Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Crazy things Jesus Said “Love your enemy” April 29, 2018 RUMC

Crazy things Jesus Said
“Love your enemy”
April 29, 2018

Was Jesus Crazy? Now I don’t use that word lightly. We have to be careful with the word “crazy” because it has too often been used against people. I am not talking about mental illness today.
  But if you read some of the things that Jesus said and the things Christians believe, especially if you take them out of context, you can understand that they sound absurd, nonsensical, preposterous, impractical and unworkable. In other words, in popular language, they frankly sound kind of crazy.
From the perspective of those who watched Jesus from the crowds, some of the things Jesus said sounded crazy.
 Even his own family thought Jesus’ behavior seemed a little crazy. Do you remember the story about Jesus’ family thinking that he was deranged? Check out Mark 3:21 on page 37 of your pew Bible. “Then he went home; 20 and the crowd came together again so that they could not even eat. 21 When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.”   Jesus’ own family thought he was not just ridiculous, they thought he was mentally ill. Perhaps even dangerous to himself or others. They came out to restrain him.
 The early church experienced the same reaction to the gospel message. Paul wrote: “the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.” 
Think about it… how radically crazy is it to think that
•           God would take on the flesh of a man?
•           It is even crazier that God could die.
•           It is even crazier that God was willing to die.
•           You might think the craziest thing is the world is that God actually DID die… on a cross.
•           Except there is still one thing crazier than that, God did it all because God loved sinful and broken people like you and me. From a completely objective perspective, Jesus said some of the most outrageous things in the world.

But every great reformer was thought to be crazy.
•           Galileo was branded a heretic for saying that the planets revolve around the sun.
•           Leonardo DaVinci and the Wright brothers were thought to be crazy because they had this idea that people could build a flying machine.
•           People though Edison was crazy for wanting to bring electricity into their houses.
•           The American revolutionaries were crazy.
•           Nelson Mandela was crazy for thinking that apartheid was wrong.
Get it. Every change started out sounding crazy to someone.
I contend that it is those radically crazy things Jesus said, that best define who we are as Christians and as the church.
Those crazy sounding sayings of Jesus are the things that have become most transformative in my life, your life and, in our world.
 Paul even followed up his sentence “The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 
Many of us have grown up hearing these crazy sayings, so they don’t seem so crazy. Others read them and don’t think about them very hard, so they don’t seem so crazy. I want to spend the next few weeks, however, thinking about some of the crazy things Jesus taught, and how they have shaped our lives and our 11 years together, and maybe we’ll see how they can push us forward into the future.

The first saying is LOVE YOUR ENEMY.  Who in their right mind can do that?
We read this crazy saying in Matthew 5 and Luke 6 in their account of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. In both gospels “LOVE YOUR ENEMY” comes shortly after the beatitudes which include such blessings as “blessed are the merciful” and “Blessed are the peacemakers.” So “LOVE YOUR ENEMY” is not at all out of place in this context.
 Now it was standard Jewish thought that we are supposed to love God and love neighbor. That is a combination of Deuteronomy 6:4, which we call the Shema (Hear O Israel the Lord your God is one.), and Leviticus 19:18 where Israel is commanded to love their neighbor. Jesus takes this normal Jewish teaching and pushes it over the edge to crazy when he says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Some might say, right there, he went from preaching to meddling, but Jesus is serious.
Because the sermon on the mount is a very down to earth, practical message, we know that Jesus is not just spouting theory here. He really does expect us to love our enemies and he goes on to explain in
•           Matthew that if you only love your neighbors, you are no different than the Tax Collectors or Pagans.
•           In Luke, he is very practical and says if a soldier takes your coat, give them your cloak too. If they ask you to carry their pack for a mile, carry it for two.
Jesus just breaks down the wall between neighbor and enemy and commands us to love everyone.
 Later in Luke is the passage we read today, a Pharisee stands up to challenge Jesus about how to inherit eternal life. Jesus points him to love God and love neighbor just as I said; traditional Jewish teachings. But he pushes Jesus to define neighbor. That is when Jesus goes on to tell this great story that tears down the wall between neighbor and enemy.
A man was on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho. We have talked before about that 17-mile walk from Jerusalem to Jericho that drops 2000 feet in elevation. It was not unusual for people to walk back and forth, but it was dangerous. A man was walking that road, maybe he was a priest, maybe a teacher, maybe a merchant, maybe a poor shepherd. But as he is walking he is robbed, beaten and left to die.
You know the story. The priest walks by on the other side of the road maybe we excuse him because he did not want to be defiled by the man. The lawyer too goes out of his way keep as much distance as possible between him and the injured man. We won’t make any excuses for him.
Then comes along the Samaritan… if this were a melodrama we would play the dramatic music for the entry of the evil villain. Samaritans were hated by the Jews. They were outsiders. They thought they could worship on mount Nebo instead of Jerusalem! As the villain twists his handlebar mustache and lets out an evil sounding chuckle… the man is starting to look down the road to see if anyone else is coming … when suddenly the villain walks over and helps the man! He climbed right over that wall between neighbor and enemy and perhaps saved the man’s life.  He risked his own life because he didn’t know if the man had friends hiding in the bushes. Then he spent his own money when he took him to the inn. And the wall between enemy and neighbor, not only crumbles, it crashes down into 100 billion pieces and not even “all the kings’ horses and all the kings’ men could put the wall together again.”
It would have been hard enough to swallow this lesson if Jesus had made the injured man a Samaritan, and the helper a regular Jew. But to have the Samaritan outshine the priest and the Levite in love was crazy. In Romans 12:10 Paul entreats us to “outdo one another in showing love.” And that love is not just for the insiders, but it is for everyone and anyone who is inside or outside of what we consider our safe little circle of neighbors.

