Tag Archive | loving neighbor

7th Sunday after the Epiphany, 2017

7th Sunday after the Epiphany, year A (preached 2/19/17)

first reading:  Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18

Psalm 119:33-40

second reading: 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23

gospel reading:  Matthew 5:38-48


For the past four weeks we have been making our way through chapter five of the gospel of Matthew – the beginning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  We end the chapter today with what seems like some really impossible guidance.

This is one of the reasons why instead of just reading the Bible “cold,” it’s important to take the time to look at the context and then prayerfully consider what a passage or passages can mean for us in the here and now.  Because passages like this have been used (or rather ABUSED) to tell communities or individuals who are oppressed that they should just “take it.”

“Do not resist an evildoer,” turn the other cheek, “give your cloak,” can all be twisted when taken out of context.

Now, we could do a fascinating Bible study on what Jesus’ statement actually meant for the people to whom he was talking, but suffice it to say, Jesus did NOT mean to roll over and play dead.

The English, “Do not resist an evildoer,” is actually not a good translation.  Matthew scholar Robert H. Smith says, “The meaning is actually very close to Paul’s ‘Repay no one evil for evil’ (Rom. 12:17).”¹  I mean, Jesus confronted and resisted evil and evildoers all the time in his earthly ministry!

What Jesus is saying here is that we shouldn’t resort to violence or take revenge against evildoers. Believe it or not, giving the other cheek, the cloak, and going an extra mile were SUBVERSIVE acts in that time and place.  They were acts that would cause shame and embarrassment and even negative consequences to those on the receiving end.  They WERE in fact forms of resistance.

Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. even cited the Sermon on the Mount as a strong influence in their practices of nonviolent civil disobedience.  Again, what Jesus means is for us not to take revenge, and not violently respond to violence.

When we see evil around us – which Jesus would define as NON-love of neighbor – he makes it clear in other parts of the gospel that we ARE to act, to serve and love the “least of these” (Matt. 25).  NOT to act is a sin.

Speaking of love, that’s where Jesus is going next.

In the first part of the passage, he tells us not to be violent or take revenge.  But not taking revenge isn’t good enough.  We’re to do more than not hate.  We’re to do more than not take revenge.  We’re to “love [our] enemies and pray for those who persecute [us].”  In fact, this is the FIRST time the word “love” appears in the gospel of Matthew, so it must be important.

And why this call to love – even to love our enemies?  Jesus says, “So that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”  As scholar Robert Smith writes, “Here is the first reason for loving:  so that you may be like God, reflect the essential being of God, display kinship with God.  Like parent, like child.”²

It goes back to what I preached weeks ago on the Beatitudes – what we do is a reflection of who we are and who we are is reflected in what we do.  We love because we belong to God who IS love.  And because we are God’s children we love.

But Jesus does give us a challenge here that’s for sure.  It’s not just about loving our loved ones.  It’s not about returning kindness to those who have been kind to us.  “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…”

Again, this doesn’t mean rolling over and playing dead with those who would want to hurt us.  It doesn’t mean we stay with abusers, or put our heads down when we see injustice being done.  It IS possible to love someone, or some group, without getting sucked into their dysfunction.  It IS possible to love someone while truly hating some of the things they do.

How do we know it’s possible?  Because Jesus did it, and continues to do it.  As he was on the cross praying, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing,”(Luke 23:34) he was praying for the people around him then – and for you and me now.

How many times I wonder, does Jesus see me and shake his head in sorrow and frustration, and yet he still loves me. As Christians we believe God should rightly hate and condemn us – that we are sinful – and yet what we receive is love and grace.

The reality though, is that this is probably THE hardest thing Jesus asks us to do.  The whole Sermon on the Mount feels impossible.  And perhaps for regular folks like you and me it IS.  But the old standard Lutheran answer of, “We can’t do it, Jesus has done it for us.  Praise God!” seems like a cop out here.

It IS true that we are saved from our sin of failure.  But too often we can’t even be accused of trying. Let’s not fall into the habit of using grace as an excuse to be lazy.  If we call ourselves disciples of Jesus our lives should be centered around following him as closely as we can, knowing that his grace is for us when we fall.

We are living in a world right now where this preaching of Jesus – this SERMON – speaks volumes to us as believers.

If, through our baptism, we believe we are called to be “workers in the kingdom of God,”³ then we’ve got a lot of work to do.  To be creative and faithful in standing against injustice and evil, while at the same time loving and praying for those who might even seek to do us harm.

May we take Jesus’ sermon to heart, and follow where his preaching leads us.

