Powers and Principalities

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Wed, Mar 18, 2020

Audacious Love

Duration:15 mins 19 secs

In our Lenten experience of worship, study, and personal reflection we are following the theme “Love Does” with our guide Bob Goff. As you know we have made some adjustments to our study groups and worship to move them online - either live or recorded, but one thing that doesn’t change is God’s word to us. Each Wednesday night as part of our study of Love Does, we are reflecting on a passage from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Tonight’s text comes from the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 5, verses 43-48. This is the last of six arguments by Jesus about righteous living. All of them are phrased “You have heard it said …, but I say to you …” By the time we reach these verses, we have already heard Jesus say that we should not lose our temper, not look at a member of the opposite sex with lust, not divorce except on grounds of infidelity, we should tell the truth, and we should renounce the right to retaliation. All of those are quite tall orders to meet, but Jesus isn’t finished yet. So our text for today concerns how we should treat our neighbors and enemies. Let us hear this Word of God.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

The topic for tonight and this last week’s small group lesson in Love Does is “Audacious Love.” Bob Goff tells the story of Ryan who is so swept away with love for his girlfriend that he makes incredible requests of Bob as he plans for the perfect marriage proposal. Bob and his family are swept up by Ryan’s audacious love, they keep saying yes to these outrageous demands, and in the end they see a glimpse of the love that God has for us. As Bob says, “the love that Jesus talks about, a love that never grows tired or is completely finished finding ways to fully express itself.”

Yes, God’s love for us is audacious, it is over the top, it sweeps us up and carries us away with grace, and hope, and joy. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that? It sounds great!

And yet, when we read our scripture for this evening we hear Jesus say something about love that stops us in our tracks. It is a command actually. Scholars who have studied the religious and wisdom literature of the Middle East far more than I, say that this is an unprecedented command. Yes, while there are many versions of the command to love your neighbor, Jesus is the only one to tell us that we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.

Do you think Jesus realizes this is not a reasonable request? We are happy to say yes to requests to love like Ryan in the story. But love our enemies - that violates every inch of common sense we have. As human beings we are conditioned, it is our natural instinct, to preserve ourselves and our loved ones. When our personal safety or the safety of those we love is threatened our response is either to fight or flee, not love. Our response is dictated by how we are treated by others. Those who treat us well, we greet in the street. Those who treat us poorly, we ignore at best or fight at worst. Those who love us we love in return. Those who mistreat us, we resent at best or attack at worst. This is the way of the world and if you don’t follow along you will get trampled and run over.

So Jesus’ command to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us is not responsible; it violates our common sense; and sounds ridiculous. Actually it is audacious! And that is exactly the point. The life of discipleship points not to the ways of the world, but the presence of the kingdom of God in our midst. Notice the reason that we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us is not as a subversive strategy to make them our friends; it is not out of common concern for universal human rights; it is not even because it is God’s will for us to love our enemies (Like eat your vegetables because I told you to). No, the reason given for loving our enemies is so that we may be children of God, that we may become ones who share God’s nature. Loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us may serve no practical purpose at all and may hardly be prudent, but it is how God acts in the world. Yes, that is how God acts toward us who were his enemies because of our sin, and still he sent Christ to redeem the world. We love our enemies not because it benefits us, but because we are to reflect God’s unconditional love for the world.

Can we really do that? Church historian Glenn Hinson suggests that often the way to begin to love our enemies, indeed the only way, is to pray for them. But he confesses this is not easy work. In fact, he says “[the psalms which invoke judgment, calamity, or curses, upon one's enemies] have a job to do before I get to the point that I can pray for my enemies. I’ll have to release some anger first and let God do something with it that I can’t.”

Yes, to love our enemies, we have to let God do something with our anger and resentment that we can’t. And ultimately that is what God’s love does. For it is on the cross and in the empty tomb that we find our hope, our strength, our vision, and our challenge. It is on the cross and in the empty tomb that we realize the irresponsible, the nonsensical, and the ridiculous is actually the way of life. It is on the cross and in the empty tomb that we find out how truly audacious God’s love is for us. It is on the cross and in the empty tomb that we discover what love does.

Thanks be to God. Amen and Amen.