Taken, blessed, broken, given.

Recently, in a group setting, the question was asked, what does communion mean to you??   I actually gave an answer, part of which included the statement “it is the center of Christian worship.”   Which I believe to be true, we’ve been going through the Gospel of Luke, and it seems as though every significant event which occurs in this gospel occurs reclining at table, sharing a meal.    Jesus reinforces this image in Luke 13, when as part of an answer to the question  “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” Luke 13:23 ESV, he says “And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God.” Luke 13:29 ESV.  This is part of an answer Jesus gives in which he also tells us the story of the narrow door.  “”Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’” Luke 13:24-27 ESV.  So in answer to the same question, Jesus tells us people will come from far and wide and recline at table in his kingdom, yet many who ate and drank in his presence (communion?), and in whose very streets Jesus taught (good church going believers?) will be told Depart from me, all you workers of evil!   To which I don’t have much specific to say here, except that we all must be careful of our own certitude with which we go into the world.   It seems to me that Jesus is telling those of us who think we have it all figured out (Jesus, God, Heaven, Hell, etc) that maybe we don’t know all that we think we know.  We think we know something about who is in or out (mainly that we are in), but when the time comes some of us will be knocking on the door, looking in at all those coming from far and wide, whom we assumed would be out, or at least behind us in line.   Sounds like a call to continue to walk in prayerful humility to me.

But this does bring me to my point for today, an answer to the question “what does communion mean to you?”   I can answer this question many different ways, communion means many different things.  It’s not a one dimensional picture, it’s a many dimensioned picture of Christ, and the way his followers are to go into the world.

I’m going to focus on four key words in relation to communion, from the account in Mark – taken, blessed, broken, given.   And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them.   This tells us Jesus took the bread, blessed the bread, broke the bread, and gave the bread.   Taken, blessed, broken, given.  Continuing, Jesus said “Take; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.   So, do you see what has happened here?   Jesus took the bread, blessed the bread, broke the bread, and gave the bread.   He took the bread, blessed the bread, broke it and gave it to them and said, “Take; this is my body.”   Jesus is giving his disciples a picture of what is to come over the next 18-24 hours, and we need to realize that Jesus did not just serve the meal, he became the meal.  And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.    So Jesus takes bread, blessed the bread, but then he does something mindblowing, now all of a sudden it’s not just bread and wine he’s serving, but his own flesh and blood.  He goes from serving the meal to becoming the meal.

From the gospel accounts, we can sum up communion in four simple words, taken, blessed, broken, given.   Because Jesus doesn’t just serve the meal, he becomes the meal.  Jesus laid down his life and was broken and poured out for the sick, the hungry, the broken, the hopeless, the sinners.   Jesus was taken, Jesus was blessed, Jesus was broken, Jesus was given for the sake of the world, and we are called to go and do likewise.

Jesus was poured out for all.  The Father, the Son, and the Spirit show no partiality.   It took Peter a decade or more to figure this out – “So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” Acts 10:34-35 ESV.  So come one, come all, And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God.

So who are we, as the church??   Are we not the body of Christ??    What we miss in communion is that this is a picture Jesus gave at his last supper of how his disciples, then and now, are to go into the world.  Luke’s account tells us Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.  We are to Do this in remembrance of me.   Do what??   Is Jesus just talking simply about sharing a meal together in remembrance of him as a religious ritual.  No, that’s not what Jesus is talking about.  He’s talking about much more than that. Communion is not just about what we do once a quarter or once a month or even every Sunday.   Jesus did not give us a task to do, walk away from, and check our box saying “well, I took communion today!

We are not washing the dishes or taking out the trash.  We don’t come to the table, eat the Lords Supper, and walk away thinking we are finished.   No, communion is a picture Jesus gives us of how we are supposed to live life.  We modern Christians have a problem.  We don’t ever want to finish the meal.   Communion is a four course meal. The bread is taken, blessed, broken and given.  Christ was taken, blessed, broken and given.   We want to stop at the second course.

We love our blessedness, we love to talk about we are taken by God, Amen!!!???    Taken from our addictions, from our sins, from our hurts, habits and hang ups. But to finish the meal, to walk as the body of Christ, to be broken and given, poured out for many, we would rather not eat those two courses of the meal.  We would much rather gluttonously revel in our taken-ness and blessedness than to be broken and poured out for the world around us. But that is our call.  That is why we Do this in remembrance of me.  

