“Be Forgiving and Merciful!”
Luke 6:27-38, February 24th, 2019
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Hear now these words recorded for us in the gospel according to Luke, chapter six, verses 27 thru 38.”
27 “But I say to you that listen, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 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. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you. 32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”
“Having listened to this teaching let us now consider how we apply it to our daily lives.”
“Be Forgiving and Merciful!”
When I was growing up, like most children, I learned by the example of others. When I made a mistake, I was held accountable for it, yet, I was ultimately forgiven and given a second chance. When I saw my parents make mistakes, as parents always do, they held themselves accountable for them. They cleaned up their own messes. In this way, I ought not to have and do not now hold a grudge for the missteps they took along the way. As an adult, I have forgiven them for the things they did do wrong. I can do this, because, because as an adult I know it is the right thing to do. Also, in my heart, I know they did the best they could, as most parents do. Furthermore, they forgave me when I was wrong. With this as a starting point, I am better able to negotiate my way through the realities of my life today. For we all know, the world we now live within has a lot of things that are not going well; there are things that we each believe are mistakes and some people are making wrong choices. Prayerfully, we will all be forgiven in heaven and prayerfully, we will find it in our hearts to forgive others.
There have been a few examples of world leaders, throughout history, whom seem to have come to an understanding of ‘how’ to negotiate through life – without hatred ruling their choices. Of course, Jesus was the prominent figure whom has influenced us Christians. And we will discuss this more shortly. However, let us look at a leader who seems to have imbodied the principles of Jesus, while at the same time, trying to change social behaviors for the good of others. “Mahatma Gandhi was an Indian Activist who was the leader of the Indian Independence Movement against British Rule. Employing nonviolence civil disobedience, Gandhi led India to independence (back in 1947) and inspired movements for civil rights and freedom across the world.” /Wikipedia/ In the gospel according to Matthew, chapter five, verse thirty-nine we hear Jesus preaching about turning the other cheek when someone strikes you. “But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also;” /Matthew 5:39/ Gandhi employed this principle, taken from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, in his ‘nonviolent’ movement, which was very successful.
One of our beloved retired pastors, shared with me a time when a young lad had heard him quote this scripture and after the service, came up to him and slapped his cheek. Taken back in utter surprise, our pastor was at a momentary loss of words, to which the child boldly stated: “aren’t you going to turn the other cheek?” Thank you, pastor, for sharing that with me. I must confess, I am not sure I am prepared for such a response either!
The weekly worship liturgy resource, which we use each week, makes a pungent and relevant comment for us to ponder this morning. Today’s scripture addresses questions relevant to our time: “How are we supposed to treat others?” and “Does God’s love extend to all?” The Golden Rule teaches us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us – regardless of whether they are friend or foe, saint or sinner. (Abbington Worship Annual 2019 edited by Scifres and Beu) The Golden Rule, of course, refers to a scripture passage, also found in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus speaks to his gathering expressing this principle of not returning evil with evil. “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you;” /Matthew 7:12/ Most of us want to be forgiven when we make a mistake. Few of us would want to have an insult returned to us in the same manner in which we wrongly used it against another. My mother taught me that two wrongs do not make a right. All these sayings come from the earlier principles of which Jesus is credited with initiating. Knowing this, is a good thing. From here we can begin to struggle with the overall question: “does God’s love extent to everyone?”
Let us take a closer look at our lesson from scripture this morning. Our lesson, our writing this morning, leaves little room to negotiate the statement reported to have come from the teachings of Jesus. “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.” /Luke 6:27-28/ Following the teachings of Jesus, it is frequently very difficult to do so. Simply, because they are so contrary to what we see going on all around us. His words are troubling at times. Thankfully, Jesus did not try to tell us we do not have any enemies; because we clearly do! Neither did he tell us to deny that there are people who truly hate us; because there are those who truly do! And Jesus acknowledges that there are those whom curse us, and we know who they are! Jesus knew the truth of our human nature to do wrong! He even concedes that humans abuse one another! Yes, sadly this too, is true. Yet, in the face of these truths, Jesus still calls upon us to first: Listen to what he is saying! Jesus wants us to pay attention to his words! Love your enemies!
