The gospel of Jesus is a radical gospel. A couple of our Bible study groups have recently finished the video series “Red Letter Christianity”. It’s the study by Tony Campolo who spoke here at our anniversary worship last year. In that series, all Tony looks at is the red letters in the Bible. If you’re not familiar with red letters, they are found in some Bibles where Jesus’ words are highlight by being printed in red.
When you read the red letters of the Bible, you realized just how radical Jesus’ words are. What you discover is that Jesus was not heavy into theology. He left that to some of the apostles like Paul and James and John who wrote a lot about theology. Jesus’ words were more about how to live out that theology, live out what we believe, how to follow him in practical ways in everyday life. So while Paul talked a lot about justification and sanctification and John talked a lot about eschatology and soteriology – having said that I realize that most of you have no idea what I just said and that’s okay because you don’t have to know the fancy theological terms in order to be a Christian – all Jesus really said was, “Follow me,” and then proceeded to lay out how to do that. That’s what the red letters do. With them, Jesus tells us how to follow him, faithfully and humbly.
How radical are Jesus’ words? Listen to what he says in Luke 6:27-28 (NIV): “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” That’s pretty radical. Think about what you just read. Love your enemies and do good to those who hate you? What’s that all about? How do you love your enemies? How do you do good to those who hate you? I suppose that we might understand that on an intellectual level. That’s relatively easy. As a concept, we can all love enemies. We can all do good for those who hate us. It’s a great concept. Yes, of course we should do that. Jesus did it. So should we.
But then it happens. It happens to you. Someone has hurt you. Someone is against you and what you want to do. Someone is standing in your way. Or, let’s ramp it up; someone hurt one of your children. And maybe you can love someone who hurt you but how do you ever love anyone who hurts your kids? That’s when it becomes real. That’s when you have to try to turn a concept into reality. Suddenly, it’s not so easy. But then there are Jesus’ words, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” Those are red letter words. Those are Jesus’ words. We’re called to live them out in our lives. But how do we do that when it’s just so much easier to hate and curse and mistreat those who have done the same to you.
If you think that’s radical, if you think that’s hard, hold on because it’s about to get worse. In Luke 6:29-30 (NIV) there are more red letters. Jesus says this: “If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.” What do you think? Do you think that’s radical?
If someone slaps you, what’s the first thing you want to do? You want to slap them back, don’t you. I know that’s what I want to do. When someone hurts me, I want to hurt them back. I want revenge. But then there are those red letters where Jesus tells us about radical love. And what if someone takes something that belongs to you. “Hey you took my coat. No problem. Would you like a shirt too?” Is that what we do? Or do we say, “That’s mine! Give me back my coat!”
Do you know where I see this most often, where I see people fighting about their possessions? I see it in families. People disagree about who belongs to what and what belongs to who and how much everyone should have. I see it when it comes to which kid gets a drumstick at Christmas dinner. I see it when it comes to whose turn it is to use the family car on Friday night. And I see it most often when it comes to wills. People get so hung up on who gets what out of the estate. I understand that because when it comes to estates, we aren’t just talking about stuff; we’re often talking about stuff with sentimental or emotional value. We’re talking about things that you really can’t put a dollar value on. Their value is at a much deeper level and that means that the hurt is at a much deeper level and that’s often why it is so hard to love in those situations.
I remember my mother and my Aunt Ruth who were only a year apart in age, my mother being the oldest. One day when they were in their early teens they were both given an identical ring by my grandparents. Somewhere along the line, one of them lost her ring. My mother claimed that Aunt Ruth lost her ring and then took Mom’s. Aunt Ruth claimed that Mom lost hers and was trying to say that Aunt Ruth took hers to replace the one she lost. My mother said, “Baloney,” and she said it rather emphatically. This whole thing, of course, could have been avoided had my grandparents not made the mistake of giving them the exact same ring – parents, you have been warned.
The thing that amazed me is that fifty years later, they were still arguing about who lost the ring. I remember thinking, “Why does this matter anymore.” But every now and the topic of this ring would come up. Finally, one day, I said, “So where is this ring? I’d like to see it.” They both sort of looked at me because neither one of them had any idea where it was. Apparently, it was lost too.
The good thing about that is that my Mom and Aunt Ruth did not let those lost rings get between them. They always maintained a close sisterly relationship. But that’s not true of all families some of which are split apart by these things. We all know of families in which sisters don’t talk with sisters and brothers don’t talk with brothers and where parents have disowned children and children refuse to communicate with parents because of some real or perceived wrong. And what does Jesus say to that? Let’s look again at the red letters: “Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.” Radical love.
