,Sunday 20 February 2022
But I say to you that listen, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 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. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
As we listen to the news, we hear of autocratic leaders around the world threatening to invade other nations, intimidating smaller nations by massing thousands of troops and weapons on their borders, flying into the air space or sailing into the territorial waters of other nations without permission. As we listen to the news, we hear of people all over the world questioning the future of democracy and whether what we call democracy is really just the rich getting their way and those who get justice are those who can pay for it and those who get health care are those who can afford it. “Why God?” We ask.
In verse 27 Jesus says, “I say to you who listen.” or as Jesus says in Matthew’s Gospel, “Let those of you who have ears hear.” Or as Eugene Peterson translates it, ‘To you who are ready for the truth.’ Jesus speaks to those who want to hear, who want to understand, who want to follow Jesus, who seek a peaceful and just and equitable way in the world, who seek the way of God.
We who hear these words today have an advantage over those who first heard these words. Alongside these words we hold the story of the cross. When you have an eye test the optometrist places different strength lenses in front of each eye to see what strength lenses you need in your glasses to optimise your sight so you can see clearly, whether close up to read or to see things in the distance. As followers of Jesus when we look at the world, we look through the lens of the cross. As we read passages such as this that make little sense to our thinking we see things very differently when we put on the lens of the cross. In the cross we see that Jesus is the one who truly loves his enemies. Jesus doesn’t just tell us what to do, Jesus does it. Jesus leads the way. Jesus takes the way of the cross.
Michael Hardin says, in relation to this passage, that- The cross of Jesus shatters worldviews. The shattering comes in the act of reconciliation, even as he was dying, seeking forgiveness. If you understand this, then you understand the Gospel and are being transformed by it.
What Jesus says seems almost impossible: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who hurt you. Jesus’ words tell us what God is like. Jesus’ death on the cross shows us the extent of God’s love, and the vast difference between what we think love is and God’s love.
When we see nations threatening to go to war, intimidating others, and ask why does God allow this, as if God were somehow in control of the actions of all people, we have to be reminded of the cross. Jesus turns the other check, these leaders do not. At a time when the whole world is struggling with a worldwide plague and the threat of total environmental destruction it is not God who is doing these things but people who are threatening the survival of the world. It is people who refuse to turn the other cheek. It is people who refuse to love their enemies. It is people who refuse to be reconciled. Jesus came to save not to condemn and destroy. This is the way of salvation. Our salvation is not simply believing that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. It is taking up our cross, following Jesus’ example. By doing the opposite of what comes naturally to us, by doing the unexpected, we find the salvation Jesus offers the world. Our enemies are not Russia or China or Al Qaeda or ISIS but the principalities and powers behind them moving them in ways that are contrary to the ways of Jesus. Our battle ground is the cross. Our challenge is to lay down our lives at the foot of the cross, to love, to pray, to forgive, to bless, to do good in the face of evil.
Psalm 37 offers us comfort and encouragement today - Do not fret because of the wicked; do not be envious of wrongdoers, trust in the Lord, and do good; take delight in the Lord, commit your way to the Lord. Trust in God, be still before the Lord and wait patiently for God, take refuge in God.
In ten days’ time we will begin Lent, the journey towards the cross. Our eyes must always focus on the cross and see life through the cross, for the journey to the cross brings with it the hope of resurrection, the hope of salvation for the world, hope for the future of the earth, the leaving aside of the ways of violence and the taking up of the way of love, the way of Christ.
Reflection Sunday 13 February 2022
Luke 6:17-26 Good news for people who are poor
Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Is our gospel really good news for people who are poor?
Forty five years ago, Ron Sider published his book ‘Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger’. At first he had great difficulty in getting a Christian Publishing house to publish it as they thought it was too radical. Some called him a Marxist, others called him a new ager, a communist and others said his book was one of the most dangerous books of the decade. In response, many leading and wealthy Tv Evangelists went into overdrive promoting their gospel of prosperity.
The Gospel was originally very much good news for the poor and spread amongst the poorest in the world but eventually as the church became richer those in leadership began to defend their wealth and their lifestyles.
For many Christians the beatitudes are the most important teaching of Jesus and a guide by which they try to live their lives, for others the beatitudes are a stumbling block on which their faith comes crashing down. They find it conflicts too much with the life they want to live.
How can we make the gospel good news again for people who are poor?
From our reading today we hear that Jesus had no trouble in attracting people to himself. The crowds of people who followed him had great needs. Luke 6:18,19 says - They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.
Jesus healed the people in their bodies and brought peace to their minds and taught their spirits. For those who would hear that day Jesus taught them about blessings and warnings.
"Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. "Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. "Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. "Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 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.
"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. "Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets."
Jesus expressed the view that the world was not right. Jesus’ words spoke directly to the longings of people who were poor and downtrodden, those who were constantly hungry for whom food was scarce, those who wept because of their lot in life and Jesus said consider it a blessing when people hate you, exclude you, revile you and defame you because of me the son of man.
