Changing The Story

Changing The Story

Scripture: Luke 6:27-38 

I have noticed in recent years a growing lack of any “shock value” in our society. It’s obvious in movies, TV shows, video games, sports, and even the way we talk. To be a millionaire means very little these days; it’s more impressive to be a billionaire. Video games are no fun if they just involve war strategy; there has to be actual, real fighting in all its gory detail. What was once a simple death scene in any movie has become an often over-dramatized blood bath. Athletes are constantly striving for “higher, faster, and stronger,” so much so that the “best” are often found to be using performance-enhancing drugs. Whether the media, Hollywood, Wall Street, Activision games, or the National Football League; throughout our culture, there is a constant effort to impress us, to shock and amaze us, at nearly any cost. The result, I think, is that we become desensitized to these efforts, and so the next time it takes even more to “wow” us and leave an impression.

In a similar way, I think we have lost some of the shock value of Christianity. When it comes to our Christian discipleship, though, it’s not that we have stepped out in ventures more and more radical and shocking, but rather that we have not. We have settled quite comfortably into our Christian identity. We live with the impression that it’s easy to be Christian these days: we aren’t persecuted, Christian values are incorporated into our government in many ways; we don’t have to get our hands too dirty, or put too much time into our faith. And the result is that Christianity doesn’t shock people anymore. But, I don’t think I have to tell you, this is not the way of true Christ followers. When Jesus Christ walked this earth two-thousand years ago, he turned power structures and social norms upside down, he shocked people, and these words we heard from Jesus a few moments ago tell us just how he did it, and how we should be living as Christ-followers in the world today.

“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. Instead, love your enemies, do good, and lend expecting nothing in return.” For entire millennia, people have been living according to the Golden Rule, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” We take seriously the command to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. But now, Jesus takes the whole thing a step further. Not only are we to treat others the way we want to be treated and love others the way we love ourselves, but that love is to extend all the way to our enemies! We should pray for people who persecute us. If someone slaps us on one cheek, Jesus tells us to turn the other also. We are to generously offer grace and hospitality, even to those who have been ungracious to us. Can you imagine what it would be like to truly, truly live out these words from Jesus? This changes the whole story of how we live our lives; it would be completely earth-shattering and totally shocking!

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The kingdom that Jesus preached and lived was all about a glorious, uproarious, absurd generosity. Just imagine the best thing you could do for the worst person, and go ahead and do it. Think of what you’d really like someone to do for you, and do it for them. Think of the people to whom you are tempted to be nasty, and lavish generosity on them instead.

These are hard, hard words, aren’t they? One pastor writes, “Congregations respond to this text in the same way my children respond to seeing cooked spinach on their plate at dinner. No matter how much I explain the nutritional value, no one around the table really wants to dig in!” And perhaps Jesus would have had an easier time of it if he had left this item off the menu. I mean, “Who wants to love an enemy?” Congregations fill stadiums to hear sermons on “Three Easy Steps to Love,” and “Five Paths to a Better Life;” these are the things we like and want to hear when it comes to how we live our lives as Christians. But, like the difference between eating our spinach and eating only candy, there is a vast difference between what we want and what we need, which is why it’s so important for us to take these words of Jesus seriously and to begin changing the story of our very broken lives.

“Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you.” Today, scientists tend to agree that holding grudges can cause us serious stress, which has a toxic effect on our bodies. Thinking about an injustice we’ve suffered through a lens of vengeance, hostility, bitterness, resentment, anger, sadness, or all of the above, can raise our blood pressure and our risk of having a stroke and heart attack. It can also impair the functioning of our immune system. Holding grudges and seeking vengeance also appears to exacerbate mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. So, it turns out that in seeking to “get back at” others, we are really only hurting ourselves.

But how can we do anything differently? If we don’t seek revenge, aren’t we just saying that evil acts are okay? The gospel of Christ seems to tell us that the only way to overcome evil is to let it burn out, come to a standstill because it doesn’t find the resistance it is looking for. Fighting evil just creates more evil and adds fuel to the fire. But when evil has no opposition, and instead is met with patient endurance, it at last meets an opponent which is more than its match. And the cross of Jesus Christ is the only power in the world which proves that suffering love can and does defeat evil!

There is no doubt whatsoever that this teaching of Jesus is difficult. It runs against all our natural instincts; our thinking, our inclinations, our desires, our will. And so it might be tempting for us to soften this passage, to make it less shocking. We might be inclined to read this passage of Scripture and say we do this forgiving stuff because if we do, we “will have a great reward.” I mean, who doesn’t want to hear something like: “If you love that jerk down the street, then Jesus will love you even more, AND your reward will be great”?!? But when we read this passage in that way, it erases grace because it implies that the claim of the Bible that God “loved us while we were yet sinners” (or better yet, that God “loved us while we were enemies of God”) is a lie.

We have to remember that we love only because Jesus first loved us. And as followers of Jesus Christ, we are to respond to others in the same way God has responded to us. We have to change the story, re-write history, shock people. Only we can control how we will respond to those who persecute us, our enemies. Our God has chosen to deal with us, his enemies, with unconditional grace and love. And Jesus here makes clear that we are to do the same; we are to choose the path of forgiveness over hate and animosity. How can we, God’s forgiven children, be any less forgiving? “Be merciful,” Jesus says, “just as the Father is merciful.”

Now, I don’t want you to leave here this morning with the wrong impression. Forgiving in Christ is not a matter of somehow trivializing what has happened. Forgiving in Christ means confronting our hurt head-on, and grappling with it. It means acknowledging the pain we’ve experienced, and yet not allowing that pain to master us. It’s been said that “evil propagates by contagion. It can be contained and defeated only when hatred, insult, and injury are absorbed and neutralized by love.”

Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good, and lend expecting nothing in return. If you do, you will have a great reward.” That great reward has nothing to do with full pockets, big houses, or even self-esteem. It does have to do with who we become, for there is much grace and transformation needed for us to live out the radical faith Jesus demands. And there is no greater reward than to be living and acting the way Jesus does. Jesus knows full well that the story will never change, that we will never love our enemies, without the amazing grace that transforms us and makes us different than we are. What changes us and allows us to love is God’s grace; a grace that is much, much greater than our sin. So, in loving our enemies, we are taking the way of the cross and are brought into fellowship with Jesus Christ. And when we do this, we find ourselves being transformed. We begin to see other people the way God sees people. And we begin to love others the same way God loves others.

This message from Pastor Clair Sauer is brought to you by Grace Lutheran Church, Web and Park Street, Mountain View, Arkansas.  For prayer or more information, contact Pastor Kenneth Taglauer by email: [email protected].  A Pass it On Project ,  You can read more at: Sermon Central