Bright Eyes

We read and pray Psalm 88 and we find that “my eye grows [dark] through sorrow…”  Psalms 88:9 ESV.   Some people have dark eyes from the sorrows they have seen in life.   They say the eyes are a window to the soul.    You can look in some peoples eyes and they tell a story, oftentimes a story that is sad.  Some people have dark eyes because of the sorrows they have seen in life, we understand that.

But some people have dark eyes because of the way they look at life.   Jesus talks about that in the sermon on the mount.  “”The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” Matthew 6:22-23 ESV.  Jesus talks about the eye, how we look at life, being the lamp of our entire being.  He says this in the sermon on the mount in the context of where he is talking about money.  The text is bracketed by Jesus speaking about those who would be his disciples and how we view money.  Right before this text, he says “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21 ESV.   At the end of this passage he says “.…You cannot serve God and money.”  Matthew 6:24 ESV.

So this dark eye that causes our being to be filled with darkness has something to do with a wrong approach to money.   We could say it like this : there are those who go through life with the squinty eyes of greed.  The squinty-eyed have dark eyes that darken their own soul because they have learned to look at life in the wrong way.  We can look at life through the squinty eyes of greed, calculation, and cynicism.   There is a way of looking at life through little slits, sizing people up, looking for an advantage, calculating, cynical, jaded, greedy.  If you look at life that way, the light pouring into your soul is in fact darkness.  We can look at life with the squinty eyes of greed, calculation and cynicism, but we end up with dark eyes and a dark soul.

Or we can look at life with wide-eyed wonder, love and acceptance.  With our eyes wide open, wide-eyed wonder of love and acceptance, we have bright eyes and a bright soul.  Some have dark eyes because of how much sorrow they have seen in life.  But some have dark eyes because of how they shut out the light by how they look at life.

But the gospel message is this – Jesus can save us from both the dark eyes of sorrow and the dark eyes of cynicism.  So that if you have seen so much sorrow and pain and suffering in your life, and you feel like your soul has been darkened, I want to tell you the good news that Jesus can come to you and heal you from your sorrows.  He can give you bright eyes and a bright soul.

And if you’ve been looking at life through the squinty eyes of greed, calculation and cynicism, Jesus wants to teach you a brand new way of looking at life through the wide eyed wonder of love and acceptance so that you can have bright eyes and a bright soul…

John Lewis

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That Death Be Not Final

One of the absolute deepest longings of human beings is that death would not be the end.   That somehow love might overcome death, and loved ones we have lost, or even loved ones we’ve never met, we would somehow be able to meet again.   One of the deepest religious longings that human beings have is that death be not final.  That death can be overcome.

One of the most basic things that Christians believe is that life is good.   We believe that when God created the heavens and the earth and all that fills them, he looked upon it and said it’s good.  He said it’s good, it’s good, it’s good, and finally He said it’s very good.   And we have come to believe that.  We believe that even though life can be hard and difficult and challenging and sometimes filled with pain, nevertheless life is worth living, because in its essence life is good.

We are surrounded by beauty.  But we can become numb to it.  We sometimes need to be reminded to wake up to it and be aware of it.  But just think of waking up in the morning.  You open your eyes, the sun is shining.  That’s good.  You might hear something, the birds are singing.  That’s good too.  Maybe you’re like me and set the timer on the coffee pot, because that smell when I’m waking up in the morning is very good.   Maybe you have have a nice breakfast, and it tastes good.  Maybe you share a touch with your husband or your wife or even a pet.  So you get all the senses involved, and it’s barely daylight outside, and we are reminded once more that life is good.  It’s worth living.  It has capacity for mystery and wonder and exploration and discovery, that leads to more mystery and wonder and exploration, that leads to more discovery, and it really is a beautiful thing, and life is worth living.

But then we run into a problem.  Life is so good that death threatens to make life absurd, and in the end rob it of its inherent meaning.  Life is so good that in one sense we are tasting and seeing that God is good.  We are having some encounter with the divine, and 100 years is not enough.  I would say that if you lived 120 years and then died, you died too young.  Of course, the way it works out is that death begins to draw near, and the body begins to fade away and fall apart, and there is a sense in which, in that case, death can be a kind of a rest, a release, or escape.