We all want to be taken, we all want to be blessed.   But do we want to finish the meal?   “Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” Matthew 20:22 ESV

Taken.  Blessed.  Broken.  Given.  Finish the meal.   Go into the world as the taken, blessed, broken, and given body of Christ.

“And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.””

Mark 14:22-25 ESV

http://bible.com/59/mrk.14.22-25.esv

“And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” And they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this.”

Luke 22:14-23 ESV

http://bible.com/59/luk.22.14-23.esv

John Lewis

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Chills

Just had a random thought enter my mind during my prayer time this morning. I’ve never thought about this before, and this thought line may be totally undeveloped for now, but I’m going to throw it out there anyway.

Just had a thought about this particular verse of scripture – Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin. This same verse appears slightly differently in the gospel of Luke as well – “”And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.” Luke 12:8-10 ESV

And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. Ok, so here’s the thought I had this morning, and it’s a very serious thought. The one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven…if we are Christians, who claim to have been “saved”, who claim to have communion with the holy, risen Christ, who have been baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who claim to have been indwelled with the Holy Spirit, yet we walk in the world as the same angry, selfish, obnoxious person/people we were before…is that not blaspheming against the Holy Spirit? Is not the worst blasphemy we could possibly make the blasphemy of an unholy life lived in the name of the Holy Spirit?

This gives me chills. People know who I am. They know that I am a Christian, one who believes in Jesus Christ, who believes he is the way, the truth, and the life. But – is what they see from me in my life and the way I carry myself on a daily basis blaspheming against the Holy Spirit? Do they see me loving my neighbor, am I one who prays for those who would be my enemies? Do I even love my own wife and children, brothers and sisters as myself?

Chills.

How about the church as a whole?? Does the church blaspheme against the Holy Spirit in our day to day interactions with the “world” around us? Do we, as a church, walk in a spirit of protest and confrontation, or in the spirit of love and reconciliation?? Which of these spirits is of the Holy Spirit? Is one of these spirits a blasphemy of the Holy Spirit? Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.

We think we know what “sin” is. But these are words straight from the mouth of the sinless one. These are not my words, they are the words of Jesus, the one we claim to follow yet ignore his teaching. All those “unwashed masses”, Jesus says all their sins will be forgiven them, but those who blaspheme the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, but is guilty of an eternal sin.

Again, am I guilty, in my own life on a daily basis, of blaspheming the Holy Spirit? “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” Mark 8:36 ESV. Sometimes we think we have all the answers, we know every sin known to man, and we can tell the “world” all the things they are getting wrong. But, as Jesus also said, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” Matthew 7:3 ESV. How many of us point out every speck of dust in the world’s eye, when we can’t even see past the redwood tree in our own eyes? After all, it may be we who are guilty of the only sin Jesus says is unforgivable.

Chills.

“”Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” — for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.””

Mark 3:28-30 ESV

http://bible.com/59/mrk.3.28-30.esv

John Lewis

Go and Do Likwise

Finishing what I started the other day.   Some who read this, won’t like it.

Let him who has ears to hear, hear.

Jesus responds to the lawyer who’s asked him “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”   He responds “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”  And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”  And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”  So, at this point, Jesus and this lawyer are in complete agreement.   The Torah scholar asks how he might inherit eternal life, Jesus answers his question with a question, and the lawyer answers perfectly.  Jesus and this lawyer are in complete agreement.  But now the lawyer is ready to get down to the real business of why he is engaging Jesus in the first place.

But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”   And that is the question, isn’t it?   We all know Jesus taught us to love God and love neighbor.  Loving God is fine for us, after all we don’t actually see or know God anyway, so it’s easy to love him whom can’t argue with us or disagree with us or annoy us or embarrass us.   But loving neighbor, that’s a little different.  We can love our neighbor, right, but just so long as we can define who that neighbor is.  I mean, my neighbor is my neighbor, right.  He lives right next door!    But that guy in front of 7-11, dirty and disheveled, living in a tent in the woods because he’s not smart  like me, doesn’t work hard like me, that’s not my neighbor.  Those people I see in going into the local mosque to worship Allah, they are not my neighbors, they’re not even Christian!!  Those people in the local jail, they are not my neighbors, they’re criminals…

That’s  the thing about loving your neighbor.  You can see him.  He can annoy us.  He can lie to us, steal from us.  He can interrupt us.  He might not wear the right clothes, have the right job, the right address.  He might not have an address at all.

