GOSPEL: Luke 6:27-38
[Jesus said:] 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…
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.” (Read the whole passage)
This is the last green Sunday of this season after Epiphany. Soon we will go up the mountain of transfiguration next Sunday, and down into the valley of Ashes on Ash Wednesday. All along the way, we have been hearing stories that reveal to us the divine son of God. Stories like the Wedding of Cana where Jesus turned water in wine, stories like Jesus taking Simon Peter out fishing and almost sinking the boat with nets so full of fish. And now today, before the journey from the Lenten Wilderness to the cross gets moving, Jesus finishes a sermon began last week. This is the next part of the Sermon on the Plain that began with the Beatitudes.
The Beatitudes we heard last week, were a direct address to the crowds. Blessed are you, Jesus repeated over and over. And we heard that our idea of blessing is not about things bestowed upon us – wealth, health, happiness – but rather God’s presence in all the parts of life.
And then today, Jesus continues. “I say to you that listen, love your enemies” and so on. Love, mercy, forgiveness. Offer the other cheek, give up your coat. Do not judge, do not condemn. Be merciful.
These sound like quite the instructions. Everything sounds aspirational and nice… but honestly, who could really live like this?
Yet, as Jesus speaks to the crowds gathered on the plain, poor, hungry, grieving and seeking masses, looking for salvation… these instructions are more than a check-list of nice ways to treat those around you.
Jesus has been setting his audience up. He began with the Beatitudes, reminding people of their own liturgical understanding of blessing, of naming God’s presence in the world. And now he is challenging the law… the rules of righteousness that the people Israel lived by. Rules that governed work, relationships, cleanliness, food, crime, economics and politics. Rules that, if followed, provided a path to righteousness and salvation.
And Jesus is turning those rules on their head. Because those rules were all about holding people to account, measuring sin against a measuring stick, knowing where you stood with God, where you stood in the community. And Jesus is undoing that sense of knowing and security.
Jesus is telling those who are normally on the outside, those who are unrighteous, to love and forgive and be generous. Not things you do when you are trying to measure up to the law.
And almost certainly Jesus’ words caused unrest. Because letting go of the system that the world runs on is hard… even if the system is keeping you down.
Love, mercy and forgiveness simply don’t mesh very well with keeping the law… how do you measure up and hold people to account if you cannot judge and condemn, but should be forgiving and merciful.
Having rules to measure ourselves, and others, by is something we know all too well. We aren’t above grabbing for magic bullet quick-fix solutions to our struggles. We often stick to the rules we know well and have always followed in the hopes they will keeping seeing us through, even when things start to be hard or fall apart. We like structures that tell us where we stand, and tell us where others have failed. We keep those rules for generations, just like the people of Israel did.
“The way we do things” is a phrase we know well whether it is at work, at home, or at church. Showing mercy, forgiveness and love is not how the real world works we might say in response to Jesus. In the real world you get what you deserve and pay what you owe, you live with consequences and accept that that is life.
Except when the world changes and the way do things seem to fall of the track… and the rules and traditions and steps to success that we have trusted for years don’t seem to work anymore. The measuring and judging and condemning stop being way to salvation, the way to righteousness, the way to know where we stand and they become burdensome… forcing us to become constantly reactive. When we spend more time bemoaning that the rules we love are no longer followed or cared about, when we complain that there aren’t enough of us to maintain the traditions, when look about for someone to blame because our system of knowing and security doesn’t work anymore.
It is almost as if Jesus is saying something about that… something about the burden of following rules that don’t work anymore.
Jesus isn’t giving us a new set of rules to replace the old set. Jesus isn’t telling that they are the new things we need to do be righteous, to be successful, to be faithful.
Jesus is describing something much beyond all of that.
Jesus not telling us how we ought to be with one another, but how God is with us.
God is the one who loves. God is one who forgives. God is the one who is merciful.
God does not judge.
God does not comdemn.
God gives us Godself completely, from being born in manger to dying on a cross.
Jesus is describing God and God’s Kingdom, a Kingdom of Love, mercy and forgiveness.
And Jesus is talking true freedom. Freedom from rules that don’t work. From laws we cannot keep. From traditions we cannot maintain.
The freedom of love, is the freedom to stop holding the world around in our wrath and anger because our rules don’t work.
The freedom of mercy, is the freedom to let go of standards that have stopped helping long ago.
The freedom of forgiveness is not be bound us by judgement. Not to react to every transgression. Because if God did not forgive, God would be in a constant state of judgment over humanity, constantly condemning us for our constant failure.
And so love, and mercy and forgiveness… these are the freedom of God.
No, they are not a new list of things we need to start doing… they are the things that will free us from the burdens of the rules of righteousness, the burden of saving ourselves.
Because here is the thing about love and mercy and forgiveness… even these we cannot bring to fruition. We cannot be as loving, forgiving and merciful as we should… and that is the point.
God’s kingdom of love, forgiveness and mercy comes to us because we cannot do it on our own.
This the revelation that has been unfolding for seven weeks, the revealing of God’s Kingdom, God’s Messiah come to us because we cannot do it on our own… and even if we did keep the law, it would not save us… if we could keep up our old rules, we would still be right where we are now.
Jesus gives us this vision of the Kingdom to make us ready. Ready for what comes next.
For a mountain top experience like no other with a bright and shining Jesus appearing to frightened disciples… for a pathway that leads us down into the valley of ashes, into Lent.
Because from here on in, we are on our way. On our way with Jesus through the wilderness, the wilderness that will strip us of the rules and laws that we thought would make us righteous… and along the way we will find out that we have never been righteous by our own effort. That the rules we love never were the thing that was saving us.
Instead we have always needed God to intervene. And intervene God will, on a cross and out of an empty tomb.
Love your enemy, Jesus says… because God first loves you.
Forgive and bless those who hate you, Jesus says… because God has forgiven you.
Be merciful, Jesus says… because God’s mercy has been there all along.
Because God’s love, forgiveness and mercy has always been our righteousness and salvation.