Jesus turns from the admiring crowd to give specific instructions to his disciples.
Good News from Flat Places, part 2
Luke 6:32-42 February 24, 2019 Pastor Roger Barkley
If you are looking for a comfortable, feel-good religion that doesn’t put too many demands on your life, then you should pass on being a disciple of Jesus.
However, if you are looking for a master who will lead you to heal the sin and confront evil in your own heart, in your family and in the world, then Jesus is your guy.
Jesus has these crazy hard standards of forgiveness, and he expects sacrifice and integrity when no one is looking.
As his disciple, you’ll have to spend your life learning to love – and not just loving your friends or the colleague who has an occasional bad day – but people who hate you.
So, don’t sign-up with Jesus unless you’re ready to experience risk and discomfort.
On at least two occasions, Jesus taught the core lessons of discipleship in sermons that included the Beatitudes.
Matthew highlighted Jesus teaching from a hillside, reminiscent of Moses unveiling the Law from the side of Mount Sinai.
Luke recounted the time Jesus spoke from “flat places”, reminiscent of the Old Testament prophets standing in the flat places of despair and destruction.
Both times, Jesus turned away from the large crowd in order to specifically address his disciples … so these words are for folks taking the step from being a part of the crowd of Jesus admirers to committing to living his ways.
Last week we looked at the beginning of Luke’s Sermon on the Flat Places, the part called blessings and woes, and we uncovered the unexpected meaning of Jesus’ call to turn the other cheek – that he was teaching the poor how to stand with dignity in the face of their oppressors.
After that, he continued with the passage that Bootsie just read.
I suspect that people in the crowd were nice to each other – maybe even shared some of food.
That’s what we expect of Jesus’ people, but Jesus demands more of his disciples.
Luke 6:32-33 The Message If you only love the lovable, do you expect a pat on the back? Run-of-the-mill sinners do that. If you only help those who help you, do you expect a medal? Garden-variety sinners do that.
Jesus calls us to go beyond being nice and considerate – even beyond loving undesirable people.
He ratchets it up a notch by calling us to become the kind of person who loves a personal enemy.
Luke 6:27-28 But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you
Jesus chose a particularly harsh word for enemies, the Greek echthros which means someone who personally hates you.
The same with his choice for the word hate: the Greek miseo means persecutes in hatred, detests, and desires to hurt.
And the Greek for curse is kataraomai which means to bring harm by invoking supernatural powers.
Today’s social polarization and family tensions provide us with plenty of opportunities to put Jesus’ command into action.
Elizabeth Lesser is well known for her work with spiritual growth and social activism, but eventually, she couldn’t ignore passages like this.
She says that it feels virtuous to lionize Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, but that doesn’t let us off the hook to do our part in our own world.
But she wondered how she could love someone who passionately aligns themselves with leaders she views as racist, homophobic, and close-minded?
She had to confess that she had stereotyped and demonized people on the right just as they had stereotyped and demonized her.
As she thought about what she could do, she realized that it is rare that you have a conflict where two people or two groups are equally mature in their desire or capacity to move beyond their entrenched positions.
She concluded that one person has to become what she calls the first responder, the brave person who takes the lead.
So, Elizabeth launched an initiative she calls “Take the Other to Lunch”.
There is no shortage of people who refuse to believe in climate change, or who want to take away everyone’s guns, or who blindly support Donald Trump, or who blissfully overlook the Clintons’ misconduct.
She set some ground rules for the lunches, including that the purpose was to be curious about the other person and their beliefs, and that no one was out to change the other’s mind … they would get together just to listen and understand.
And she reminded herself and the other participants that diversity is good – it is a value we cherish.
It’s not so simple as to say we are all the same – we’re not.
We each bring vastly different experiences and priorities.
A few months ago, we looked at the relative differences in priorities conservatives and progressives hold.
We learned that we share seven common values, but their relative priorities are quite different in conservatives and progressives.
For example, conservatives give more weight to the value of social order while progressives give more weight to the value of tolerance.
Conservatives are more aware of crime, progressives are more aware of social injustice.
Both are right.
Except for racism, homophobia and such, a healthy society needs all of them – but we have to move beyond our ever-tightening tribalism if we are to survive as a democracy.
Here’s what she said about one such lunch:
“A couple of weeks ago, I took a conservative Tea Party woman to lunch. I asked her why her side makes such outrageous allegations and lies about my side. What? She wanted to know. Like we’re a bunch of elitist, morally corrupt terrorist lovers.
“Well, she was shocked. She thought my side beat up on her side way more often, that we called them brainless gun-toting racists. And we both marveled at the labels that fit none of the people we actually know. And since we had established some trust, we believed in each other’s sincerity.
“We agreed we’d speak up in our own communities when we witnessed the kind of otherizing talk that can wound and fester into paranoia and then be used by those on the fringes to incite.”
