Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany (A), February 19, 2017
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
This morning we continue our message from within Jesus Sermon from the Mount, and we’ll let these words confront us and comfort us: “You therefore must be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” [Matt. 5:48] Here’s a question that I want you to wait until the end of our message to answer: Is this the Law or Gospel? It’s my prayer that by the end of our message you will be able to answer this question, and that the answer will lead you in the way you live out the rest of your life.
In that question we must remember that Jesus’ primary goal isn’t to speak the law and condemn us as sinners, which we are, but instead He is leading our hearts to understand the will of God and our new identity as saints; people He is sending out to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. [Vs. 13-16] Jesus wants us to see our need for living our lives in complete dependence on God’s love and care, which will then compel us to demonstrate or reflect that same love to our neighbors where ever we me meet them. And all of this is done within the tender balance of living a life of repentance and faith, which Jesus provided for us in the Beatitudes [Vs. 3-12], where He assured us of a life strong with blessings. When the reality of these blessing begin to control our very lives, we will begin to have an effect upon our community as salt and light. But we must always remember that our quest for completeness has nothing to do with entering or staying in the Kingdom of God, because Jesus has already given that to us!
Now resting in this promise of blessing, hear the perfect Law of God:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ (Or if someone punches you, punch them back.) But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil.” Lord, are you saying don’t fight back against anyone? “(Yes”, he says,) If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” But Jesus isn’t done yet, He now takes it a step further: “And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.” In other words, if part of a settlement to a law suit is your jacket, let them have your shirt also! “And if anyone (say like the government or someone else with power over you) forces you to go one mile (say to carry something), go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” [Vs. 38-41]
“But Lord…. but Lord! Do you know what that will mean to me? That’s not only foolish it’s also impossible!” And dear friends, that is the point. Living the kind of life that Jesus is leading us to is the foolishness of the cross… the impossibility of fulfilling God’s perfect law. Your “but Lord” should be enough to turn you away from any foolish ideas you might have that keeping God’s law is doable! It should be enough to not only turn you to God’s mercy and forgiveness, but keep you there as you learn to follow Jesus!
You see friends, Jesus wants us to understand that it isn’t God’s law that brings about true justice for us but it’s His love and mercy that does that! Now our Lord knows that this is the complete opposite of what the world calls common sense; it goes directly against our natural inclination. You know what I am referring to don’t you? “A tit for a tat! I’m going to make sure I get justice!” That’s the natural way of this sinful world! They think that the law will give them wholeness and security; but we must always remember that the left hand kingdom or the kingdom of God’s law can never bring about any real change; it only demands it. Instead, it is God’s way to provide justice by inviting His children to trust in His plan for them and then turn to Him in prayer. And when we rest in God’s plan of justice, He then asks us to absorb the evil attacks of our neighbor and let it die there! He is asking us not to live a life of revenge, but instead live a life of sacrificially turning the other cheek and trusting that God will repay!
What we must remember is that this is ultimately not about you and me, but it is about Jesus Christ! He is the one who truly did turn the other cheek when He was struck by the Sanhedrin. He truly did let them take both His tunic and His cloak as they rolled dice deciding who would keep them. He truly did pick up His cross and walk more than a mile to the ominous poverty of Golgotha; with the sins we placed on Him.
But we must not ever say or even think that because Jesus lived this life perfectly for us, we no longer need to!
No friends, just the opposite is true; what Jesus did for us, demonstrates for us what it means to love! He demonstrates to us the highest form of love… God’s own love; a love of intellect and choice. As God has loved us, so we are to love our neighbor.
This kind of love means that we will stand against evil not by taking a physical and reactionary stand against it but by submitting to the one who is evil; by absorbing the evil and not matching it with our own form of pay back. Why would we do this? Because of God’s mercy and love that has been given to us through Jesus Christ!
Now I know, when we hear these words, we want to close our ears; we don’t want to do it! We desperately look for another way to explain this hard teaching of Jesus, but the truth is friends there is no other way to explain it and no other way to follow Jesus; He always leads us to the cross!
