosen verses by the Apostle Paul that dealt with powers and principalities, institutional evil and great wickedness. Or, I could have gone with generalities, and centered on sin. I can think of several passages from both the Old and New Testaments that deal with sin, both individual and corporate sin.

However, a week ago, I chose chapter 6 of the Gospel of Luke, where Jesus talks about enemies and how His followers ought to treat their enemies. This was before the attack in Nice, before the attempted coup in Turkey, and before the Black Lives Matter protests here in this country. Jesus had some pointed things to say about enemies. Some surprising things, too.

Karen read this passage to us, a few minutes ago. I will read verses 27 and 28 one more time, to let us hear the words of our Lord, again. 27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” Another way of saying this comes in verse 31:  “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

Wait a minute. Maybe, more than a minute. Enemies do bad things to us. They speak in mean and calculating ways, and sometimes act viciously, even heartlessly. Enemies are sometimes evil, through and through. That is exactly what our sentence of the week from the Statement of Mission talks about, too.

When I think of evil, sometimes I think about something that slithers or sneaks. Something that hides in the shadows, creeping along in the darkness. Occasionally, evil acts blatantly, coming right out in the open, swaggering around all over the place, like someone who curses and cusses a blue streak. But, I would like to concentrate on evil that sneaks around secretly, even unnoticed. Spreading its poison, insidious in its grasp.

What can we do in the face of this kind of evil? When these kinds of enemies continue to rise against us?  

These words of Jesus are challenging words. Some might say hard words. Even, impossible words. But, think about it. The whole focus of evil and of enemies is to get us to retaliate. To be just as evil in return, if not more so. “An eye for an eye only makes the whole world blind,” Gandhi said. What good is that to anyone?

Not only individuals, but groups also can be sucked right in. Groups—often with the tribal mentality—can be drawn into a cycle of evil, even violence. Is that what Jesus advocates here? What about when He says “Do to others as you would have them do to you?” What do you think He meant here? Did Jesus want us to retaliate and do evil acts? Say nasty and mean things? Or, did Jesus want us to try something radically different? Unusual? Counter-cultural?

I would like to tell you about a town in Denmark. Middle-sized town, generally peaceful and harmonious. Except, in 2012, the police received calls from a number of concerned people, including some parents. Several guys in their late teens or early twenties left their homes, their town, and all that was familiar, to go to Syria. To work for Muslim terrorists.

The two police officers, Aarslev and Link, are police specialists with a role in crime prevention. This article featuring them and their idea appeared Friday on the National Public Radio website. “They usually deal with locals who are drawn to right-wing extremism, or gangs. The landscape of global terrorism was completely new to them. But they decided to take it on. And once they did, they wound up creating an unusual — and unusually successful — approach to combating radicalization.”

“The rest of Europe came down hard on citizens who had traveled to Syria. France shut down mosques it suspected of harboring radicals. The U.K. declared citizens who had gone to help ISIS enemies of the state. Several countries threatened to take away their passports — a move formerly reserved for convicted traitors.”

“But the Danish police officers took a different approach: They made it clear to citizens of Denmark who had traveled to Syria that they were welcome to come home, and that when they did, they would receive help with going back to school, finding an apartment, meeting with a psychiatrist or a mentor, or whatever they needed to fully integrate back into society.”

“Their program came to be known as the ‘Aarhus model.’” [1]

This program, this way of treating enemies reminds me a lot of Jesus. Let us listen to our Lord’s words from Luke 6, again. “27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”

Isn’t this knowingly being kind to those who wish to do us harm? Who hate us, curse us, and wish to mistreat us? Correct me if I am off base, but I think these police officers are very much following the commands of Jesus.

These are challenging words which we find in Luke 6:27-36. I suggest re-reading this passage with an open mind and open spirit, and then ask yourselves (and myself, too—I always preach to myself, as well!), “What would Jesus do?”

As Father John Dear says, “Jesus wants us to break the downward cycle of violence by refusing to practice further violence. Violence in response to violence will only lead to further violence, he teaches, so do not retaliate with further violence. Break the chain of violence.”

Father Dear goes on to say, “Does that mean sitting back and do nothing in the face of violence? No, quite the contrary. Jesus also forbids passive resignation or indifference to evil. Instead, he demands an active, creative nonviolent response that will disarm our violent opponent without using their violent means… Through our nonviolent resistance, we insist on the truth of our common humanity, until… he repents of his violence and agrees to treat us with respect as human beings.” [2] As the Hutu and Tutsi tribes reconciled in Rwanda, as whole groups of people of all colors, classes and races reconciled in South Africa.