And so we come to the question  “And who is my neighbor?”   Jesus doesn’t just answer this and say “everyone is your neighbor!   Love everyone!”   He responds with a story.  A very famous story, a story with which we are very familiar with.  So familiar that for all our talk and knowledge about the story, we have totally forgotten, or missed altogether, the point of the story.

First…forget the phrase “Good Samaritan”.  This phrase prevents us from understanding the meaning here.  We all want to live as “Good Samaritans”.  Samaritans are good, we’ve never known anything but a Good Samaritan.  We want to be just like all the Good Samaritans in the world.  “Samaritan” and “good” are synonyms in our modern culture and language.  Someone calls you a Samaritan, you might think “Amen!

But Jesus listeners would not have felt that way.  Samaritans were the most hated enemy.   When Jesus told his followers to love your enemy, they were no doubt thinking, “sure, as long as you’re not talking about those Samaritans over there!”   For us today, it would be like being told to love and care for that ISIS member that you know has been car bombing people all over the Middle East.  As far as loving enemy, by the way, we might be ok with loving Ahmed as long as he keeps his butt over there.   Moving two doors down, coming to America, not so much.

Or we could think about it this way.  The Samaritans and the Jews hostility was very much like the hostility between the Israelis and Palestinians today.  Not only in its nature but even its geography.   So we could remake this story as the “Good Palestinian”.   Most of us, as we consider this conflict, tend to sympathize with the Israelis and be suspicious of the Palestinians.  But I will say this – in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Christians are not called to take Israel’s side, but we are called to imitate Israel’s Messiah.  And no Christian can argue with that…

Let’s look at the story Jesus gives us.  Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 

Let’s look at what this story is and is not.  Like I said yesterday, what Jesus does here is brilliant.  Do you see what Jesus has done???   He does NOT give us a story about one of US doing good and helping one of them.   This story is not the story a good Jew, or a good Christian, or a good Israeli, stopping, loving, and giving extraordinary care for an enemy.

Jesus turns the tables, he turns our expectations upside down (as he so often does) and implies a very subversive question, if you read it right.  What do you do when your enemy acts in love and treats you like a neighbor?   We know Jesus calls us to love god and love our neighbor, to love our enemies.  We don’t like it, so we come up with all kinds of qualifications as to who is our neighbor.

Jesus turns the trap back on this lawyer.   And the lawyer has no choice but to acknowledge the point Jesus has made.   Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.””

Remember this story is given in response to the question Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?    What do I have to do to enter into the age to come?   Well, what does the law say?  Love God, love neighbor, do this and you will enter into eternal life.  Yeah, but we have our defenses up.  We are going tell you why we shouldn’t love Muslims, Hindus, Palestinians, Mexicans, immigrants, gays, criminals…but Jesus flips it all on us.  What do you do when a Muslim loves you?    Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

In other words, Mr. good Jewish Bible scholar, be careful that you are not outdone by people you have convinced yourself have no knowledge of God.  Jesus says, I have given you a way to imagine your enemy acting like a neighbor.  Now go and act that way to people who think you are an enemy.  Your enemy taking the initiative.  You know that’s good.  You can’t deny that.  Now go and do likewise…

Do we think Christianity is a superior revelation of god’s love than Islam?  Do you think Christ is a superior revelation of god’s love than Muhammad?  The answer should be yes, or else we should become Muslim.  Then prove it by acting in love and mercy toward every Muslim you meet.  Or else, shut up.  The point is not that my religious founder can beat up your religious founder.   If you think Christianity is a superior revelation of God’s love than Islam (and it is), then prove it by acting in love and mercy toward every Muslim you meet, or just shut up, because you just sounding like a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”

Jesus calls us to the radical hospitality of extravagant mercy.  This is how Jesus enacts the kingdom if God.   He tells us in his sermon on the plain, earlier in Luke,  “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Luke 6:36 ESV

He also teaches us this.  “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.” Luke 6:35 ESV.  God is kind to the ungrateful and evil.  

We think all we have to do is define someone as evil.  But even you’re right, they are evil, Jesus teaches us God is kind to them too.  And we should be like our father, that’s what Jesus teaches.

