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Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time Cycle C (2)
Lot of time taking care of the outside of our bodies but sometimes we forget to take care of the inside.
Preparation: A shaving or cosmetic bag with deodorant, perfume or cologne, shampoo, soap, razor, comb, etc. Use as many items as desired.
Lesson: Let’s see what we’ve got in here. A bar of soap, what do we do with this? (Children respond.) Have you ever seen a man shave? We have a razor because we wouldn’t want the men to have scruffy faces. How about this shampoo, what is this for? (Children respond.) Look at this, we have some deodorant because we would not want to smell bad. Ah, and a bottle of perfume (or cologne) because we want to smell good.
It is important to take care of our bodies. Its important to keep ourselves clean. We want to be sure we don’t smell bad because no one would want to be around us. Ladies put on make-up and men shave their faces. We all take baths, brush our teeth, and comb our hair. We need to do these things.
But look at all this stuff we use to take care of the outside of our bodies. Soap, shampoo, combs, razors, perfume, make-up, all kinds of things. We spend a lot of time making sure the outside is neat and clean and that we look attractive and smell good. But many times we forget about the inside; we forget about our hearts.
If we are going to be the kind of people that God wants us to be, we have to spend at least as much time taking care of the inside as we do taking care of the outside. I’m not talking about eating right and exercising; those are very important, too, but I’m talking about taking care of our relationship with God.
There are several ways we can take care of our relationship with God. We can read our Bibles or have someone read Bible stories to us. We can come to Sunday School and church so we can learn more about Jesus. We can pray and talk with God about what’s going on in our lives. We can treat other people the way we believe Jesus would want us to treat them.
It takes a lot of time to do all these things, but just as it is important to care for the outside of our bodies, it’s even more important to care for the inside. Our relationship with the Lord is more important than anything else we do.
This week, make sure you spend time taking care of the outside, but spend even more time taking care of the inside. God bless you.
My son Justin didn’t really like high school. He kinda knew that we expected him to go to college, but it wasn’t his priority. I explained to him high school was regurgitation and in college you could think outside the box. Remembering he wrote a high school paper on wood in the book Endurance, Justin replied, “There’s a box.”
It’s no surprise that God is an “out of the box” thinker, is it? After all, God is the ultimate “outside of the box” God –can’t be confined to a tabernacle, won’t be pleased by a simple sacrifice, definitely won’t tolerate other gods, makes relationships in terms of covenant, creates humankind in God’s own image, gives people more than 1,000 chances to get it right…. and the list goes on. God can’t be confined or defined by our rational or calculating minds nor described in terms of our limited, “rational,” or “equitable” perspective on life or the universe. God is simply bigger than all of those precepts, or any precept for that matter.
That’s why God is God, and we are not!
So, it shouldn’t be any surprise that God is constantly taking us off guard with unexpected outcomes and writing our stories with unexpected endings.
And yet we are always amazed to say the least and somewhat perplexed, angry even, when God defies our human conclusions.
Today in our scriptures, we see examples once again of situations that vex and confuse us, because the challenge to our way of thinking is just SO “outside of the rules” for us.
What rules? Why ours, of course –the ones we unconsciously live by, measure things by, even measure others by. We are a rules-loving people.
Rules help us to figure out how to live life fairly, justly, morally, and in an orderly fashion. They give us limits. But they also give us ways to measure each other’s success in living the way we “should.” Ah –the “shoulds!” We so love the “shoulds!”
Do anything outside of the unspoken, confessed norm, and you’ll be slapped immediately with an admonition about what you “should” have done instead. Right?
But here’s the kicker.
God, and Jesus more than anyone, are notorious rule-breakers.
So, what on earth do we do with that?
Why, it drives us simply crazy! Because God, and Jesus, are always, always confronting us with our “shoulds.” And challenging us about our “rules.” Questioning our sense of equity. Jarring us from our certainties.
Like any challenge, it often takes us awhile to climb out of our boxes and get with the program of what God is trying to help us to see.
Today, Luke tells us about a particularly hairy conversation between Jesus and many who have come to hear him. Some no doubt thought he was completely off his gourd and discounted what he said. Others were perplexed and curious. Those who were disciples must have thought what he said was mind-blowing but completely off kilter with the “way things had to be.” Or at least unrealistic. Why?
Well, let’s look at the story again. It’s no mistake Jesus starts off by saying, “I say to you who are willing to hear.”