DO UNTO OTHERS
Let’s go on. Jesus now throws a zinger into things. In Luke 6:31 (NIV) he says: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” What’s that called? It’s the golden rule. It sounds pretty simple. But, again, is it? Jesus’ radical love can be challenging to say the least.
Do to others as you would have them do to you. What does it actually mean? Let’s try to define it. First of all, remember the context what Jesus said immediately before this. He said to turn the other cheek. He said to that if someone takes your coat to give him your shirt. He said to give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Does that make any sense? Yes it does and I’ll tell you why.
Remember that Jesus says that if we want to follow him we must live that out in life of radical love. So, we’re not talking about the expectations of society here. We’re talking about what Jesus expects.
If someone slaps you, what does that mean? Sometimes it means that that person is a jerk but sometimes it means that there’s something wrong and that person just lost it and you were an easy target. That may not be the way we are supposed to treat each other but the problem is that we live in a fallen world and stuff like that happens.
People don’t normally act like that for no reason. Usually, they do things like that in response to something in their own lives. And if that’s true than will it do anyone any good for you to slap them back? No, it won’t. That’s why Jesus says to turn the other cheek. It’s not actually to give the person the opportunity to slap you again although that could happen. It’s more about giving us a chance to pause and think about how best to respond with Jesus’ radical love.
Striking them back will only escalate things. But radical love does not tell us to make things worse. Radical love tells us to make things better by doing to others what you would have them do to you. And think about this; if that was you slapping someone, how would you want them to respond? Would you want them to strike back or would you want them to pause and try to understand what’s going on inside of you? People don’t usually strike out for no reason and as followers of Jesus, living out his radical love, it is far more faithful to try to bring healing to that person’s life than to bring more violence. Maybe in a very altruistic way, you pausing and not striking back is the first step in ending the cycle of violence in another person’s life. Isn’t that what you would like if you were in that person’s shoes? Do to others as you would have them do to you. That’s pretty radical. Jesus expects a lot of us.
I also need to say, however, that this does not apply in an abusive relationship. No one should ever stay in a place where their safety is in jeopardy. What I’m talking about is situations where you can be a conduit of God’s healing grace in the life of someone who needs to experience it.
And what about that person who takes your coat or something else that belongs to you? How do we understand that? I guess the first place to start is to ask why the person needs your coat in the first place. Maybe the person is cold. Maybe the person is desperate to find a coat for one of their children and they can’t afford one. They don’t have one so they take yours.
You could be angry about that or you could ask why the person needs a coat. And here’s the more important question for you; if they need a coat and you have one, why didn’t you just give it to them? Maybe you didn’t because if you did then you’d be cold. And if that were the case, why didn’t you go with them to try to find another solution to their problem? Maybe someone else has a coat. Or maybe there’s a charity that gives coats to people who need them. Jesus’ radical love calls us to look out for each other and to look after each other. And sometimes that means finding a coat for someone on a cold winter’s day. After all, if you needed a coat, would you not appreciate it if someone offered to help you find one? That’s why Jesus tells us to do to others as we would like them to do to us.
Let’s go on to Luke 6:32-34 (NIV) in which Jesus says something else about radical love: “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.”
This is where it gets tough again because Jesus is reminding us of something. First of all, he states what I think is the obvious. It’s just so much easier to love those who love you. It’s so much easier to do good for those who do good for you. It’s so much easier to lend something to someone if you’re pretty sure that they are going to give it back. That’s the easy part but it’s not radical because even sinners do that. Jesus calls us to go beyond what sinners do and follow him, live the life that he wants us to live with a radical love.
That radical part comes in the next verses, Luke 6:35-36 (NIV), where Jesus says, “But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
This is the part where Jesus finally explains what this is all about. This is payback time. This is the reason why we do to others as we would like them to do to us. “But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” Why do these things? Jesus gives us two reasons. First, because if we do than we will receive a reward. What that means is that Jesus sees what we do for others and honours that both in this world and then next.
But that’s not the big reason. The big one is because God is kind to the wicked and the ungrateful. And if God is kind to them, than we should be kind to them too. It’s part of doing to others as we would have them do to us. It’s part of following Jesus faithfully and sharing that radical love. Because Jesus treated others that way, so should we.
It’s not easy to love your enemy. It’s not easy to do good to those who hate you or pray for those who mistreat you. It’s not easy to turn the other cheek or let people take things that belong to you. It’s not easy to be kind and merciful to the ungrateful and the wicked. But that’s what Jesus calls us to do because that’s what radical love means. And that reminds me of a story.
The Rev. Dale Lang was the priest at St. Theodore’s Anglican Church in Taber, Alberta. On April 28, 1999 – almost twenty years ago now – his son, seventeen year old Jason, went off to class at W.R. Myers High School just like he did every day of the week. But that day would be different. On that day, fourteen year old Todd Smith walked into the school with a sawed off .22 and opened fire, killing one person and wounding another. The person he killed was Jason Lang. Jason’s family’s life was changed forever.
