Almost every week I read David Lose’s letter to Working Preachers. I think this week’s was particularly insightful and want to share it with you. If you’d like to see the web site and check out other articles, the link is workingpreacher.org Here’s Dr. Loses’ letter:
Dear Working Preacher,
I think a lot of us probably have one of two reactions to this passage and the (in)famous commands it contains. The first is simple, and a little sad: we’ve heard Jesus’ commands so often that they hardly register. “Turn the other cheek.” Yeah — yawn — sure. “Love you enemies.” Sounds nice — why not? And out of our trained indifference we rarely think deeply about actually trying to follow them.
The second response takes Jesus’ words more seriously, but also assumes they’re somewhat out of reach. “Turn the other cheek.” Are you kidding?! And get treated like a doormat? “Love you enemies.” You can’t be serious! Both commands — and a host of Jesus’ other injunctions to boot, seem from this point of view to be sheer folly, idealistic sentiments that would be crazy to apply in the “real” world.
But here’s the thing: Jesus isn’t kidding and is dead serious about these commands. In this sermon, Jesus is outlining his vision of God’s kingdom and issuing a summons to those who desire to be a part of it. Which is why we need to take them seriously. Of course, if such sentiments seem a little crazy to us, we’re not alone. Critics from the extreme right and left have often characterized Jesus’ teaching as ludicrous. Consider Ayn Rand, political philosopher, literary bestseller, and recent darling of the Tea Party, who wrote, “If any civilization is to survive, it is the morality of altruism that men have to reject.” And then there’s Karl Marx, father of communism, who said, “The social principles of Christianity preach cowardice, self-contempt, abasement, submissiveness and humbleness.”
Before dismissing these critiques too quickly, however, we should perhaps point out that, indeed, turning the other cheek and returning hatred with love is no way to get ahead in this world. For the rules of this kingdom are well known — it’s a dog-eat-dog world where only the strong survive. But that’s just the point. Jesus isn’t trying to modify the rules of the world. He’s not, contrary to prosperity preachers, inviting you to figure out how to make the most of this world or have your best life now. And he’s not even inviting you to find a safe port amid the storms of this world. Rather, he’s starting a revolution by calling the rules of this world into question and, at the very same time, redeeming this world that he loves and that will, in due time, put him to death.
Jesus calls the powers of the day into question by describing an entirely different way to relate to each other, inviting us into relationships governed not by power but by vulnerability grounded in love. “’An eye for an eye’ makes all people blind,” Gandhi would similarly say almost two thousand years later. Here Jesus invites us to overcome the urge to retribution with loving submission and forbearance.
Yet he isn’t satisfied with merely overturning this world. For the very essence of his critique — that we were created not merely for justice but also for love and life — is simultaneously the only possible hope for those enmeshed in the orders of the world. Strength eventually fails. Power corrupts. And survival of the fittest leaves so many bodies on the ground. Love alone transforms, redeems, and creates new life. As Martin Luther King, Jr., a student of both Jesus and Gandhi, once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
So if we are inclined to read over these familiar words too quickly in our haste to get on with the familiar story, or if we want to dismiss these commands out of hand as pious idealisms, I’d urge us instead to slow down and take them more seriously. For in these few crazy sentiments Jesus lays before us the plans for the kingdom he proclaims and the revolution he starts. And so before joining either, we should probably know just what it is we’re getting ourselves in for!
As we do so, however, allow one more observation. The last line of this passage — “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” — helps to reframe the whole of this passage. For while telos, the Greek word Jesus employs, can indeed be translated “perfect,” it typically denotes something not so much morally perfect as it does something that has grown up, matured, and now reached its perfect end. That is, telos is the goal or desired outcome of a thing. A fruit tree’s telos, we might say, is to grow mature and tall so that it can bear fruit.
So might Jesus be not simply commanding something of us but also commending something in us? That is, perhaps Jesus simply knows that we have more to give, that we can be and do more than we have settled for, and that we can absolutely make a difference in the world if we simply believe in ourselves. And so I hear in these commands also the invitation to be those people God has created us to be so that we might not just persevere through this challenging life but actually to flourish, making a difference to those around us by sharing the abundant life Jesus has given us. Crazy? Maybe. But Jesus is not only dead serious about what he promises but actually will die — and rise again! — to show us that it’s true.
Three years ago, Working Preacher, I shared several possibilities for how we might bring this message more tangibly to life, and you’ll see in the comments that a number of folks used those ideas to good effect (and added some of their own, to boot!). This time around, I’d simply invite you to share Jesus’ confidence that the persons present in the worship service over which you presides represent God’s family on earth, those with the God-given potential to change the world, live by Jesus’ radical ethics now, and model a new and different way of being in the world that we simply call the kingdom of God.