Those who are willing to hear. Those who can open their minds enough and put their preconceived notions aside of “the way things are” in order to contemplate something completely different and “out of the box”: loving one’s enemies. Hope you realize that rules of engagement come out of Christian thinking. There are limits to warfare. In today’s first reading David did not permit King Saul to be assassinated. Rulers were to be taken alive. (Just in case like in Saul they were appointed by God. – a theme in the history of the British monarchy.)
I imagine some must have busted out laughing. Some may have even been offended. Most would have thought he was defying the natural order of things or denying the way things were in the world.
But then again, Jesus was never interested in maintaining the “way things were.” He was interested in proclaiming the way things should be instead. The way they were created in the Garden of Eden.
Otherwise, why would he need to be there? Why prophesy at all, if we already have all the answers?
Yet, we humans love to claim God’s high, holy chair for our own, and declare we know the way God thinks, because surely Jesus thinks the way we do! Right? But, does he though?
Jesus in our passage today is playing with a popular Jewish phrase called “midda k’nessed midda.” It translates “measure for measure.” It means that what you do will return to you in like fold. It’s the way Jewish thinking had been for thousands of years. An eye for an eye. A tooth for a tooth. It was the Jewish sense of equity that said, if someone does something to you, you do it back in even measure. What goes around, comes around, we say. The punishment should meet the crime.
This for the people meant fairness, justice, equity, retribution.
But now Jesus comes along and says this, to “all who are willing to hear: love your enemies.”
Say what now?
He continues: “Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on the cheek, offer the other one as well. If someone takes your coat, don’t withhold your shirt either. Give to everyone who asks, and don’t demand your things back from those who take them. Treat people in the same way that you want them to treat you.”
This was a revolutionary thought. And before you say, “well we all know that….,” ask yourself, but do we though?
I think this statement is still as revolutionary today as it was back then. We just like to think we’ve got it down, but we hardly have it mastered.
Think about our culture. How much of our culture today is still about rules, equity, justice, fairness, and laws, when it could be about love, mercy, giving, forgiving, and breaking apart the boxes that define us and confine us?
Sure, we do good things, but most of the time it’s toward our friends, those we know and love, those we feel a cause for, our pets and pet peeves.
But how many times do we really do “good things” for the people who defy us, hate us, reject us, or disagree with us? The division in our culture right now would pretty much state, “null.”
Listen to Jesus’ “out of the box” point here: “If you love those who love you, why should you be commended? Even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, why should you be commended? Even sinners do that. If you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, why should you be commended? Even sinners lend to sinners expecting to be paid back in full.”
It’s easy to live by human rules of measure for measure: You do good to me; I do good to you.
But Jesus challenges that assumption and turns it upside down:
“Instead, love your enemies, do good, and lend expecting nothing in return.”
This is what God does. God is kind to ungrateful and wicked people. “Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate.”
And then Jesus drives his point home by taking our own concept of “measure for measure” and throwing it back in our faces:
“Don’t judge, and you won’t be judged. Don’t condemn and you don’t be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. The portion you give will determine the portion you receive in return.”
Well, I don’t know about you, but that right there would have stricken terror into every listener that day. Why?
Well, think about it.
Would you like God to do by you, the way you do by others? Really? Would you?
Would you like God to treat you exactly the way you have treated others in your life? Love you the way you’ve loved? Forgive you the way you’ve forgiven? Or not? Do you want God to judge us for our admission into heaven by the standards we judge others.
I don’t think any of us would.
No, when you pray, you don’t pray that God gives you what you deserve.
When you pray, you don’t say, God, please give me justice for all I’ve done. You pray with all your heart, mind, and soul, throwing yourself at the feet of Jesus: Lord, have mercy.
You pray that God gives you mercy, forgiveness, love, and redemption.
We are a fickle kind of people.
So, says Jesus, if you really want to live by your own rules instead of God’s rules, then apply them to yourselves: You want an eye for an eye? Do you really want God to reward you with what you’ve done?
You want justice for what’s been done to you? Do you really want God to exact justice from you for everything you’ve done?
You want equality –measure for measure? So, you really want God to give you grace equal to your sins?
No one wants that. We expect from God total mercy, even while we want equal justice.
No, what Jesus is asking of us is still challenging for us today: to throw away our rules-based thinking, and to take on “divine ways of thinking.” To get rid of our rigid boxes and start playing outside of the rules.
Cause love always, always plays outside the rules. Always.