Jesus is very fond of this teaching from the prophet Hosea.  “Go and learn what this means.  I desire mercy not sacrifice.”   The first commandment is to love God with all your heart, strength, soul and mind.  But this is proven only by love of neighbor.  Without love of neighbor, love of God is totally abstract.

The apostle John says this –  “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” 1 John 4:20 ESV.   If you say you love God, but you’ve never seen God, and you just make up God, God is an idea or concept, but you don’t love your neighbor, you are a liar and the truth is not in you.   That’s what John says…

The first commandment is to love God, but this is proven by our love of neighbor.  Without love of neighbor, the love of God is just an abstract.  We love our idea of God, and our idea of God oftentimes turns out to be suspiciously like us.   We end up, in the name of loving God, doing nothing more than loving ourselves.

If we define our neighbor as those like us, those who share our nationality, our ethnicity, our politics, our religion, if we define our neighbor as those, then we prove that we don’t really love God, we just love ourselves.

The biblical test for love of God is love of neighbor.  The biblical test for love of neighbor is love of enemy.  Remember that Jesus says God desires mercy, not sacrificial scapegoats.

I don’t  prove our devotion to Jesus by My level of hostility toward Muslims.  I prove my devotion to showing love and mercy to everyone.    That’s the Jesus Way.  I prove my devotion to Jesus by calling everyone neighbor instead of enemy.  I don’t prove my devotion to Jesus by how much I hate those I identify as enemies of the Christian faith.  I prove my devotion to Jesus by how I love and have mercy on everyone.  I prove my devotion to Jesus by calling my enemy my neighbor.

“You go, and do likewise.”

“And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.””

Luke 10:25-37 ESV

http://bible.com/59/luk.10.25-37.esv

John Lewis

Found Difficult, Left Untried

the-christian-ideal-has-not-been-tried-and-found-wanting-it-has-been-found-difficult-and-left-untried-6

Well, let’s finish up the sermon on the plain from Luke…

week-3-love-your-enemies

“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.”

turn_the_other_cheek

Jesus is preaching on loving enemies, turning the other cheek.   We don’t much care for this teaching.  Pastors don’t want to preach from this.  It causes trouble for them, people get mad at this.  People leave churches because pastors preach passages like this…

violence

We live in a world built on a foundation of violence.  It’s the way the system is.  It’s violence we are taught to sanctify and cherish.  Even if we don’t sanctify and cherish it, we at least sanitize it and conceal it.  To critique the cornerstone of violence in our culture will draw the wrath of many.

Ukraine Protest

This is why pastors don’t preach from this.  But at least one pastor preached, and lived,  directly from this teaching of Jesus.  I shared from this sermon a couple of months ago, during the week in which we celebrate the Martin Luther King, Jr holiday.  I’m going to share it again.

dexter avenue

It was near Christmas in 1957 in Montgomery, Alabama, when Martin Luther King Jr was 28 years old, he was the pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church.  This 28 year old pastor in Dexter, Alabama preached a sermon from this passage called ‘Loving your enemies”.

cross burning

When Martin Luther King, Jr preaches about loving enemies, we must remember that for he and his congregation enemies are not theoretical.  They are not people who’ve said mean things about them on Facebook.   They have real enemies.  These are persecuted people.  Two years earlier, Mlk had his house bombed even while his wife and ten month old son were in his home.   These people have been beaten and unjustly dragged off to jail.   To preach a sermon on loving your enemies to that congregation has consequences, it has teeth.  It means something.  It’s not theoretical…

kkk

Here are some excerpts from that sermon –

bombed home

The evil deed of the enemy neighbor, the thing that hurts, never quite expresses all that he is.  An element of goodness may be found even in our worst enemy.   We must not seek to defeat or humiliate the enemy, but to win his friendship and understanding.   Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.  Violence multiples violence.  Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.  Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies or else?   The chain reaction of evil hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars, must be broken or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.  

endure suffering

To our most bitter opponents we say we shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering.  We shall meet your physical force with soul force.  Do to us what you will and we shall still continue to love you.  Throw us in jail and we shall still love you.  Bomb our homes and threaten our children and we shall still love you.  Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour to beat us and leave us half dead and we shall still love you.  But be the assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer.  One day, we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves.  We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory.