This isn’t a new teaching friends, nor is it without those who truly understood it and lived out its truth.
Martin Luther understood it along with those who went before Him and became martyrs. Mohandas Gandhi and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. also saw and lived out the beauty of this teaching, and they absorbed so much hate and evil that it eventually took their lives. Martin Luther King Jr. not only walked the way of the cross but He taught others to do the same, and because of that obedience, God brought about great change. He changed the injustice of hate not with the sword but with mercy and forgiveness, and this change is still in motion today!
Through Jesus we find true power and truth in the cross. And that truth is that you don’t overcome evil by violently standing against it but by turning the other cheek. But don’t mistake this turning of the cheek with weakness or tolerance! Nowhere does Jesus say to turn the other cheek and refuse to speak up for what is right; nowhere does He say not to protect and take on the cause of those who are being overcome by evil! As salt and light, we are to speak the truth, God’s truth in love; a kind of love that moves us to take the evil action of another upon ourselves; the kind of love that moves under the burden of the cross another is bearing and help them shoulder the load. We are to take all of the evil action upon ourselves and let it die there, never bringing it up again!
Do you want to learn to be obedient? Do you want to become what God has already said that you are… holy? Then follow Jesus to the cross and agree with this teaching and pursue it! This is the way of the cross!
So are you looking for a “how to” part of this sermon?
Good, then I have only one step for you to follow: turn to Jesus and His cross! How? Well you’ve already been given the heart of Jesus, so follow that heart; follow that love of God that has been put within you. Love your enemy; pray for him. You will be surprised just how much change and rearrangement God will do when your heart first agrees that He’s right and you’re wrong. Once you learn to admit this, then praying for your enemy isn’t really that difficult.
But why must we do this? Well, Jesus answers this question as well. Listen: “(You will do this) so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” [vs. 45] But that sounds like some kind of works righteousness! Is it? Is Jesus saying that I must work at loving my enemies here on earth so that my Heavenly Father can reward me by making me His son or daughter? No, not at all!
Jesus is saying that when we are loving our enemies we are showing them the love of the Father; we are showing them that we ARE sons and daughters of the Father! Through our acts of love that find their source in the heart of Jesus we are showing everyone, including our enemies that our God is also their God; a God who “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” We are showing them that not only are God and His love real, but also His Law that threatens anyone who refuses to follow that love through Jesus Christ! We are showing them that the same God who saved and changed us wants to do the very same work within them.
“For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors (or open sinners) do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” [Vs. 46-47] You see friends, Jesus is telling us that we are not to think that our Christianity is something nice that we share with those who are part of our congregation; He’s not saying that your Christian love is reserved for anyone else who calls themselves Christian; He’s not even saying that our Christian love should be shared with those who do nice things for us! We are called not to love just those who love us, but to love those who hate us! This is the way of the cross; this is the path Jesus traveled and invites us to travel with Him.
Listen to Jesus final Words upon the cross and let them lead and guide you. As he was dying upon the cross, Jesus prayed: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do!” Who did He pray forgiveness for? Was it for those who placed Him on the cross? Yes, He prayed for all those present, He even prayed for you, and He prayed for your enemy, because it was all of our sins that placed Him there! And as He prepared to take His last breath He shouted: “IT IS FINISHED… it is perfect… it is complete!” What is? God’s plan to remove the sins of the world, even your sins!
Jesus closes our teaching this morning with these words:
“You therefore must be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” [Vs. 48] Is that Law or Gospel? I say that it is both! You must be complete as your Heavenly Father is complete. You must be finished and you must be complete; this is the true meaning of perfect. And that is what you are because Jesus has blessed you with His completion! Through the beatitudes or God’s pronouncement of blessing at the beginning of Jesus Sermon, He gives you the very thing that He now tells you that you must have… completion! What wonderful news! Now take this blessing of completion and live a strong and prosperous life… prosper for the Kingdom of Heaven is upon you! AMEN!