Is it difficult to follow the commands of Jesus? YES. Yet, I strive to do this very thing. Imperfectly, yet I strive on. I remember the words of Abraham Lincoln: “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”

I invite us all to seek the ways of Jesus, and search out an active, creative nonviolent response to evil, to enemies, and to violence. Will you join with me in striving to follow Jesus, today?

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2016: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

[1] http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/07/15/485900076/how-a-danish-town-helped-young-muslims-turn-away-from-isis

[2] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-dear/an-eye-for-an-eye-makes-t_b_8647348.html

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Hear Creation’s Cry

“Hear Creation’s Cry”

Psalm 24-1 creation picture

Psalm 24:1-2 – July 10, 2016

Have you ever had a family member, or a friend, go out of town? Or how about go on vacation? Your friend, your family member, asks you to take care of something of theirs. It may be a dog or cat, sometimes houseplants indoors or a garden outside. Asking you to be a good steward for them. Taking good care, being responsible for your friend’s property. That includes all the stuff in your friend’s house or apartment, all their valuables and beloved possessions.

Let’s go on a tour of Scripture today. Think about the earth God created. Creation is the handiwork of a loving God who saw all that was made and in Genesis pronounced it “very good.” Scripture tells us that God delights in creation and creation delights in praising the creator.  A great example is Psalm 150:6. “Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!”

One of the oldest forms of expression of Christianity today is Celtic Christianity. Coming from the British Isles, it carries within it the deeply Celtic understanding that nature itself is a testament to God. One of the Celtic holy men, Saint Columbanus once said, “If you want to know God, first get to know his creation.” [1]

That is exactly the case with the earth, the world, today. The earth belongs to the Lord. God created it—all of it. The dogs, the cats, the other animals, things that swim in the water and fly in the air. All the plants, and trees, and other growing things. All the valuable things on the earth and underground.

God wants us, expects us human beings to be good stewards of the earth, to take excellent care of it, nurturing it, loving it. Exactly how you’d expect someone to take care of your dog or cat while you were away on an extended vacation.

Let’s look at the UCC Statement of Mission. Which sentence are we on this week?

“Empowered by the Holy Spirit … To hear and give voice to creation’s cry for justice and peace.” We are to listen and respond to this wonderful gift God has given to all of us.

Our next stops on our tour of Scripture are the books of Genesis and Numbers.  We have seen that God has given humankind a special responsibility to care for creation. Genesis 2:15 says the Lord God took humanity and put them in the garden of Eden to till it and to keep it. A form of the Hebrew verb “shamar,” meaning “to keep,” is also used in Aaron’s blessing from Numbers 6:24. Lacey closes our services playing Lutkin’s arrangement of that blessing each week as Al extinguishes the candles. “The Lord bless you and keep you.”

We are not only to nurture, sustain and care for creation, but we are to follow God’s example. We can see how God nurtures, sustains and cares for us—each one of us. This interconnected aspect of creation helps all of us remain aware of the joys and concerns encountered in the world around us, and of their impact on all of our lives each day.

However, there is a problem. A huge problem.

Our relationship with God, with each other and with creation are all part of the same multi-colored fabric. Pull any one thread and the whole piece begins to unravel. Human selfishness, ignorance, fear and mistrust have ecological consequences. Add some territorial urges, and feelings of animosity and xenophobia. A basic name for all of this is sin.

The Bible is not hesitant to make connections between human sinfulness and the degradation of creation. Two telling examples come to us from the prophets Isaiah and Hosea.  “The Earth lies polluted under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant” (Isaiah 24: 5). “There is no faithfulness or loyalty, and no knowledge of God in the land. . . . Therefore the land mourns . . . even the fish of the sea are perishing” (Hosea 4: 1-3).

What is to be done? People will not stop being selfish, or territorial, or fearful, or displaying hatred. But it’s also much bigger than that. Going clear back to the fall, to Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the garden, we learn that broken relationships are costly.  Lord, who will deliver us from this horrible state of sin?

We could throw up our hands, and say that saving the world is a lost cause. The earth is too far gone. The scales have been tipped, and it’s all downhill from here. But—it is not true!

When all else seems totally dark, God steps in.

