“It Is Time to Expand”
Matthew 5: 38-48
Pastor Tim Woodard, 2/23/2014
These past weeks we have been going back and forth – from the Old Testament to the New; reflecting on the words of the Psalmist and even the story of Jonah and the whale. We have listened to Jesus sitting on a hillside teaching the people – to hearing the Apostle Paul interpreting the teachings of Jesus. We have heard Paul’s struggle to assist new and struggling churches as they strive to implement ‘in the local church’ the principles and practice of the ministry of Jesus. Today, we once again join the crowd of witnesses that sat listing to Jesus as he taught from the hillside. With this in mind, I think it is important for us to sit back and relax and work at grasping the expansive teachings and implied ministry that come from hearing Jesus speak. Let us allow the soothing yet prophetic and Godly voice of Jesus to fill our very hearts and minds.
But first we must put this into the context of our current social realities!
We have heard it said: All around us we see expanding budgets and deficits. We have seen the expansive unemployment lines and foreclosures in the all too recent past! We have heard it said that the recovery has reached the financial markets and they are expanding and strengthening. We have heard it said, now isn’t it time for us to see more clearly the expanding recovery reaching the everyday citizen of our local communities? Yet, even when this does occur, and some say that it already has, we will still need to widen our topic of expansion! A financial expansion will not solve all the issues and problems or concerns we have as the people of God.
What we need is expanding churches, expanding works of charity and expanding services to those with needs! It would be really good to hear about expanding devotion to Christ and all that Jesus stands for! We need expanding ministries, and we need a few new voices to represent our ministry, in this local community. We need to spread God’s message of love and peace.
Soon, as our church calendar moves forward we will be drawn into the conflict and the tension building between Jesus and his enemies as his influence grows within the countryside. Knowing this, we must assume that the Scribes and Pharisees are within the crowds and hear every word of Jesus’ teachings, and also we must conclude that Jesus knows they are listening to him. Thus his words speak to those who have come to love him and want to follow him as-well-as to those that do not trust him, but rather see him as a threat to their influence and positions within the local structure of power in that region.
Rather than hate your enemy Jesus tells us to love them. [Did his enemies see this as a weakness or as a strength?] Rather than resist someone who robs you give the robber more than they ask for; if he takes your coat give him your purse and your shoes as well. [Is it good to tell a victim to stop resisting their attackers?] This is very radical thinking. [I suspect many a therapist or psychologist may go back and forth on this teaching.] Either way it did not catch on well at the time of Jesus and it still has not taken deep roots in our culture today. You and I, we still hear more people calling for revenge for wrongs done them, and at the very least a cry for retribution, a return of their stolen goods! Simply resisting and ignoring what Jesus asks of us to be and do ‘as his disciples’ does not, however, make it less so. It has never been easy to love those who wrong us, yet, this is what Jesus teaches.
A couple weeks ago I heard a very famous theologian named: John Dominic Crossan, speak to us about the context, that is the setting in which Jesus lived. He helped us understand the importance of understanding the social system Jesus lived within back in the years 30 A.D. Crossan spoke of the need to follow the teachings of Jesus, teachings that lead us into a new model for living. Dominic challenges us to consider pulling away from the old ideas of might and power, verses compassion and justice, in order to reach the goals of peace; a peace that all people of all societies, throughout all humankind have sought after! Clearly, his teachings push us to the radical thinking of the One we call the Christ! Dare we think like Jesus and give up the mindset of a Warring Hawk and become a Peaceful Dove to move our societies forward in the Light of God!