only love

That’s how you change the world.  But – you might have to die in the process.   Ten years later, Martin Luther king did.  If you’re going to change the world like that, you might have to die, which probably has something to do with why Jesus said take up your cross and follow me.   But that is how you change the world.

die trying

But here’s the sad part – Martin Luther King had to learn to use creative non violence to change the world from Ghandi, who used creative non violence to drive the British Empire out of India. Where did Ghandi learn it?  From Jesus.  So, a Baptist pastor had to learn from a Hindu how to live and change the world the Jesus Way.  Why?  Because Christians (now more that ever) have largely given up on the Jesus Way, exchanged it for sanctifying the ways of force.  We’d much rather change the world with bullets than the cross.  We much prefer other people’s suffering to our own.

Gandhi_smiling_R

We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering.  We don’t want that.  We’re not interested in that kind of Christianity.  Those aren’t the promises we line up on Sunday to claim.

coercion

We must understand that the Kingdom of God is without coercion.  The Kingdom of God persuades by love, witness, reason, rhetoric, and if need be, martyrdom, but never by force.   G.K. Chesterton once said the Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting, but difficult and left untried.

Kikuyu tribe members burn properties belonging to the Luo tribe during ethnic clashes in Naivasha town

Martin Luther King’s Sermon was not given in an academic, theoretical state.  Do to us what you will and we shall still continue to love you.  Throw us in jail and we shall still love you.  Bomb our homes and threaten our children and we shall still love you.  Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour to beat us and leave us half dead and we shall still love you.  But be the assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer.  One day, we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves.  We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory.  Two years earlier his own home had been bombed while his wife and son were inside.    Think about how angry and retaliatory we become when someone cuts us off in traffic.  Or insults us in Facebook.  Martin Luther Kings very family was physically attacked.  He had enemies who meant he and his family physical harm.  Yet he still preached, and lived, by the ideal of loving them.  Was he a madman?  Or Jesus?

ChristLike

Changing the world by embracing suffering.  How very Christlike.  This sermon is nothing less than a call to live the Jesus Way, a call to live the sermon on the Mount.  And it changed the world.  We keep arguing that the Sermon on the Mount is not practical, it doesn’t really work.  We get to this part about loving enemies and we have all our arguments about why we can’t do that.  It is practical, it does work, it just takes more time than the way of Satan.  But the way of Satan doesn’t change the world, it only recycles the sin.

way of satan

Martin Luther King changed the world.  That’s why we have a holiday in his honor, because he changed the way we see the world.  He didn’t just liberate African Americans, he also liberated white Americans from out intolerable burden of enacting injustice upon other people.  He had the courage to follow the Jesus Way.  Do we?

jesus way

Before I wrap this up…from Matthew.

“”You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:43-48 ESV.   Jesus is talking about loving enemies.  He sums it up by saying You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.    Keep that in mind as we wrap up the sermon on the plain in Luke.

merciful father

“”If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Luke 6:32-36 ESV.  Jesus says we will be like this because it is how we will be like god.  God is merciful.  In the sermon in the Mount it is ended with be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.   We can misunderstand this as a call to some sort of flawless perfection we know we are incapable of.  But Luke helps us to interpret this a little better, Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.  The perfection Jesus is calling us to is a maturity in mercy, where we are merciful because God is merciful.  We begin to have the supreme characteristic of mercy that characterizes what God is like, and what is revealed by Christ.  We begin to have that worked into our own lives.  Jesus says now, you’re becoming sons and daughters if the most high God, because you are mature and perfected in mercy.

mercy-and-grace-gods-way

The Jesus Way, the way of mercy, does work.  It’s been proven to work, from St Francis of Assisi, to Ghandi, to Martin Luther King, Jr, where it is tried, where it is practiced, it changes the world.  But it’s also difficult.  You might even die in the process.

Question is – are we even willing to try?

