Courage to Love

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Meditation on Luke 6:27–38

The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton

Feb. 24, 2019

     27 ‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.29If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31Do to others as you would have them do to you.

      32 ‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. 37 ‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.’

***

My friends from Florida made it back home safely! The snow fell on Wednesday, the day Pam and Brian and their puppies left. Pam got to wear her purple snow boots. Thank you for giving them such a warm welcome!

What a beautiful installation service last Sunday!  Thank you to all who came, braving the sleet and freezing rain we had that afternoon. I feel that my ministry gifts are wanted and needed here! It’s a good feeling to be here with you, ministering to you.

When I started ministry in rural Minnesota in 2011, one of the oldest members was a gentleman who had just turned 99. I called him Henry, but others called him “Machinery Hank” or Hank for short. This distinguished him from “Farmer Hank” who used to live in the same area, and was a farmer, rather than a man who bought and sold farm machinery and parts.

Machinery Hank, though he grew up dirt poor on a farm like most everyone else in Minnesota at the beginning of the 20th century, was probably the richest man in town. You wouldn’t know it if you met him. He still had a rotary phone and got his clothes and ties from rummage sales. On top of being wealthy and envied for his wealth, older men were jealous that he was still physically active into his 90s, able to climb a ladder and shovel snow from his roof. But what gave Henry enemies, I think, more than his wealth during times when others were not so wealthy was that he had a way of saying just what he thought. He had hurt some people’s feelings.

But Henry didn’t see others as his enemies. He never held their anger or grudge holding against them. And he never badmouthed them to me. He preferred to talk about the people who came to him seeking advice for the business of farming. That brought him joy. “You get more important as you get older,” he’d tell me.

When Henry was turning 100, he reluctantly sold his home and moved into the senior living center in town, saying, “My age is against me.” And guess who came to live in the nursing and rehab wings and became his neighbors? Some who considered themselves his enemies, holding grudges.

Henry, who by then was relying on a walker for stability and was legally blind, would go and visit them, anyway. He always asked me how they were doing when I visited him. He would tell me about conversations that he had with them, trying to lift their spirits and bring them hope.  He encouraged them to get out of bed, do their physical therapy, keep on eating, keep the faith and keep on living for every day. He didn’t understand how men younger than he would sink into despair and just give up on life, even when they had families who loved them. Henry didn’t have any children and lived alone after his wife, Alydia, died from cancer in the 1990s. He thought about her often and missed her terribly.

Still, Henry knew that every day is a gift from the Lord and he treated his nieces and nephews as if they were his own children. He had no idea, he told me, why God had chosen to give him all the years that he had after a near fatal heart attack when he was 50 years old. He would quote the 23rd Psalm, “You know how it says, my cup runneth over?” he would ask with a smile. “Well, my barrel runneth over!”

Henry’s gratitude to God and joy for the life God had given him gave him courage to love. For it takes courage to love your enemies. And it is the way of the Lord.

***

Reading our gospel this week, I am reminded that this passage is a piece of Christ’s Sermon on the Plain, the Beatitudes of Luke 6, which begin, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God!” None of these “Blessed are you’s” are accepted beliefs in the culture or religion of Jesus’s time! This is a complete reversal of what their society and belief system taught. Moses and the prophets of old promised prosperity to God’s people if they lived in obedience to God’s Word and warned of curses if they disobeyed.

Deuteronomy 28 says, “If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God: You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country. The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks. Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed. You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out. The Lord will grant that the enemies who rise up against you will be defeated before you. They will come at you from one direction but flee from you in seven. The Lord will send a blessing on your barns and on everything you put your hand to. The Lord your God will bless you in the land he is giving you….

        15 However, if you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come on you and overtake you: 16 You will be cursed in the city and cursed in the country. 17 Your basket and your kneading trough will be cursed. 18 The fruit of your womb will be cursed, and the crops of your land, and the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks. 19 You will be cursed when you come in and cursed when you go out…. 22 The Lord will strike you with wasting disease, with fever and inflammation, with scorching heat and drought, with blight and mildew, which will plague you until you perish….   25 The Lord will cause you to be defeated before your enemies. You will come at them from one direction but flee from them in seven, and you will become a thing of horror to all the kingdoms on earth.” 