With that in mind, what does it mean to do to others as you would have them do to you? What does it mean to be merciful? What does it mean to live the radical love that Jesus talks about? What did it mean for Jason’s father Dale?
I cannot imagine the mental and spiritual anguish that he must have been experiencing but even in the midst of all of that pain, he felt Jesus’ presence. While he had every right to be angry and resentful and bitter, he also knew that was not Jesus way and so five days later, at his son’s memorial service, Dale Lang went on TV and publically forgave the boy who had killed his son.
In the years that followed, The Rev. Dale Lang has spoken and written many times about what the experience was like for him and his family. I want to share part of one article that I found especially appropriate today. He said, “I forgave the young man who murdered our son and I still don’t know how I did it… It’s not about practicing forgiveness, it’s about living in that relationship with Jesus Christ – that’s where forgiveness can flow out of us… I don’t want to be a person who is always trying to forgive. My job isn’t to forgive people who hurt me. My job is to know Jesus Christ…to surrender my will.” That’s radical love borne out of faith in Jesus and his healing power.
Love your enemy. Do good to those who hate you or pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you turn your other cheek to them also and if someone takes your coat give him your shirt as well. Do to others you would like them to do to you and great will be your reward because God is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. That’s the radical love that Jesus calls us to live.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Your blessings, O God, flow to us like a river of hope washing over our cares and concerns. We thank you for your presence in our lives. When we call you are there. When we are blinded, you enable us to see. When we are deaf, you open our ears. By your love, you invite us to enter into life fully and freely in Jesus’ name.
We offer thanks for your many gifts. For warmth and sunshine, cool evenings and crisp winter snow, for forests and trees, buildings and structures. We thank you for our health care systems, educational programmes, clean drinking water and indoor plumbing.
Thank You for your limitless unconditional love which gives us the assurance that you are available to us at any time. Remind us daily that you will never leave us or stop loving us for we are always safe within your care.
There is much for which we can give thanks. We, also, lift up our concerns for the world. We pray for peace in the Middle East, in Venezuela, and Brasil. Enable nations to put aside their pride for the cause of global security. Give us the courage to resist the temptation to make beasts out of those with whom we disagree.
We pray, finally, for those who are sick at home or in hospital. We think, especially of Sharon and Mary. Bless them with your healing touch and fill them with your Spirit. All of these prayers, we lift to you in
Jesus’ name. Amen.
God of Love, we want to live fully
and we know that we can do that when we make you the priority of our lives.
Help us to seek you, to understand your wisdom and heed your instruction. In so
doing, we can rest peacefully knowing without doubt or concern that the
blessing You have promised will surely follow. We pray in Jesus’ blessed name.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
February 24, 2019 / Epiphany 7
Genesis 45:3–11, 15; Psalm 37:1–11, 39–40; Luke 6:27–38; 1 Corinthians 15:35–38, 42–50
CALL TO WORSHIP
ONE: God’s blessings surrounds us;
ALL: protecting us in times of trouble.
ONE: God’s love enfolds us;
ALL: and heals our deepest wound.
ONE: Let us worship the Christ who became one of us;
ALL: Let us bow before our Maker and Friend.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
God of Light, you bless those who call upon your name. You consider the
poor in body and spirit. You protect the lowly in times of trouble. When you are
with us, we are never alone. No battle is too great, no discouragement too
overwhelming. Though enemies encamp around us, you protect us with your host of
heavenly angels. Look upon us and our worship. Remind us of your favour and
grace. Receive us and what we do, for we come to you in Jesus’ name.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Lord of Love, we approach your throne as sinful people needing your
forgiveness and grace. Help us to have the strength of spirit that will keep us
from being influenced by the forces that would draw us away from you. Forgive us
when we fail to call upon your name. Your compassion and love is great, ever
beyond our comprehension. We are grateful that you are always ready to hear us
when we cry to you, regardless of our circumstances. Hear our confessions and
grant your forgiveness.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
The reconciliation that we seek is as near as our honest repentance. The
cancer of sin that plagues our souls is as close as the forgiveness that God
desires to be ours. When we confess our sins, God blesses us with mercy and
heals our wounds. We are made well and whole in the sight of the Holy.</b></p>
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
What we have is yours, O God. What we offer, we bring with joy. Receive us
and our gifts in the manner that they are given. Remind us that no matter how
much we may offer, no one can out give you. </b></p>
We have heard the encouraging words of God. May they inspire us to touch
our world, our neighbour, and our family for the Kingdom. Jesus’ ministry is
ours to share. May we carry it humbly and
boldly in every aspect of our lives