But that’s not what was intended.   That’s not what God had in mind.  When God breathed upon man and man had the capacity to be God-aware and self-conscious and be able to contemplate the goodness of life, God did not intend for that to ever be lost.  But the effect of sin has been death…

So we run into the problem of having tasted enough of life to know it’s good, but we want it to go on forever.  We don’t want the ride to be over.  We don’t want it to end.  We don’t want it to stop.  But we know it does…

And thus, the problem.  The problem of mankind being subject to futility and death.   That though we find out that life can be good, and there are moments so precious and so wonderful and so good, yet we know that death constantly stalks us.  So the Gospel of Jesus Christ primarily addresses itself fundamentally to that problem.

The primary problem that the gospel addresses is not the problem of personal sin, though that is included.   But the problem problem the gospel addresses is death.   The wages paid by sin to the human race is death…forgiveness is included, but the primary emphasis of the gospel is that we are saved from the tyranny and dominion of death.

“So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.” John 5:19-21 ESV

Here are two fundamental, most basic truths of Christian theology.   Theology is simply how we think and what we say about God.  Theology is important because how we think and what we say about God matters.  1).  God is immutable.  God does not change, is not subject to change, never will change.  If God himself is subject to change then we’re all in trouble because then we’ve lost our constant, we’ve lost our rock, our foundation.  We’ve lost that which doesn’t change when everything else changes.   This is undeniable,  I haven’t heard of anyone who really disputes it.  One of the bedrock foundations of Christian theology is that God is immutable, He does not change.

2). God is fully and perfectly revealed in Christ.  It is as we look at Jesus Christ that we discover what this unchanging God is like and has always been like.   “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” John 1:18 NRSV. Jesus says in the earlier passage in John 5 that When I’m doing these things that I do, all I’m doing is I am looking at the father, and seeing what the father does, and I am doing them so you can see it, what the works of the Father are.  So if we want to know what God is all about, what God is interested in, what God does, what the work of God is like, we look in Matthew,  Mark, Luke and John, we see what Jesus is doing, because he always does the works of the Father.  He reveals to us the works of the Father.  Then He says “…and the Father will show Him greater works than these, so that you will marvel.” John 5:20 NASB.

Of course, the greatest sign that Jesus gives us in his ministry are the raising of the dead.  When Jesus raised the dead….

In Capernaum, the ruler of the synagogue there is a man named Jairus.  He has a little daughter, she’s been deathly ill, now she’s died.  Jesus comes to the home, the mourners are already there.   She’s died not long ago, but have no doubt, the girl is dead.  Jesus said she is not dead, she is only asleep.  “And all were weeping and mourning for her, but he said, “Do not weep, for she is not dead but sleeping.”” Luke 8:52 ESV.   The people began to mock him, Jesus put them out.   He took the father and the mother, went into the room, took the child by the hand and said “Child, arise.”  And the girl woke up, and he gave her back to her parents.    “And they laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. But taking her by the hand he called, saying, “Child, arise.” And her spirit returned, and she got up at once. And he directed that something should be given her to eat. And her parents were amazed, but he charged them to tell no one what had happened.”  Luke 8:53-56 ESV

Why did Jesus do this??   Because that’s the work of the Father.  What does the Father do?  He gives life to the dead!   Because the great problem facing humanity is death, and the work of the Father is to give life to the dead…

More to come…

John Lewis

They Wanted a Hero

Five days after the crowds waved their palms and cried their hosannas as he entered Jerusalem, Jesus was on trial.  The Prince of Peace had come, but they didn’t want a prince of peace, they wanted a hero.

They wanted a hero.  Like Barrabas.  Mel Gibson misrepresented Barrabas.  He got Barrabas all wrong.  Barrabas was not just a bloodthirsty cutthroat criminal.  He was a national hero.  He was a freedom fighter.  He had led an insurrection against the Roman occupation.  Some Roman soldiers had been killed.  He had been arrested.  He was a political prisoner set to be executed.  And he was a hero among the Jews.