A warning to all of us. When you demand rules instead of giving love, and then pray the Lord’s prayer, you are asking God to grant you forgiveness, “measure for measure.” Don’t believe me?
…..forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…..
Now, if that doesn’t terrify you, ….it should.
But here’s the good news! Jesus, knowing how difficult this is for us, sacrificed himself for our sins, suffered and died for our redemption, so that we might live, because he lives.
Measure for measure? Not even close.
That’s what you call ultimate mercy. Love beyond love. That’s playing entirely outside the rules.
Thank God for that!
Next time you’re about to think about fairness, rules, equity, or the “way it’s supposed to be,” think instead of Jesus. Instead, choose love, forgiveness, kindness, mercy. That may not be the human way. But it’s God’s way. And the way to achieving “on earth as in heaven.”
Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time Cycle C (1)
Have you noticed how sometimes the time seems to fly by very quickly and you hardly believe it has gone, and at other times it goes so slowly that you can’t wait for something to end? That happens to us all. Today I want to give you a list of things. I want you to tell me if these are things that would go by quickly or slowly for you.
- A whole day in school when you are doing extra work to catch up for when the teacher was absent the day before.2. Your favorite television show.3. Playing during the afternoon with your best friend.4. Doing a lot of homework.5. Sleeping at night.6. Being out shopping with your mom or dad.7. Eating a bowl of your favorite ice cream.8. Sitting through a church service.9. Winter.10. School vacations.11. Summer vacation.12. Your entire life.
That was very good! Now you know what I mean when I say some things seem to make time go faster even though it is always passing at the same speed. The Bible takes a look at our lives – from the time we are born until the time we die – and it says that is a short period of time. It may not seem short to you, but if you talk to your grandparents or someone else who is older, they will say it is very short! But that is why God wants us to remember something very important about our lives on earth. They are only the beginning of something even greater!
The Bible says God holds us from everlasting to everlasting. That means that after we finish our lives here on earth, then we go to Jesus’ presence and enjoy being with Him forever. So while we are here on earth we need to spend our time serving Christ and getting ready to meet Him face to face.
I am often uncomfortable when someone tells me they love me. I am not talking about an honest affirmation, but about a critic. Once I had another Chaplain who happened to be my rater tell me that I was not faithful to scripture and that because I was a Catholic I was going to go to Hell. He then added that he was telling me this because our of Christian love he was trying to save me. Thanks just the same
Occasionally someone that I have a difficult time loving will cross my path. When I’m honest I admit I would be just as happy if he dropped off the face of the earth. But I refuse to snarl and then describe how my Christian love extends even to him. Will Rogers may never have met a man he didn’t like, but the rest of us know that somewhere along the line we have run into folk we flat-out dislike. At least I have. You are all probably too good to ever feel like this.
The gospel is a continuation of Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain. It is plain talk — tough talk — hard to listen to talk. We come today to his most difficult teaching. Here is what sets apart the Christian faith from other religious perspectives, philosophic constructs, psychological systems and elemental common sense. And yet, at the end of the day, it defines the core of Christian ethics.
Jesus says. “To you who hear I say,love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.Can we really love our enemies? If not, why did Jesus lay on us this impossible demand? If the teaching troubles you, fear not, you are not the first to back away from this. Christians have always had a rough time figuring out, or crawling out from under, the Lord’s categorical demand that we love our enemies.
A hundred years ago the great Christian, Albert Schweitzer, held that Jesus, or the early church which actually recorded the teaching, never intended that we could live like that — at least not for long. Schweitzer held that the early church believed Jesus was going to return to earth very soon — in a few years at most, and that the command to love one’s enemies was a temporary edict; what was called an interim ethic. It was like holding your breath. You can do it for a while. But Jesus did not immediately return, and the church was stuck with an ethical command no one can live up to.
Paul, who had probably heard about the saying even though he wrote before the gospels were completed, puts an interesting twist on it. Quoting from the often less than inspiring book of Proverbs, he says, “If your enemy is hungry feed him, if he is thirsty give him drink, for by so doing you heap burning coals upon his head.” Loving your enemy, it turns out, is just another way to do him in. I doubt if that is what Jesus had in mind.
We can kick and squirm and reinterpret the Lord’s words, but when all is said and done we must conclude that Jesus meant what he said. We are to love those who despise us and bless those who curse us. Indeed, it is at this point the Christian ethic is most vividly etched out in a violent, pagan, brutal world filled with hate and bitterness; a world just like ours.
