2/24/2019 Seventh Sunday after Epiphany The text is Luke 6:27-38.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
We live at a strange time and in a strange world right now. Of course, as I say this, I am probably echoing the words of my parents and grandparents and great parents…the words of all older people who reflect upon the changes that have taken place over their life time. But when I say it is a strange time and a strange world, I’m not taking about technological advances that have us driving computers and using our phones to get onto the internet. I’m talking about the major shifts in the way we interact with one another and in our expectations when it comes to work, play and relationships.
One of those big shifts is in the area of what we must do to get ahead in this world. I’m from a generation that believed hard work would yield great rewards – a generation in which there was company loyalty, internal promotions and perks for a job well done. But, there has been a subtle yet significant change in this area in both the way companies operate and expectations of workers.
We live in a strange time and in a strange world in which a company’s only concern seems to be the bottom line and all jobs seem to be very vulnerable. And, we live in a strange time and in a strange world in which more and more people expect to get something for nothing or, at least, for very little effort. Of course, these seem to be opposing trends and have created a myriad of issues. The desire to get ahead in such a mixed up world is one reason why lotteries and casinos are so popular. And, it’s one reason why socialism is becoming more and more acceptable in a free market society. People are frustrated as they find out that not everyone is a winner.
Now none of us expect to get no return for something done. It’s just not the American way. We expect to get some reward for what we do. Yet, if there’s one message that’s clear in today’s Gospel it is this – we are not to expect a return for our good deeds.
In order to change our expectations in this strange world in which we live, we may need to take a step back in history to a time in which we knew our neighbors, a time in which neighbor helped neighbor simply because there was a need. We may need to take a step back in history to a time in which people were not Facebook friends, but friends who saw each other face to face, and who cared about each other and who were always there to lend a helping hand. It was a time in which people did not expect anything in return for what they gave. And in this strange world in which we live, if more people expected nothing back in return for what was given, then fewer people would be disappointed and more people could find satisfaction and security in what they did – rather than looking for it in harmful places, like drugs, guns and gangs.
Of course expecting nothing in return leaves us vulnerable as others may abuse and misuse this sharing of grace. Yes, giving becomes hard when we know that others will suck us dry of everything we have if we let them. Yet, we are called to be risk-takers and compassionate people who put the best interest of others ahead of what we will gain. Others may mock us and make fun of us, calling us “stupid” or “goody-two-shoes.” Others may criticize us if we don’t meet what they want or meet their understanding of what getting ahead should look like. Yet, as followers of Jesus, our behavior is to be determined not by others, but by the compassion and grace that God has shown to us in the self-sacrifice of his Son.
For, while we were still sinners, God gave his only Son so that we might not die, but might have life in him. We, in response to this undeserved grace and mercy, are to pay it forward. We are not to be returners of what we have received from others, but givers of what we, ourselves, have received through Christ. We do not return love, we give it first. We do not return a helping hand, we give it first. We do not return forgiveness, we offer it first. All this we do because Christ has first done it unto us.
By doing for others as we would have them do unto us, by turning the other cheek, by forgiving and giving without expectation of return, we are following Jesus’ example of how to treat all people, friend and foe alike. As God’s children we do not hate just because we are hated, nor do we love just because we are loved. The way to live in this world is by being kind even to “the ungrateful and the wicked,” and even to those who expect everything to be given to them because they want it.
This means that helping someone out without expecting a return is only the tip of the iceberg. Perhaps the hardest of all the things that we, as Christians, are to give is not found in time or talents, money or possessions, but in the simple act of forgiving those who have wronged us. It has been said that the power to forgive grows as we grow in wisdom and grace. It is like a painting which is never finished. “It simply stops in interesting places” (Juan Gris). We can never be certain that forgiveness will be received or relationships restored.
And yet, rather than judging or condemning, we are called to give and forgive, knowing that giving and forgiving does not mean that we put a stamp of approval on behavior which is harmful to ourselves and others. In giving and forgiving, we care enough about our enemy, our friend, ourselves, and our world to say “no” to that which is harmful and “yes” to that which is good. All parents know this. It’s part of raising a child. You don’t let your child do whatever he or she wants. You let the child know what is acceptable and what is not, and when he or she messes up, you don’t hate your child because of a mistake. You may not like or approve of what was done, but you continue to love your child. Loves comes first. And that love allows you to forgive and love again, even though you may place different restrictions upon behavior. Forgiveness wipes away the barrier to a caring and loving relationship. It does not put blinders on people, nor does it passively accept that which is unacceptable.
It is because we have been loved and forgiven by a God who takes away all barriers to a full and healthy relationship with him that we can actively love and forgive others in words and actions. Passively accepting poor behavior and looking for reward in our actions have no place in a faith that is active in the love of Christ.
So in this strange time and strange world in which we live, may we love one another as Christ has first loved us – with undeserved grace and mercy. May we love one another as Christ has first loved us – expecting no reward from us for what he has given. May Christ’s love be our guide in all our dealings with others. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.