Thanks for Sharing, Jesus?!

Feb 20, 2022

Sermon 2-20-22
Seventh Sunday after Epiphany
Text: Luke 6:27-38
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
     Tell the truth; do you ever wish, as I stand up here to preach, having read the words of Jesus, that I would say something like, “Thanks for sharing, Jesus. Amen,” and then sit down. No? Well, perhaps that is just wishful thinking on my part in the face of a Gospel lesson like today. How many times have I said that, yes, Jesus actually does want us to live in the way described in Luke 6, and “no”, doing so is not easy, nor completely possible? Yet, Jesus’ words are not to be ignored.
     As is usually the case, context will help us understand, although perhaps not do, what Jesus asks of us. In this passage, Jesus is giving what often is called the “Sermon on the Plain” because in Luke it is set on a “level place”, while in Matthew it is the “Sermon on the Mount” because he gives it from “up the mountain”.
     In both cases, the sermon begins with the beatitudes in which Jesus names those who are blessed. For example, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” Luke also includes the woes, while Matthew does not, “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.”
     The message of the beatitudes is that we are blessed when we are God-centered, regardless of our circumstances, and we suffer woe when we are self-centered. In today’s reading, as the Sermon on the Plain continues, Jesus switches from describing God’s kingdom to teaching his followers how to live in it, as followers of Jesus.
     “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you,” Jesus says. In other words, do the exact opposite of that which would be expected when dealing with people who treat you with contempt. Do not avoid them or submit to their abuse; do not respond to their hatred with hatred. Love them. The love being referred to here is agape love, it’s not an emotion, but an action, a way to behave.
     While in Old Testament times the rule was, “an eye for an eye”, which was a way to assure that the response was not excessive, but was equal to the wrong done, that is no longer the case, Jesus says. The rule is now the rule of love.
     It’s interesting that this “rule of reciprocity” extended also to positive behavior. A person was generous toward another with the expectation that in the future that generosity would be returned. This is so much a part of life, Jesus notes, that even sinners do good and lend to their friends. If that’s what Jesus’ followers do, they are living the “old way.”
     But Jesus is bringing a new way of living in which the disciples imitate God, who is kind even to the ungrateful and the wicked. That word “kind”, by the way, does not mean to approve but to seek the best interest of another. In Greek, it is related to the word grace. It is God’s desire that even the ungrateful will be drawn to Jesus and this new way of life.
     Commentator Ronald J. Allen notes that when the Christian community acts on Jesus’ directives three things happen. First, the mercy of God is extended to those who otherwise face destructive lives. Second, those who extend mercy find that their own experience of mercy deepens. And, third, the church models what is possible to other communities, not just to individuals. (1) For the first followers of Jesus, those “other communities” were the Jewish leaders and the Romans. It is interesting to consider who “the other” is for us.  
     Let’s pause here for a moment to note that while this makes sense, it still is difficult to make a reality in our lives. Lutheran pastor Dr. Barbara Lundblad once commented in a sermon that on her drive to church one day she got into an argument with a highway sign. It said, “Following Jesus is loving and practical.” She had no issue with the first part of the sign, of course, but it was the “practical” that annoyed her. “Practical? In this world? Following Jesus is anything but,” she thought. (2)
     That’s true, but it also depends on how one defines practical; it often may be more practical to forgive than to keep hating and retaliating. So maybe it is more accurate to say that it is practical, but not easy. Perhaps the first step is to grasp the reality that Jesus is asking us - you and I - to live in this way.
     Try this: take every command Jesus speaks in this text and change it to a statement of fact with your name as the subject of the sentence. For example: “Pastor Jean (now think or even whisper your name) loves her enemies.” “Pastor Jean does good to those who hate her.” “Pastor Jean blesses those who curse her.” “Pastor Jean prays for those who abuse her.” Go further down in the passage. “Pastor Jean is merciful and does not judge.”
     Did you try it? How did saying those words feel? I don’t know about you, but I felt discouraged, knowing that my words were aspirational, rather than a reality. Thankfully, we can put another name in the blank and be speaking the truth: “Jesus loves his enemies.” “Jesus does good to those who hate him.” “Jesus blesses those who curse him.” “Jesus prays for those who abuse him.” “Jesus is merciful and does not judge.” (3)
     Jesus is the one we reflect, and that reality is to be applied to every aspect of our lives. The other day one of you gave me an article from the Cleveland Plain Dealer written by Terry Pluto. He was reflecting on the divisive era in which we live in which, he said, “people are searching for uncommon ground – then jumping on it with both feet.” In that atmosphere, there seems to be more tendency for people to respond with impatience and even intolerance, and to not maintain their composure even over minor issues.
     Did anyone else read the letter to “Miss Manners” this week in which a woman asked how she might have responded to a stranger in the post office, with whom she had had no interaction, when he suddenly yelled at her for wearing a mask, scoffing at the reality of the pandemic? Of course, the most mannerly (and probably safest) thing she could do was ignore him, said Miss Manners. But I wonder, what Jesus would say?
     Anyway, back to Terry Pluto. He was reflecting on the nasty comments he receives in e-mails, and on learning how to handle it when people do not like us and make hateful comments about or to us. Social media – e-mail, Facebook, Twitter – adds to the dilemma, since the response can be immediate – too much so, usually.
     One of the people he spoke with about this, a Catholic priest, offered this good advice, “Before you send off a comment, ask yourself if you would be willing to say it to their face.” If not, then presumably the message should not be sent. (4)
     But what if we went one step beyond that, and sent a positive message or arranged a one-on-one meeting with reconciliation as a goal or prayed for that person or, as is sometimes best, did not respond at all, but focused on not dwelling on a retaliative response?
     There are many nuances to this, obviously, but the very direct words of Jesus are our guide. It pretty much boils down to acting with love. Now you can join me in saying, “Thanks for sharing, Jesus … we think.”  AMEN
(1) “Commentary on Luke 6:27-38” by Ronald J. Allen,
(2) “Luke 6:27-38 Commentary” by Chelsey Harmon,
(3) “Unbelievable Love Does Unbelievable Things” by Matt Scharf, Feb. 24, 2019,
(4) “Before You Press Send…Is a Message Worth Relaying?” by Terry Pluto, The Plain Dealer, Feb. 6, 2022, pgs. B1 and B3.