The ancient blessings and curses for the people of God serve to empower the wealthy religious authorities of Christ’s time. They have become arrogant, conceited, judgmental and neglectful of the poor and sick in their community, because poverty and sickness were seen as punishment from God for sin.

The disciples believed this until Jesus set them straight. In John 9, Jesus sees a man who has been blind since birth. The disciples ask, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus says, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

Now Jesus tells the poor and sick, outcast and oppressed, despised and depressed, “Blessed are you! Yours is the Kingdom of God.” And by the way, instead of seeking revenge on your enemies, love them and do good to those who hate and oppress you. Pray for those who abuse you.

Jesus says to them and to us who continue to try to live faithfully, with God’s help, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners (meaning unbelievers) love those who love them… And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same…. But love your enemies,” Jesus says a second time for emphasis, “do good and lend, expecting nothing in return.”

Jesus promises a reward for those who love, but it will be a treasure in the heavenly Kingdom, as Jesus says in Matthew 6, while also promising God’s provision for our basic needs here as we seek first God’s kingdom and its righteousness. This is how we will be “children of the Most High,” Christ assures us in Luke 6, not because of the faith of our ancestors, but because we seek to be like the God who is “kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” “Be merciful,” Jesus says, “just as your heavenly Father is merciful.”

It takes courage to love as God loves, to do good to those who don’t love us. And it takes gratitude, knowing that we are loved with an everlasting love—that every day we have is a gift from our Heavenly Father.

***

Friends, I can’t tell you that I have mastered loving people who don’t love me. I am still learning from the examples of strong Christians, such as Henry, who lived to be a very grateful 105 years old!

I hope you will continue to have grace for me and one another, as I will have grace for you! None of us are perfect! We are merciful because our God is merciful and has forgiven us for all our sins! Forgive quickly. Don’t hold grudges. That can destroy a family. That can destroy a church. Let go of any hurts. That burden will just weigh you down and keep you from a life of joyful service today. I pray for our peace and unity and that we will learn from one another and lean on each other and on the Lord in this walk of faith and work of love.

May we will always feel gratitude for God’s gifts to us, no matter our circumstances–in times of prosperity and health and in times of trial, sickness and loss, remembering that these are not the result of a curse or punishment for unbelief. The apostles will tell us that these are opportunities for the Body to serve one another and cling to a gracious and merciful God, who grants us strength and wisdom for every day.

May we all have the courage to love and give, without expecting anything in return. For it takes courage to love our enemies. And it is the way of the Lord.

Let us pray.

Holy One, we thank you for sending Jesus to be our Savior and powerful example of a godly, sacrificial life. It doesn’t come natural to us to love and forgive, especially to love and forgive those who don’t love and forgive us. But we trust in your gift of the Spirit to strengthen us to show mercy and reveal your grace. Help us to love the unlovable and forgive what is impossible for human beings to forgive and forget. Thank you that you have forgiven us for all our sins—as far as the east is from the west. Use us for your loving purposes and for your glory this day and always. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

 

2 responses to “Courage to Love

  1. Thank you. Give to those who beg. I know a young man like that. He has many issues and destroys his relationships with his misunderstandings and anger at the world. He is unable to keep a job and I’m a bit fearful of him. I have helped him with food many times, but… Please pray for Josh and me that my heart/brain will do what God requires.

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    • I am praying for Josh and for the Lord to guide you in what you should do. The Spirit will direct you. We all have Josh’s in our lives that we worry about and don’t think that we can help enough. Jesus lived with minimal belongings when we he started his ministry and he grew up in a humble abode as Joseph was just a laborer/construction worker (not the same connotation as carpenter does today). The Son of Man had no place to lay his head–but he did. He relied on the Heavenly Father to provide for him and he invited himself into other people’s homes all the time. He stayed with Lazarus and a few days with the Samaritans after he revealed his identity to the woman at the well. He stayed with Peter after curing Peter’s mother-in-law. And he stayed with Martha, Mary and Lazarus, whom he called friends. If he stayed at his own home, he would not have been able to minister in the up close and personal way he had of touching hearts and lives. That doesn’t mean we should give up our homes or give all our belongings away, but it does mean we should not cling to the things of this world and turn them into idols. Jesus did not want his disciples to be encumbered by the cares of this world while they learned to minister with him. It was on the job training! God bless you!

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