John Lewis

Woe to You…

woe

We began to look last time at Jesus’s Sermon on the Plain.   As we look at this sermon, as well as the Sermon on the Mount, we need to realize that these are sermons for changing the world.  Because despite our tendency to want Jesus to take us to heaven while leaving our world alone, we must understand that Jesus fully intends to save our world by changing our world, and he’s willing to die to do it.  In fact, he did die to do it.

cosimo-rosselli-sermon

What Jesus preached in his Sermon on the Mount and Sermon on the Plain, and what he did on the cross, are basically the same thing.  One is an announcement of the Kingdom of God, one is the enactment of the Kingdom.   What Jesus preached in the Sermons on Mount and Plain was an announcement of the kingdom of god.  When Jesus stretched out his hands of love upon the hard wood of that cross, he was enacting his kingdom.  But they are the same thing.

forgivenss

In the sermon on the Mount and on the cross, Jesus reoriented the world from an axis of power enforced by violence to an axis of love expressed in forgiveness.  The sermon is the announcement, the cross is the enactment.  But they are the same thing.  With that understanding, let’s look at the sermon itself.

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And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.    These are the beatitudes.   Beatitude means “blessing”.  They are not commands.  Jesus is saying these are the people who will be the most happy with what he is bringing.  Jesus is bringing the reign,  rule, government, administration, the Kingdom of God.   These are the people who will be happiest of all in the Kingdom of God.

blessed are you

Matthew gives eight beatitudes.  Luke’s Sermon on the Plain cuts that in half to four. More significantly, there is a subtle change in the way they are presented.  In the Sermon on Mount, it is blessed are “those”.  He’s talking to his apostles about those who will hear this good news of the gospel of the kingdom. When he comes down from the mountain, the  Sermon on the Plain goes from blessed are “those” to  blessed are “you”.

blessed

Jesus has been up on the mountain with his apostles  preaching about preaching.  I’m about to begin to announce and this is what I will say to them.   Then he comes down the mountain to that coastal plain by the Sea of Galilee and preaches straight to the people.  Blessed are you who weepBlessed are you who are hungryblessed are you who are poor.  Why are the poor blessed?  Because when you got nothing, you got nothing to lose.  There is not much to hinder you from jumping completely on board with what Jesus is doing.

blessed_are_they_who_hunger_and_thirst-title-1-still-16x9

Blessed are you who are hungry now.  Matthew expands this to Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for rightness in the world.  Those of you that have a dull ache inside you that something is profoundly wrong in the world, you’re going to be happy with what I’m doing.

woe-sm

Blessed are you who weep now.   It’s obvious Jesus is talking about big changes that are coming.  Jesus then goes to a future reference.  Blessed are you when (the future) people hate you on account  of the Son of Man.  Why?  Because that’s how they always treat prophetic people.  People who are with God ahead of the time, they are always persecuted.  So when people persecute you for the son of man, leap for joy because that just shows you are truly becoming a prophetic people.

full now

Unlike the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, the Sermon on the Plain in Luke balances the four blessings with four “woes”.   Woe, woe, woe, woe.  This is in keeping with the Hebrew prophetic tradition.  The Hebrew prophets often spoke “Woe”…. We too often here this as a word of condemnation.  It’s not really a word of condemnation but lanentation.  It’s a word of Oh…alas.  It’s a word of lamentation over the plight people find themselves in, not a word of condemnation.  But it’s very strange the things Jesus is lamenting.

woe to rich

 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. “Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry. “Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.   These woes kick us in the gut.  But woe to you who are rich.  Why?  Jesus repeats this throughout his ministry.   He says things like “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”” Mark 10:25 ESV.  There is humor in this.  It’s ok to laugh here.  Jesus is using something ridiculous and absurd.  But he’s making a serious point.  The disciples then ask – And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?   Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.   Try to squeeze that camel through the eye of the needle.

full now

Woe to you who are full now.  When you are satisfied, you’re not really interested to big changes.  You tend to resist those bringing change because you are satisfied with the current system.  Woe to you who laugh now…who was laughing?  Maybe the Pharisees, maybe the Sadducees, the Herodians with all their wealth were laughing.  The Romans were laughing loudest of all.  Jesus says alas…changes are coming and you may not be laughing nearly as much.  

falseprophets

Another anticipation of the futureWoe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.  People that concur with the falseness prevailing in society, when we speak so well of that, we fail to be a prophetic people.

jesus

The sermon on the plain seems to hit a little harder than the sermon on the Mount.  Am I the rich?  Am I full?  Am I satisfied with the present system?  Am I laughing now (usually I am).  Do people speak well of me?  Why?

he-said-blessed-are-you-who-are-poor-for-yours-is-the-kingdom-of-god-3

Is it wrong to to be rich, full and happy?  No, don’t misunderstand.  There nothing wrong with being rich full and happy.  In fact, may you be rich, may you be full and may you be happy, but know it’s dangerous.  Most of us would like to be rich full and happy.  May the lord bless you with richness, fullness and happiness, but be careful. These are the things that can seduce us away from real fervency from the government and the kingdom of god.  Too easily we will find ourselves in the same plight as a certain rich young ruler – “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” Mark 10:21-22 ESV.  Will we, too, love our stuff so much that we walk away, disheartened, from the call of Jesus on our lives?   Woe to you who are full now.