How many times in our journey of life have we heard we must forgive others who have wronged us? How fewer times have we seen anyone actually do so? Every time we say the Lord’s Prayer, a prayer that the vast majority of people in our communities know or have at least heard, we say the words: ‘forgive us our sins or trespasses… as we forgive those whom sin or trespass against us’. Perhaps the majority of people don’t hear what they say to God… when they utter these words. If we have forgiven those that trespass or do wrong against us, we would not seek revenge… would we? If we took that extra step that Jesus speaks of today… actually turning the other cheek for the one who has struck us, to strike us again, we would not even seek retribution either! Remember, I have told you before: following Jesus is not an easy journey.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: “Religion is to do right. It is to love, it is to serve, it is to think, and it is to be humble”. I don’t believe he was ever quoted as saying that this would be easy. Nor do I believe that Jesus ever said following him would be easy. At the same time, I also know that at times Jesus would overstate the points he was trying to make, or he would salt it a bit knowing his enemies were listening to his every word. Don’t misunderstand; I am not saying to disregard the sayings of Jesus or to dismiss them as overstatements. I am saying look to Jesus ‘holistically.’ His words, his teachings were meant to be brought together into a way of life, a way of living, a way of growing in faith and in love. Winston Churchill sheds a little light on this conflicting thought with a bit of humor. “They say that nobody is perfect. Then they tell you practice makes perfect. I wish they would make up their minds.” I urge you to look to the fullness of the teachings of Jesus and do not allow yourself to get stuck on one simple instruction strongly stated in an ‘effort to make’ a ‘point’ for the sake of the ‘full’ audience listening to the words of Jesus.
Settling ourselves once again upon that hillside where Jesus sat and spoke to the crowd, that had gathered, we can only assume that he wanted to help the people with a deeper and broader understanding of the laws – to which they had followed – from the time of Moses. Jesus is, in essence, re-interpreting the law for the people. One can only assume the current religious leaders of his time, did not want the laws re-interpreted. The words of Jesus stirred up the crowds, causing them to reevaluate those who led them. Jesus was asking people to give up the easy lessons of an eye for an eye and suggest taking on more responsibility and more commitment to get involved in the social system in which they lived. Rather than seek revenge or retribution from their enemies… reach out to them with the same love and devotion offered to others; thus becoming part of the societies solutions – rather than a continuation of its demise.
Let us take a moment to view the history of this church. When I say this I mean specifically that Riviera Church as part of the national denomination called the United Church of Christ; which was founded in 1957, by bringing the Congregational Christians and the Evangelical and Reformed churches together. With this said we must note that the Congregationalism movement was “Established by settlers in present-day ‘New England’ fleeing religious persecution in their native ‘England’. Many American historians have viewed their semi-democratic practices as laying the foundation for the representative nature of the U.S. political tradition.” /Wikipedia/ With this as your foundation as a church, your right to vote on matters of this church is not only ‘part of your heritage’ it is ‘your right’ and ‘your responsibility’. In the Spirit of Christ, reach out to one another in love and devotion – freely speaking your opinion in matters – while voting your conscious in matters brought before you. Remember always: we follow the radical thinking of Jesus, the Dove, not those who still follow the same old Hawkish attitude of societies such as the old Roman Empire at the time Jesus walked this earth. Keep this in mind as you embrace the process of making decisions as a church, decisions that need to strengthen your unity as a church, not divide it!
There is this old Chinese proverb “He who seeks revenge must dig two graves: one for his enemy and one for himself.” We have seen this come to pass in many and various world events over our lifetimes. Things like ethnic cleansing verses social justice, segregation verses civil rights, along with women’s rights movements or gay rights verses the tyranny of such as the Ku Klux Klan brought out the worst in humankind. People fighting for a cause and those that opposed them, their battles sparked a whole cycle of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”. There has been great wisdom gleaned from many a proverb; too bad humankind is so slow to seek wisdom from such as these.
The wisdom of Jesus is here for us to grasp this morning. We can pick up the challenge he makes: to do things a different way, to grapple with the depth of what it means to love one’s neighbor, as-well-as what is involved and what it means to be forgiving and loving as Christ Jesus himself was. I urge you, one and all, consider expanding on some of these teachings, and allowing hatred, revenge and our constant cries for ‘retribution’ to fade out and become a thing of the past. Let our focus take a new turn as we seek to follow the road that Jesus beacons for us to tread! Indeed, it is time for us as a people, as a church, to expand our understanding of what it means to be a Christian.
You have heard it said… now it is time for you to say it. You have seen it done… now it is time for you to do it.
Hear these words from the “Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi”
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
38“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
43“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.