AMEN.

sermon on the mount, Laura James

sermon on the mount, Laura James


¹Matthew, Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament.  Augsburg Publishing House, Minneapolis.  Robert H. Smith. p. 102

2 ibid, p. 104

³From the liturgy of the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, Lutheran Book of Worship

19th Sunday after Pentecost, 2016

19th Sunday after Pentecost, year C, preached 9/25/16

first reading:  Amos 6:1a, 4-7

Psalm 146

second reading:  1 Timothy 6:6-19

gospel reading:  Luke 16:19-31

*I was guest preaching at a congregation with three Sunday services, the middle service omitting the second reading and psalm – so while I could’ve commented on those readings as well, I did not.


As a Lutheran seminary student, at least when I was there 20+ years ago, we didn’t have to learn a lot of Latin.  But there were a few Latin phrases that we absolutely had to learn.  One of them was “Incurvatus in se.”  And I think it applies very well in ALL our scriptures today, because they are DARK.

They offer us warning of judgment, which on the surface revolve around one thing – the dangers of wealth.

Money is an idol for most of us, me included, and we need to be regularly shaken awake from the delusion that money brings real happiness or eternal security.  But even more than that, our readings are also about another one of our sins, the sin of not seeing our neighbors – of Israel not caring about the ruin of Joseph” and the rich man not caring for Lazarus, MISERABLE at his doorstep.

THIS is “incurvatus in se” – which means being turned in, CURVED IN on ourselves.

narcissus-by-caravaggio

  • When we believe the world revolves around us, around our desires; when our opinions are the most important and our “feeling good” is the greatest pursuit, we are “incurvatus in se.”
  • When we don’t even think about the color of our skin, but get offended when others try to tell us that they suffer because of the color of theirs, we are “incurvatus in se.”
  • As we mourn over yet another mass shooting on Friday – when we think (for any reason) we have the right to blow away the life of another, we are “incurvatus in se.”
  • When we have a roof over our heads and food on our tables, but do not see or care about the hunger and health of our neighbors next door or in New York City or Syria, we are “incarvatus in se.”

And the more resources WE have, the easier it is to be curved in on ourselves.  When we close the doors to our nice houses, have tinted windows in our cars to protect us from what’s outside – when we surround ourselves only with people in the same social, economic and political world as we, we are indeed headed down a slippery slope.

Amos and Jesus warn us that this is self-destructive on many different levels.

When we are curved in on ourselves, we fail, like the rich man, to see the desperate needs of our neighbors.  When we lie on beds of ivory” and anoint [ourselves] with the finest oils” it becomes easy to forget that the gas station attendant, the cashier, the pizza delivery guy, and the hotel maid are people too.

It becomes easy to forget that the homeless person sleeping in the cold is a person too, and loved and valued by God just as much as we are.  It becomes easy to forget that ultimately we are all connected to one another – with every other person through our common humanity, and intimately with other Christians through our baptism into Christ.

When Cain asked God way back in Genesis, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  God’s answer was, “Yes.”

Over and over throughout scripture, and most especially in the teaching of Jesus we are commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Because in loving our neighbor we DO love ourselves, in the healthiest of ways.

And when we are turned in on ourselves, not only do we fail to see our neighbor, we fail to see GOD.

And because most of us have a desire for a relationship with a higher power, we will find something to fill that void. When we’re curved in on ourselves, chances are we will fill that void WITH ourselves.

WE become our god, or money does, or work, or sports, or whatever we use to fill the hole in our hearts, minds or souls, so that even when confronted face to face with the real thing, we won’t see.

Abraham said as much to the rich man in our gospel today.  “If they (the rich man’s brothers) do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” The One who rose from the dead, warns us that if we do not turn OUTWARD to see, we will miss HIM.

The good news here, is that in the middle of the dire warning, we have grace.

It is a grace that proclaims to us we are loved – not for how well we do in the world, not for how much money we make or how much power we have or how healthy we are.  Worldly signs of success are NOT signs of God’s love. Wealth cannot buy heaven, and poverty does not deserve hell.  Health does not earn paradise, and sickness is not a sign of sin.

The parable was meant to shake people awake, who believed then and believe now that those outward characteristics were signs of divine favor.

Truth be told, “incurvatus in se” isn’t something we can completely shake.  It’s part of human nature to think “me first.”  But it is our call, once we know it, when we see ourselves getting caught in it, to break it – or rather to have God break it for us; which is why we begin worship with confession – by admitting that we ARE curved in – and asking God to free us.

And God DOES indeed free us.  Through Jesus, the One who indeed rose from the dead, we are freed from our curved in selves – freed to be curved OUT –

out to love God who first loved us, and out to love our neighbors near and far, as we love ourselves.

AMEN.