I have talked about this before. Remember? God the Son became incarnate in Jesus Christ. He was born as a baby in Bethlehem. Jesus became part of the “stuff” of creation to heal and restore the relationships broken by human sinfulness.

The apostle Paul tells us “God was in Christ reconciling the world” (2 Corinthians 5:19). An early hymn praises Jesus Christ, the firstborn of creation, the firstborn from the dead, through whom God was pleased to reconcile all things, whether on Earth or in heaven (Colossians 1:15-20). The resurrection of Jesus Christ, God’s great victory over sin and death, is a pledge and sign not only of our resurrection, but also of God’s promised redemption of all creation.

Can I hear an “Amen” for that? Jesus and His resurrection means that we will be redeemed, just like creation. Just like the world will be. We all have had experience with God and how incredibly stunning this creation is, right now.

However, let me remind you. Andy Wade tells us something so important: “God’s creation is not somehow separate from God’s plan of redemption. When we forget that God’s very good creation also gives testimony to God, we can begin to think that it’s ours to trample on, ours to exploit, and ours to use for our own selfish purposes.” [2]

This selfish, self-centered kind of attitude and way of dealing with the wonders of creation and the great gift God has blessed us with? Thank God that God has made a way for creation to be made new, just as much as God has made a way for us to be made new!

The next question is simple: what is the next step? Where do we go after realizing God has plans to make all of creation new?

We as followers of Christ are called to witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In our words and actions we are called to reflect the love of the one whose victory over sin and death was a victory for the whole of creation.

It is all very well to simply talk about being a witness. But, how can we do that, right here and right now? I’m glad you asked.

Some years ago, Solana Beach Presbyterian Church, near San Diego, received one of six “2000 Energy Star for Congregations Awards” from the US EPA. Following an energy audit, the congregation invested in energy-saving measures, including new lighting fixtures and energy-efficient light bulbs. The Solana Beach Church witnesses to Christ’s redeeming power every time they turn on the lights!

Just like this church! We can praise God that Kids Academy got all of the light bulbs in St. Luke’s Church building changed to energy efficient light bulbs. This is a wonderful start! Every time anyone here turns on the lights, we, too, can witness to Christ’s redeeming power.

Let’s not stop here. Let’s continue to keep looking for ways to hear creation’s cry, and to respond in loving ways. Ways to witness to the world around us that we are striving to be good stewards. Ways to celebrate God’s goodness, too. Alleluia, amen!

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2016: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

My sincere thanks goes to the National Council of Churches’ great resources. I borrowed liberally from the Earth Day 2001 Sermon Notes and Worship Resources.

http://web.archive.org/web/20110706140053/http://www.nccecojustice.org/earthday/PastEarthDayResources.php

 

[1] http://godspace-msa.com/2016/07/07/creations-sacrifice-gives-testimony-to-god/

[2] http://godspace-msa.com/2016/07/07/creations-sacrifice-gives-testimony-to-god/

Embody God’s Love

“Embody God’s Love”

John 13-34 love one another, swirls

John 13:34-35 – July 3, 2016

Have you ever seen the following scenario playing out? In a friend’s life, in a relative’s life, or perhaps on television or the movies? Two teens or young people bicker or argue, sometimes even coming to blows. A teacher or a supervisor or a coach steps in, and urges the two people to face each other, say they are sorry, and then shake hands. Then, sometimes, the relationship is repaired, even better than it was before. (At least, that is the hope.)

How often do we see the disciples of Jesus bickering? Arguing? I would not be surprised if—every once in a while—one or two of them even came to blows. Then, Jesus would have to take that adult or parental role. Encouraging His disciples to come together in relationship, in friendship, in His gentle yet firm way.

Here’s the situation. Here we are again in that Passion Week, the last week our Lord Jesus spent here on earth as a human. Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and went to a number of places with His friends that were particularly public. Out in the open. Jesus made no secret of being in Jerusalem for the Passover holiday.

Our scripture reading for today is set on this last evening. The last supper, that Passover dinner Jesus shared with His disciples. And here, in the Gospel of John, Jesus gives them some final instructions, as we can tell from this reading today. I’ll start in John 13:33. “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.”

Jesus is preparing the disciples—as best as He can—for the horrors and agony of the next twenty-four hours, and beyond. It’s true. There is a lot going on in this Passion Week, and Jesus and His disciples are still in the Upper Room. (The events of later that Thursday night and on Friday still have not happened yet.) Our Lord has some extremely important information to communicate in John 13:34. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

This is that Passover dinner where Jesus just got done washing His disciples’ feet. “As I have loved you—served you—wholeheartedly—so you must love one another.”