Hatred is destroying the world. Jesus came to give the world life. To follow Him demands that we fight off hatred in the world, beginning with that anger that is within us.
So your children or your parents, your exwife or ex husband, your boss or the people next door have made your lives difficult, even unpleasant. They have tormented you. We can all say that there are those people whose lives have made our lives difficult. And we think, life would be so much easier if they had never existed. More than that, the very thought of the person makes our blood boil. And this nemesis is the person we are called upon to forgive.
Is the Lord asking too much? Is he expecting too much of us? No, He is only telling us to be forgiving so we can receive forgiveness. We pray in the Our Father, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. We tell God, forgive us as much as we forgive other people.
“That’s so radical,” someone protests. Certainly it is! That’s what makes it Christian. We are not certain we want religion to be that radical. We would rather it be more socially acceptable, comfortable and in line with the way we ordinarily do things. We want a nice, safe, domesticated religion, and loving one’s enemies is not it. Nor is it the way of the world. Not by a long shot. When your enemy is down you stomp on him. If you are hit on one cheek you make sure you hit back twice as hard. If he has one gun you get two. That’s realistic. That’s how the world goes. No doubt about it.
Christians, of course, did not invent love, nor do we have a monopoly on it. I don’t know of any culture or system which denies the rightness of love. The difference comes in defining whom you love. The world says, “Love those who love you.” So we come here to church and we love one another. Nothing wrong with that. But one doesn’t need to hold the Christian faith, or any faith for that matter, to love those who love them. As Jesus said, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same.” Matthew’s version has Jesus say, “They have their reward”: people who love those who love them back. The phrase is derived from a Greek term stamped on bills. “Mark his receipt ‘paid in full.’ ” Loving those who love you is no more than a mutually satisfactory commercial transaction.
But if we take this text seriously, we are confronted with much more than a commercial transaction; something beyond the way of the world, something beyond the ethic of mutual satisfaction. We have a whole new, radical, difficult — perhaps impossible — ethic.
Jesus nowhere implies that Christians won’t have enemies. While I like to think Christians are able to get along with everybody, I remember Jesus said, “Beware when all speak well of you.” If I never do or say anything that is going to disturb bigots, racists, those who trust in violence, those who live off injustice, the insensitive, the crude and rude, I may never have an enemy. But neither will I have been faithful to the gospel. Christians will have enemies all right. What they need to be certain of is that they have the right enemies.
I am not afraid of being controversial — history is God’s controversy with faithlessness. If Christianity implies being so neutral about everything that you never have an enemy to contend with, Jesus wasn’t much of a Christian. While there is no virtue in going around making enemies, and while Christians should try and get along with everyone, if we are faithful there will be those who try to silence us.
How are we supposed to love our enemies? Can we take a pill, or quote a verse or say a prayer which changes our hearts? If I do not love someone, can I twist myself around, convince myself that in fact I do love them? Can I banish, as if by sleight of hand, my negative attitude? If that is what it takes, I may get “A” for effort but “F” for performance. I can’t make myself love those I detest, or who detest me. If you can, please share your secret.
If I cannot feel differently, perhaps I can act differently, and the difference in how I act is the only way I will be able to change my mind. “Bless those who hate you,” says Jesus. “Pray for those who persecute you … To a person who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other … And as you wish that people would do to you, do so to them.” The secret is in the doing. I may not be able to control my feelings, nor can I pretend to feel differently than I do. But I can control my actions. As I have told people in counseling: It is often easier to act your way into a new set of feelings, than it is to feel your way into a new set of actions.
Schweitzer held that the early church never claimed folks could live by absolute love, at least for long. Nevertheless, that is our goal. The sayings of Jesus in this Sermon on the Plain are not a diagram of how things work in the world, but a picture of how things work in God’s kingdom. We, the church, have been assigned the task of etching out a beachhead for the kingdom on the inhospitable shores of a world now ruled by the ethic of revenge and violence.
We are God’s emissaries; we live as if the kingdom has already come. For in us, by the grace of God, it is now in our midst however imperfectly. We live and work by faith, giving ourselves in service to the one whose kingdom is both in our midst and on the way. For the coming of that kingdom we pray, waiting for that day when it is as real on earth as it is in heaven.
Can we really love our enemies? By the rules of the world, probably not. But by the grace of God we can — and must.