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Hoosier Musings on the Road to Emmaus

Monday, March 08, 2004

Chapel Sermon

Luke 6:27-38

This Gospel, in some ways, sounds simple to understand, doesn’t it? There’s no convoluted logic to struggle through. Jesus is not talking in parables here, needing thought and interpretation. This is straightforward instruction. In fact, the simplicity lends itself to a bit of contextual translation. If I were composing the New Revised Seminary Version, for example, I might say, “Love your discernment group, bless your COM, pray for your Standing Committee...”

Yes, it sounds simple, but of course it’s not. If there’s anything we’ve learned at Seabury, it’s that it’s always More Complicated Than That. That’s true here in part, I think, because the deceptively simple and straightforward is all too easy to misuse. Like the lighthearted changes I made here-- even through the harder parts of the process, I’ve known that the COM is not my enemy, not really. But there’s also the more serious problems that can happen-- like the twisted, misguided misinterpretation that uses this passage to tell a battered woman to stay with an abusive husband, that passive acceptance will somehow eventually turn away ugly, sinful behavior.

Look again at the message here. This is not about passive acceptance-- allowing oneself to be mistreated. There is nothing about tolerance or acquiescence here; our God is not a passive God. These are verbs. This is action. It is simply not the sort of action we expect, or to which our human nature is inclined.

When I’m feeling threatened, I usually tend to have one of two responses: either I want to strike back, to hurt as I’m being hurt; or I try to avoid the conflict, ignore the problem and hope it’ll go away.

But the Gospel offers us another choice. A radically other choice.

Radical, because Jesus also holds out love for the oppressor as well as the oppressed-- not in support of evil, but in love, and compassion, and as an impetus to walk in God’s way, rather than on our own sinful path. He offers a better way, one of justice and salvation and hope for both parties.

To leave an abusive relationship, for example, IS to turn the other cheek. It is to stand up after the first blows, and to accept the secondary impact that comes with letting go of the time, and emotion, and the commitment invested in the relationship. To sever the connection, and to seek justice without looking for vengeance, is living into God’s mercy. To be able to love enough to refuse to allow evil to continue is as radical as it gets.

No, it’s not easy. Not at all. For pity’s sake, even the contrast that Jesus gives as the easier choice-- “Loving those who love you” -- is not something we do well, all the time. Look at our own community here: the struggles we have dealing with the issues of race, and age, and sexual orientation... and just the effort of day-to-day getting along. I have heard many tales of injury and insult given and taken in this place. I have been guilty of offending, as well as taking offense at unintended slights. All this, in a Christian community trying to love one another!

No, it’s not simple at all. This is why we need this plainspoken Gospel-- this summons to the work of the Spirit, and the instructions given to us as community, as “the Body of Christ, and individually members of it.”

So then-- if this is so hard, how do we begin to live into it? Well, part of the answer is given us in scripture, over and over again. If you know me, you know that I am not a Bible literalist. If I were, I probably wouldn’t be standing in this pulpit right now. But when the Gospel says that we are brothers and sisters in Christ, that I take literally. You are my brother, and you are my sister, and I am yours, by ties beyond any human biology. Each time we break the one bread together, and share the common cup, we are reminded of that intimate connection, of that responsibility, of the need to be accountable and to hold one another accountable. In Christ, George Bush and Gene Robinson are both my brothers. Bishop Barbara Harris and Tammy Faye Bakker are both my sisters. And because of that, I am called to love them, even when we do not agree; to pray for them, even (maybe especially!) when I am most appalled by their actions.

By virtue of the baptism we share, we are called to that hardest of challenges, within this place and beyond it.

Yes, we fall short. But oh, when it works, what a wondrous gift... my brothers and sisters, what blessings we give, and receive. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over.


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