Problem: Jesus’s disciples must have been distracted. Fearful, anxious, forgetful. Perhaps their nerves were frayed. Tempers flared. Some might not have been able to concentrate fully on Jesus and His words, with all the tumultuous events swirling around. It’s true, many factors contributed to a fearful, anxious time. The possibility of hostile soldiers knocking at the door at any time of the day or night must have been only one of these fear-producing factors.

Jesus had a huge amount of things to contend with, too. However, here in John 13, we see Jesus once again demonstrating His never-ending love.

He shows huge love to these same guys who will fail Him, and fail miserably! Commentator Elisabeth Johnson said, “Jesus washes and feeds Judas who will betray him, Peter who will deny him, and all the rest who will fail to stand by him in his hour of greatest distress. The love that Jesus demonstrates is certainly not based on the merit of the recipients, and Jesus commands his disciples to love others in the same way.” [1]

Jesus is not referring to showing love to strangers outside of the church here. (Jesus talks about that in several other places.) He’s meaning our fellow church members! Brothers and sisters in the faith. Showing love, friendship, fellowship to those we worship with.

I am certain we all can tell horror stories about a church torn apart by arguments, or jealousy, or friction, or hurt feelings.

What about disagreements about church meetings or the color of the church carpet or Sunday service or the new pastor or the old pastor or the church music? Pro or con, big or little, one way or the other. Such disagreements and arguments are not the way to carry out this important command of Jesus.

Let’s change gears and take a look at the topic for our Summer Sermon Series, the UCC Statement of Mission. What is the section for this week? As I turn to it, I find: “Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are called and commit ourselves: To embody God’s Love for all people.” I will repeat that last part: “To embody God’s Love for all people.”

I chose these verses from the Gospel of John to illustrate this important part of the Statement of Mission. We are not only to show God’s Love to others, but we are to strive to embody God’s Love. Go above and beyond.

My first thought was, What on earth does “embody” mean? A great place to start is close to home, and this—St. Luke’s Church, our local church—is our church family. Our church home. We are able to show others God’s Love through genuine, earnest, wholehearted, servant-love towards each other in the church.

Now is a good time to look at verse 13:35: “By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.” Did everyone hear? Jesus is telling us to love one another. That means to get along with one another, not bicker and argue and fuss with each other. What better way to let everyone outside of the church know that we love one another—to be genuine and pleasant to each other, to care for each other, to go out of our way for each other.

This is for real. Not pretending, not putting on a false face. For real.

How many of us know someone who gossips about other people in their church? I am not talking about anyone in this church, mind you. But I know we all know people in other churches. What about someone who is mean to other people in their church? Or, someone who ignores others, or is openly disrespectful, or even goes around trying to stir up trouble for others in their church? I know these awful things go on at churches all across the country, every day.

Would it be different if we tried things the way Jesus wanted us to do? What if we loved others? Could we strive to embody the love of Jesus? Show His love to everyone we meet, and especially in the church? What kind of witness would that be to people outside of our church? Wouldn’t they be curious about St. Luke’s Church?

“I wonder what is happening at that church? What gives? What kind of preaching is going on there? Those people really show each other that they love and care for each other. I’d like to find out more about that church!”
One of the commentators I respect has an article on just this subject. I quote from John Pavlovitz: “As a Christian, Love is the only acceptable legacy I care to leave the world; not Love covered in doctrine, not Love couched in religion, not Love loaded down with caveats and conditions; just the beautifully potent thing itself, distilled down to its essence and delivered directly to people as honestly and purely as I can.

“And let’s not kid ourselves, most people know when they’re really being loved and when they been handed a lousy imitation with the same name—especially when it comes to religious people. I’ve come to believe that if someone’s color, gender, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation keeps you from fully loving them, you’re probably doing Love wrong.” [2]

Thank you, John. Loving others in Jesus’s way is what we are commanded to do, what we have been called to do. Yes, we can celebrate Jesus and His love for us! And, we can take the next step—the step He commands.

Love one another. No fooling. For real.

Alleluia! Amen.

[1] Commentary, John 13:31-35, Elisabeth Johnson, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2016. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2830

[2] http://johnpavlovitz.com/2015/09/18/i-want-to-do-love-right/?utm_campaign=coschedule&utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=johnpavlovitz

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2016: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)