One commentary writer states the obvious for us. “The word used here for love, agape in Greek, does not mean romantic love, liking, or even friendship. What it does mean is whole-hearted, unreserved, unconditional desire for the well-being of the other. Expecting nothing in return.” /David Ewart/ Saying the words and hearing the words is easy. It is a very different thing to make them a part of our human responses to the realities which lurk around every corner of our lives! The next time a reckless driver cuts you off or dangerously cuts in front of you, try not to curse the driver. But rather, say a quick prayer that they do not hurt someone or themselves. Trust me, that will not be easy to implement! Ultimately, this is exactly what Jesus is saying to us. Conversely, when you are pulled over by the Palm Bay Police or a State Trooper for reckless driving don’t curse under your breath. Rather, be grateful, grateful you got stopped before you got into an accident or hurt someone! What Jesus is saying to us, is we need an attitude adjustment! We need to have a complete make over in how we process our thoughts; thoughts which ultimately direct our actions. If you have always though one way and you are asked to think about the same thing – in an entirely different way – well, that’s going to take a physic change. A change that can only occur when you become fully ready to ask for God’s help and begin trusting in the teachings of Jesus.
William Loader speaks of how “Jesus’ life is the best exposition, (the best explanation) of his teaching: self-giving love even in utmost adversity generates life for oneself and for others. It is participation in God’s life.” When you see someone panhandling, begging at a street corner what is the first thought you have? Is it ‘How can I help this poor man or woman’? Or is it, with scorn, as you curse under your breath, perhaps because they have not been more responsible and caring of their own wellbeing. Scorning them with your glance as you turn your eyes away from them; by which they surely know you will not help them. I venture to say a great many of us do this. Yet, in reality: how can we realistically help them? We may say it is better to support the local food banks and soup kitchens then to give them ‘cash money’ which they will possibly misuse. This is true and I support this line of thought. Yet, what about our own personal ‘attitude’ regarding the individual? We can debate how best to assist, yet, does that excuse our scorn for their predicament? No, of course not. Jesus is teaching us to do otherwise. But frankly, this is not the First-Century and we are not living on the dust roadways within the region of Palestine or Jerusalem. Supporting the organized efforts of a soup kitchen or a food pantry is indeed the best avenue. We, as a church, also reach out by supporting our Shepherd’s fund, which you have charged me to use; to assist those in need; a responsibility I do not take lightly! However, your support of this fund speaks to your ‘merciful attitude’ to assist, whenever possible! And this is surely what Jesus would want! And Jesus would also want us to be humble enough to realize, it could be you or me or a friend or family member, whom is next in line; in that ever-expanding line of the homeless and the hungry.
This teaching is not isolated and does not stick out as an oddity or a quirk in the teachings of Jesus. No! Jesus’ ministry was a living example of showing people mercy and offering forgiveness to all those whom are willing to ‘allow’ God to change their ways. The point here is that sometimes listening to a teaching of Jesus is going to be challenging. This is one such lesson! Perhaps, to get the point across, we too need a slap on the cheek, reminding us of how Jesus said we need turn the other cheek! I know the urge has hit many of us to do just that… hoping to get a different response from the person we are administering it too! Surely, we would be stunned if they did offer us their other cheek… causing us to realize we had totally mis-judged or misunderstood the persons intent!
Lessons such as todays, will perhaps give us a fresh insight into the heart of God. For God loves us all. Let us ask God to open our hearts to adjusting our mindsets and our approaches to understanding this crucial lesson. Let us pray God will help us to make an impact upon the lives of others, helping them to be transformed by the teachings of Christ, just as we are being changed.