In taking the title ‘The Son of man’ (which I always translate as ‘the true human’), Jesus was not just saying he was the perfect example of a human being whom we all should take as our model but that in following him and believing in him and trusting in him, true humanity was to be found and enjoyed by all, a humanity where there is no disparity between those who are poor and those who are rich. Our shared humanity in Christ means an equitable sharing of all the resources of the world for the good of all: access for all to food and water, to health and education, to clean air and to live on one’s land, the weakest and poorest are all included and valued and cherished. This was not a pronunciation of blessings or curses upon individuals but on all humanity. Jesus was the new Israel, through believing and trusting in Jesus, people were born by the Spirit into one body, a new humanity, a new people, a new life shared by all.
Jesus’ message is challenging. The Gospels weren’t written to tell us about the faith of people who encountered Jesus, they were written to challenge the faith of us the readers who are to ask, “where do I stand?” (Francis Maloney quoted in Theosony p.144 by Noirin Ni Riain) The gospel is an invitation from Jesus to his hearers to move to a new level of understanding… to the level of the holy (Thomas Brodie quoted in Theosony p.45 by Noirin Ni Riain) or in other words to the level of the Kingdom of God. The challenge for us as hearers of the gospel is to distinguish between hearing the gospel through the level of our cultures and through the level of the kingdom of God.
Listen carefully with open ears to the words of Jesus. Listen for the sacred word that really is good news for all humanity.
Reflection Sunday 6 February 2022
Please slowly read Luke 5:1-11 a few times pausing on words that stand out. Then read aloud the direct words spoken between Jesus and Peter. These words are highlighted in bold print italics. In hearing the words read slowly aloud we may engage more closely and intentionally with what hear and perhaps may hear something that we may not gather by just reading in our mind.
Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch." Simon answered, "Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets."
When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signalled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink.
But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!" For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who are partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people." When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
The last time I preached on this passage I focused on God calling us out into deep water to evangelise, to make connections beyond Sunday services and church buildings. This time I am calling attention to the spoken words between Jesus and Peter. What do these words reveal to us? An important thing to remember when reading Scripture is that we are not just trying to understand, for example in this instance, the depth of truth contained in the words spoken between Jesus and Peter, but what God is speaking to us in our situation, in our time.
In this encounter between Jesus and Peter, it is when Jesus speaks directly to Peter that things get interesting, they move to another level and Peter realises the depth of which he is suddenly in with God. I imagine Peter is comfortable watching Jesus at a distance and even when Jesus asks to get into the boat Peter is happy to help, but when Jesus asks Peter to put out into deep water then the encounter becomes much more personal, more challenging.
I am putting the emphasis here on our ears hearing the words spoken between them rather than on what Peter and the others with him saw with their eyes, which was nets beginning to break and boats filled with fish and beginning to sink. We are often looking for proof of God’s existence, or evidence of God’s presence. When Peter witnessed the enormous catch of fish and the boat beginning to sink under him, his attention went from what he was seeing to Jesus. Beyond the obvious, the enormous catch of fish, Peter became aware of whose presence he was in. The ordinary everyday activity was infused with the presence of God – the extraordinary in the ordinary. If we witness something good happening, we tend to think God is at work here. If something not so good or bad is happening, we tend to think God is absent. We forget that the ‘Kingdom of God’ is always here, within and around us. God is always present, God is always at work, whether we classify something as ordinary or extraordinary. Rather than pointing to occurrences as evidence of God, or reciting doctrines of right belief to support our faith in situations when things may not look so good; our ears are to be open, seeking, listening for what God is speaking to us at all times.
In evangelical circles emphasis is put on a person responding to a ‘Gospel Presentation’ by acknowledging one’s sin, believing that Jesus died on the cross for one’s sins, accepting Jesus as one’s saviour and committing one’s life to Christ. I am not disagreeing with this; however, we may settle for believing about someone rather than accepting the actual person of Jesus and that we are relating to a living God in our daily lives. We can settle for keeping God at a distance rather than engaging with a God within us and around us in every situation, every day. John Bennington says, ‘Conversion can so easily become an armour against any further encounters with God, and our Christian faith a spiritual asylum where we hide from the frightening truth about ourselves, clinging on to the illusion that we are finally right with God … instead of risking (God) remaking us in (God’s) image (p.88 Culture, Class and Christian Beliefs).
eter’s response was to tell Jesus to go away from him because of his sinfulness, but Jesus would not leave him in that state and said, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people." In other words, don’t stay in the safety and comfort and standards of your sin, follow me, listen to me, hear my words of life and with me bring people into an awareness of my kingdom, my life. Peter was afraid of the ‘I AM’ but the ‘I AM’ refused to be distant, the subject of a doctrine, a theology; the ‘I Am’ engaged Peter and asked Peter to come with him.
We do not just reflect on what Jesus said to Peter in this reading but ask what are you saying to me God in the situation I find myself in life, and as a congregation we ask what are you saying to us God in every situation we find ourselves in as a congregation.
It is the present moment which is most important in our relationship with God. Are we listening for God now? This is God’s moment. The ‘I AM’ can be known by us here and now in our every day lives and concrete situations not just in the stories of old or in a future life.
Minister of Campsie Earlwood Clemton Park Uniting Church Congregation