We Must Do Better

Genesis 45:3-11,15; Psalm 3:1-12; 41-42; 1 Corinthians 15:35-38:42-50; Luke 6:27-38

Before I begin,  I want to thank my Brother James for inviting me to preach here. It’s kind of a weird feeling. Although my wife Kim and I attended an Episcopal parish in Rhode Island before we moved to Missouri, we really found a church home here at All Saints. We loved it enough to drive the 20 miles from Thomasville every Sunday. We were confirmed here. Our youngest son was baptized here. We sang in the choir, we were Lay Readers (as they were called then). I was choirmaster for a while, I served on vestry, was a convention delegate. Together Kim and I taught the little kids in Sunday School. I don’t even remember what else. Kim and I both worked up on the square, she at Aid Hardware, and me at a small software company just a couple of doors down. So after over 30 years, to be able to come back and preach here is a very special experience. And more than a little scary.

I have to tell you, I really love the way Luke portrays Jesus. Each Gospel writer has a unique way of presenting our Savior. In Luke, Jesus is pretty radical. He not only tells his listeners how to live — things they’ve really known since they were children — he tells them to take it even further, going beyond what they were taught. Going BEYOND what Torah required. And he turns things upside down. He’s all about happy are the poor, and the rich are gonna get theirs. The starving will be fed and those who have enough to eat will feel the gnawing of hunger.

In our gospel today, Jesus does it again. Now, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” is straight out of the Torah. But Jesus, never satisfied with the letter of the Law, says “Love your enemies. If someone takes your coat, give them your shirt. If someone takes away your goods, just let them go ahead.”

I can just picture his disciples thinking “Wait a minute. This is crazy. Love…your ENEMIES? Give away our clothes? Just like that, we’re back in topsy-turvy land! I thought we were done with this stuff after the Beatitudes!”

And I have to admit I sympathize. That’s the way I tend to think, and I’d be willing to bet that’s the way MOST of us tend to think. Why should I take that kind of chance? I could get hurt! And I might end up owning nothing at all.

But get Jesus’ point. If we just love the people who love us, we’re not doing anything special. We’re just doing what everyone does. If we lend to people and expect to be paid back, we’re only doing what everyone does. How do we behave as children of God that makes us different.

For Jesus, love is a lot more radical. Jesus always wants to go one better.

A couple of weeks ago for our Epistle we had the “Love Chapter” from 1st Corinthians. I based my sermon in Poplar Bluff on that passage. The point of that sermon was that we tend to cheapen this passage by overusing it and applying it to ROMANTIC love, to what a Greek would have called ερος. But the Greek word that Paul uses throughout that passage and the word that Jesus uses in today’s Gospel is αγαπε. Αγαπε is not a word that describes a feeling. Αγαπε is an ACTIVE verb. It’s something we DO, not something we feel. And it’s something we do because of what we have become – what we are still becoming – through Jesus Christ.

In this week’s passage from 1st Corinthians, Paul is hitting the theme of the resurrection. People are asking ”What sort of bodies will we have?“ When Paul says we will have a “spiritual body,” he is not talking about some weird, spooky, disembodied existence. We’re not leaving matter behind and going on to live a non-physical eternal life. That’s a doctrine from the gnostic tradition, not Paul. Paul is talking about a new body – a PHYSICAL body – that is animated by the spirit. Our new bodies will be powered by the Holy Spirit. And that power — power we can already tap into NOW if we claim it — that power can guide us in how to live.

Which brings us back to what Jesus was saying. Aside from his ultimate purpose to die and be resurrected to destroy the power of Sin, Jesus’ ministry was all about introducing the kingdom of heaven to the world. He spent a lot of time doing this, showing us how to live NOW, while we’re waiting for his inevitable victory. In today’s Gospel he is once again telling us how we need to act as a part of the kingdom of heaven. Notice: not how we will act someday, after we are resurrected, when the kingdom of heaven has come to fruition, but how we should be acting NOW.

The world may behave one way, but we are products of new creation. We are part of the kingdom of heaven already, the kingdom that is here and now as well as in the past, but also is not complete yet. And we are expected to behave like it’s already here. We are called to the life of the Spirit NOW.

So, as Jesus says in today’s Gospel, we can’t be satisfied with acting according to the rules everybody else uses. We can’t live a “Least Common Denominator” Christianity. We must do BETTER. We are called to the life of the Spirit, and we must act like it.

We are not called to the life of the Spirit to act like everyone else. We must do better because Jesus did better.

We are not called to the life of the Spirit to talk about “those people” — whoever they may be this week — and how they need to straighten up and behave the way WE think they should. Or worship the way we think they should. We are called to recognize that there are no divisions when Christ is in charge.

We are not called to the life of the Spirit to pretend we are persecuted, when in fact we have it easier than just about any other Christians in the history of the world. We are called to recognize when OTHERS are persecuted, or put in harm’s way, or made to think that they are less than the Children of God.

We are not called to the life of the spirit to keep our good material fortune to ourselves. We are called to share with those who have not been as fortunate as we have.

We are not called to the life of the Spirit to keep this new life in Christ to ourselves. We are called to share it with everyone we meet. Because that is how the kingdom of heaven grows. It grows because love is contagious. It grows because when we love the way Christ loves, people will look at us and think “These people have something, and I want it too.”

We must do better. God loves us — God loves EVERYONE— without reservation. While we can never aspire to love exactly the way God loves, we are still called to give it our best shot. I doubt we will ever get it completely right, at least not until Christ returns and finishes the work he began so long ago. 

But in the meantime, we are still called to do better. We are called to love in action, not just in words. We are called to love everyone, without exception, without reservation. We are called to love without regard to race, nationality, age, gender identity, sexual preference, political party. We must love everyone. In loving like this we will show ourselves to be, in Jesus’ words, “children of the Most High.”


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