John Lewis

What Have You To Do with Us?

Back in Luke, following Jesus as he has passed through the midst of his hometown of Nazareth and went away from them, forced to escape in order to escape a premature death by being thrown off a cliff.

Jesus had to escape because he did not participate in his hometown’s lust for vengeance.  They wanted vengeance, the vengeance of God, to set all things right.  And for all things to be set right, those Greek Assyrians, those people about 40 miles north of Nazareth, had to pay!!   So when Jesus comes along and reads his job description from Isaiah 61, he leaves out their favorite part.  The part of the vengeance of our God.   Not only did he leave out the part about God’s vengeance, he specifically made the point that not only would God’s vengeance not be brought to bear upon their enemies up north, but the favor of the Lord was just as much for them as for us.  He used two stories of Elijah and Elisha from the Old Testament, helping Gentiles (Greek Assyrian Gentiles to be specific) when there were plenty of good Jews around who could have been helped, to make his point.  A point which was not lost on those listening.  They heard loud and clear that God was not choosing sides, and they immediately tried to kill the messenger, their hometown boy turned Messiah of Israel.

As i wrote before – The easiest way to produce unity and sense of belonging among people is to share a common enemy, a common hatred.  To revile a common enemy and believe god hates them because we hate them.  The easiest way to unite a people is to share a common vengeance.   The people in Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth all shared a common enemy and hated, and when Jesus made it clear that their enemies were not his enemies, he was no longer their hometown boy made good.  He became one of them.  After all, if you are not with us, you’re against us, AMEN!!

We want unity, we want to belong.  We seek a togetherness, this is ingrained within us.  We are deeply conditioned to seek togetherness. And the easiest way to produce this unity is to be united against a common enemy.   We can all come together to hate that common enemy.

Our politicians know this, they understand this.  And by politicians, I mean the Republicans AND the Democrats.  (Of course I am writing as a good Old American here.  If you read this in another country, just insert whatever political parties you have!!).  Just stir up enough hatred and hostility in our group against them, and I mean, really stir them up!!  We gotta fire up the base, after all.  If we don’t fire up the base, we can’t win.  So we must manufacture our common enemy, someone we can all hate.  Then, we have to hate everyone who is for them, because if they are for the one we hate, then we hate them too, AMEN!   And we must be right, because there’s more of us than there are of them!!   Just wait until those polls open up, we will show them…

But – it’s demonic.  It doesn’t feel demonic.  It feels good, it’s cathartic.  It might even feel like the Holy Spirit is on your side, we get such a relief when we can align ourselves against a common enemy.   Especially when we win.

You can see it’s demonic, because when it’s challenged by the prophet, the prophet is attacked.  If you don’t believe god is on our side, you must be one of them.

So, Jesus leaves Nazareth, his life and mission still intact.

“And he went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. And he was teaching them on the Sabbath, and they were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority. And in the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, “Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent and come out of him!” And when the demon had thrown him down in their midst, he came out of him, having done him no harm.” Luke 4:31-35 ESV.    So Jesus leaves the crowd of would be murderers at Nazareth, a crowd of good people, a crowd of people who had known Jesus since he was a young boy.  He leaves and heads south to Capernaum, where he was in the synagogue (imagine that – Jesus, who is supposedly so anti-religion, takes part in every religious service) and is confronted by a man with a demon.  Pay attention to the words of this demon – “Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.”    Do you see where I’m going?    What have you to do with US???   Have you come to destroy US??   This demon is all about protecting its own US in the US vs. them paradigm of the world.   And for this demon, Jesus is certainly not one of US.

