... To You That Listen

Proclaim Sermons
Homily: Ordinary Time 7
February 20, 2022
Reproduced with Permission
Proclaim Sermons

Summary : Jesus aims these hard teachings at ... you who listen. Are we listening? What shall we who are listening do? How shall we "be," in this increasingly polarized world?

"You're a socialist!"
"Oh yeah? Well, it's better than being a fascist like you!"
"Black lives matter!"
" All Lives Matter!"
"Your claim that you're not a racist only proves that you're a racist!"
"You're the one who's racist!"
"You're destroying the country!"
"No! You are!"

How does our text for this morning confront conversations like this? What shall we make of Jesus' words, in this world of hatred begetting hatred, evil being given and evil being returned, right-wing contempt for the left and left-wing contempt for the right? How does this teaching of Jesus confront or inform any of it? Where do Jesus' teachings fit into this world that is divided into sects and factions and religio-political entities, each one of which considers itself to be a law unto itself and the sole repository of truth?

A sermon on a level place

Our scripture reading is the ending of the "Sermon on the Plain," which is Luke's rendition of the perhaps more well-known "Sermon on the Mount," found in Matthew. Luke's version seems harsher and more unsparing. In the passage immediately preceding our text for today, there are four blessings, immediately followed by four woes. Blessed are the poor -- not, as in Matthew, the "poor in Spirit ," but the poor , period; the economically destitute. Blessed are those who now suffer hunger. Blessed are those who weep now -- for whatever reason. Blessed are those who are reviled, defamed and excluded because they follow Jesus.

All of these are "blessed," because their comfort is imminent -- the poor have, already, received the kingdom of God. The hungry will be filled. Those who weep now will soon laugh. Those reviled for their loyalty to Jesus will receive a great reward "in heaven."

These four blessings are immediately followed by four woes , which directly parallel the blessings: woe to the rich, woe to those who are full, woe to those who laugh now and woe to those of whom all speak well. These people are advised to shun complacency, for if they decide to follow Jesus, they will find that they've already received all they're going to get -- of riches, of food, of joy in the things of this life, of acclaim. These will soon be replaced by want and hunger, hard times and intense ridicule, all because of following Jesus.

That brings us to our passage for today, which begins with the word "but." Yes, you're going to be reviled, yes the blessings are over, yes, discipleship will bring enemies out of the woodwork; but ....

Yes, following Jesus, it should be understood, given these woes, will make us enemies . Lots of them. Following Jesus, if we're doing it right, leads to calling the world away from the good life -- or, perhaps more specifically, away from our hardness of heart toward those who might get in the way of the good life for us . Following Jesus leads us to shun a good life for us until God has brought down from heaven the city of God, in which there is a good life for all . Thus, following Jesus will make us enemies.

What is our stance to be toward these enemies?

To you that listen ....

Jesus then says, "I say to you that listen ...." Well, who are those that listen? Who are those who don't listen? What shall we make of those who don't listen? That's really not our problem. Are you listening? Then what now? How should you "be," in this life, if you are really listening?

We've heard it said repeatedly that God is love, that Jesus is the representative on earth of the God of love, that to follow Jesus is to love and so on. Listening to Jesus, then, must lead to taking love out to its furthest conclusion. Are you listening to Jesus? Do you want to listen to Jesus? Then you must do this; it's not an option: love, even your enemies. Bless those who curse you. Do good to those who hate you. If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to them the other as well. Give to anyone who would borrow from you. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Are you listening to Jesus? Then do this. To be children of the most high, we must be like him, and be kind, even to the ungrateful and the wicked.

Those who don't listen are not our problem. We are being called to walk this way, regardless of who listens and who doesn't. Who knows? When we start to walk this way, those who are not listening just might start listening -- some of them, anyway.

We who would claim to listen to Jesus are, all of us, called to walk this way. We are to act this way towards our enemies, whoever they may be, all of us, starting now, wherever we are in life's journey, whatever philosophies or convictions or beliefs or opinions we have carried this far, whether we are of the right or the left, conservative, liberal or progressive, male or female, white or black -- we who are listening to Jesus are being called to start walking this way, starting now. We are called to behave this way towards everyone, regardless of the abuse we might get. And we are not given any license whatsoever to return that abuse. That means no contempt, no name-calling, no snark, no smug dismissals, no self-righteousness and no meanness -- toward anyone we might disagree with, toward anyone who might have the temerity to profess a point of view different from ours, or even opposite ours, no matter how belligerently. We are to treat them as we want to be treated ourselves.

And this is not easy. It is impossible . We see the impossibility of it blowing up all around us every day. Whether we realize it or not, we cannot do this without God's help.

Binding hyperbole

Jesus speaks here in a fair amount of hyperbole, of course, as he sometimes does. But that does not let us off the hook. Hyperbole? Okay -- but binding, nonetheless. It is love , even of enemies, that manifests God in the world, in the flesh. It is love, even of enemies, that will save us. Love, even -- perhaps especially -- of enemies is the only thing that can save us.

Hyperbole? More to the point: will this stuff work in real life? Is it realistic, or even truly "Christian," to expect -- to demand , as the more militantly Christian among us do -- that the leader of a nation that resolutely defines itself as secular act in the world after this fashion? Or are these instructions, these directions, these commands meant strictly for the community of followers of Jesus, the church, "those who listen"?

That really isn't our problem, either. Our responsibility is to listen . Our problem is -- judging by a quick look around -- that none of us really are listening. Those of us who claim to be listening to Jesus aren't really listening. We see and we hear the snark, the smug superiority, the complacency, the conviction of our own righteousness. We see and hear it all around us, we see and hear it in our own hearts, we feel it gnawing at our own beleaguered souls. We know we're wrong, but we can't stop.

How to love an enemy

What might the world look like, if we, truly, "let it begin with me," as the song says? How might we go about doing that? Don't worry about whether our nominatively Christian nation is "really Christian" or not ... well, worry about it, of course, but if we want to make it that way, where else is there to begin but "with me"?

"Love your enemy" is not an ethic of surrender or retreat. This is an ethic of action. It begins with listening. It continues with doing. Jesus is not telling us to stop what we're doing so as not to offend; he's telling us to do things, to bless, to pray -- especially, to pray. Pray for the presence of the living Christ. We cannot do this by ourselves.

If someone strikes you, don't run, stand in there and keep on doing or saying what you're doing and let them hit you again. If someone takes or begs, give. In all of this, we are to emulate the stance of God, who is kind, even to the ungrateful and the wicked.

Where does this start, for you? Work? Social media? In your family? In church? Our goal is not to justify ourselves, to signal greater virtue. Our goal is to forget ourselves and our supposed virtues, in the practice of a kindness that begins, even in the most mundane places, with the smallest of behaviors. Our goal is the kingdom of God, a kingdom of kindness that doesn't back down, a kingdom of humility that knows what is right, and expresses it, without fear of conflict.

How shall we bring such a kingdom to be? God is already bringing it; what we need to do is be a part of its coming. We accomplish that by a love made manifest in active doing , even for enemies. Let it begin with me.

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