When I came 11 years ago, you described yourself as a “family.” And you were. The church as a family has its good side in taking care of one another, nurturing one another etc. Most of your ministries were focused on others in the family. Our children, our adults, our youth. And you did a good job of that.
When we started to focus on the fact that the only wall between “us” and “them” was in our imagination, things started to change. We are still a family in the best sense of the word, loving one another, laughing and crying together … but now we are so much more than that.
Now I wouldn’t say that you ever considered anyone an “enemy,” But there were “insiders” and “outsiders.”  I know because I was an “outsider.” There was “us” and there was “them.”
•           Get this… only 3 out of the 18 people going on the mission trip this year are from families who were part of this church 11 years ago… all because we reached across the wall that once divided “us” from “them” and showed them love to make “them” part of “us.”
•           The attendance at our Wednesday night ministry has at times been larger than the Sunday morning attendance. This year it is a little lower, but at 45 people average it is close. The vast majority of those people come from families who were “them” 11 years ago. Now, because we reached across the wall that divides us from our neighbors, they are “us!”
•           We have done service projects for folks who used to be “them” but we reached out in love and made them “us.”
•           We were the driving force behind the original Homes for Haiti project which reached across denominational lines to those UCC “thems,” and the Presbyterian “thems,” and even the unchurched “thems” so that together we could show love to families in Haiti.
•           For the first time ever, the African Children’s choir sang in Reinbeck because we invited them. That was a challenge for some of you because they don’t look or sound like “us.” But by the end of the week, we reached out in love and make them “us’es.”
•           We moved the Easter Egg hunt from being a city event to being a church-sponsored event, and twice now we have reached across all generational lines and gifted a whole bunch of “thems” with at least temporary “us'ness.”
•           And of course there was the “us” vs “them” feeling created around the school district changes, and I don’t know if you realized the toll it took on churches and pastors, but we were the one church that stood firm in the belief that Gladbrook is not “them”… we are all “us.” We had Ash Wednesday with the UMC, we continued to work together on baccalaureate, supported the school staff, sponsored the GR8 festival, I helped organize the candlelight vigil at which I saw many of you. Reaching across those dividing lines clearly invited “them” to be part of the “us.”
 This is where you get to think back too… those are only a few places I thought about… where else can you think of that we have we reached out to “them” and treated them as “us?”
 It may sound crazy to say LOVE YOUR ENEMY, but we took it on as a dare. Jesus dared us to LOVE OUR ENEMY… to break down the walls that divide “us” from any “them” we could think of. And we have.
Are we there yet? No. There are still “thems” out there but we have proven that we are not afraid of “them” …“they” don’t need to be afraid of “us.” We are still family but we have grown our idea of family to include not just our brothers and sisters, but cousin joe 13 times removed, and our great, great, great aunt Sophia, and all of our little nieces and nephews even though we aren’t quite sure how they are related. Our family has grown from “us” to “us.”All of us as God’s children in Reinbeck and around the world.

LOVE YOUR ENEMY may sound crazy to those outside, but we know, don’t we. We know that loving those who are different, those who are strange, those with whom we may disagree, those whom we simply do not know, those who are on the other side of any kind of boundary is exactly what Jesus wanted us to do. Crazy? Maybe, but it has made us who we are and who we are today is more like Jesus.

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