Blessings on your ministry and life, Working Preacher. Your words, too, make such a difference and I am grateful for them … and for you.
Our 2014 Lenten mid-week luncheons will gather around good food, good company, and the good news of Jesus Christ according to John.
You can start right away by subscribing to the video series at www.SSJE.org/lovelife.
Each day starting Ash Wednesday, you will receive a short video on a theme from the Gospel of John. Watch the video and respond to the question for the day.
On Wednesdays we’ll gather for lunch, to watch the weekly compilation video as a refresher, and talk about the week’s theme. How will answers change over the course of the 5-week conversation?
As an added bonus, you can even share your experience, using #LoveLife on your preferred social media site.
In a similar way, we believe light shines in the darkness for the upright. The prophet Isaiah declares that when we loose the bonds of injustice and share our bread with the hungry, the light breaks forth like the dawn. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus; the light of the world, calls his followers to let the light of their good works shine before others. Through baptism we are sent into the world to shine with the light of Christ. How does Christ enlighten your life? How do you feel filled with Christ’s light for the world? How do you bring light to the people around you?
This Sunday is a special day in the Church year. Its 40 days since Christmas, so we remember the story of Mary and Joseph bringing their first-born to the temple to present him to God in accordance with Jewish rules. The Presentation of Our Lord is referred to in some corners of the church as Candlemas because of an ancient tradition of blessing all the candles to be used in the church in the coming year on that day. It was a way of underscoring the truth of Simeon’s confession that this baby Jesus was “a light for revelation to the Gentiles” and a light for glory to Israel. Let the light of every candle in church be a little epiphany of the love of God for all people in the person of God’s son, Jesus, the light of the world. We will ceremonially bless the lights of our churches and you are invited to bring a light from your home to be blessed as well.Permalink
beginning at 5pm in Calvary’s fellowship hall. We’ll have brats, dogs, and chicken breast sandwiches, chips, beer, wine, lemonade and coffee. Please bring the following:
- A friend or neighbor
- a game or games
- a dish to pass; salad, side dish, dessert
There’s talk of a Euchre tournament and a Wii bowling match.
Sunday, September 22nd was the installation of Rev. Craig Satterlee as the fourth bishop of the North/West lower Michigan Synod. The ceremony took place in Trinity Lutheran Church, Midland. Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson conducted the installation. I wasn’t back from my trip yet, so was unable to attend. Here’s a couple pictures from the synod’s web pages. Check out http://mittensynod.org/installation_photos.html for more. Follow this link http://www.craigasatterlee.com/ to learn more about our new bishop. I feel a special connection to him because he was a high school student member of Bethel Lutheran Church in St. Claire Shores when I interned there in 1978-9.
There wasn’t any white smoke, though the fire alarms did go off the following Saturday in Grand Rapids. Calvin College’s VanNoord Arena hosted the diocese gathering and was filled with wonderful music, uplifting preaching, and plenty of incense. The consecration of the ninth bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Michigan was joyous. Rev. Whayne Hougland displayed both humility and courage as he stood before the gathering to answer the questions of the four bishops seated before the altar. A choir of more than 150 voices accompanied by brass and organ provided marvelous music for the festivities. I was struck by the attention to detail that emphasized the importance of leading our church. Follow this link for (lots) more pictures.
I expect great things from both these faithful and gifted men.
… back when vinyl was the format titled, “Heroes and Villains.” It came to mind while riding through many of the small towns on my route. Whether families or communities, we brag about our heroes and take a perverse pride in our villains. Did you know Al Capone had a retreat home in Edson, Alberta? There are two log cabins off Bunker Hill Road that were built by Henry Ford after he had visited the Traverse City area a century ago. In central Ohio there are signs for miles in every direction from Wapakoneta reminding the passerby that Neil Armstrong grew up there. I wonder if there are, “Genghis Kahn slept here,” signs across the Middle East. Anyway, I’m getting away from my story.
We find heroes in all occupations. Sports is a definite biggie. Proof of that in a particular way came repeatedly as I rode along. Many small towns erected signs identifying the NHL players they claimed. I guess big towns care too. Edmonton has a Wayne Gretzky Drive. I have to confess, I didn’t recognize a single name I saw on the small town signs, but I doubt it made any difference to the people of those villages. I wonder why we identify with heroes.
Maybe if gives us a sense of worth in lives that are otherwise unremarkable. Who will ever know of me? What are the chances I’ll ever be on national television? You have to do something really great — or really terrible — to get that kind of notoriety. Not likely for me. How about you
On the other hand, we are told as Christians that our call is to care for “the least of these,” because in doing so, we care for our Lord. Maybe being heroes is different for Christians. There won’t be a sign with our name on it, but there will be a place in heaven. Keep your stick on the ice.