In the unity of us vs them…we, collectively take all our fear, anger, hostility and cast it on them.   It sure makes us feel good, it can even feel like the Holy Spirit is with us, we believe God is on our side.   Well, God is on our side.  But God is also on their side.   “”You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?”  Matthew 5:43-47 ESV.

Love your enemies.  Love even them.   Because our Father in heaven loves them just like he loves us.  He loves you just the way you are.  He loves them, just the way they are.   If we must destroy our brothers (even those we call enemies) to gain our victory, what have we really won?   Probably a lot more enemies.  Because, trust me on this, you will never be able to kill them all.

John Lewis

Freely Given

Jesus’ parable of the laborers in the vineyard, straight outta Matthew.  Jesus tells a story of a farmer who hired laborers in his vineyard.  Some he hired first thing in the morning, some he hired  about the third hourthen Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hourhe hired more laborers.   Finally, about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ 

Everything was a-ok until quitting time, when it came time to pay all these laborers their wages.  The owner starts with those who had just arrived in the last hour, and each of them received a denarius.   Then those who had been there six hours, those who’d been there 9 hours, also received the same denarius.  Finally, those who had started first thing in the morning come, and they believe (as do we) they should receive more.  And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’  To which Jesus’ farmer replies But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.”

Jesus’ farmer just broke every economic rule, every rule of motivation,  every rule of fair compensation.  Yes, the union boss would have been running an investigation of these labor practices!

Think about it.  This last group of laborers had been standing lazily around all day – Why do you stand here idle all day?  It’s harvest season, if these guys had wanted to work, they could have found work.  The text doesn’t give them credit for doing any exceptional job in the hour they were there.  Yet the boss gives them the same pay as he gives those who’ve been sweating under the hot sun.

It makes no sense.  Seriously, it makes no sense.  Why would any employer give the same pay no matter the quantity, or the quality, of work done?  It makes no sense because Jesus is not teaching us about economics, but grace.  The grace of God.  Grace can not be calculated like a day’s wages.  Again, grace is not about finishing last or first; it’s about not counting.

This story Jesus tells is not about fairness.  In fact, the story is completely and patently unfair, and that is the whole point.  Grace is not fair.   By definition, it is unfair and undeserved.  It is, after all, grace.  You can’t earn or deserve grace.  I’ve heard it said of forgiveness that if you have earned it or deserve it, then it’s not forgiveness at all.  Forgiveness is freely given or it’s not forgiveness, it’s simply right justice.  You’ve paid back your debt, you’ve done your time, you did not receive grace or forgiveness, just that which you paid for.

I would say the same thing about grace.  If you’ve earned it or deserve it, if you’ve worked so hard for it that in receiving it you are simply getting what is owed to you, where is the grace in that?  Grace is either freely given or not given at all.

And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’   It is not fair.  We earned our pay.   Which of you reading this does not fall on the side of these 12 hour workers?  This is the way our world works, and believe me, sometimes you can be a 12 hour worker and it’s still not good enough.   No matter how hard you work to earn favor in this world, by the rules of this world, there will be someone there to tell you you’re still not good enough.

‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.”   Not so in the Kingdom of God.   The Kingdom of God, as revealed in Jesus Christ our Lord, runs on grace.  Two thousand years after Jesus, we still haven’t wrapped our heads around this yet.  We’ve got all kinds of rules, regulations, and lines in the sand.   But in Bible, even through the Old Testament but most glaringly in the “…Word became flesh and dwelt among us….” John 1:14 ESV, all we see is the grace of God.  Jesus Christ, the full revelation of God, never once turned away a sinner who came to him.  His only rule is grace and forgiveness.  “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Matthew 6:14-15 ESV.  Ouch.  Didn’t see that on the Romans Road.

I may try to earn it.  You may try to earn it.  But the more we try to earn the grace and favor of God, the farther we move away from Him.  It is our world that runs on merit.  It is the spirit of this world that pits us against one another, makes us climb over one another on that ladder of success.  It is the spirit of this world that says if we would only do more, we might get more.  It is the spirit of this world that says that getting more is the goal.

In the kingdom of God, we can not do more to get more.  Twelve hour workers get no more than those who showed up just in time for dinner.  There is no more to get.  He’s already given it all.  All we can do is accept free gift of the grace of God, freely given.

“”For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.””

Matthew 20:1-16 ESV

http://bible.com/59/mat.20.1-16.esv

John Lewis