He had a first name.  Jesus.  Jesus Bar-Abbas.  Jesus, son of the father.  He was a false messiah.  Jesus Barabbas?   Or Jesus of Nazareth?  Pilate says which one do you want?   Do you want the violent freedom fighter hero??   Or do you want the peaceful, riding on a donkey too small for him messiah from Galilee, Jesus of Nazareth?   Give us Barabbas.  As for Jesus, crucify him.

The Palm Sunday crowd said all the right things, but they said them in the wrong way.  It’s not enough to praise Jesus as king, we have to know what kind of king he is.   If we think that Jesus is a king after the model of the conquering pharaohs and Caesar’s, we actually are rejecting Jesus.   And refusing the Price of Peace always has terrible consequences.  That’s why Jesus says a generation from now Jerusalem will become a fiery Gehenna where the worm  never dies as it eats those corpses, and the fires are never quenched.

That’s what Jerusalem did to itself in rejecting Jesus Christ as the Prince of Peace.  Jerusalem did not want the new Kingdom of God, they just wanted to win at the old game of payback, get even, and vengeance.  The old game is power enforced by violence.  They didn’t want God’s new kingdom, they just wanted God to help them win at the old game.  But God had already said through the prophet Zachariah that he was done playing the old game.  That when the messiah comes, god is done with the old game.   No more old game, behold I do a new thing.  “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” Isaiah 43:19 ESV.   And I send my son, the Prince of Peace to teach peace to the nations.  I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.” Zechariah 9:10 ESV

But Jerusalem did not want the new kingdom, they wanted to win the old game.  Their desire to play the old game led to their destruction.  The Prince of Peace had just ridden into town offering a new way of being Israel and they had missed it.   Their desire to beat their enemies at the old game had blinded them.   They got Jesus wrong, and it set them on a wrong path that ended in their destruction.

If you had asked the chief priests if they believed Zachariah’s prophecy will ever be fulfilled, if they believed that someday the son of David, the true king of Israel, would ever really come humble and lowly, riding on a foal of a donkey, that he will come and teach peace among the nations, do you believe that will ever happen??   They would have said yes, but not now.  Now is not the time for peace.  Now is the time to fight.  Now is the time for war.

This is not a history lesson.  This is a warning for every follower of Jesus.  Do we want Jesus and his new way of peace, or do we want Jesus to help us win the old game?   Are we making the same mistake?  Do we say that someday the prince of peace will come, we believe he will come someday, but not now!!   If we do, we play the same game the chief priests played when they led Jerusalem to hell.

But the Prince of Peace has come!!   The prince of peace HAS COME!   Christmas, Good Friday, Palm Sunday, Easter Sunday HAVE HAPPENED.  The Prince of Peace has come.  But do we want the Prince of Peace?  Or do we want our heroes?    When we play the game of saying we believe the Bible, believing it’s all going to happen, but NOT NOW, that’s how we play the game of rejecting Christ but still believing the Bible…

The chief priests would have told you they believed in Christ.   They would have said they accept Christ, they believed in Messiah, they believed Messiah was coming, but NOT NOW.   NOT NOW.  Yes, we believe the Bible, but it’s not for NOW.  We believe all those verses, but they’re not for now.  Someday, but not now.  Now we fight.

And Jesus said there’ll be hell to pay, and he weeps over Jerusalem.  It’s not enough to praise Jesus.  We can do that and still get Jesus wrong.  We get Jesus right when we confess Jesus as Christ and King.  We get Jesus wrong when we see him as for us and against them.  We get Jesus right when wave the palms as if to welcome the worlds true king.  We get Jesus wrong when we wave the palms as national flags.  We get Jesus right when we acclaim him with the word Hosanna!!   Save now!   We get Jesus wrong when we say it’s hurray for our side

“As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.””

Luke 19:37-40 ESV

http://bible.com/59/luk.19.37-40.esv

John Lewis

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

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