Luke 6:41-41 The Message “It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt?”
By the way, she started these lunches in 2010 and some of those relationships have continued for years.
To her surprise, she found that she really liked some of the people she had previously dismissed as “the other”.
Not all of them, of course, but some were really thoughtful, kind and humorous people.
Elizabeth Lesser’s “Take the Other to Lunch” initiative wasn’t intended to be a Pollyannaish exercise, but a small but serious chip into the wall that divides us.
After all, isn’t this just what Jesus modeled when shared meals with all kinds of people?
As Elizabeth was getting accolades for her appearances at TED Talks and on Oprah touting the virtues of having lunch with “the other”, she was confronted with an even bigger challenge: reconciling with her younger sister, Maggie.
I had to chuckle as I read the introduction to Anne Lamott’s chapter on families.
She writes, “If the earth is forgiveness school, family is your postdoctoral fellowship. Family is hard, hard, hard, a crucible.”
Sharing soup and salad with a Bernie supporter or a Trump supporter may seem like a cakewalk compared to negotiating with your brother and sister about how to care for your ailing mother.
Many of us are collateral damage to our families’ unspoken secrets.
The cost of wearing our “I’m okay” mask for the world is that we’ve buried our soul.
I have lots of “normal” friends … that is, if you take the bumper sticker definition of “Normal is someone you don’t know very well”.
But our own family we know all too well.
But, again, Jesus’ lessons were not meant to stay on the mountainside, but to be brought into our lives.
Maggie was fiercely independent – a nurse practitioner who served a remote, rural community while growing her own vegetables and slaughtering her own meat.
Like many siblings, Elizabeth and Maggie’s relationship was a life-long tangle of emotions and unresolved struggles.
They loved each other, and they were jealous.
They confided secrets, and they betrayed.
They pulled close, and they pushed away.
But there is a sisterly bond like nothing else, so Elizabeth was deeply hurt by how her sister emotionally withdrew when Elizabeth announced plans to divorce her husband.
Maggie became aloof and judgmental when Elizabeth most needed her strength and support.
Elizabeth wondered if she had misread her sister’s strength and independence … maybe she was seeing Maggie for who she really is: selfish and uncaring.
In response, Elizabeth began to withdraw and distrust her sister.
About this time, Maggie got horrible news: she’d been diagnosed with a rare and virulent blood cancer.
There are no good treatments for this particular cancer except for a complete bone marrow transplant.
It’s a risky procedure where the patient is given near-lethal doses of chemotherapy that completely wipe out their malignant bone marrow that is then replaced by healthy donor marrow.
There is the added risk that the patient’s body will attack and reject the donor marrow.
On top of that, finding compatible donor marrow is very rare.
It’s not uncommon for patients to die while searching for a compatible donor.
So, it was a surprise to find that Elizabeth was a match.
Elizabeth says, “When I learned about the dangers of rejection or attack, I thought, it’s time to change this. What if we left the bone marrow transplant up to the doctors, but did something that we later came to call our ‘soul marrow transplant?’ What if we faced any pain we had caused each other, and instead of rejection or attack, could we listen? Could we forgive? Could we merge? Would that teach our cells to do the same?”
Maggie was resistant, but Elizabeth said, Hey look. My blood is going to be flowing throughout your body. And at the center of each of those blood cells in your body is going to be my DNA.
She said, “I will be swimming in you for the rest of your life.”
She told Maggie that their relationship had become like the cartoon in the New Yorker I’ve put into your sermon notes.
Her skeptical sister agreed to some joint sessions with a psychotherapist where they were brutally honest with each other: sharing pain, accepting responsibility.
They tried to listen without getting defensive.
One thing that came out was that Maggie had withdrawn during Elizabeth’s divorce because she feared to have to do the same thing – that she’d quietly lived for years in a deeply troubled marriage that she never told her sister about.
Luke 6:41 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”
Despite being sick and weak, Maggie said that the twelve months after the transplant – which was to be her final year – were the best of her life.
The two became like little sisters again – like before the years of layering blame upon hurt.
When I first heard this story of Elizabeth’s blood pulsing through her sister’s body, I realized that is a powerful image of Christ living in each of us.
Recent studies show that our identity as Republican or Democrat has come to mean more to us than whether or not we identify as Christian … which, quite frankly, shows our failure as Christians.
We are the body of Christ – it’s like each other’s blood circulates through us all as Christians.
Philippians 2:2b-3, 5 … have the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. …. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.
While the early churches had their class differences, Romans still looked at them in awe saying, “Look at how they love one another”.
Just before his crucifixion, Jesus prayed not that the church would be effective or powerful, or successful.
Rather, John 17:20-21, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
And because you have the life of Christ pulsing through your being, you have his strength and guidance to have those hard but healing lunches and conversations in a world that otherwise will continue to fragment.